Wizards

Expectations, energy soaring again on Hawk Hill

Expectations, energy soaring again on Hawk Hill

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Wanting to have some fun on Twitter, Saint Joseph's guard Carl Jones decided to send a message to Jameer Nelson, only the greatest player to wear a uniform on Hawk Hill.

``I'm coming for that scoring record big homie,'' (at)tayj35 sent to (at)JameerNelson in September.

Nelson, an Orlando Magic guard, urged Jones to ``go get it youngfella!!'' Nelson wasn't finished, either. He ended the tweet by reminding Jones that players are judged at Saint Joseph's by more than the individual records they leave behind. They have to win, just like Nelson did when he was the AP College Basketball Player of the Year and led the Hawks to a regional final in 2004.

``Records are made to be broken,'' Nelson wrote. ``But you gotta win while u break them.''

Jones and the rest of the Hawks are poised to do plenty of winning this season. There's a buzz building on Hawk Hill over an experienced and talented team that was the preseason favorite to win a revamped Atlantic 10 and appears set to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

The consecutive 11-win seasons were left behind when Jones, Langston Galloway and C.J Aiken keyed the Hawks' leap from 22 losses in 2010-11 to a 20-14 mark and an NIT berth last season. Under coach Phil Martelli, the Hawks were one of nine teams to win 20 games a year after losing 20.

Martelli, entering his 18th season with 320 career wins, has his best team since Nelson and Delonte West led the Hawks to a 30-2 mark in 2003-04.

Saint Joseph's returns all five starters, most notably Aiken, the 6-foot-9 forward who was named the conference's defensive player of the year and was fifth in the nation in blocked shots (3.53). Galloway led the A-10 in 3-point shooting (47 percent) and Jones, the only senior in the starting lineup, led the Hawks in scoring each of the last two seasons. Throw in returning A-10 sixth man of the year, Ronald Roberts Jr., and it's easy to see why the Hawks were picked to win the conference for the first time since 2004-05 - and a year after they were picked seventh (and finished fifth).

``I don't run from it when we're 12th,'' Martelli said. ``And I don't run to it when we're picked first.''

Martelli never hid from the critics, even as the losses piled up, and another March would go by with the Hawks sitting at home. Temple and Villanova surged ahead as the city's basketball powers, winning conference titles, making regular NCAA trips, and scarfing up some of Philly's top recruits (Lavoy Allen, Maalik Wayns) all while the Hawks posted modest-to-lousy regular seasons as that 2004 burst became a distant memory.

Yes, 2004 was a triumph (27 straight wins, reached No. 1 in the AP poll, was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament) but it set a benchmark for success few programs could ever expect to match. The season still hangs over the program, with Martelli even asked at a recent media day how this seasons' team compares to Nelson, West and crew. Martelli never hesitated, offering a simple, ``It's not comparable.''

Martelli, though, never wavered in his approach to finding another exciting core of team-first players, even as the call for a fresh voice on the bench grew bolder on anonymous message boards or from disgruntled boosters.

``I understand their passion and I understand their disappointment,'' Martelli said. ``But in a moment of clarity, step back and think if they're any more disappointed or any more upset than the coaches. That's my livelihood. I don't ever want these players to ever leave and say, `That wasn't worth it.'''

The only letdown last season was the fact the Hawks feel like they let an NCAA bid slip away with some bad losses down the stretch. Martelli also pointed out the Hawks led at some point in the second half of 11 of their 14 losses, leads a more veteran team might not let get away.

``We spent a lot of the postseason walking around with our heads down, mumbling,'' Martelli said. ``I wanted them to be disappointed that we didn't get more, that we were unfulfilled, but I also wanted them to hold their chest out, stick their head high in the air, look at our history and tell me how many times we won 20 games.''

Saint Joseph's received 11 first-place votes and 434 points from the panel of A-10 coaches and media. Saint Louis, Temple, Massachusetts; and VCU and Butler - new additions to the A-10 and recent Final Four teams - are all in the mix for the top spot. Six teams earned first-place votes.

``I haven't had to bring them down off a mountain or from the clouds,'' Martelli said.

But he could lead them deep into March.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: John Wall goes 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, celebrity softball and the Summer League

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: John Wall goes 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, celebrity softball and the Summer League

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, John Wall went 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, the celebrity softball game and the Summer League.

Chase Hughes and Chris Miller broke down the parallels between Wall and Harper and why Wall has chosen to stay loyal to Washington in his own contract decisions. Plus, can the Wizards really tone down the talking this season?

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Additions: Pernell McPhee (free agent)
Departures: Junior Galette (free agent)

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Other roster locks: Ryan Anderson, McPhee
On the bubble: Pete Robertson

How the outside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: By any measure, the Redskins had a top-10 pass rush last year. They were tied for seventh with 42 sacks and they got a sack on 7.3 percent of pass attempts, also seventh in the league. Looking forward to this year, Pro Football Focus has them ranked as the sixth-best pass rushing team for 2018. Ryan Kerrigan is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches age 30 and Preston Smith is about to hit his prime. After the departure of Galette, the depth is questionable, and we’ll deal with that next. Even without Galette, it’s still one of the best units in the NFL. 

To the 2017 Redskins: Some downplay the decision to let Galette walk in free agency, saying he had just three sacks. But his value went beyond that. He had 9 QB hits and 25 hurries, both second-most on the team, in just 258 pass rush snaps. Someone will have to step up and replace that pressure. The spotlight will be on Anderson, who had no sacks after being a second-round pick. He will need to step up for this year’s Redskins pass rush to be as good as last year’s. 

2018 outside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: Since the 2015 season, only one NFL player has at least 20 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions and it’s Preston Smith. His consistency is an issue but even when he is going for a few weeks between sacks he is getting pressure on the quarterback. Still, there is more ability there. Smith could set himself up for a big payday by breaking through with a double-digit sack season while continuing to make big plays in his contract year.

Most to prove: To be fair, Anderson did not get a whole lot of chances to rush the passer last year, playing just 81 pass rush snaps. Still, there are reasons to be concerned about how much he can produce after a zero-sack, one-hit, three-hurries 2017 debut season. Anderson was not expected to make a splash as a rookie, but more was anticipated. He was drafted where he was in part because of his work ethic. The Redskins hope he will work his way into a significant second-year leap. 

Rookie watch: There are no rookie outside linebackers on the roster. 

Bottom line: The main concern about the Redskins’ defense this year revolves around the cornerback spot following the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland. The best way to manage problematic cornerbacks is by getting a strong pass rush. The Redskins need to Smith to have a true breakout season and for Anderson or McPhee to be a strong contributor off the bench. Along with the improved defensive line, the pass rush could transform the defensive line into a quality unit in 2018. 

2018 Redskins Position Outlook Series