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Florida insists Sugar Bowl foe Louisville is legit

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Florida insists Sugar Bowl foe Louisville is legit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Florida seniors Jon Bostic and Omar Hunter are done dwelling on what might have been if not for their lone loss to Georgia.

After finishing third in the BCS standings, one spot too low to play for a national title in Miami, the Gators asserted they remain highly motivated heading into Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl against two-touchdown underdog Louisville.

Hunter even suggested a victory for fourth-ranked Florida (11-1) over No. 22 Louisville (10-2) would be a ``program changer,'' because Florida has not been to a BCS bowl game since Tim Tebow left after the 2009 season.

Last year, the Gators nearly missed out on the postseason, finishing the regular season 6-6 before posting a 24-17 victory over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. This season, only a 17-9 loss to Georgia on Oct. 27 got in their way.

``Being able to get this program back to a BCS game and possibly winning the game is big for our program,'' Hunter said. ``Being able to say that you brought Florida back to the top before you left is going to be special for these seniors.''

The Gators are hesitant to buy into the idea they'll just roll over the champions of the Big East without much resistance.

One reason is their familiarity with Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who was Florida's defensive coordinator from 2003-09, a period that included national championships in the 2006 and 2008 seasons.

``I played for his defense and I know how he talked to us and got us ready for games and I know their defense is going to be ready,'' Hunter said. ``Coach Charlie Strong is a great coach. He's going to give everything he has to those guys and those guys are going to come out ready.''

Strong has sought to motivate his players by playing up their underdog status.

``Nobody really gives us a chance,'' Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith said. ``We kind of take that to heart and want to show everybody what we can do.''

Cardinals safety Calvin Pryor said he believes Louisville will ``shock the world.''

``I have confidence in my team and the guys who I play with and I feel like this is a big statement game for us,'' Pryor said. ``I feel like we're going to make big things happen on Wednesday.''

Strong said he may get a little sentimental when he walks onto the Superdome field and sees some of the players he recruited on the other sideline and hears the Florida band play the fight songs with which he became so familiar over the years.

Yet the importance of the game for Strong has more to do with matching his team against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference, home to national title winners the past six years, than the fact he used to coach in the Swamp.

``It's going to be key for our program because we have a chance to go play a Southeastern Conference opponent, an opponent that's one game away from playing for a national championship,'' Strong said. ``If you look at the Southeastern Conference, look at the national championships over the last few years, it speaks for itself. ... Our team, they're really excited about it.''

Strong had a chance to rejoin the SEC as Tennessee's head coach, but chose instead to remain at Louisville, an indication of how far he believes he can take Cardinals football, particularly if he keeps prolific sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater around the next couple seasons.

Bridgewater, an exceptional passer and scrambler, ranked eighth in the nation in pass efficiency, throwing for 3,452 yards and 25 TDs. Although he was worn down up by the end of the season, he was tough enough to overcome a broken wrist and sore ankle, and played a crucial part-time role in a 20-17 victory over Rutgers in late November that punched Louisville's BCS ticket.

He's now had a little over a month to rest, and is doing better, though Strong was coy about how much better.

``Our game plan is all about Teddy. So Teddy's healthy now,'' Strong said. ``I'm not saying he's 100 percent, but he's going to be better than he was in the Rutgers game.''

Bridgewater led an offense that scored an average of 31 points this season, and Florida's defense is assuming the quarterback is healthy. But the Gators aren't exactly lacking confidence in their ability to slow him down. The Gators rank first nationally in pass defense efficiency, fifth in total defense and third in scoring defense, allowing an average of 12.9 points.

With its defense playing so well, Florida was able to win this season with a ball-control offense that did not ask too much of quarterback Jeff Driskel, who completed about 65 percent of his passes for 1,471 yards and 11 TDs.

The Gators largely rode running back Mike Gillislee, who rushed 1,104 yards and 10 TDs, and who is a threat to break off long runs.

``You look at the big plays he's had in the open field, he can do a lot of things,'' Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. ``One thing we cannot allow him to do is cut back on us. If he does, he's probably going to take it to the distance.''

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Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

A couple of weeks ago, John Wall was spotted at a Washington Mystics game with no brace to support his Achilles injury, a sign that his rehab from the injury was moving in the right direction. 

On Monday night at the 2019 NBA Awards, the Wizards point guard gave affirmation that he is indeed continuing to get healthier and stronger.

"I feel great, man," Wall told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller on the red carpet. "I'm doing a great job with my body, taking care of that."

Specifically, Wall has been able to slowly increase what he can do on his legs. The recovery and rehab for an injury as severe as his is a long road, and the point guard is making sure not to speed up the process and risk hindering the progress. However, he's about to reach a pretty big milestone in the journey during the coming weeks.

"I'm about to start jogging in like two weeks. Just riding the bike, I get to do exercises standing up now, so I don't have to sit down. I'm able to move, do ladder steps, doing those types of things," Wall said. "Just taking my time and progressing and letting everything heal the right way so I don't force myself back and get another injury."

As Wall continues to work to get back on the court, he's had plenty of motivational factors pushing him through some grueling months. His recent string of injuries have left some wondering if he'll still be an elite player when he finally.

He's heard those comments and he's using them to his advantage.

"I'm one of those guys that's very driven by all the hate and all the negative talk I'm getting. Keep it going," Wall said.

"Everybody said I can't be myself, I won't be nowhere near as good again. That's all the other stuff that's going to fuel me. I don't get upset about it, you're entitled to your own opinion. Please keep it going."

The haters have given Wall some extra juice, but so has his son Ace. Spending the offseason getting right has allowed Wall to work in another area of life: fatherhood.

The newest addition to his family has taken his desire for greatness to new heights.

"I've always had that drive that I want to be the greatest. To have a son like that, that's watching everything I can do. Even though he doesn't understand what's going on, he's putting memories in his head," Wall said. 

"So that gives me extra, extra motivation to another level I never thought I could. Like I said before, that's the best blessing a man could ever ask for is to have a son."

While Wall's offseason has been a busy one as he juggles rehab and being a dad, he's still been very involved in everything going on inside the franchise.

He's already chatted with first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura, and is excited for what is to come for the Wizards. Wall is also hoping that Hachimura will help improve his Japanese so that he can grow a larger following internationally. 

As the calendar slowly turns to July, both Wall and the Wizards' offseasons will ramp up. It's been an up and down time for both lately, but he's excited about the future.

"I think it's good," Wall said about the Wizards situation. "We added some pieces. See what we do in free agency to add some guys to bring back or we're going to go after somebody new. I think we'll be fine."

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Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

While he was putting together the best season of his career, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was also making a profound impact off the court and those efforts have earned him a significant honor, the NBA's 2018-19 Community Assist Award.

The news was revealed at Monday's NBA Awards in Santa Monica, CA as Beal got the nod over nine other finalists. He is the second Wizards player to win the honor in just the last four years following John Wall in 2015-16.

Beal was involved in a variety of charitable efforts this past season. He has partnered with the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast Washington to help underprivileged youth. He visited the school in December and gave out shoes.

During the All-Star break in February, as he made his second appearance in the annual showcase, Beal handed out meals at a food bank alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This past year he also gave out Christmas presents in the Washington area and took a group of kids on a tour of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Beal was named a finalist for the Community Assist Award in April along with Jarrett Allen (Nets), Mike Conley (Jazz), Khris Middleton (Bucks), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), Dwight Powell (Mavs) and Pascal Siakam (Raptors). Part of the criteria was based on fan voting through social media that was held from April 24 through May 25.

Beal, 25, continues to ascend on the court as well. This year he posted career-highs in points (25.6/g), assists (5.5/g) and rebounds (5.0/g). He nearly made All-NBA in late May with the most votes of any guard that was left out.

In Beal and Wall, the Wizards have quite the combination. Both have been All-Stars on the court and now both can say they won the NBA's top honor for charity work as well.

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