Freeze guides Mississippi to quick turnaround


Freeze guides Mississippi to quick turnaround

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Hugh Freeze is working his turnaround magic again - this time in the Southeastern Conference.

The unlikely major college head coach, who was leading a high school program less than a decade ago and cobbled together the bulk of his offense by watching college games on his couch, has Mississippi competitive in the SEC and just one win from bowl eligibility.

Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2 SEC) will be about a two-touchdown underdog when it visits No. 7 Georgia (7-1, 5-1) on Saturday, but both sides expect the game to be competitive. That's hard to believe considering the Rebels were in the midst of an embarrassing 16-game SEC losing streak less than a month ago.

``What I see is a team that has a brand new head coach that's brought a lot of energy to the program,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ``A lot of times, you just never know how close you are to winning and breaking through and having success.''

Ole Miss was closer than many thought.

The Rebels won their first SEC game in more than two years against Auburn on Oct. 13 and then got a road win against Arkansas last Saturday. With each successful weekend, the Rebels' confidence has grown, and it's Freeze's unmistakable yet subtle fingerprints that have provided the biggest difference.

The low-key Freeze might be the least surprised person about the turnaround. After all, he's done this before.

The 43-year-old had already engineered remarkable one-year turnarounds at NAIA-level Lambuth (Tenn.) and at Arkansas State before accepting the Ole Miss job.

But both those revivals were done in relative obscurity. This one has been done in the harsh glare that comes with coaching in the nation's best college football conference.

It hasn't fazed him one bit.

The scary part for opponents? The Rebels are just now starting to believe.

``I see confidence growing, but yet their demeanor has stayed workmanlike,'' Freeze said. ``And I think the best teams that I've coached have had that quality. You're very confident, but it doesn't hurt your work ethic and the way you go about your business.''

That's not to say the Rebels still don't have issues.

Quarterback Bo Wallace has been a huge upgrade at quarterback, but still makes too many mistakes, throwing nearly as many interceptions (9) as touchdowns (10). The defense is thin and undersized at several spots, and ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in most major categories.

But in more proof that football's a mental game, simply gaining confidence has lifted the Rebels from league laughingstock to respected opponent.

Freeze's roster consists of most of the same players who won just two games last season. They didn't miraculously grow into 300-pound monsters or turn into speedsters overnight.

``There is no magic - the magic is in the effort,'' Ole Miss offensive line coach Matt Luke said. ``I think, number one, it's that the players know (Freeze) cares about them and in turn, they want to perform for him and each other. He's a genuine person. He's not scared to take a hard line. If someone misses class, he sits them. There's no wiggle room and kids respect that.''

Ole Miss junior cornerback Charles Sawyer said Freeze's egalitarian system has been a welcome change.

``He holds everyone accountable, and I mean from the star players to the scout team,'' Sawyer said. ``When you have a scout team guy, a star offensive player and an assistant coach all held to the same standard, it really produces a lot of respect.''

Freeze shrugs when asked how he builds that quick rapport with his players.

``It's the only way I know how to coach,'' Freeze said. ``That's who I am.''

Freeze's wide-open offense has also been a boost for the Rebels.

Unlike many major college coaches, who count a long list of legends as their mentors, Freeze developed most of his philosophy when he was a high school coach in Memphis, Tenn. He would comb through taped college games and write down plays that appealed to him in a notebook.

Some of it was Oklahoma and some of it was Oregon. He gained respect for guys like Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin in the process, coaches known for their ability to put points on the board in bunches.

Ten years later, he's turned those plays into a coherent offense.

Can it work in the SEC? It's early, but it certainly appears so.

``Everything that's going on now, it's not a surprise,'' Sawyer said. ``I felt this team was going to be different. Now that it's actually happening, you're not surprised, you're just appreciative.''


AP Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed to this report from Athens, Ga.


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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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