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Indiana expect another top recruiting class

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Indiana expect another top recruiting class

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Devin Davis likes being No. 1.

He was the first player to commit to Indiana in this year's recruiting class, the first to send in his national letter-of-intent Wednesday and he hopes to be the first to hang more than one national championship banner during his career in Bloomington.

The 6-foot-6 forward was one of five players expected to sign with the Hoosiers on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period. School officials were waiting for the last player in the six-man class, which has been rated in the top five nationally, to sign before talking about the incoming freshmen.

Davis couldn't wait to start talking.

``I'm really excited, just playing in front of all of those fans and playing for Coach (Tom) Crean, you couldn't ask for much more,'' said Davis, who plays at Warren Central in suburban Indy. ``And now that they're ranked No. 1, it makes it even better.''

There's only one problem: In a group this talented, Davis isn't going to Bloomington as the top-ranked recruit.

That honor belongs to 6-9 forward Noah Vonleh, who has been rated in the top 10 nationally. The New Hampton (N.H.) Prep star announced last week he had chosen the Hoosiers over Syracuse, Ohio State, Connecticut, North Carolina and Georgetown.

The rest of the group doesn't trail by much.

Troy Williams, a 6-6 forward from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, and Stanford Robinson, a 6-4 shooting guard from Henderson, Nev., have both been ranked in the top 60. Luke Fischer of Germantown, Wis., is considered one of the nation's top centers. And Crean got two of the state's best prep players, Davis and Collin Hartman, a 6-6 forward from Indianapolis Cathedral.

The question isn't how good this class will be, it's how Crean intends to fit them in.

Indiana (2-0) has only three seniors on the roster - Derek Elston, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford. Adding six freshmen next fall would put them over the NCAA's scholarship limit. If 7-foot center Cody Zeller left early for the NBA, as some believe he will, that would open a fourth roster spot but would still leave Indiana two over the limit.

Crean faced a similar situation earlier this year until Ron Patterson enrolled in prep school after Indiana announced he had not met the school's academic requirements. It could happen again, though Davis and Hartman have big plans for their college careers.

``Obviously I want to go in and contribute right away. That's my goal right now is to get myself set up for that,'' Hartman said. ``I really just want to come in and hang banners. I just want to be part of that and contribute to it. I think they're going to do big things.''

Purdue (1-1) signed three players Wednesday morning - guard Bryson Scott and forward Basil Smotherman, both Indiana natives, and forward Kendall Stephens, an Illinois native with strong Indiana ties.

The 6-1 Scott averaged 25.2 points and .6.5 rebounds at Fort Wayne Northrop last season, while Smotherman averaged 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds at Lawrence North, another suburban Indy school.

``Bryson gives us a lead guard and we think we can play two point guards together. I think when you look at teams that play two point guards together, it's really hard to defend,'' coach Matt Painter said. ``Smotherman is a kind of a combo forward that has the size to play the three and the four. We think he can be a matchup type of guy.''

The most intriguing signee, though, might be Stephens. He averaged more than 24 points as a junior at St. Charles East High School and 17.1 points as a sophomore and comes from a lineage of scorers.

Like Scott, Stephens is considered a Top 100 recruit, and Stephens made it clear that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Everette, who scored more than 1,000 points during his career at Purdue.

``Any time someone wants to be at your place and be at your Purdue because of his mom and dad, you're going to recruit those guys,'' Painter said. ``He's a great person and a great player.''

While the Indiana and Purdue men stole Wednesday's headlines, as usual, they certainly weren't alone in signing players.

Notre Dame signed forwards V.J. Beachem and Austin Torres and guard Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia. Beachem, Torres and Jackson all played high school ball in northern Indiana. Vasturia is from New Jersey and played was the Philadelphia Catholic League's MVP at St. Joseph's Prep.

``We felt that we needed to strengthen our perimeter game with this year's class and I really think that we accomplished that,'' coach Mike Brey said.

Butler, a two-time national runner-up, signed three recruits in its first recruiting class since joining the Atlantic 10. Coach Brad Stevens said the Bulldogs (1-1) received letters from 6-10 Nolan Berry, a Missouri native; 6-7 Andrew Chrabascz of Cushing, Mass.; and 6-2 Rene Castro of Worcester, Mass.

``One of the things that we've really tried to prioritize in the class of 2013 was recruiting kids with competitive maturity, guys who have won and guys who we think are mature beyond their years and will have an impact sooner, rather than later,'' Stevens said in a statement.

Indiana State signed Brenton Scott, who averaged 16.3 points at Fort Wayne Northrop and is the twin brother of Bryson Scott, who is headed to Purdue.

It wasn't just the men bringing in new talent.

Purdue's women's team signed 5-9 guard Ashley Morrissette from Twinsburg, Ohio, and 6-2 swing player Bridget Perry from Indianapolis Roncalli.

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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained connected to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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