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Jim Calhoun retires from UConn...

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Jim Calhoun retires from UConn...

From Comcast SportsNetSTORRS, Conn. (AP) -- As Jim Calhoun stood in his office at Gampel Pavilion, waiting for his final news conference as Connecticut's basketball coach, Pat Calhoun turned to her husband and gave him one final piece of advice."Don't change your mind," she said.Calhoun had stayed on at UConn through cancer and a recruiting scandal. He refused to retire after winning a third national championship in 2011 because he didn't want a new coach to serve his NCAA suspension. He came back again to finish last season after another absence, this one for spinal surgery.But on Thursday he finally retired -- on his own terms, with a hand-picked successor and no apologies."I never, ever, ever said that I was mistake free," Calhoun said. "But I was always trying to do the right thing. It didn't always work that way, but I was always trying to do the right thing."The 70-year-old Hall of Famer, on crutches after breaking a hip last month, made the announcement on the court in Storrs where he racked up many of his 873 total wins.He thanked everyone associated with the Huskies program -- administrators, players, fans and his family -- for his team's success, and played down both his health problems and troubles with the NCAA."There have been some bumps in the road," he said. "But we are headed in the right direction."Calhoun will take a transition appointment through next spring as a special assistant to athletic director Warde Manuel. When fully retired, he will become head coach emeritus.Calhoun has been slowed repeatedly by illness and accidents in recent years, including the fractured hip. He said the injury didn't cause him to retire, but gave him time to reflect on whether this would be a good time to leave."As I looked at everything. So many things are in place for us to even go farther that we have already," he said. "So I thought it was an excellent time."With just a month to go before the start of practice, there also was no time for a national search for a replacement. Assistant coach Kevin Ollie, who played point guard for Calhoun from 1991-95, but has never been a head coach at any level, will be the Huskies' new coach.Athletic director Warde Manual, who had balked at Calhoun's suggestions earlier this year to name Ollie as a coach in waiting, decided not to tag him with an "acting coach" label. He instead offered Ollie a contract that runs only through next April 4, with a pro-rated value of 384,615."I haven't seen him coach," Manuel said. "He's never been a head coach. This is a commitment to him to see what he is like as a head coach."Ollie, who played his way from the USBL to a 13-year NBA career, said he's not afraid of the challenge."I'm used to it," he said. "My first six years in the NBA, I didn't have no guaranteed contract. This is easy. This is exactly where I want to be at."Ollie takes over a team that returns only five players who saw significant playing time a year ago and failed to qualify academically for the 2013 NCAA tournament.Guard Ryan Boatright said the team didn't want to play for anyone other than Ollie, and will take it upon themselves to make sure his new coach gets to keep the job."He's a great person, and he loves us," Boatright said. "I wouldn't rather have nobody else than KO."Ollie is one of more than two dozen players whom Calhoun sent to the NBA, a list includes everyone from Reggie Lewis at Northeastern, to Cliff Robinson, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Rudy Gay, Ray Allen and Kemba Walker.Walker, who attended the news conference, said that will be a big part of Calhoun's legacy."He's showed us how to work," Walker said. "He's pushed me to be the best player and person I could be. He's one of the most special men in my life."Calhoun also will be remembered for turning a regional program into a national power -- winning an NIT championship in 1988, national titles in 1999, 2004 and 2001, 10 Big East regular-season championships and seven Big East Tournament titles."The thing that stands out to me is it's one thing to take over a Duke or a Kentucky and build it and win games and win championships," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who went into the Hall of Fame with Calhoun in 2005. "But 26 years ago Connecticut wasn't even thought of in the college basketball world. He's turned them into one of the top programs in the country. I think it's really, to me, the greatest building job that anybody's ever done."Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, who played for Calhoun from 1987 to 1991 said his influence goes beyond the basketball program. Calhoun, he said, made people aware that there was a University of Connecticut."When I went here, the number-one question we got, everywhere, was: Where is UConn? Isn't that in Alaska?" he said. "Nobody asks that anymore."

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Troy Brown Jr. on Bradley Beal's extension, making a name for the Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. on Bradley Beal's extension, making a name for the Wizards

WASHINGTON -- The Wizards hoped Bradley Beal's decision to sign a contract extension last week would send a message to the younger players on the team. According to second-year veteran Troy Brown Jr., it already has. 

Brown, 20, said he was part of a group of players that cheered Beal when he arrived at the team's practice facility over the weekend, the day after news broke. 

"I was happy," Brown said. "We just appreciate him."

Brown's biggest takeaways from Beal's new contract, which will keep him in Washington through at least the 2021-22 season, involved the commitment he has made. Even as a two-time All-Star in his prime, he is willing to see through what the Wizards are trying to build.

That helped bolster Brown's opinion of the Wizards as an organization.

"It's good to see guys like Brad stay home," Brown said. "Like he talked about, he got drafted here. It makes younger guys like me, Thomas [Bryant] and Rui [Hachimura] feel good about the city, just to see the leader of our team taking that extension when he does have other options."

Like Beal, Brown is a first round pick. The Wizards selected him 15th overall in the 2018 draft, six years after they took Beal with the third pick in 2012. Beal has been around long enough to know exactly what it takes to be a star player in the NBA.

Brown has paid close attention and believes Beal can help him and the other young players on the team find success in the league.

"He leads by example every day. He comes in, works hard and is very vocal. Even if he's not talking a lot in practice, he's going hard," Brown said. 

"It's just one of those things where every time you know what you're going to get out of him. You don't really have to worry about Brad's effort or being a leader because he's going to do that every day."

What Beal has done is essentially say he's ready to be patient and help guide the Wizards through a transition period. While other NBA stars probably would have forced their way out of the situation he's in, Beal is laying down roots with confidence the team's new front office structure and philosophy will pay dividends down the road.

Beal has spoken about how he wants to build something new in Washington where the NBA franchise hasn't won 50 games or been to the conference finals since the 1970s. Brown has fallen in line, hoping to be part of a basketball renaissance in The District.

"We're all young guys in the league, but at the same time we understand the stuff that's going on with D.C. [with the Nationals, Capitals and Mystics]. It's not irrelevant to us. We want to make a name for the Wizards. I feel like with us, we take it more personal than other people do. We just want to turn this thing around," he said.

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Among Astros’ strategies to figure out Nats starters is phone a friend

Among Astros’ strategies to figure out Nats starters is phone a friend

HOUSTON -- Houston’s scramble started Sunday, not long after Jose Altuve sent it back to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Clearing the haze from a postgame celebration came first. Next was a crash course in what the Astros were about to tangle with: the Nationals’ starting pitchers.

Any argument suggesting the Nationals have a chance in the 115th World Series centers on their rotation. If those pitchers can obtain 21 -- or more -- outs, Washington will have a solid chance. Staying away from the center of the bullpen remains paramount. Managing pitch counts to last as long as possible is crucial. It’s so important, Max Scherzer is throwing softer in the first inning simply to manage his in-game workload. 

Houston knows this. The Nationals know this. Somehow, Washington has survived to this point with the worst regular-season bullpen in postseason history. The starters have relieved in order to stay away from hole on the team. Tanner Rainey is now the third option out of the bullpen. Fernando Rodney is next. They back up Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. That’s the end of Davey Martinez’s trustworthy pitcher list.

The challenge for Houston is learning as much as possible about Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez in a short period. The Astros’ analytics department is touted as one of the best, if not the best, in baseball. There’s no information shortage. But there is a real-life experience gap.

Outfielder Michael Brantley faced Scherzer and Sánchez often when all three played in the American League Central Division. However, that was more than five years ago. Both Scherzer and Sánchez are different now.

“You can’t take too much information from something that was a few years ago,” Brantley said. “They’re great pitchers in their own right. They’re still evolving and making adjustments. We’ll watch video, we’ll study them, we’ll look at some video from the previous years, got to have a different gameplan going against them because they’re going to make adjustments just like I need to make adjustments.”

Houston’s World Series roster has faced Scherzer 92 times, Sánchez 83 times, Corbin 43 times and Strasburg just 27 times. Brantley owns more than half of those at-bats. Charts and information from the team will operate as the baseline for information. Players will also use their own preferred process to figure out Washington’s strength.

MVP-candidate Alex Bregman watched every postseason game the Nationals played. He paid particular attention to sequencing against players he felt are similar to him (he wouldn’t specify beyond middle-of-the-order, right-handed power bats).

He watched more video Sunday, then more Monday. He also grabbed his cell phone, because being in the box is so much different than watching a monitor.

“You can also call around the league and ask what other guys have seen and what they felt in the box, what they thought went wrong for them or what went right for them -- kind of pick their brain like that,” Bregman said.

Players use this tactic through the regular and postseason. As much as baseball has shifted to mathematical equations to expose tendencies and obtain advantage, players still prefer to hear from others performing the same job. 

Bregman wants to hear about sequencing and how pitches acted when coming toward a batter. Brantley is focused on tendencies against left-handed hitters, He wants to discover patterns in video from a most-recent start, as well as earlier in the year, noting an uptick in slider usage by Scherzer against left-handed hitters. He synthesizes the data next.

“I want all the information I can, and I’ll break it down to what I actually want to apply,” Brantley said. “I don’t need all the information, but I do need a lot of it to come up with my gameplan and what I want to do.”

Unlike Bregman, and many others, he will not call other players. 

“Because I want to see it through my own eyes and I want to trust my ability once I get to the plate and not have too many thought processes,” Brantley said. “Just want to be prepared.”

General philosophies apply, too. George Springer is more concerned about adjusting to what happens in real-time, or “on the fly” as he put it.

“In order to be successful, you have to understand what happened to you in that at-bat, whether it’s bad or good,” Springer said. “The good news is, you see the ball, you see what they may be doing. You know how hard they’re throwing. I know that these guys are that don’t necessarily throw their hardest in the first inning. They’re throwing 94, 95, which is still fast. By the eighth, they’re still throwing 99. You just understand kind of what the ball is going to be doing, then you have to adjust from there.”

Is he excited to face them?

“I wouldn’t say ‘excited’ is the right word to face a guy like Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg,” Springer said with a smile. “It’s a fight. It’s a grind.”

Houston’s first chance is Tuesday night against Scherzer. Strasburg follows. Corbin or Sánchez is next.

“It definitely is an advantage to have faced people before,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “But with the guys that team has, I’m not going to discount them at all. I’m pretty sure they’ll have a pretty good plan. But, yeah, I think if you’ve seen Max or Stras a hundred times or zero times, it’s not going to be fun.”

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