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Jones, Golic Jr. have Notre Dame dads on mind

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Jones, Golic Jr. have Notre Dame dads on mind

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame wide receiver T.J. Jones has plenty on his mind as he prepares for the talented Alabama secondary he'll face in the BCS championship game Jan. 7 in Miami.

Still, he can't help thinking about his late father, Andre, who died in June 2011 at age 42 after suffering a brain aneurysm. The elder Jones played on Notre Dame's 1988 national championship team, and T.J. grew up hearing stories about his dad's coach, Lou Holtz. His godfather is Raghib ``Rocket'' Ismail, the team's star receiver and kick returner, and he stays in touch with many of his father's Fighting Irish teammates.

T.J. keeps his dad's championship ring at home because his mother is afraid he would lose it at school. He hopes to place his own right next to it.

``Before I came here, we used to always talk about how cool it would be if we both won the national championship, especially if we won it at Notre Dame, once I committed here in high school,'' Jones said after practice Thursday. ``So I definitely have a more personal tie-in with what it means than somebody else might.''

Jones isn't the only Irish player following in his father's footsteps. He's also one of several members of the nation's top-ranked team who have overcome obstacles and setbacks to make it to college football's biggest stage.

Last year, Mike Golic Jr., whose father was a star defensive tackle for the Irish in the early 1980s and currently co-hosts a morning talk show on ESPN, had been unable to win a starting job on the offensive line. As a graduate student this season, his hard work and determination changed that.

Golic said there were times when he struggled to go on, but his dad was always there with encouragement and advice.

``You have to stay sharp,'' he said his father told him. ``You have to stay ready. If I wasn't ready when my number was called, then I'm letting everyone else down as well as myself. Staying ready and being accountable for what I was responsible for in my role on the team at that point, was his message to me.''

Golic said he appreciates how tough it will be to protect quarterback Everett Golson from Alabama's swarming pass rush, but he's confident.

``They're big, strong, talented college football players,'' Golic said. ``Fortunately for us, we go against big, strong, talented guys every day in practice, on our defense. Our defense is built very similar to theirs - a lot of very talented guys, big bodies, who play a very similar scheme and similar techniques. It's been really a tremendous tool for us. ... It's going to really help us a lot.''

Freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell was recruited as a running back and came to Notre Dame with dreams of scoring touchdowns. Instead, coach Brian Kelly moved him to defense before fall camp started.

``Of course I always think about what it would be like if I played running back,'' Russell said. ``But it would have been tough to have a big impact coming in this year, with (running backs) Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick having such great seasons, and George Atkinson III. If Coach said I could play running back next year, I wouldn't do it because I've come to enjoy corner a lot.''

The transition wasn't exactly seamless. Russell had to learn a new position and completely shift how he prepares for the game. The touchdown pass he gave up during the season opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland, still sticks in his mind.

``I think I've gotten a lot better,'' Russell said. ``My confidence has increased from the first game, when I allowed that touchdown. I was beat down after that. But I've kept getting more experience throughout the year, learning the techniques of other players and the schemes of our defense.''

Russell said he embraces the challenge of guarding Alabama receiver Amari Cooper, also a freshman.

``He's very strong, runs great routes, knows how to attack the ball,'' Russell said. ``It's going to be fun, me and him looking each other in the eye, freshman to freshman. I'm going to be looking him in the eye, every play, and letting him know I'm here.''

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WATCH: Rui Hachimura punishing Spurs interior defense with dunk and two layups

WATCH: Rui Hachimura punishing Spurs interior defense with dunk and two layups

As Rui Hachimura continues to grow and take his lumps at the NBA level, one important point of development for the Wizards' rookie will be finishing through contact at the rim. 

The Wizards play the Hornets on Friday at 7 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Washington.

On Wednesday night against the Spurs, Hachimura hit a nice hook shot over LaMarcus Aldridge and then finished through traffic after attacking a closeout a few plays later. He entered the game shooting nearly 70 percent at the rim, a major reason why he's one of the top-scoring rookies this season. 

Then at the end of the first half, Isaiah Thomas found Hachimura on a back-door cut for the easy slam. Well-timed cuts are a great source of points for young players. 

After the break, the ninth-overall pick flashed a little finesse at the rim for another pretty finish. 

His three-point shooting will have to improve at some point down the line and learning better positioning as a defender is something every rookie has to go through. 

Both of those skills can be improved in the practice gym or in the film room. Finishing at the basket through contact is learned by repetition in-game, so it's a promising sign to see Hachimura take the ball to the rim. 

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When Gregg Popovich thinks the NBA will be ready for a female head coach

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When Gregg Popovich thinks the NBA will be ready for a female head coach

WASHINGTON -- The Wizards hosting the Spurs on Wednesday night brought together two of the 11 NBA teams that currently employ a female assistant coach. The Wizards have Kristi Toliver on their bench and the Spurs have Becky Hammon.

That confluence prompted a question to San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich on the future of women in the NBA coaching ranks and whether a head coaching hire could happen sometime soon. 

The Wizards play the Hornets on Friday at 7 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Washington.

Though it has been five years since he hired Hammon as the first full-time female assistant coach in league history, Popovich is uncertain on exactly when a team will make the leap to hiring a woman to run their operation.

"That depends on people and organizations," he said. 

"It's a process and it doesn't happen quickly. But I think the more women there are [in the game] and as it becomes more commonplace and more the rule, it will then depend on an organization realizing there are women that can do this. Every woman can't, every man can't. But the point is there gotta be enough to choose from and it's gotta be pretty commonplace before I think somebody's gonna pull the trigger."

Popovich believes it will happen, he's just not sure when. The Wizards hiring Toliver last summer was another step in that direction and he believes she and others are showing the basketball world what they are capable of.

"There's no difference between a woman who knows the game and a man who knows the game. It's just another prejudice that probably has to be overcome just like a lot of other prejudices in the world have become less and less as people paid attention to them," Popovich said.

Hammon made the news over the weekend when Popovich was ejected from the Spurs' loss to the Kings and a committee of assistants coached the rest of the game. Popovich was asked why he didn't appoint Hammon to serve in the role for the rest of the game and he told reporters he was "not here to make history." 

Still, though there has never been a female head coach in any of the four major U.S. sports, it seems like the NBA is by far the closest with people like Hammon and Tolliver already knocking on the door.

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