Redskins

Kentucky's standout freshmen seek own identity

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Kentucky's standout freshmen seek own identity

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky's latest group of talented freshmen hear the constant comparisons to last year's NCAA championship team and are aware of the expectations they face.

And they're getting advice on how to handle the pressure from those with firsthand experience, including Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. As freshmen they led Kentucky's title run that raised the bar for the newest Wildcats.

They have urged Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress to develop their own identity and avoid measuring themselves against a team that had six players selected in the NBA draft.

The message has been received.

``We know who we are as individuals and that's what we focus on,'' Noel said during Thursday's media day. ``We know what we're going to do this year, and we know what they did last year. We're just looking forward to doing the best we can to get another championship.''

The freshmen insist the school's recent trend of `one-and-done' players isn't a given for any of them.

Their attitudes won't stop the comparisons or the championship expectations of Big Blue Nation that tips off in earnest Friday night, when Kentucky begins practice with Big Blue Madness before a capacity crowd at Rupp Arena.

``What (Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist) told us was to bond as a team because that's the main thing,'' Goodwin said. ``They said if we do that, nobody can break it and we have to have each other's back no matter what happens.

``But they also said not to live up to the expectations of last year's team. We're two different teams. They were a great team and we're trying to do things just like they did, but at the same time we're our own team and we don't even know how good we are yet.''

But as usual, what the Wildcats lack in experience, they make up in talent.

Noel has drawn the most attention on and off the court.

Considered the nation's top recruit, the 6-10, 228-pounder has been compared to Davis because of his size and outstanding shot-blocking skills. His 6-inch high-top fade hairdo - which featured a shaved-in UK logo the day he signed his letter of intent - brings back memories of the late-1980s rap duo Kid `N Play.

But there are still questions whether Noel will even play for the Wildcats.

Though academically eligible after finishing summer classes to meet reclassification requirements, the NCAA has only cleared him to practice as it probes the funding of his unofficial visits to Lexington.

Kentucky danced around questions about Noel's status.

Coach John Calipari deferred to athletics department spokesman DeWayne Peevy, who cited school policy of not confirming eligibility until the first day of competition.

Until told otherwise, Calipari seems to proceeding as though Noel will play.

The coach is mulling how to use Noel and Cauley-Stein, a 7-footer from Olathe, Kan. Kentucky also has 6-7 Poythress, who can play both forward spots, and Goodwin, a good shooting guard.

The Wildcats also should get contributions this season from two transfers.

Guards Julius Mays - a graduate student who had one year of eligibility remaining after playing two years at North Carolina State and last season with Wright State - and sophomore Ryan Harrow, also a North Carolina State transfer, who sat out last season.

``I may stack them together, put them on the same side of the court,'' Calipari said of Noel and Cauley-Stein. ``I'm going to mess around. I don't know how much per game we'll play those two, I really have no idea.

``We have some ideas, random pick-and-rolls we may try. But the basics of the first week of practice, we're going to be a great defensive team. We're going to fly up and down the court, we'll teach the dribble-drive and attacking the basket and really zero in on rebounding because I think that's one of the things this team should be good at and needs to be good at.''

Despite having one of the nation's top recruiting classes, Calipari cautions against expecting a fast start from this squad.

Kentucky opens the season against Maryland in Brooklyn, N.Y., followed by Duke at Atlanta, and the coach insists the Wildcats could lose both games and still be a ``really good team.''

If the Wildcats do struggle this year, the freshmen appear willing to stick around campus more than one year to develop into a championship squad.

``You have to come in here looking at this as a four-year deal because education's really important,'' Poythress said. ``My mom's really big on that and I'm a great student, so I can probably stay here and try to get my degree.''

Noel, Goodwin and Cauley-Stein expressed similar intentions to stay longer, leaving open the possibility of an early departure if the right opportunity develops.

They seem to have an appreciation of Kentucky's basketball tradition - not surprising with a banner signifying the most recent title hanging in one corner. And like last year's squad they have found chemistry off the court and are eager to see how it transfers on it. They also are ready to meet their own expectations.

Which at Kentucky, better start with winning national championship rings.

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Zach Brown says Redskins defense will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor during joint practices

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USA TODAY Sports/@TerrellePryor

Zach Brown says Redskins defense will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor during joint practices

Terrelle Pryor made a number of highlight reel catches last year during training camp, and it appears the Redskins defense didn't like it. 

Washington's marquee free agent signing last season, Pryor came into Richmond with sky-high expectations. Throughout the training sessions last August, Pryor put on one-handed displays at the Jugs machine and often made big catches in team drills. It's also important to remember there was never any live tackling during these drills, leaving defenders at a distinct disadvantage. 

Zach Brown remembers the scene quite well, and thinks it will look very different this summer when Pryor comes to Richmond as a member of the New York Jets. 

"That’s going to be something right there. The boys are gonna have it out for him. We can put hands on him now," Brown said on Inside the Locker Room on the Team 980 (full audio here).

Brown explained that Redskins coach Jay Gruden would not allow the defense to hit Pryor last year, even when the wideout did some showboating. 

"Jay ain't here to protect you anymore," Brown said.

The Redskins linebacker explained that he tried to explain to Pryor that the one-handed catches from training camp would not translate in the NFC East, where players get hit hard. It doesn't seem like Pryor listened, as he finished the season with only 240 receiving yards on 20 catches in nine games. 

"The boys were already hot for what he was doing last year," Brown said. He added, "Try to one-hand something while you’re with the Jets, you’re gonna catch a forearm."

One incident that supports Brown's comments came when Bashaud Breeland got thrown off the practice field last training camp. Breeland got mad that he wasn't allowed to get physical with Pryor at the line of scrimmage, and the scene blew up. Breeland eventually got sent off the field after arguing with coaches. 

The Jets visit the Redskins for three days of practices beginning August 12th. The two teams then square off in the second preseason game on August 16th. 

Brown will get his chance at Pryor, assuming the wideout plays. Pryor finished the 2018 season on the injured reserve, but is expected to be fine once training camp begins in New York. 

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

We're just a couple of weeks away from the midway point of the 2018 Major League Baseball season, which means many casual fantasy baseball players have collectively turned their attention to the gridiron. This is good news for those of you still interested, because outside of the truly competitive leagues, it's about to get much easier to navigate the waiver wire and make winning trades.

That said, we'll still be here all season long, providing advice for anyone looking to gain a competitive edge in their fantasy leagues. There's a lot to digest in the upcoming week, as many teams (including the Washington Nationals) will play a full seven game slate. It's an especially great time for stars in baseball, as a whopping six players are on pace to record seasons with 8.7 Wins Above Replacement or higher, but there's still plenty of great options beyond the obvious guys.

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 12 (6/18-6/24)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Max Scherzer

We won't often include a guy on the level of Mad Max in our recommendations, but consider this a statement against the other pitchers. With Stephen Strasburg on the DL, Gio Gonzalez is really the only other startable option in the rotation, and while he's a fine play against the Orioles, he's not a sure thing. Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball, so when in doubt, it's easy to fall back on his name. For now, feel free to use Gonzalez if needed, but the only clear, recommendable one this week is Scherzer.

One Nationals position player to start: Adam Eaton, OF

Consider this your reminder to not get cute and just start Adam Eaton whenever he's healthy. When he can manage to avoid time on the disabled list, he's consistenly been one of the best players in Washington, and an absolute must-start in fantasy. Yes, he's hitting "just" .286 in five games since returning from the DL, but there's no reason to believe he won't bounce back to one of the top hitters in the National League once he gets back in the swing of things. As long as he's hitting at the top of the Washington lineup, he'll be one of the top run producers in baseball.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Erick Fedde

We likely would have advised against starting Fedde regardless of matchup, given his relative struggles in his two starts with the Nats this season. He's got a nice 9:2 strikeout-to-walk rate, but the ERA sits at an unsightly 5.91. What makes matters worse is the matchup; Fedde is once again slated to face the vaunted New York Yankees lineup. In New York, he allowed two home runs in just five innings, and while Nats park isn't the hitter's haven that Yankee Stadium is, the sluggers in their lineup make for a daunting matchup in any city.

Fedde probably isn't owned in most leagues, and there's no reason for that to change, even with his spot in the rotation likely secure as long as Strasburg isn't throwing.. 

One Nationals player to sit: Daniel Murphy, 2B

Nats fans were understandably rejoicing when Daniel Murphy returned to the lineup last week. It's always fun when one of your stars is back on the field after missing so much time. Still, like most players who haven't face in-game pitching in several months, Murphy has been slow to re-adjust at the plate. He's recorded just two hits in 15 at-bats, has only walked once, and has yet to notch an extra-base hit of any kind. His OPS is below-.200, and while no one should expect that to last, there's no need to rush him back into your lineups either.

It would be pretty tempting to slot Murphy into your 2B or middle infield spot now that he's healthy, since you likely drafted him to be one of your studs, but given his lengthy absence, the nature of his original injury, and his slow start since returning, it's probably a good idea to leave him on your bench for a week or two. Once he starts driving the ball again, he can start to return value for you, but there's no reason to let him drag you down in the meantime.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

Given that the rotation is currently in a state of flux, we can't confidently say any starter will get two starts. Fedde looks like the most likely candidate, but as we outlined above, he's still a pitcher you want to avoid for now.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

One of my favorite sleepers this week is Domingo German. One of the most surprising stats in all of baseball right now is that among starting pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, German has the second best swinging strike rate, behind only Max Scherzer. Swinging strike rate is a great stat to use when projecting future strikeout potential, and German's 15.9% is mighty impressive. German has a start at home against the Mariners and on the road against the Rays, so while it's not a cakewalk week, it's not especially daunting either. As an added bonus for those in points leagues, German is RP-eligible, giving you some extra roster flexibility.

The walks are a little high (21 in 53.3 innings) which has let to an elevated WHIP and ERA, but it's a good rule of thumb to follow the strikeouts when identifiying quality fantasy pitchers, and considering most of the two-start guys this week are obvious studs who are certainly already owned in your league, German is the exact type of option you should be looking to stream.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: John Hicks, C/1B (Tigers) 

This is a sneaky move, the kind that could easily get overlooked in most fantasy leagues but could provide a great return on investment. With Miguel Cabrera's unfortunate season-ending biceps injury providing an opening in the everyday lineup in Detroit, Hicks (who is catcher elgibile) will be taking most of the team's at-bats at first base going forward. While he's probably not worth rostering as a first baseman in most leagues, catcher is a notorious black hole in fantasy baseball in recent years, and this season might be the wost yet.

Hicks will maintain catcher eligibility all season long, yet he'll play the far less demanding first base every day, giving him less wear and tear on his legs, less concern with running the pitching staff, and most importantly, regular at-bats in a surprisingly not-atrocious lineup. Hicks isn't the type of guy you'd refer to as a league-winner prior to Opening Day, but he could make a real impact on a championship roster in the second half of the season.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Jake Junis, SP (Royals) 

Junis isn't the type of pitcher that I'd classify as a must-drop, but you shouldn't hesitate to move on if there's a clear better option on the waiver wire. Junis started the season strong and looked like a legitimate breakout player, but he's allowed six earned runs in each of his last two starts. A poor two-start stretch isn't the end of the world, which is why I'm not suggest that everyone jump ship regardless of team context. That said, he doesn't have the pedigree of a top pitching prospect, and he plays for one of the five worst teams in baseball, meaning you can't expect many wins even when Junis is throwing well.

At the very least, you prbably should leave Junis on the bench for the time being, and again, if there's an option you've been eyeing on the waiver wire, now is the time to strike. Don't feel bad if that means leaving Junis behind to free up a roster spot for your team.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Nice Threads: MLB reveals All-Star jerseys
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- On the Farm: Latest Nats prospect report