Nationals

LIU-Brooklyn picked to win NEC

LIU-Brooklyn picked to win NEC

NEW YORK (AP) The top three teams in the Northeast Conference's preseason poll have as much experience on the court as any trio in the country. The big difference is on the bench, as in coaches.

The three men leading LIU-Brooklyn, Robert Morris and Wagner have a total of three years' experience as Division I head coaches and they all belong to Andy Toole of Robert Morris.

``On paper I am,'' Toole said when asked if he felt like the old man of the top of the conference. ``But it was just a few years ago that I was in the same boat as those guys. These are three teams with experienced, talented rosters.''

LIU-Brooklyn is trying to become the first team in the 32-year history of the conference to win three straight titles. The Blackbirds, who were the pick of the coaches in the preseason poll, have three all-league players back and assistant coach Jack Perri was promoted to replace Jim Ferry, who left for Duquesne.

``I'm not going to change a lot, that wouldn't be a real smart thing to do,'' said Perri, who was the head coach at Division III Rhode Island College in 2004-05. ``We'll stay aggressive and stay disciplined on both ends.''

The Blackbirds enter the 2012-13 season with a 27-game home winning streak, second in the nation only to defending national champion Kentucky.

They will have a new place to play some games this season, the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, about eight blocks from campus. The NEC was at the new building on Tuesday for media day.

LIU-Brooklyn will play the first college game in the Barclays Center, against Morehead State on Nov. 9. The second game of that doubleheader will have Kentucky facing Maryland.

``We love playing at home,'' Perri said, ``but it will be quite a thrill for us to get a chance to play some games at an arena as nice as this and we'll get to stay in the neighborhood.''

The Blackbirds received nine first-place votes from the coaches, while Robert Morris got the other three. Wagner was third in the balloting followed by Quinnipiac, St. Francis, N.Y., Sacred Heart, Monmouth, Central Connecticut, Mount St. Mary's, Bryant, Fairleigh Dickinson and Saint Francis, Pa.

Wagner will be led by Bashir Mason, the youngest coach in Division I at age 28. He succeeds Danny Hurley, who left to take over the program at Rhode Island.

Mason said his first few weeks of practice have been uneventful.

``I think in the summer is when the players made their adjustment to me,'' Mason said. ``Now that it's getting close to the games they're seeing a whole different level of intensity from me and they're adjusting to it.''

The coaches thought having media day at Barclays Center was a big deal for a conference like theirs.

``I think it's terrific,'' Toole said. ``When you talk to the other coaches, it's not that we were nervous, but we were curious to see how many people would show up. Was the buzz in the media the same as it was for the schools? When we were all having our picture taken this morning in the front of the room and we saw 25, 30 cameras you would have to say it worked. This is the real deal.''

Julian Boyd of LIU-Brooklyn, the reigning conference player of the year, was chosen as the preseason player of the year. He was joined on the first team by teammate Jamal Olasewere, Ike Azotam of Quinnipiac, Shane Gibson of Sacred Heart and Velton Jones of Robert Morris.

Mason, showing he might just be more savvy than a rookie coach, said he wouldn't talk to his players about being picked third because ``that's about where I figured anyway.''

However, he will go back to the team with something to talk about from media day.

``You know what was unexpected?'' he asked. ``That we didn't have one kid on the preseason team. I will mention that to them.''

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Nats rookie Juan Soto makes second MLB debut, retroactively hits HR on first-ever MLB at-bat

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USA Today Sports

Nats rookie Juan Soto makes second MLB debut, retroactively hits HR on first-ever MLB at-bat

The Washington Nationals hosted the New York Yankees to finish a once-suspended game, tied at 3-3 in the sixth inning. Though it seemed like just a makeup, it was anything but for rookie Juan Soto.

It’s true that Soto struck out as a pinch hitter in his first-ever game on May 20. Since then, the 19-year-old has caught fire, batting .312 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 23 games this season.

But the makeup of the suspended game took place on May 15, five days before Soto was called up to give the Nats an extra bat. Soto would make his major league debut once again.

Though it’s uncommon for a player to compete in a game prior to his major-league debut, it’s been done before. Barry Bonds hit a go-ahead single in a suspended game that dated a month before his debut. Closer Jeff Reardon threw a scoreless inning and picked up a win in a suspended game nearly two months before his debut, as well.              

After Anthony Rendon hit an opposite-field single in the bottom of the sixth, Soto pinch hit for Matt Adams who has missed the previous two games with a hand injury.                                                  

And Soto, with a chance to change his first career at-bat from a pinch-hit strikeout to anything but, did just that. He turned on a fastball and sent a rocket to right field. Aaron Judge took a few steps before looking up toward the bleachers. The ball landed in the second deck.

Talk about a first career at-bat. A no-doubt, two-run shot to give the Nationals the lead in a game that took place before his first major-league debut.

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Texas A&M big man Robert Williams likes potential fit with Wizards, John Wall

Texas A&M big man Robert Williams likes potential fit with Wizards, John Wall

In terms of the needs on their roster and the guys most likely to be available when they are on the clock at No. 15 in the first round, few players in this draft class seem as obvious a fit with the Washington Wizards more than Robert Williams of Texas A&M. So, it was no surprise that he not only visited them in Washington on Monday, but received the only individual public workout they have held during this year's predraft process.

Williams could be the answer to their longstanding quest for an athletic big man. No need to bring in five other guys for the usual six-player workout when Williams deserves a longer and more extensive look than most prospects they are considering.

The 20-year-old was put through a variety of drills Monday afternoon, just days before the 2018 NBA Draft. He likes the fit with Washington, if that's how things end up sorting out.

"I definitely feel like they could use a big like me, a defensive-style athletic big like me. I definitely see myself fitting here," he said.

Williams is one of the best big men in this year's draft. He is 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds with a 7-5 wingspan. He used that length to dominate in the paint at the college level.

Williams averaged a modest 10.4 points for the Aggies in 2017-18, but also 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. That was his sophomore year. He averaged 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks as a freshman.

He was a shot-blocking force the day he stepped on campus and believes those skills will translate to the professional ranks. In the NBA, Williams believes he can thrive because his defensive versatility will be even more valuable in a day and age where switching is paramount.

"I feel like I can guard all positions. That’s one of my biggest attributes," he said. "It’s just about embracing it, having fun stopping a guard. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can do it."

Williams may adapt to the NBA quickly on the defensive end and that's where the Wizards need help the most. They haven't had a consistent rim-protector in years. Last season, point guard John Wall led the team in blocks per game.

Offense is where the questions lie with Williams. He wasn't a big scorer in college and does not have much of an outside shot. The fact he shot just 47.1 percent from the free throw line this past season suggests he has a lot of work to do before he can stretch the floor.

Williams will need to find a niche offensively, likely as a rim-runner off pick-and-rolls. He sees a lot of potential in a possible pick-and-roll pairing with Wall.

"He’s an elite passer and an elite guard. Coming off a pick-and-roll, you have to pay attention to him as well as have to pay attention to me as well. It’s a win-win situation," Williams said.

Williams believes his offensive game will open up with more space at the NBA level. The Wizards have Wall surrounded by three-point shooters in Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Markieff Morris. Toss Williams into the middle and he could go to work in the paint doing the rest.

If Williams were drafted by the Wizards, he could look at Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets as a model to follow. Like Houston, the Wizards have two All-Star guards. An athletic big man who doesn't need plays run for him could be the perfect complement.

No one needs to tell Williams that, he is well-aware. He said that at nearly every stop during the predraft process Capela's name has come up.

"I knew that’s what you were going to say," Williams said to a reporter (raises hand) who asked about the Capela comparison.

Williams continued to say they are different players and it's not entirely fair to compare them. That exchange showed Williams has an edge to him, sort of like Morris. He's clearly not afraid to be honest when some players would not.

Despite downplaying the comparison, Williams can see what makes Capela successful.

"I’ve watched him. He’s a great player," Williams said. "He is around the right people. He just plays his role. He runs off a lot of screens. He gets up there and does what he has to do."

Williams is gearing up for Thursday's draft and trying to decide who he will walk the stage with, as the NBA has introduced a new tradition of each player walking with two people. He said it will likely be his mother and sister. Perhaps by the end of the night he will also walk that stage wearing a Washington Wizards hat.

For more on Williams, check out our extensive draft profile on him.

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