Nationals

Marquette moves on without Crowder, Johnson-Odom

Marquette moves on without Crowder, Johnson-Odom

MILWAUKEE (AP) Last year was not an easy one for Buzz Williams and Marquette as injuries and other issues cost him depth. The team was forever forging a new identity.

So how did Marquette manage to go 14-4 in the Big East, finishing second, and advance to the Sweet 16 for a third consecutive season with a 27-8 record?

Jae Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year, and Darius Johnson-Odom had more than a little to do with it. And now they are both gone, earning NBA paychecks, leaving Williams to figure out how to replace their combined 35.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Those numbers represent 47.7 and 33 percent of the team's totals, respectively, from a year ago.

It's a challenge that Williams has excelled at during his six previous seasons at Marquette, the last five as head coach.

``Every team is a house,'' Williams said. ``We all live in that house and when the season's over, that house goes on the market and you can't live in it again. They were pretty impressive and you can argue that they were maybe the best (combination) of guys that's been here in a long time but relative to who replaces them and how that plays out, nobody knows that. We're in a different house.''

Williams has a strong foundation for this project, starting with point guard Junior Cadougan, who averaged 6.3 points and 5.4 assists in 28.6 minutes per game. The 6-foot-1 native of Toronto was effective behind Johnson-Odom, but will need to find a way to reduce his team-leading 90 turnovers from a year ago.

``Things happened last year and I'm over that,'' Cadougan said. ``I'm more mature now. I've been playing three years and I'm ready. I have to limit the turnovers, we need every possession.''

There is a lot of potential in the supporting cast, headlined by guard Vander Blue. A highly regarded recruit from Madison, Blue has evolved slowly at Marquette and in 35 games as a sophomore, averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds. Todd Mayo and Jamil Wilson saw significant playing time last season, combining for 14.9 points per game, and will be counted upon to take an expanded role this year.

In the paint, what was a major liability a year ago could turn into one of the Golden Eagles' biggest strengths. Marquette opens camp with two solid post players in Chris Otule and Davante Gardner.

Otule, a starter last season, played in just eight games due to a torn ACL suffered in the opening minutes of Marquette's 79-77 victory over Washington in early December. Gardner stepped in and was impressive, but was limited after a knee injury in January.

``Davante and Chris are probably two of the better 5's that have ever been on the same roster because they're so different as players,'' Williams said. ``The dynamic of those two guys is pretty good. I'd like to play a season with both of them healthy.''

A wild card could be senior Trent Lockett, who transferred to Marquette after three standout seasons at Arizona State. The Sun Devils' leading scorer a year ago, the 6-foot-5 Lockett averaged 13 points a game and shot at least 50 percent from the field in the last two seasons.

There are pieces in place, but Golden Eagles aren't counting on any one player to jump in and make up for what they lost in Crowder and Johnson-Odom.

``You never know who's going to step up. We had our individual workouts over the summer and you could see that guys have improved their games,'' Cadougan said. ``You can't really point to one person who's going to score points, we just have to play as a team and see what works out.''

Williams will find out quickly how good his new-look team is: The season opener on Nov. 9 is against No. 4 Ohio State and the non-conference schedule includes games against No. 10 Florida and No. 23 Wisconsin.

The Golden Eagles will be without Williams for the Big East opener, Jan. 1 against Connecticut, due to a one-game suspension levied by athletic director Larry Williams for recruiting violations.

``We're playing a much more difficult schedule than we've ever played so I think we'll find out who we are quicker than we've found out in the past,'' Williams said.

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Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper's 2018 Home Run Derby win by the numbers

Bryce Harper is the 2018 Home Run Derby champion.

In his home ballpark, Harper put on a show Washington won't soon forget.

He ran through a division foe in the first round in Freddie Freeman, took out a strong, hefty lefty in the semifinals in Max Muncy and then hit nine home runs in 47 seconds in the final minute of the final round when it seemed like he had no chance. On the second swing of his 30 seconds of extra time, Harper launched a bomb to deep center field to win.

And while winning the Home Run Derby in his own ballpark is an impressive feat on its own, the numbers behind his victory make it all the more impressive.

3.

He is just the third hometown winner of the Home Run Derby in the history of the event. Todd Frazier did it most recently in 2016 in Cincinnati, and Ryne Sandberg won at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 1990.

13.

Harper won each of the first two rounds with 13 homers. He didn't need his full time in either of the first two rounds.

446 & 441.

Harper's first two home runs of his first-round matchup against Freeman traveled farther than any of the Braves' superstar's dingers.


10.

In the semifinals, Harper only hit three homers in the first minute, but then blasted 10 in his next 11 swings. That's called efficiency.


5.

In the first round, Harper hit five of the 10 longest home runs of anybody in the field.


45.

Harper hit 45 bombs en route to claiming the title. Here's a visual representation of all of them.

That's also how many dollars cheaper Nats tickets will be... oops!


2.

That's John Wall's number and this is him celebrating his fellow D.C. sports superstar's victory.


19,058.

Bryce Harper hit an absurd 19,058 feet of home runs during the 2018 Home Run Derby. That's more than the 5k you ran last year.

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With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

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USA Today Sports Images

With All-Star Game in Washington, Bryce Harper looks back on baseball life, ahead to uncertain future

It's quite possible that, despite nearly a decade of being in the spotlight, gracing the cover of magazines and operating as a transcendent star in the sport of baseball, Bryce Harper's attention-drawing powers reached their apex this week in Washington as the 2018 All-Star Game took center stage at Nationals Park.

Harper has played in plenty showcase games before, he's participated in the Home Run Derby, he was the first overall pick in 2010. But this time the Midsummer Classic is in his professional baseball hometown and he is the primary ambassador for both the team and league. 

Oh, and this is also a pretty big year for his future. The 25-year-old is just months away from being one of the most sought after free agents in the history of the sport and perhaps soon the highest paid.

Harper took it all in stride on Monday as he held court in a club level ballroom at Nationals Park on South Capitol St. He knew the questions about his future were coming and he had answers for every single one of them.

Some of those questions included:

Do you ever have guys on other teams try to recruit you?

Has it ever crossed your mind how odd it would be to play somewhere else?

Do you have a relationship with [Yankees star] Aaron Judge?

One reporter didn't even finish his question before Harper sniffed it out.

When you shaved your beard [on June 19]... 

Harper: ..."it was because the Yankees were in town, right. You got it," he said sarcastically. "My beard was getting too long. My wife wanted me to trim it and it was a good idea."

Harper has by most accounts become closed off in recent years. His personality has been withdrawn. He famously began his first spring training press conference earlier this year with a written statement and a warning that any questions about his free agent future would result in him walking out of the room.

At least for a day, Harper was his old and congenial self. Though, he did explain why his personality has changed with the media in recent years.

"I think I've gotten older. I'm not going to say the same things at 16 that I do at 25," he said. "There were things that people did in college that they don't want people to know about. There are things that I've said in the media at 16 or 17 that I guess I was real about. I can't take them back and I don't want to."

Harper has been able to operate throughout the first half of the season while saying very little of substance to the media. The fact his batting average has dipped to just .214 has given him extra reason to put up walls.

As Harper addressed the media, he didn't offer any trademark one-liners, but he did get introspective about his life as a baseball player and his role as the face of the Washington Nationals.

He spoke glowingly about the franchise and the city, about how much he enjoys seeing the same faces every day, from his teammates to those in the front office to stadium employees and security guards. He shared his appreciation for the fans and area kids who look up to him.

The All-Star Game taking place in D.C. offered Harper a chance to reminisce. As Harper looked ahead to the Home Run Derby, he rattled off the most memorable homers he has seen at Nationals Park. 

He mentioned Jayson Werth's walkoff homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series. He brought up the time Michael Morse hit one to the top of the Red Porch in left-center and the many times Adam Dunn cleared the third deck in right field.

Harper was asked about his the pressure of playing host and the duress of struggling in a contract year. He told a story from his days at the College of Southern Nevada that put it all into perspective.

"I got absolutely dominated for two weeks prior to our season opening before fall ball. I'm sitting there at 16 years old, I just got back from Team USA," he recalled.

"I got punched out like nine or 10 times in probably a matter of about 12 at-bats against my own team... I sat down and was like 'you know what, I don't want to do this. I want to go back to high school. I want to enjoy those moments and do that.' But I knew that I couldn't do that. I sat down and they said 'you can't come back, you tested out.' I said 'okay, you've gotta cowboy up.' I needed to do what I needed to do. A week later, we started our fall ball season and I went deep in my first at-bat at Cashman Field. The rest is history, I guess you could say."

If Harper had indeed been able to go back to high school, his draft status would have changed. He never would have been drafted first overall by the Nationals in 2010.

Harper feels the pressure of playing in junior college ball with his draft status on the line, playing against guys who were four or five years older than him, was the toughest thing he has done in baseball. It prepared him for all of these moments, just like the media scrutiny did over the years.

"It was only what, [eight] years ago? It's those moments that make you who you are," he said. "I'm 25 years and old and I play this game of baseball every day. What pressure do I have to feel?... It's the game that I love to play. I'm getting chills [right now]. There's nothing greater than running out there wearing No. 34 and being Bryce Harper and loving the game that I play."

Harper remained patient and upbeat for the over 30 minutes that he addressed the media. He was soaking it all in and trying to embrace the attention he was receiving.

But it was one of those questions from above that provided a dose of reality to set in. When asked if it would be strange to play for another team, he reminded the reporters present of what could very well happen this winter.

"It's always a possibility [I leave]. I think that everybody knew that at the beginning of the year, that this could possibly be my last year in D.C. Everybody knows that. There's no elephant in the room. Everybody knows that it's a possibility, but I'm not really focused on that," he said.

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