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Montgomery, Cal hope to continue program momentum

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Montgomery, Cal hope to continue program momentum

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Mike Montgomery and his California players consider last season an opportunity missed. The Golden Bears believe they should have won the inaugural Pac-12 regular-season title - and instead wound up in a tie for second.

With first-team all-conference guard Allen Crabbe leading a deep roster featuring three returning starters, Cal is determined to chase the championship this time around.

It will take playing more as a team to accomplish that, something Crabbe believes the Bears struggled with down the stretch.

Cal went 24-10 last season to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, losing in the first round 65-54 to South Florida in a most frustrating fashion.

``Unfortunately, we didn't win it the way we were supposed to,'' Crabbe said of the Pac-12. ``One of our main goals was to win the conference. It was a really good feeling almost doubling our wins from my freshman season. I just feel like we all expected that, we knew how good we were as a team. It wasn't good team play toward the end of the season. That cost us winning the Pac-12 like we should have.''

Montgomery, who begins his fifth season at Cal having taken his team to the NCAA tournament three times, would agree. The way he put it to his players: They didn't always trust each other to do the right thing. That, he said, kept the Bears from making the extra pass when needed, from staying on the same page with the game on the line.

``There was a little bit of, guys not confident in one another, not trusting one another toward the end,'' Montgomery said. ``As a result of that I think there came some fatigue, physically and mentally. We in some ways really overachieved until the end, and then underachieved. You could just see that it wasn't the same team it was earlier in the year when we were fighting for everything.''

Now, they're starting fresh - building this season around the catch phrase ``Berkeley Represent.''

No explanation necessary: win that conference championship.

It will be up to Crabbe, fellow junior guard Justin Cobbs and Co. to make that happen. Big man David Kravish also returns for a versatile and deep front court that allows Montgomery to mix and match. The coach is happy with the offseason strides made by forwards Bak Bak and Robert Thurman, while the guards are short-handed in practice with Ricky Kreklow working his way back from foot surgery that likely will keep him out until late November or early December. He sat out last season after transferring from Missouri.

Everybody is eager for the full roster to be together. Cobbs figures Cal might have more talent now.

``We've got to keep pushing and not focus on what happened last year,'' Cobbs said. ``We have a great opportunity this year to maybe win it. That always fuels you, being that close, and now we know what it takes to get there.''

Gone is Pac-12 player of the year Jorge Gutierrez, along with Harper Kamp.

Crabbe knows he will have to pick up even more of the load now. He led the Bears in scoring with 15.2 points per game last season, and also was Cal's leading rebounder with a 5.7 average and blocked 20 shots.

Montgomery is counting on Crabbe accepting a greater leadership role, and speaking up when necessary even though it's not in his nature to do so. Coming from Crabbe, Montgomery knows his team will listen.

``Team dynamics are really important, and it's hard to get kids to understand the intangibles,'' Montgomery said. ``There's a lot to be said for people who want to play for one another. You always talk about it, you always emphasize it, and you hope to get a group of kids who feel that way. That's something we've got to work on. But it takes leadership, and Allen, for one, has to be in the middle of that leadership.''

This summer, Montgomery agreed to a two-year contract extension through the 2015-16 season. The reward came after Montgomery revealed before last season that he had bladder cancer and surgery that left him cancer-free. He insists he is healthy and ready to go again.

He hopes to keep Cal a contender atop the conference. The Bears captured their first championship in 50 years when they won the Pac-10 in 2010.

Second-seeded Cal fell 70-59 to eventual champion Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals last season but still earned the program's third NCAA tournament berth of Montgomery's four-year tenure.

``I think we're projected third or fourth,'' Crabbe said. ``It just makes you hungry. It just makes you want to come out there and prove people wrong. We have enough talent. The only thing we really need to do is learn how to play together.''

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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

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@SwaggyPicasso

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained connected to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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USA Today Sports

Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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