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At the movies, Saban prefers drama to comedy

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At the movies, Saban prefers drama to comedy

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban says he's not much for comedies. He prefers his movies to have a message, and part of his routine for getting his players ready to play in a big game has been to have them watch an inspirational film.

Saban thought long and hard Sunday during his last news conference before the BCS championship game against No. 1 Notre Dame, but couldn't be sure what movie his LSU team watched before it beat Oklahoma to win the 2003 title. Maybe it was ``The Last Samurai,'' he said.

The 2009 Alabama championship team that beat Texas in the Rose Bowl watched ``Remember the Titans,'' the Denzel Washington football flick. Last year, before the Crimson Tide beat LSU in New Orleans, Saban and his players watched ``Red Tails'' about the Tuskegee airmen.

``But I think the movie, regardless of whether it was `The Last Samurai' or whatever movie it was, really it was about the honor of - the message was the honor of being all that you can be, that maybe that might be more important than winning or losing, and that your focus should be on that instead of the outcome,'' he said.

Before Alabama played Notre Dame, the Crimson Tide were scheduled to watch ``Zero Dark Thirty,'' which chronicles the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.

What, no ``Rudy''?

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THE LINK: Frank Thomas had brushes with greatness at two of college football's powerhouses, and achieved plenty of it himself.

Thomas was a quarterback for Notre Dame's Knute Rockne and started a 15-year run as Alabama's coach in 1931, a year before a big country boy named Paul ``Bear'' Bryant came to play in Tuscaloosa. Bryant eventually returned to Tuscaloosa for a 25-year run as head coach, but didn't forget his coach.

``Coach Bryant had a feel for Notre Dame and I think a level of respect because of his coach, Frank Thomas, who he absolutely loved and thought was a great, great coach and referred back to him so many times,'' said Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, who played and coached under Bryant.

Thomas, who died in 1954, won 81.2 percent of his games, four Southeastern Conference titles and a couple of national championships. His winning percentage isn't all that far behind Bryant's (82.4 percent) or current coach Nick Saban (83.7, counting wins later vacated).

Lou Somogyi, senior editor of 247Sports' Notre Dame site, compares him to Notre Dame's Dan Devine, who replaced Ara Parseghian and won the 1977 national title.

``When you think of Alabama, you think of Bear Bryant first but Wallace Wade began it the way Knute Rockne did, then Gene Stallings and now Nick Saban,'' Somogyi said. ``Frank Thomas is sort of a forgotten figure at times.''

As a player, too. Thomas was listed as a third-team quarterback in 1920 as a roommate of George Gipp. He was a backup in 1921, and Somogyi said Thomas was replaced as the starter midway through the following season by Harry Stuhldreher, who became one of Notre Dame's famed ``Four Horsemen.''

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SEVENTH HEAVEN: The Southeastern Conference has won the last six BCS titles, and Alabama is looking to make it No. 7 on Monday night.

Crimson Tide center Barrett Jones said it's hardly automatic, however, that an SEC team wins it all. That notion that SEC teams are head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the nation is even farfetched to him.

``There are some people that may be a little too-SEC-biased. Don't quote me on that, but you probably will,'' Jones said. ``Certainly, don't get me wrong, I think the SEC is probably by a good margin the best conference. But that doesn't mean there aren't other good teams out there.''

Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson doesn't see any difference between Notre Dame and the best teams from his conference.

``They could play in the SEC,'' he said.

The SEC had another good postseason, going 5-3 in the bowls so far. Though losses by Florida and LSU were unexpected and two Big Ten-SEC matchups (South Carolina-Michigan and Georgia-Nebraska) weren't as decisive as many expected.

This is what passes as a disappointing bowl season for the SEC.

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FLYIN' HAWAIIAN: Shane Victorino will be in Florida - well, the other side of the state, anyway - in a few weeks to open spring training with the Boston Red Sox.

First up for the so-called Flyin' Hawaiian: A trip to the BCS title game.

Not surprisingly, Victorino is a fan of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who also hails from the state. And Te'o was thrilled to know that Victorino was coming down to lend Notre Dame his support.

``Shane Victorino is just a real good guy,'' Te'o said. ``We met him before and had the opportunity just to hang out with him for a couple days, and like I said, it's that bond between Polynesian players and even non-Polynesian players who know what Hawaii is all about. ... Just to have Shane here and have him experience this moment with us, he's family.''

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BK LIKE NICK: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is happy to be compared to Nick Saban. But, no, he hasn't spent much time buddying around with the Alabama coach.

``Well, Nick obviously has the reputation of being a great program builder,'' Kelly said Sunday. ``He's defined himself, as only a few coaches ... have won the championships that he has. So I take that as a great personal compliment, as it relates to constructing football programs and putting winning football teams on the field. I would take that moniker any time.''

Asked if he had ever crossed paths with Saban, maybe at public appearances, during the time Kelly was at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan and Saban was head coach for Michigan State, Kelly laughed.

``Public appearances for Nick?'' he said.

``Nick Saban, I got a chance to know him when he was at Toledo, a very short stint at Toledo, but I got a chance to know him through a couple of camps that I worked at, and got to know him better when he was at Michigan State. And I have a great deal of respect for him and followed his career, his path, and certainly when we see each other today, we're reminded about where we started. We both started in the Mid-American Conference, so a lot of the times that we talk, we talk about the times back in Ohio and Michigan.''

Saban started his coaching career at Kent State, his alma mater, and Kelly's first Division I job was at Central Michigan.

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WEST COAST TOUCH: Pac-12 officials will handle the BCS championship game.

Alabama was tied third in the country in fewest penalties per game at 3.8 for 32.8 yards. Notre Dame was middle of the pack nationally. The Irish were tied for 51st at 5.7 penalties per game for 42.9 yards.

Pac-12 officials have a reputation for being aggressive with the flags. Six of the 25 most penalized teams in major college football are from the Pac-12, including UCLA which was last at 9.2 penalties per game.

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AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds, John Zenor and Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.

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Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

WASHINGTON -- When identifying leaders from an outside perspective, it is only natural to look at the Washington Wizards and see Bradley Beal and John Wall, their two All-Star guards. Logic would suggest they set the tone for younger, less experienced players, that they are the ones the rookies should look up to.

But Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees similar value in less-heralded members of his team, the journeyman veterans to whom nothing has been given. Guys like Ish Smith and Gary Payton II have bounced around the league to varying degrees. In Payton's case, that has included extended time in the G-League.

Brooks has been tasked with creating an environment for the Wizards that is conducive to the development of young players and he believes those types of veterans set an important example.

"If you're really good, you have two or three All-Stars on your team," Brooks said. "But the league is made up of guys like Ish. His story can help the younger guys make it and stay in the league. It's what the league is about. He has the grit, the fiber, the substance and the experience to share with all the players who are trying to make it."

Brooks has used similar language to describe Payton II, who was first signed by the team to a 10-day contract last season. He was let go, then returned this past December and then had his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season earlier this month.

"He's fought and he's been cut many times and sometimes those are the guys you want in your program because they have that fiber, that toughness and that anger because they know that it can go away," Brooks said.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said on several occasions they want Brooks to install a culture and mindset with their young roster similar to the one he helped build in Oklahoma City. Smith happens to remind Brooks of one of his former players with the Thunder.

"I love guys on a team like Ish. We kind of had that guy with Nick Collison [in OKC], just a winning player on and off the court. Ish is the same way. I look at Ish the same exact way," Brooks said.

Collison averaged a modest 5.9 points in 14 NBA seasons, but was so respected for his leadership role that his jersey number was retired by the Thunder last year. 

There is another person guys like Smith and Payton II remind Brooks of and that is himself. Before he became a coach, he was a 10-year NBA player. And he carved out that career as an undrafted, undersized point guard.

He was constantly fighting for his NBA future on the fringe of rosters and was able to stick around only because of his hard work and toughness.

Though he played with some great teammates like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Brooks likes to think he left his own mark.

"I always took pride in having a relationship with the best player to the, well, myself; the worst player," he said.

"This game, it's a family and it's fun and it's about relationships; empowering and inspiring one another. You don't have to be a star player to do that. I've had great conversations with Olajuwon. I've had great conversations with players that only play on a 10-day or a year in the league. I took pride in it and I think Ish does the same thing. I think it's pretty important that we all are blessed and honored to be in the league, that now it's your job to leave your situation better than when you started it. We have a couple of guys on our team that can really carry on what we want our team to be about."

Ultimately, though, the Wizards' young players have to put in the necessary work to reach their potential. Brooks can teach them lessons directly and guys like Smith can do so indirectly.

But the players themselves have to understand the message.

"Now it's up to the younger players to listen to it. It's one thing to listen to John and Brad, but there's a great chance you're not going to be as good as John or Brad. There's a chance you're going to be a player like Ish," Brooks said.

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Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin is flying up the NHL leader board. 

Doesn’t matter if you want to specify this season or his career overall, Ovechkin’s hat trick on Thursday night in a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils helped in both cases.

Start with the big names. Ovechkin now has 689 career goals. He is inching closer to the magic 700 mark. Only seven NHL players in history have reached it. Before then he will pass Mario Lemieux (690) – fittingly maybe on Super Bowl Sunday Feb. 3 when the Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Then Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) are up next. These are incredible names, the greatest to ever play the sport. Ovechkin has etched his name into the record books with them all.

“[Lemieux was] one of my idols when I'm growing up,” Ovechkin said. “I get lucky I have a time to play against him, was on the ice with him a couple times. It's huge….They're legends. To be close to those guys, it's pretty impressive.”

Just looking at this season: Ovechkin is now at 31 goals. He needs 19 more in his 32 remaining games to reach 50 for a record-tying ninth time. For a time this season that appeared to be drifting away from Ovechkin. Now? Seems reasonable. Ovechkin will miss the Jan. 27 game against the Montreal Canadiens to serve a suspension for skipping the All-Star game in St. Louis next week. 

Ovechkin has pulled to within five goals of Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead (36) and is in third place overall. Toronto’s Auston Matthews is second (34). 

“It seems like every week at least that he’s breaking someone’s record,” Capitals teammate John Carlson said. “And they’re not cupcake records, either. I’ve said this before. I don’t think that as a teammate you realize what’s happening. It kind of becomes maybe a little more normal than if you’re in a different job or on a different team even.”

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