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New rule expands opportunities for young coaches

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New rule expands opportunities for young coaches

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) When longtime special teams coordinator Joe DeForest left to take charge of West Virginia's defense, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy took advantage of a new NCAA rule to help replace him.

Gundy brought in graduate assistant Ty Linder from Texas Tech and gave him oversight of the Cowboys' punts, kickoffs and field goals. It was a move made possible by a new NCAA rule that allows football programs to have four graduate assistants - instead of just two - starting this season.

Linder, an ex-linebacker for the Red Raiders, had worked with tight ends and special teams for four years at his alma mater before Gundy picked him to come to Stillwater. He had to wait in limbo for a few months until the rule took effect in August, in time for training camp.

``I knew we were going to need some help,'' Gundy said.

Oklahoma State also hired safeties coach Van Malone from Tulsa to fill DeForest's duties, keeping the number of allowed assistant coaches at nine.

Gundy ended up giving Linder a good deal of responsibility, along with some help. Another graduate assistant, Andrew Thacker, assists with the punt team preparations. Running backs coach Jemal Singleton aids with kickoff return plans, and Gundy works with the kickoff unit.

``He's not handling the workload like Joe did, but he's taking the lead on most of it and I've been involved in it a little bit more. I wasn't involved in the Kansas State game, but I was involved in the other ones,'' Gundy said, joking, after Kansas State got a 100-yard kickoff return TD from Tyler Lockett last week.

The Big East proposed the new GA rule as a way to provide additional opportunities for those with coaching aspirations, including minorities. As the title implies, GAs must be pursuing a postgraduate degree. The positions are intended for people who have finished school, or their athletic eligibility, within the previous seven years.

``More than anything, it allows you to bring them along as coaches, so there's a bigger pool when opportunities come for guys that are prepared for other jobs,'' said Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who started his career as a GA at Iowa. ``It also just allows you to have more people, whether it's working with scout teams or hands-on with your players. The thing is, we deal with a lot of players. It just helps getting more eyes and people in their ears.''

Oklahoma State's GAs have been high-profile this season. Beyond Linder, Jermial Ashley was pushed into a bigger role when defensive coordinator Bill Young had to miss two weeks early this season because of medical issues.

At Oklahoma, Stoops used the two extra spots to add a pair of former Sooners who'd played in the NFL: tight end Joe Jon Finley and All-American cornerback Derrick Strait.

``It's a big step, getting my foot in the door,'' said Strait, who started his new job in the spring. ``And what better place to start than at OU? All in all, it's a positive thing for me getting my coaching career started.''

While Strait said he's able to pass along tips from his playing career, he's learning as much as the players. He works with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and linebackers coach Tim Kish, trying to understand that position better. He also has some more menial tasks: preparing folders, hunting down information for his bosses, cutting up film - ``small things that people don't pay attention to,'' he said.

But this is about opportunity, not celebrity.

Bob Stoops remembers painting houses every summer just to make ends meet. He's convinced now that Barry Alvarez, Kirk Ferentz, Bernie Wyatt and others on the Iowa coaching staff didn't really need the work done, but let him do it because he needed the money. Oftentimes, Stoops would have to borrow $100 from Wyatt and pay him back on payday.

Jerry Emig, the athletic spokesman at Ohio State, said the Buckeyes' GAs get a stipend for lodging and meals, and they can participate in the university's health insurance plan, in addition to having their tuition covered.

``You've got to pay your dues before you get to that level,'' Strait said.

Linder won't exactly get the chance to match wits with the man he helped replaced when West Virginia visits Oklahoma State on Saturday. DeForest left to become the Mountaineers' defensive coordinator, in part because it could expand his resume in hopes of becoming a head coach one day.

In DeForest's 11 years at Oklahoma State, his special teams were considered among the best in the nation - with Dan Bailey winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker and Matt Fodge getting the Ray Guy Award for top punter.

``Joe's very good. His special teams' organizational skills for being a coordinator were excellent and his years of experience are excellent,'' Gundy said. ``We have a young guy doing it that I think's an up and rising special teams coordinator at some point in his career.

``But we can't take a 27-year-old and all of a sudden make him as effective as a 47-year-old. ... He has to learn on the run.''

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AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.

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What Wizards guard Chris Chiozza learned from playing with James Harden and Chris Paul

What Wizards guard Chris Chiozza learned from playing with James Harden and Chris Paul

WASHINGTON -- Point guard Chris Chiozza is hailed as a success story for the Wizards' G-League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, which played its first season last year as an expansion franchise. He joined the organization in training camp as an undrafted rookie and by February had played his way into an NBA contract with the Houston Rockets.

Chiozza initially signed a 10-day contract with Houston and ended up sticking around through the playoffs until late July when he was waived. That opened the door for a reunion in Washington where he landed on an Exhibit 10 contract last month.

His time in Houston was brief, but important for a variety of reasons. For one, Chiozza got some official NBA experience for the first time by appearing in seven regular season games. 

Chiozza, 23, is now back with the Wizards with a different perspective.

"It's a much more comfortable feeling now, just having that experience," he told NBC Sports Washington. "I wasn't expecting to be back here. But it's a great opportunity. I get along great with everybody here."

Chiozza is currently gunning for a roster spot with the Wizards out of training camp. With injuries to two of Washington's point guards, John Wall and Isaiah Thomas, Chiozza could earn some playing time early in the season behind projected starter Ish Smith. Chiozza's main competition is undrafted rookie Justin Robinson, who joined the Wizards on a three-year deal this summer. 

Chiozza could have his contract converted into a two-way deal, as they have an open spot there next to Garrison Mathews. That would allow Chiozza to start the season with the NBA team until G-League training camp begins on Oct. 28. Then, a 45-day limit would kick in for how much time he could spend in the NBA. Forty-five days, though, would be plenty for the Wizards to work with, as Thomas is expected to return from his left thumb injury not long after the season begins.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks believes Chiozza has a real chance to carve out a steady career in the NBA.

"I think he knows that he can play in the league. As a young player, you hope that you can be in the league but you're not quite sure if you can," Brooks said. "But with Chris, I think he knows he can play in it."

Chiozza draws confidence from having a full year of professional basketball under his belt. But he also had a unique experience playing in Houston. He got to square off every day at practice with two guards who will be in the Hall of Fame someday.

Chiozza got to see up close what makes James Harden and Chris Paul great. And he took away from that lessons of how he can elevate his own game as a point guard.

"It was crazy just to see how good of a one-on-one player [Harden] is. When you watch him on TV, you can't really tell how smart of a player he is with the reads he makes. He can read when it's his shot or it's time to kick out to a shooter. Just watching him and CP3 and how they read the defense is pretty interesting," Chiozza said.

"When I was growing up, [Paul] was my favorite point guard. Just being around him and going to his camps and stuff and then being on his team, it was crazy."

Chiozza said practicing with Paul is a different experience than in games where he is more conservative with his ball-handling and passing. In practice, Paul may surprise you by passing the ball through a big man's legs or with dribble combinations he doesn't allows deploy. Chiozza calls them "pick-up moves."

Chiozza saw the finer details of what makes two great guards the players they are. As he aims to find a niche in the NBA, that can only help his cause.

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Nationals to honor WNBA Champion Mystics prior to Tuesday's NLCS Game 4

Nationals to honor WNBA Champion Mystics prior to Tuesday's NLCS Game 4

There may be no victory parade until next spring, but the WNBA Champion Mystics will be honored in front of 40,000-plus people in the nation's capital on Tuesday.

The Mystics' tremendous season will be recognized in front of a likely sold-out crowd at Nationals Park prior to the Nats' NLCS Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday, the team announced on Monday.

Additionally, WNBA MVP Elena Della Donne will throw out the game's ceremonial first pitch. Head coach Mike Thibault will be involved in pregame festivities as well.

This comes after the Mystics took home their first-ever WNBA title last Thursday, defeating the Connecticut Sun 89-78 in a decisive Game 5.

Being honored at Nationals Park will be the latest of quite the celebrations from the Mystics. They earned props from President Barack Obama and were featured on Good Morning America Monday morning.

Congratulations to the Mystics, and props to the Nationals for honoring the latest champions from Washington, D.C.

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