Wizards

No. 3 Kentucky reloads with 4 talented freshmen

No. 3 Kentucky reloads with 4 talented freshmen

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky lost six players from last year's national championship team and is again projected to be title contender this season.

Yes, Wildcats coach John Calipari signed another talented freshman class.

The high expectations remain after the Wildcats won their eighth title behind freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. All were first-round NBA draft picks along with Terrence Jones; Doron Lamb and Darius Miller went in the second round.

It's a tough act to follow for freshmen Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein - but Kentucky is ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll.

Nearly seven months after Calipari won his first title with a team anchored by underclassmen, he is eager to see if this group can go as far as their predecessors.

``We're just so young,'' Calipari said. ``If we had to play a game right now, we'd probably be the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth team in our league. Now, let's hope in two months that that's not the case.

``I like our talent. I like our size. I like our length. We have some guys with pretty good speed. We're just not a good basketball team right now. Too many young guys that we're trying to bring along.''

Replacing a lineup that accounted for 92 percent of last year's offense definitely gives Calipari room to exlpore many options with an incoming class that includes three McDonald's All-Americans. The Wildcats are taller than last year's squad and have just as much quickness, in addition to veterans ready to fill a variety of roles.

Leading the way is 6-foot-10 forward Noel, considered the nation's top recruit. His offensive and shot-blocking skills have already drawn comparisons to Davis, That's high praise considering Davis earned many of the nation's top awards and was the NBA's top overall pick.

Noel acknowledges the comparisons to Davis, but said, ``this is a different day (and I'm a) different person. I'm bringing my own game to this team and interested in winning games.''

Poythress, 6-7, is considered one of the nation's most versatile forwards and can play several positions. The same has been said about 6-4 guard Goodwin, who gives Kentucky another excellent swingman.

Cauley-Stein, a 7-foot center, lacks the accolades of his fellow rookies but brings athleticism that has Calipari considering pairing him with Noel. Calipari could even play a trio of big men with a lineup that features Noel, Cauley-Stein and 6-10 sophomore Kyle Wiltjer, the Wildcats' leading returning scorer at 5.0 points per game

Just don't ask Calipari how this group stacks up against last year's team - one he describes as a once-in-a-lifetime squad.

``Comparing this team to that team in March is not fair,'' Calipari said. ``They're not going to be (that team). We're going to turn it over. We're going to get pushed around.

``Defensively, we're going to have breakdowns. Offensively, we're going to look like `what in the world are they doing?,' and it's going to be the process we go through.''

And like any Calipari team, the question is whether that process is for the short or long term.

Of the 15 Wildcats that have gone on to the NBA since Calipari's arrival in 2010, eight left after their freshmen season. The departure of last year's entire rookie class has ratcheted up questions about this year's recruits, all of whom are already being projected as high NBA draft choices on various web sites.

At the top of the list is Noel.

He was the subject of an NCAA probe into the funding of his unofficial visits to Kentucky before being cleared to play earlier this month. While that has eased the concerns of Big Blue Nation for the time being, neither he nor his fellow freshmen have said specifically how long they'll stay.

``That's a hard question to answer,'' Cauley-Stein said. ``A lot depends on how you feel at the end of the season.''

No matter what they decide, Calipari has dealt with turnover very well.

``I wish I had the whole team coming back,'' he said. ``I wish I had teams for three and four years, but that's not the way it is. I've talked enough about how I can't stand this one-and-done stuff, but it is what it is. I'm not going to cheat the kids. I'm not going to have kids stay that need to leave.

``We just deal with what's left. It's funny. We've had kids leave every year, and our teams have been good, if not better. So they're chasing their dream, and it's not hurting us.''

As that guessing game continues, Calipari is teaching the Wildcats how to play defense while trying to figure out his lineup and where the offense will come from.

There's potential for all four freshmen to have breakout seasons, along with opportunities for two transfers now eligible to get minutes and for a group of returnees to step up their contributions.

Julius May, a 6-2 guard, could play a significant role for Kentucky. A graduate student who averaged 14.1 points and 2.5 assists last season at Wright State before transferring, he could provide the veteran leadership needed along with Twany Beckham, the Wildcats' only senior.

``More often than not it could be me (speaking up), but other guys have spoken up at other times,'' Mays said. ``We have a young group but a very mature group, and that's important.''

Sophomore Ryan Harrow, also 6-2, is also eligible after transferring from North Carolina State and is expected to contribute at point guard. Wiltjer provides a backup big man, needing to improve his scoring and defense.

In guards Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson, Sam Malone and Beckham, the Wildcats have players capable of filling in where needed.

``This is all exciting,'' Calipari said. ``I mean, think about it. It would be boring to have the same team every year, I think. We're coming in and have no idea. I have in my mind things that I think will work, and they may or may not work.''

One thing that never changes are the championship expectations.

``I like what they'll look like in March in my mind,'' Calipari said of the Wildcats. ``Right now, that's the only thing I can live with. I have a vision of what they're going to be in March, and that's what I try to drive them to.''

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Aaron Holiday

School: UCLA
Position: Point guard
Age: 21 (turns 22 in Sept.)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 187
Wingspan: 6-8
Max vertical: 33

2017/18 stats: 20.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 46.1 FG%, 42.9 3PT% (2.7 3PT/6.2 3PA), 82.8 FT%
Player comparison: Darren Collison
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 19th, NBADraft.net 24th, Bleacher Report 23rd, Sports Illustrated 23rd

5 things to know:

*Holiday played big minutes in all three seasons for the Bruins. As a junior, he broke out as an elite scorer, averaging 20.3 points while also dishing 5.8 assists per game. Holiday scored in a variety of ways, including at the free throw line where he averaged 5.8 attempts per game and knocked them down at 82.8 percent.

*He is a terrific three-point shooter, one of the best in this draft class based on his college numbers. He hit 42.9 percent of his shots and on 6.2 attempts per game. Holiday shot 42.2 percent from long range in his three-year college career and never shot below 41 percent in a season. He had some games where teams just couldn't stop him from long range. He made four threes or more in 13 college games. Twice he went 5-for-5 and he once made six threes against USC.

*Though he has the skillset to play off the ball as a shooting guard, his size will limit him at the NBA level. Holiday is just under 6-foot-1 in shoes and doesn't have the vertical leap to make up for it. He does, however, have a plus wingspan. At this point, Holiday seems to be solely a point guard, though as long as he's good at the position there is nothing wrong with that.

*Holiday worked out for the Wizards at Capital One Arena. He was part of their first week of predraft workouts and by all accounts had an impressive visit. He hit a lot of shots and fared well in the interview process.

*Holiday has two brothers currently in the NBA. Jrue is a former All-Star who starts at point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. Justin is a shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls. His sister-in-law, Lauren, is a former member of the U.S. women's national soccer team.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards already have a point guard in John Wall, so Holiday would have no long-term path to starting. That said, he would shore up a need the Wizards have been trying to address for years.

Backup point guard has been a real void for the Wizards for most of Wall's tenure. This past season they tried out all sorts of options between Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier, Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson. Though Satoransky remains on the roster, the Wizards don't appear content with their depth at the position.

Holiday's ability to hit threes is very attractive to the Wizards who could conceivably play him off-the-ball alongside Wall, or even Satoransky. Given Wall (6-4) and Satoransky (6-7) are taller than most point guards, they could theoretically guard shooting guards on the other end.

Holiday would add smarts and shooting to the Wizards' bench in the short-term. In the long-term, he could help lengthen Wall's career by taking some of his workload away and also give the Wizards more options once Wall enters his 30s.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

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Need to Know: The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger

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Need to Know: The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 17, 39 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The best Redskins players 25 or younger

Here is a look at the best Redskins players who have played at least one season and will be 25 or younger as of Week 1 this year. 

WR Jamison Crowder, 25 as of Week 1—Crowder hit the ground running in his first year, with 59 receptions, a team rookie record, and gaining 604 yards. He has been very dependable in his three years, averaging 64 catches, 747 yards, and four receiving touchdowns per year. 

OLB Preston Smith, 25—Since he came into the league, no player but Smith has at least 20.5 sacks, three or more interceptions, and four or more forced fumbles. His sack numbers tend to be up and down from week to week, but Jay Gruden has said more than once that Smith is very consistent in getting pressure on the quarterback even if he doesn’t always get home for the sack. 

DL Matt Ioannidis, 24—A year ago it was thought that he would face an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster. Now goes into the season as a starter and key contributor. The 2016 fifth-round pick got much stronger between his first and second seasons and he took well to the coaching of new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Only a broken hand that cost him two games and had him playing with an awkward cast for a few more kept him from threatening to make double-digit sacks. 

DL Jonathan Allen, 23—The Redskins were just starting to get a hint of what Allen could do early in the season. Pro Football Focus credited him with a total of three sacks in the Redskins third and fourth games. But in their fifth game, he suffered a foot injury that ended his season. Allen was a full go for the offseason program and there is no reason to think that he won’t pick back up right where he left off. 

S Montae Nicholson, 22—Like Allen, Nicholson’s rookie season was shortened due to injuries. He took advantage of the absence of anticipated starter Su’a Cravens and made an impact from the beginning. While the 2017 fourth-round pick and free-agent pickup D.J. Swearinger were in the lineup the decade-long struggles the Redskins have had at the safety position were suddenly gone. 

Best of the rest: WR Josh Doctson (25), C Chase Roullier (25)

It should be noted that DL Daron Payne turned 21 in May and RB Derrius Guice will the 21 later this month so they could be joining this list soon. Assuming those two start, the Redskins will have nine quality starters aged 25 or younger this year. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Redskins wide receiver Jamison Crowder was born on this date in 1993. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 39
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 53
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 76

The Redskins last played a game 166 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 84 days. 

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