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Penn State trains focus on football, not courts

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Penn State trains focus on football, not courts

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Another milestone arrives for Penn State during the upcoming open week, but players have no plans to keep tabs of this event.

Ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, whose arrest last year sparked the scandal that plunged the program into turmoil, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. He'll likely spend the rest of his life in prison following his conviction in June of 45 criminal counts including child sex abuse.

Penn State players who had nothing to do with the scandal, but bore the brunt of the NCAA's wrath, have long moved on. They're focused on football and what's turning into a promising season - not the courtroom.

``No one pays attention to that,'' linebacker and senior leader Michael Mauti said Saturday with an icy stare after being asked if he would pay attention to Tuesday's proceedings. ``It has nothing to do with us.''

Not directly anyway. The NCAA punished the program with unprecedented penalties of a four-year bowl ban and steep scholarship declines for the school's handling of the scandal. Players were allowed by the NCAA to transfer right away, creating an offseason scrum in what amounted to college football's version of free agency.

In the end, more than 90 percent of the players stayed - and they're on four-game winning streak following the 39-28 victory Saturday over previously-unbeaten Northwestern. Next up is a trip to Iowa on Oct. 20

``You know what, I didn't even realize that it was coming up. I really didn't,'' defensive end Pete Massaro said. ``That's in the past. This program is moving forward.''

And with a dramatically different offensive philosophy, too, under first-year coach Bill O'Brien, the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.

The Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) ran 99 offensive plays against Northwestern - equaling the school record set in a 38-6 victory at West Virginia in 1966, former coach Joe Paterno's first season. Penn State outgained Northwestern 30-17 in first downs.

After a one-week visit at No. 24, the Wildcats dropped out of the latest Top 25 poll. Penn State received one vote in the poll - its first poll vote of the season.

Perhaps the starkest difference under O'Brien is play-calling. It's entertaining and bold, as evident by the 5 of 6 conversions on fourth downs including Allen Robinson's 6-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter with the Nittany Lions down 11.

But O'Brien wasn't done. Instead of going for the extra point to get Penn State within four, he decided to go for two. Michael Zordich rumbled up the middle into the end zone to get within 28-25.

Sparked by the fourth-down call, the Nittany Lions steamrolled over Northwestern from there in a 22-0 fourth quarter. For the year, Penn State leads the nation in fourth-down conversions (13) and attempts (20).

``We love it. It is an attitude kind of play,'' Zordich said about the fourth-down gambles. ``We want touchdowns. That is what this offense is about ... We love it because it gets your mind right.''

The defense loved it, too. Mauti's outside linebacker running mate, senior Gerald Hodges, gave his best performance of the year helping to shut down the Wildcats' potent attack to a season-low in total yards (247) a week after the Wildcats compiled a school-704 against Indiana.

The win was a huge confidence boost going into the bye week. The Nittany Lions will go through light workouts Monday-Wednesday, at least, and O'Brien will decide from there whether he'll run his team through any more drills.

There's still a lot upon which to improve, especially on special teams. A muffed punt by Jesse Della Valle at the Penn State 17 set up Northwestern's first score of the afternoon. Venric Mark's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Wildcats its short-lived 11-point lead late in the third quarter.

But the Nittany Lions rallied from adversity, like they have all season.

``Those things that happened over the summer and in the past are a lot bigger than football,'' O'Brien said. ``These kids are just having fun playing football right now and going to school.''

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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The Wizards refuse to tank, so be skeptical of those Bradley Beal trade rumors

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The Wizards refuse to tank, so be skeptical of those Bradley Beal trade rumors

Apparently Wizards owner Ted Leonsis could have been even more clear when he delivered the edict last week that his team will "never, ever tank."

Despite publicly stating the Wizards would not go through a rebuild, the trade rumors surrounding All-Star guard Bradley Beal have persisted. Bleacher Report created some buzz on Saturday with an extensive look at Beal's trade value and there will likely be many more stories written in the next several weeks leading up to the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 7.

What Leonsis said, however, should change how any rumors are viewed. He expressed firmly what team officials have been indicating for weeks, that if they are active at the trade deadline, it won't be with deals involving their main guys.

That means Beal is highly unlikely to be dealt. Otto Porter Jr. can be considered similarly and John Wall should go without saying given his current injury status and hefty trade kicker.

All of that doesn't mean the Wizards won't get calls. There are reasons why people are connecting the dots on Beal and Porter. The Wizards have underperformed this season and they are good, veteran players. That is generally the most basic formula for trade speculation.

Leonsis, though, made it clear that he doesn't want to go through a rebuild anytime soon and trading Beal would signify a reset. If the Wizards want to make the playoffs this season, as Leonsis said, they have a much better shot with Beal in the mix than without him.

So, for the Wizards to trade Beal, that would require a serious change of face and in a short period of time. Or, it would require someone in the organization with a differing opinion to overrule the owner. Neither scenario sounds realistic.

If the goal is to build on what they have rather than tear it down and start over, you could argue they would be crazy to trade Beal. He is 25, an All-Star who is still improving and he's under contract two more years. The roughly $56 million he's owed through 2020-21 is a relative bargain in this era of supermax contracts.

The Wizards can't 100 percent rule out a trade of any player, of course. No front office really can, with rare exceptions like MVPs or all-time greats in their prime. Generally, everyone has a price.

Nothing can be taken as a guarantee in these situations. But Leonsis' comments have made it about as clear as possible that Beal isn't going anywhere. Just keep that in mind when the rumors inevitably crop up in the next few weeks.

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If All-Star selections were based on play alone, Bradley Beal would be a starter

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If All-Star selections were based on play alone, Bradley Beal would be a starter

Bradley Beal’s stellar play ended the debate over whether the Washington Wizards leading scorer deserved a second consecutive All-Star berth – and started a new one: Should he start in the game?

Now, based on the latest batch of fan results, Beal will not in fact start. Fans account for 50 percent of the vote with current players and Beal ranked 10th among Eastern Conference guards. Current players and selected media members each receive 25 percent of the vote. Beal’s case is not so overwhelming that those factions would stuff the ballot box on his behalf.

Those future results remain fascinating regardless.

Beal’s performance throughout the season and particularly since John Wall went out with season-ending surgery to repair bone spurs in his left foot pushed him into the starter conversation.

Voting for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game, set for Feb. 17 in Charlotte, concludes Monday. Televised announcements for the starters (Thursday) and reserves (Jan. 31) come later this month followed by the draft on Feb. 7.

Boston’s Kyrie Irving is the runaway leader among the East guards in the fan vote followed by Dwyane Wade (Miami), Kemba Walker (Charlotte), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia), Victor Oladipo (Indiana) and Kyle Lowry (Toronto).

Unless Wade’s career achievement candidacy gains momentum among players and the media, the future Hall of Fame is not in the running for the other starting guard spot. The other five including Beal have the numbers.

Lowry, named a starter in 2015 and 2016, is second in the NBA with 9.4 assists, but this is not the steadiest of seasons for Lowry (31.1 percent on 3-pointers).

Oladipo continues his rocket ride toward the top of the NBA’s best guards, but the two-way threat missed 11 games for 30-15 Pacers.

That leaves Beal, Simmons, and Walker, who will represent the hosting team in the big event. Walker ticks ahead of Beal in scoring as the Hornets do the Wizards in the NBA standings. Comparing on-off numbers gives Washington’s leading man the edge.

The lengthy Simmons, one of the league’s most unique players, veers close to averaging a triple-double. There is also the weirdness of the 6-foot-10 point-forward attempting literally zero 3-point attempts.

Beal’s numbers, strong throughout the season outside of a 3-point shooting dip, zoomed upward after Washington lost Wall in late December. Overall he joins James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only players averaging at least 24 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.4 steals. The Wizards, in the midst of their best collective work this season, are feeding off Beal’s vibe and all-court game.

Again, the lack of interest from the fans – surely in part of Washington’s struggles this season -- dooms Beal’s starter hope. The recognition from the players and media members might offer a different take on a player performing as well as almost any guard in the league.

That remains true whether Beal starts or not. He will not, but there is a strong argument that he should.

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