Capitals

Rutgers basketball coach Rice back from suspension

Rutgers basketball coach Rice back from suspension

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice returned to the court Saturday after a three-game, 16-day suspension for inappropriate behavior and language.

Rice held a walk-through session with his team in his first work since he was suspended without pay and fined $50,000 on Dec. 13 for a violation of athletic department policy.

``I may not be perfect, but I know I'm going to change and improve,'' Rice said. ``I brought this on myself. For 21 years, I've asked my players to change and improve. Now I have this opportunity to do that myself. Whether it is the teaching methods, the discipline, I've thought a lot about the way I do things. I'm going to develop the things I need to work on and make this a positive.''

Rutgers (9-2) went 3-0 under associate head coach David Cox, capped by a 68-56 win over Rider on Friday. Rice will be back on the bench Wednesday when Rutgers opens Big East Conference play at No. 9 Syracuse.

During the suspension, Rice attended his 14-year-old son's basketball games and shopped for Christmas presents with his wife, Kerry, for the first time during a basketball season. The worst moment was when his family was getting ready to attend a game against UAB on Dec. 16.

``They wanted to be there for the team and I couldn't go,'' he said.

Rice is in his third season at Rutgers after coming over from Robert Morris, where he led the school to two straight NCAA tournaments in 2009 and 2010.

``I hate putting a stain on Rutgers basketball and Rutgers University,'' Rice said. ``I'm going to apologize to as many people as I can. I want them to understand that I am going to change and they are going to be proud of the way I behave.

``I'm going to have the same passion, energy and intensity, because that's who I am. It's the same thing with recruits. I tell them one thing I do is make them uncomfortable. If you're a good shooter, I want to make you a great shooter.''

Senior forward Austin Johnson didn't notice anything different about his coach.

``I think anybody who is accountable for their actions deserves a second chance,'' Johnson said. ``He did what he did and now we're just happy to have him back on the sidelines. He's the same Mike Rice. That's our guy. He's intense and emotional, and that's the guy we came here to play for.''

Rice said one of his regrets was that his suspension took the spotlight away from the players, especially sophomore guard Myles Mack, who is shooting 58.9 percent from the floor in averaging 14.5 points.

``He's the same guy to me,'' Mack said. ``I love him for who he is and what he's done for the program. It feels the same to me. We followed the same fundamentals that he taught us while he was gone.''

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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