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Signs, vigil mark anniversary of Paterno's death

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Signs, vigil mark anniversary of Paterno's death

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Flowers and mementos left by supporters adorned Joe Paterno's gravesite Tuesday, a year after the longtime Penn State coach's death, while at the spot where a bronze statue of him used to stand, a makeshift sign of cardboard flapped in a cold wind.

``Joseph Paterno. Always remembered. Always a legend,'' read the sign outside Beaver Stadium and attached to a tree with white wire.

The Hall of Fame coach died of lung cancer Jan. 22, 2012, at age 85. Besides the bouquets and signs, at least 150 supporters also marked the anniversary of his death with a candlelight vigil on a frigid evening at a downtown State College mural that includes a depiction of Paterno.

He died more than two months after being fired in the frantic days following the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on child molestation charges in November 2011. His legacy remains a sensitive topic for groups of alumni, former players and residents.

``I definitely think that everything that has happened isn't at all indicative of the kind of man that he was,'' said Bridget Beromedi, 32, of State College, who wore a shirt with Paterno's image. She held up a sign that read ``JoePa. Legends never die.''

She added that Paterno's role in the scandal ``got totally overblown because of his name. He got an unfair deal.''

Organizers lit candles inside white or blue paper bags, many inscribed with handwritten messages from supporters. The gathering slowly broke up within 45 minutes after mural artist Michael Pilato thanked attendees, several of whom wore ``JVP'' buttons on their winter parkas.

A family spokesman said the Paternos wouldn't take part in public gatherings Tuesday.

A year ago, the campus was flooded with mourners. Commemorations were much smaller this year with temperatures in the teens.

Supporters like Dan Hamm, a freshman from Williamsport, have said Paterno's 46-year career as a whole should be taken into consideration, including his focus on academics.

``We wanted to pay our respects. We wanted to celebrate who he was as a person,'' Hamm said after visiting Paterno's grave at a State College cemetery.

Then, nodding his head in the direction of Paterno's adorned gravesite, Hamm said, ``You can see here that Joe Paterno was Penn State, and Penn State will always be Joe Paterno.''

Former FBI director Louis Freeh released findings July 12 in the school's internal investigation of the scandal. Paterno's reputation was tarnished after Freeh accused the coach and three former school administrators of covering up allegations against Sandusky.

The retired defensive coordinator has been sentenced to at least 30 years in prison after being convicted of 45 criminal counts. Prosecutors said allegations occurred off and on campus, including the football facility. Sandusky has denied the allegations.

On July 22, Penn State removed Paterno's statue, which was a gathering point for mourners last January. The next day, the NCAA reacted with uncharacteristic swiftness in levying strict sanctions including a four-year bowl ban, strict scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine.

Paterno was also stripped of 111 victories, meaning he no longer held the major college record of 409 career wins.

Paterno's family and the three administrators have vehemently denied Freeh's allegations, along with denying suspicions they took part in a cover-up. Also, Paterno's family has been planning what a spokesman has called a comprehensive response to Freeh's findings.

But on Tuesday, the family remained in privacy. A delivery man dropped off flowers at the Paternos' modest ranch home in the afternoon, walking past a sign staked to the snow-covered lawn.

The sign read in part, ``Thank you Joe! Thank you Sue!'', referring to Paterno's widow. ``RIP JoePa ... 409 forever.''

The crowd at the vigil broke up after Pilato spoke for about five minutes. ``If Joe Paterno is looking down on us tonight,'' he said, ``we all know that he is not concerned with that number (409), but with the people connected with those wins.

He also said that Paterno's role was sensationalized in media coverage and by a rush to judgment. Pilato ended his talk by starting a chant of ``Joe Paterno!''

Hamm's friend, fellow freshman Nick Bucci, said he felt his school handled the scandal well overall, given the extent of the fallout, with some exceptions.

At some point, Bucci said, the school should honor Paterno. He referred to one suggestion that dated back years before Paterno's death, of naming the field at the stadium after the coach.

But Bucci advocated for perspective.

``A day like today, those emotions might be high,'' said Bucci, of Dayton, Md. ``I don't think now is the time to do it. I think you have to wait.''

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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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