Wizards

South Carolina DE Clowney sets sights on Heisman

South Carolina DE Clowney sets sights on Heisman

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's goal is to be sitting in New York next December as one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy.

``I believe a defensive player can win the Heisman next year,'' Clowney said.

Actually, he believes he can win it.

``That's my next thing, New York,'' Clowney said Monday night after the Gamecock's practice. ``Next season, I am going to come out and try to work harder than I did this season and try to get there.''

The consensus All-American was the Hendricks Award winner this year as the best defensive end in college. He finished sixth in the Heisman voting; Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won it. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was second and Clowney hopes he can become the first defensive player since Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997 to win college football's most prestigious individual honor.

Clowney and the 11th-ranked Gamecocks (10-2) are preparing for No. 19 Michigan (8-4) in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

Clowney, the Southeastern Conference's sacks leader with 13, took large strides forward this season and Gamecocks defensive line coach Brad Lawing expects that to continue. Clowney is a homebody, Lawing said, who'd rather be with family and friends in his hometown of Rock Hill than jetting around the country and smiling for cameras.

Clowney told Lawing at the College Football Awards show in Orlando, Fla., he was simply happy to be nominated and wasn't concerned about trophies.

``It will to you next year, I promise you,'' Lawing responded.

Clowney, 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, was the country's top college prospect coming out of South Pointe High. Lawing remembers recruiting Clowney's high school teammates DeVonte Holloman and Stephon Gilmore - a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills last spring - when prep coach Bobby Carroll said there was a 15-year-old Lawing had to watch.

Lawing rolled through hours of tape at the high school and was amazed at Clowney's skill. ``Tell him he's got a scholarship'' to South Carolina, Lawing told Carroll.

Clowney was wooed by the country's powerhouse programs and selected South Carolina over finalists Alabama and Clemson on Valentine's Day 2011.

Clowney, though, was not an instant success. His technique was ragged and desire to work hard was inconsistent. He and Lawing butted heads plenty during Clowney's freshman season.

``Sometimes when you're 18, 19 years old, you think you know everything,'' Lawing said.

Clowney's commitment to get better increased this past offseason. He spent more time watching film, refining technique and studying the game. The results were evident.

He consistently beat double teams, often leaping opposing players to cause havoc in the backfield. Clowney's best game this year came in the regular-season finale, a virtuoso showing of 4 1/2 sacks of Clemson star Tajh Boyd in the 27-17 victory over the rival Tigers.

The performance resonated with people outside of South Carolina, too.

``Everywhere we went people were talking about that game,'' Clowney said.

Clowney's got a combination of size, speed and maturity that would make him the No. 1 draft pick in April if he were eligible, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said last week. ``I don't think there would be any doubt about that,'' Kiper said.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has long said Clowney would and should leave after his junior season as a likely first-round selection.

``He's gotten a lot of attention and he's handled it well, handled it very well,'' Spurrier said. ``We all know he's a three-year player, which is fine.''

Clowney's got goals to achieve, Lawing says. He's just eight sacks away from catching Eric Norwood for the school's all-time leading sacks mark of 29. Plus, Clowney would love bettering the single-season school marks of 13 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for loss he's put up so far this year.

Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman winner, voted Clowney first on his ballot ahead of Manziel and Te'o. But Spurrier knows it would take a mega-season for Clowney to overcome the game's offensive stars who may vie for next year's Heisman.

Clowney smiles when asked if he's capable of pulling off that feat.

``It's a possibility,'' he said. ``I just keep playing my game, and I probably have a shot at winning next year.''

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Bradley Beal’s outrageous outing vs. Hornets highlights both good and scary for Wizards

Bradley Beal’s outrageous outing vs. Hornets highlights both good and scary for Wizards

All-Star Bradley Beal returned from the break Friday night with an All-NBA performance.

The Wizards still lost 123-110 at Charlotte.

Within those two sentences there's hope and fear for this season and beyond.

Beal destroyed the Hornets for a season-high 46 points. His work over 42 minutes included high-level efficiency – 16 of 25 from the field, sank all 10 of his free throws plus seven assists and one turnover – and powerful moments. 

Beal scored 26 points in the second half, including 10 of Washington’s 23 in the final period. The Hornets knew where to focus their defensive effort. Washington’s leading scorer couldn’t have cared less and turned in arguably his best all-around game of the season.

When viewing a Wizards team going forward this season and especially next year for however long the injured John Wall sits, performances like this from Beal offer hope. Add starter-worthy help this summer, let Beal’s vibe lead the way and perhaps the team isn’t climbing uphill from the start next campaign.

Finding steady assistance now is the dilemma. If the Wizards intend on bringing back many of the current pieces, that dilemma could linger.

The non-Beal’s made only 10 more baskets than Beal and finished 26 of 72 (36.1 percent) from the field. Their collective assist-to-turnover numbers (17-12) explain some unsteady moments, especially during the second quarter when Charlotte rallied after Washington led 38-27. They tried. They just didn’t offer enough as Washington lost for the eighth time in 11 games.

Washington insisted veteran forward and 2019 unrestricted free agent Trevor Ariza remains in its plans beyond this season. That’s understandable based on Ariza’s historically strong two-way play even if his age (33) and possible contract demands (earned $15 million this season) offer potential downside.

The Wizards haven’t received the full-throated version since the trade with the Suns sent Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix. Ariza had 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting (2 of 7 from deep) against the Hornets. Usually a viable perimeter threat, Ariza entered Friday shooting 31.9 percent on 3-pointers. Oubre, a consistent clank during his four-year career, is hitting 32.4 percent from beyond the arc. 

Ariza’s addition offers more than just scoring, and some aspects are not easily quantifiable. Some numbers that attempt that feat are not in love. Ariza’s PER (13.1) trails Oubre’s (16). 

Chasson Randle and Wesley Johnson are not Washington’s most curious backup guard tandem this decade. They might be close, however. Other contenders usually played behind Beal and Wall, thus limiting the downside.

Johnson missed all five of his field goal attempts against the Hornets, while Randle played a basic 13 minutes. The Wizards' bench was outscored 38-21.

Head coach Scott Brooks resorted to a big lineup with Beal as the lone guard. This maneuver worked easier with Otto Porter or, at least defensively, Oubre on the court. Neither lives here anymore.

Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant offer Brooks two energetic interior options. With their size, mobility and shooting range, they seem like a viable pairing. For a team battered on the boards all season, using Bryant and Portis together conceivably boosts Washington’s rebounding chances. 

Brooks skipped using them together much before this game. Their defensive struggles against Charlotte showed why. Washington was outrebounded 53-43 all the same.

This team looks nothing like the one Brooks coached during his first two seasons. Only Beal, Tomas Satoransky and Ian Mahinmi played for the team that came within one game of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. 

Ideally, Brooks’ patchwork lineup generates needed momentum while a playoff berth remains in reach. Washington (24-35), now a season-worst 11 games under .500, fell four games back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff berth. 

Conceivably, this core returns next season. Washington opened salary cap space by trading Porter’s hefty contract. Keeping Ariza, Jeff Green, Satoransky, Portis and Bryant eats up much of that space. Growth from 2018 first round pick Troy Brown and the arrival of a player with a 2019 first round selection increases the upside. The hope for a turnaround comes from those that faced Charlotte Friday night.   

The non-Beal’s can do more now. Asking extra from Beal is outrageous, even if the shooting guard suggests that’s possible.

“I wish I could pinpoint on one thing,” Beal told reporters postgame when asked how this team finds a winning path. “But I just have to elevate my play, that’s all I know I can do is elevate my play and my leadership to do whatever it takes.”

That Beal believes more is possible is why he’s a keeper. None of us should doubt him considering the strides made during his second All-Star season. His determined approach is the kind found with contenders.

Even two-time All-Stars need help. Beal’s teammates must provide some quickly to keep hope alive this season as the organization ponders plans for the next one.

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The Capitals are looking for a rare sweep of the Buffalo Sabres

The Capitals are looking for a rare sweep of the Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres do not rank high among the Capitals’ most hated rivals, but when you look back at the history of these two teams, Washington has struggled against the Sabres more than you may think.

In the Caps’ first two seasons they faced Buffalo 10 times. Washington lost nine of those games and tied one. In fact, the Caps managed only two wins total in their first 32 meetings.

Even when Washington advanced past their initial struggles as a franchise, success against Buffalo has been hard to come by. In their 43 seasons as a team, the Caps have only managed to sweep the season series with the Sabres three times in 1988-89, 2012-13, 2016-17.

On Saturday, however, the Caps can make it four.

Buffalo visited Washington twice in December with the Caps winning each game. On Saturday, Washington heads to Buffalo for their final meeting of the season. (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Games notes

Hagelin debut

Carl Hagelin will make his Capitals debut Saturday.  He suited up for the first time with his new team on Friday after getting trade by the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He practice on the fourth line with Nic Dowd at center and Chandler Stephenson on the wing.

The newly acquired Nick Jensen will not be available for the game.

End of the road

Saturday’s game will be the sixth and final game of a season-long six-game road trip. Washington has already earned three wins guaranteeing them at least a .500 finish. A win Saturday will give them four out of six and turn a respectable road trip into a very good one.

Watching the standings

With two points, Washington can pull even with the New York Islanders. The Caps have 75 points while the Islanders sit in first place with 77. New York has a game in hand on Washington and they play later Saturday night, so a tie in the standings on Saturday afternoon could prove to be short-lived.

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