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Sun Devils ready to bounce back from losses

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Sun Devils ready to bounce back from losses

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona State opened the 2011 season with five wins in six games, then fell apart after being routed by Oregon, losing its final five games.

This season, the Sun Devils again started 5-1, got run over the by the Ducks and followed with a loss to UCLA last week.

So is another flailing finish on the way?

Sun Devils coach Todd Graham doesn't think so.

``There is absolutely nothing about this team that resembles anything from the way that things were done last year and in attitude and approach that they take,'' Graham said.

He has made sure of that.

The knock on last year's team was its lack of discipline and penchant for withering when things got tough. The Sun Devils bounced back from their loss to Oregon last season with a win over struggling Colorado, but lost by one the next week against UCLA and faded down the stretch.

Coach Dennis Erickson lost his job after a loss to California in the regular-season finale and Arizona State was crushed 56-24 by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

When Graham became coach, he promised a makeover of the program, his primary focus to instill a level of discipline that had been missing in previous years.

Gone were the earrings, the long hair, hats and headphones in the football offices. Pants had to be pulled up, shirts tucked in, no bandanas or bad language.

The Sun Devils bought into the Graham way, becoming a tightly run ship, cutting back on penalties - particularly the personal foul and unsportsmanlike varieties - and crisply running their new coach's up-tempo offense.

Arizona State used its businesslike approach to open the season with five impressive victories and nearly another when a last-minute comeback against Missouri came up just short.

The past two weeks have tested the Sun Devils' resiliency.

Arizona State's Oct. 18 game against No. 2 Oregon was one of the biggest at Sun Devil Stadium in years, a measuring stick to see where the program stood against one of the best teams in the nation.

That game was pretty much over by halftime as the Ducks raced past the Sun Devils for a 43-21 win.

With a chance to bounce back, Arizona State came up short last week against UCLA, losing 45-43 after allowing the Bruins to march down the field in the final 1:33 to set up Ka'imi Fairbairn's 33-yard field goal as time expired.

The two losses could have left the Sun Devils with that here-we-go-again feeling.

Instead, it made them want to dig in and play harder, not fall apart like last year's team.

``Make any comparison you want to; we can't pay attention to what people say on the outside,'' Sun Devils linebacker Brandon Magee said. ``We have a tough game against Oregon State coming up and we are focused on that now. Then we play USC, Washington State and Arizona and we have to run the table and really step it up the next few weeks. We are a completely different team.''

Arizona State still has plenty to play for.

With No. 18 Southern California's loss to Arizona last Saturday, the Sun Devils, at 3-2 in the conference, are just a game behind the Trojans in the Pac-12 South, tied with UCLA.

If things fall the right way, Arizona State could end up in the Pac-12 championship game and, at 5-3, the Sun Devils are in good position to play in another bowl game.

Arizona State starts the final stretch of the season on Saturday at No. 13 Oregon State, then faces USC on the road, Washington State at home and finishes against rival Arizona in Tucson on Nov. 23.

``We have only lost two games, we still have four left. We are only halfway through conference play,'' Graham said. ``These kids are going to battle through this whole thing and I believe in this team. I have great confidence in them.''

Just as important, the Sun Devils seem to have confidence in themselves, which could go a long way toward avoiding a letdown like last season.

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Small Virginia town changes name to Capitalsville ahead of Stanley Cup Final

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FB/The Town of Lovettsville

Small Virginia town changes name to Capitalsville ahead of Stanley Cup Final

Welcome to Capitalsville, Va., population: #ALLCAPS

Hoping to become the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup headquarters, the small Northern Virginia town of Lovettsville has renamed itself to Capitalsville, Va.

Caps superfan and Mayor of Lovettsville, Bob Zoldos, had a lightbulb moment while watching Game 7 in a local bar and restaurant, Velocity Wings. Overcome with emotion from the win, he decided to take his idea to the town council meeting Thursday and Capitalsville was born after a unanimous vote to "unleash the fury."

This is not the first time name changes have occurred ahead of a big game. Ahead of the Caps' first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Blue Jacket Brewery located in downtown D.C. changed its Twitter handle to "Grujacket Brewery" in support of goaltender Phillip Grubauer.

The name change from Lovettsville to Capitalsville is temporary, with the plan to keep the new name through the end of the Stanley Cup Final. However, Zoldos hopes the sign brings in other Caps superfans from across the DMV to take in a piece of history 20 years in the making. 

Here's to hoping Capitalsville brings the city some luck heading into Game 1 on Memorial Day.

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Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

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USA TODAY Sports

Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

Before meeting with local basketball media following his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards on Thursday at Capital One Arena, George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe first addressed a swath of reporters from his home country of Japan. Then, while he talked to the American contingent, cameras from Japanese news outlets trailed him from a distance, documenting even the media part of his experience.

Watanabe, who played four years for the Colonials in Foggy Bottom, is now chasing an NBA dream with an entire country's hope on his shoulders. He is aiming to become just the second Japanese-born player to reach basketball's pinnacle.

It's a responsibility he carries with pride.

"I know there was only one Japanese player who played in the NBA like a long time ago, so he was the only one," Watanabe said. "If I can make it, I know that’s a really big thing in Japan. That would make young guys come to the U.S. and play basketball in the U.S. I want to be one of the pioneers for younger guys."

The only player to make the NBA from Japan in the history of the league was Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season. Four games, that's it. If Watanabe can carve out an extended career in the NBA, it would be a first for Japan, which like many countries outside of the United States has begun to produce more basketball talent in recent decades as the game has expanded globally.

Watanabe grew up in Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant who was the NBA's biggest star when Watanabe was a kid.

Now, as Watanabe has set his sights on the NBA, he has focused on others to model his game after. He said he watches film of Jazz forward Joe Ingles because he sees similarities in their game.

"I see myself trying to be like him. He’s a lefty, a great shooter and a great defender. I’ve been watching his tape a lot," Watanabe said.

Watanabe has also been consulting with Hawks forward Joe Cavanaugh, his former teammate at George Washington. Cavanaugh went undrafted last summer, but caught on in Atlanta and appeared in 39 games as a rookie.

Watanabe's best bet may be a similar path. He is currently not projected to be drafted, but there are many avenues to the NBA, as Cavanaugh has shown. He was signed for 2017 training camp by the Hawks, then cut. Then, he inked a two-way contract which was later converted to a regular contract.

Along the way, Cavanaugh spent much of his time with the Erie Bayhawks of the G-League. Watanabe may have to go that route to make the NBA. For now, he's trying to prove what he's capable of and that has not been easy. The Wizards were his second workout and Watanabe isn't happy with his performance thus far.

He is dealing with an ankle injury that has affected his conditioning, he said, and his shots haven't been falling.

"To be honest, I didn’t shoot well. I didn’t really do well in the 1-on-1s or 3-on-3. I know I have to do better on that if I want to make an NBA team," he said.

Watanabe, who stands at 6-foot-9, said he also needs to get stronger. If defense is going to be his calling card, he can't be pushed around by bigger players in the NBA.

"I know I can defend one through four. Today, I didn’t shoot well but I know I can shoot and I can handle the ball, I can pass. I think versatility is one of my strengths," he said.

The Wizards could use depth at the small forward position and will be in the market for a host of undrafted guys to fill out their summer league team and new G-League team. Perhaps Watanabe will land in one of those spots.

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