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USC tries to rebound from 26-loss season

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USC tries to rebound from 26-loss season

LOS ANGELES (AP) Hit hard by injuries and a school-record 26 losses last season, the Southern California Trojans are eager to put the ugliness behind them and make a big turnaround led by point guard Jio Fontan.

The projected star of the program has mostly been off the court the last two seasons after transferring from Fordham. Fontan played just half a season in his USC debut, then missed all of last season after he tore his ACL during a summer exhibition tour in Brazil.

He wasn't the only player to go down. Forward Aaron Fuller, the team's second-leading scorer, hurt his left shoulder and center Dewayne Dedmon, the No. 3 scorer, tore his ACL, cutting their seasons short.

By season's end, the Trojans had just six scholarship players available. They finished 6-26 - 1-17 in the Pac-12 - after averaging 53 points and shooting 39 percent from the floor.

Now Fontan is healthy and looking forward to finally playing an entire season alongside a mix of transfers and newcomers under coach Kevin O'Neill.

``We're just flipping the page, starting a new chapter and trying to take advantage of this,'' Fontan said. ``We've got a lot of guys who only have one year left and we all have the same goal - win big.''

Fontan will anchor the backcourt with his ability to score and distribute. Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell could start at shooting guard. Sophomore Byron Wesley, who averaged 9.6 points and 5.1 rebounds last season, is another likely starter.

Maurice Jones led the Trojans in scoring last season while playing 38 minutes a game in Fontan's absence. He was going to miss this year because of academic reasons and was expected to return in 2013-14, but abruptly transferred to Iowa State last week.

O'Neill has depth to replace him. Greg Allen started eight games last season, and freshman Brendyn Taylor brings an NBA pedigree. His father, Brian, played in the pros.

``Last year we didn't have that deep of a bench,'' Fuller said. ``Not like this year where we have a good rotation going on where we have guys that we can trust to get the job done.''

Fuller and the 7-foot Dedmon figure to start in the frontcourt. Dedmon didn't start playing organized basketball until he was a senior in high school. The junior's agility and quickness already led O'Neill to predict that he'll eventually make it to the pros.

``We're here to prove that we're better than a six-win team, so we're just going to come out with a lot of intensity,'' Dedmon said. ``It's definitely important to have Jio back as a leader on and off the court because he's a big-time player.''

Three other transfers could bolster the front line. Ari Stewart from Wake Forest, Renaldo Woolridge from Tennessee and Eric Wise from UC Irvine will be competing for playing time at forward.

``We have depth. We have experience. We have size,'' said O'Neill, entering his fourth year at USC. ``How quickly we jell and learn to play together remains to be seen. But we've got leadership in Jio. We have a lot of pieces, and now it's our job to put those pieces together.''

The Trojans' style of play will change to an aggressive tempo from the plodding, deliberate game O'Neill was forced to play the last couple of years because of the lack of size and depth.

``When you're this deep, you want to push the game,'' Fontan said. ``You want to make the tempo as fast and, at the same time, controlled as possible because we've got a lot of weapons and a lot of subs than we can make to get guys in, which won't lower the level of expectations on the coaches or our level of play.''

O'Neill has reason to feel more confident this year than he has at any time in his tenure. He arrived in the wake of an ongoing NCAA investigation and the departure of O.J. Mayo after one season. The following season he lost three starters and a handful of other players. Then came last season and the slew of injuries.

``Last year was very difficult because of our injuries and the fact that when I got here there was no freshmen or sophomores, so we had two blank recruiting classes,'' he said. ``The only way you can put it back together to get where we have the bodies we have now is with junior college guys, transfers and blend in a few freshmen. Now our goal is to get mostly freshmen going forward, which we're doing. We have four guys committed right now and we're hoping to get one more, and we're starting to build what I think is a really solid program.''

The Trojans open the season at home Nov. 9 against Coppin State. They host defending Big West champion Long Beach State before heading to the Maui Invitational and then return home to play defending Mountain West champion San Diego State.

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

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USA Today Sports

10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

7) Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

6) After losing Reuben Foster, how's the Redskins LB situation?

5) Will potential match production for Redskins WRs?

When a team picks in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, folks around the NFL expect that player to become a Pro Bowler. For Washington, that exact scenario unfolded with right guard Brandon Scherff. 

Mostly. 

Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Redskins took Scherff to play right tackle and anchor the offensive line opposite Trent Williams. That idea quickly faded, helped by the emergence of Morgan Moses, and Scherff moved inside to play guard. For four years, it's worked out great, with Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017. 

Scherff is a mauler in the best sense of the word. He has great footwork and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has called the former Iowa Hawkeye the best pulling guard in the NFL. Scherff is strong and nasty, words that won't win beauty pageants but absolutely win in the trenches of the NFL. 

Considering all of that, a contract extension for Scherff should be easy. Right?

Wrong. 

Currently in the final year of his rookie deal, multiple reports stretching over the last six weeks indicate that the organization is way off in their extension offers to Scherff. He might not command the biggest contract in the league, but he will get paid like a top three guard. In 2019, that means a lot of money.

Cowboys guard Zach Martin makes $14 million a year. Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell makes $13.3 million a year. Scherff might not get to Martin's salary, but he will probably get to Norwell, whether Washington pays it or not.

That means the Redskins need to pony up the cash now because as each day passes, the team is approaching an ugly set of options. Scherff and his representatives might continue to negotiate during the season, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once free agency becomes in view, players tend to wait for it. Just ask Kirk Cousins. 

In fact, the situation between Scherff and the Redskins has some resemblance to the Cousins saga from a few years ago. 

In that case, Washington low-balled their homegrown quarterback in their first set of negotiations. From there, things went sideways, and the team used consecutive franchise tags on Cousins before he finally left via free agency. 

If the Redskins can't get a deal done with Scherff, the team could use a franchise tag in 2020. But that's a dangerous game of roulette. 

The time to get a deal done with Scherff is now, if not last month. Redskins team president has said in the past that deadlines drive deals, but with Scherff, there is no exact deadline. He can decide to stop working on a contract extension at any moment, particularly once the pads come on at training camp. 

The Trent Williams holdout might be complicating things a bit, if Williams only wants more cash and the issue isn't about much more than that. The truth is a Scherff extension would actually free up cap space in the short term, as his signing bonus would be spread out over the life of the contract, and some of that salary cap relief could go to Williams right away. 

Williams' status isn't the hold up between Scherff and the Redskins. Whatever is the actual holdup best be resolved soon. or the Redskins are beginning down an all too familiar franchise path.

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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

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USA Today

Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.

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NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.