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Best one-year wonders in D.C. sports history


Best one-year wonders in D.C. sports history

The hope of many Wizards fans including a celebrity chef is that Paul Pierce chooses to play a second season in Washington. If not, the big shot-making forward, future Hall of Famer, all-world trash talker and social media savant left quite the imprint on the local sports scene. That led to thoughts about similar scenarios for local pro and college teams. Not players who had one great year, but those who had made a presence in their lone campaign in town. With help from some of my CSNwashington.com colleagues, here's a look at other one-year wonders. Let us know what we got right and where we went wrong in the comments section...

Terps - Steve Francis (1998-99)

There are 18 men's basketball players honored with banners hanging above the Xfinity Center court. Only one played just a single season with Terps. In the pre-YouTube era, rumors swirled and legend grew about the electric wing guard and JUCO transfer from Takoma Park via Alleghany Community College headed to College Park. Steve Francis lived up to the highlight hype and then some. He averaged 17.0 points that season with the Terps, but it wasn't just scoring that led to Francis becoming  a fan favorite. Whether attacking the rim off the dribble or coolly sinking jumpers or rising above defenders for seismic dunks, nobody could take their eyes off Stevie Franchise. Perhaps for the first time since Len Bias rocked Cole Field House, Maryland had the coolest kid around. The second-team All-American turned pro following season and was drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies with the second overall pick in the NBA Draft. Some will argue that playing one season not resulting in at least a Final Four berth shouldn't lead to a career recognition honor like a banner. Clearly others disagreed, showing the quick impact made by the kid from Takoma Park.

Nationals - Alfonso Soriano (2006) -- Via Nationals writer Chase Hughes

Alfonso Soriano played just one season with the Nationals, but it certainly was a memorable one. Heading into free agency the following winter, Soriano made his case for a lucrative contract by becoming just the fourth player in MLB history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season. Soriano ended up with 46 homers, 119 runs, 95 RBI, 41 steals and a .911 OPS. The Nats went 71-91 that year, but Soriano still placed sixth in NL MVP voting.  He also signed a whopping eight-year, $136 million deal with the Chicago Cubs the following offseason. The Nationals lost a slugger, but didn’t come away empty-handed. Washington received two draft picks, the second of which turned into Jordan Zimmermann.

Hoyas - Michael Graham (1983-84)

Though his lone season with the blue and gray took place nearly 30 years ago, Graham remains a memorable member of the Hoyas' prominent history. Even playing alongside Patrick Ewing and under coach John Thompson Jr., the 6-foot-9 Graham's intimidating style stood out as the Hoyas demolished opponents en route to the 1984 national championship. Sporting a shaved head before Michael Jordan made the look cool helped, but there was plenty of steak with the sizzle. With Ewing in foul trouble during the title game against Houston, Graham  stepped up with 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting. Ewing and Thompson are true legends on the Hilltop, but it was Graham on the next Sports Illustrated cover when such a thing mattered.


Capitals - Mike Ribeiro (2012-13) -- Via Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley

The Capitals have had their share of one-hit wonders, the most recent being Mike Ribeiro, who was acquired from the Dallas Stars in 2012 in exchange for Caps prospect Cody Eakin and a second-round draft pick. Ribeiro, who was heading into the final year of a contract that paid him $5 million a season, delivered in his one season in Washington, recording 13 goals and 49 points in a lockout shortened season with the Capitals. Ribeiro’s biggest goal of that season came on May 10 at VerizonCenter when he scored in overtime to give the Caps a 3-2 series lead against the New York Rangers. They lost the next two games and Ribeiro went on to sign a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.

United - Hristo Stoitchkov (2003)

DCU went from winning the MLS title in 1999 to missing the playoffs in each of the next three seasons. That led to changes entering the 2003 campaign. Enter Stoitchkov, the fiery Bulgarian superstar and European player of the year in 1994 after leading his home country to the World Cup semifinals. The midfielder joined United as a player/coach and ended up scoring five goals. More importantly, the moves paid off with a playoff appearance.

Redskins - Sean Gilbert (1996)

Washington acquired the former top-5 selection from the Rams ahead of the 1996 season. Helped by the run-stuffing defensive tackle, the Redskins started 7-1 before fading and ultimately missing the playoffs. Blame coach Norv Turner more than Gilbert, who finished with 55 tackles, which would rank as the second-highest total of his career. Both sides balked at various contract proposals the following season. Gilbert sat out the entire 1997 campaign before signing a massive seven-year, $48 million contact with the Panthers. Washington could have matched the offer, but instead chose the league-specified compensation of two first-round picks. Those picks eventually led the Redskins drafting Champ Bailey and Chris Samuels. This added bonus gives Gilbert the one-year advantage over linebacker Carl Banks.

Wizards - Emeka Okafor (2012-13)

Pierce wins if the Wizards lose his services. For runner-up, what about the veteran center acquired from New Orleans with Trevor Ariza for Rashard Lewis's contract. Okafor's final stats aren't dazzling, but he turned into a consistent  double-double presence during the second half of the season. Most of all, he helped the youthful locker room mature and set the defensive tone that remains today. Okafor was set to play a second season in Washington, but a neck injury derailed his campaign. The Wizards traded him and a No. 1 pick to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat.

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

Best highlight video:


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Neil Olshey signs extension with Trail Blazers, off the table for Wizards job

Neil Olshey signs extension with Trail Blazers, off the table for Wizards job

After Tim Connelly decided to re-join the Nuggets rather than take the Wizards' vacant front-office position, Washington has been forced back to the drawing board.

The Wizards have interviewed Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver, former Hawks general manager Danny Ferry and Wizards interim team president Tommy Sheppard.

In addition to those names, NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig reported the team could have interest in Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. 

That option was eliminated Friday when Olshey signed an extension to remain with Portland. 

With Connelly and Olshey off the table, there are fewer high-profile candidates left for the Wizards to consider as replacements for Ernie Grunfeld. 

Standig noted that Warriors assistant general manager Larry Harris could also draw interest from Washington. 

The franchise is running out of time to find their new front-office leader with less than a month remaining before the NBA Draft.