Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Washington Redskins' 2013 Draft Class

"The Redskins will go with a cast of experienced but shorter-term options at right tackle this season, with Tyler Polumbus the likely starter. Longer term, the Redskins may want to bolster this position, and perhaps as early as next season. Similarly, the Redskins’ linebacking corps (inside and outside) may soon have to be addressed with Brian Orakpo a free agent after 2013 and London Fletcher turning 38 in May."
There are two things to keep in mind when assessing the Washington Redskins' 2013 draft. First, their first-round pick was spent as part of last year's Robert Griffin III deal about which they have no regrets. And second, the work they did in free agency to bring their 2012 roster back almost completely intact meant that they didn't feel compelled to use the draft to address immediate needs. They returned their entire starting offensive line intact, they retained their starting cornerbacks at reduced salaries, and linebacker London Fletcher put off retirement for a year. The only position at which they may have felt the need to find a Week 1 starter was free safety.

That's not to say positions like right tackle or cornerback couldn't use an upgrade. But given the constraints imposed by the second year of the salary-cap penalties, the Redskins did enter this year's draft with relatively few obvious holes to fill. So instead, they took players with upside -- guys they think have a chance to be great in the long term as opposed to adequate in the short.

Cornerback David Amerson, selected in the second round with the Redskins' first pick of this year's draft, needs help staying disciplined in coverage and must work on his tackling. But he knows how to make a play on the ball, and Mike Shanahan believes that's a lot harder to coach into someone than those first two things are. Amerson doesn't need to play much this year, with Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall starting and E.J. Biggers as the No. 3 corner. Get him with secondary coach Raheem Morris and see if he can shore up the trouble areas and make him into something special.

Tight end Jordan Reed, the third-rounder, is basically a great big wide receiver who can line up as a "move" tight end the likes of which more teams are using these days. It's odd that Shanahan took such a poor blocking tight end, since he prioritizes blocking even among his wide receivers, but Reed is another guy who's shown an ability to make big plays and create mismatches in opposing secondaries. Deployed correctly, he could help make the offense more explosive.

Safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo were fourth-round and sixth-round selections, respectively. Because the position is vacant, it's not crazy to think either or both could compete for the starting free safety spot this year. But that's not the main reason they were picked. Shanahan took these players because they represented good value at their slots and played a position at which his roster is thin. He's playing the percentages with guys who were playmakers in college, and if one of these two ends up being a starter, that'll help this look like a good draft in retrospect. If both do, he's struck gold.

Running back Chris Thompson and pass-rushing outside linebacker Brandon Jenkins, both taken in the fifth round, were good college players whose value dropped due to injury. Seventh-round running back Jawan Jamison played through an ankle injury last year at Rutgers and left school early to try to help pay the medical bills for his mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. These three represent depth (with upside potential) at positions where there's no such thing, in Shanahan's eyes, as too much depth.

This Redskins draft is a perfect example for those who say you can't grade a draft until three years down the road. It's possible that literally none of these picks pan out. But most of them were picked because they carry at least a chance of becoming stars, and when you can find potential stars in the middle and late rounds (and you already feel you have a deep roster), that's what your draft goal becomes.

Redskins fans might feel better if they'd grabbed an immediate starter at safety in the second or third round. D.J. Swearinger may have fit that description and was still on the board when they took Amerson. The fact that no offensive linemen were taken has stirred some concern, but the Redskins drafted mid-round offensive linemen last year and are still developing guys like Tom Compton and Josh LeRibeus. No crying need to add to that depth just yet. The Redskins approached this draft like a confident division champion that likes its roster and was looking for high-end talent it felt was being drafted too late. That's what they took, and now it's on their coaching staff to make this 2013 draft look good.

The Redskins selected two players who led the Football Bowl Subdivision in interceptions over the past two seasons (David Amerson, 13 in 2011; Phillip Thomas, eight in 2012). Safety Bacarri Rambo was second in the FBS in interceptions in 2011 with eight.

More information:
» Washington Post: 2013 Draft Picks Show a Sound Approach
» Washington Post: Salary Cap Issues Aren't As Bad As They Look

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hokies in the NFL Draft

"The Detroit Lions picked Hokies wide receiver Corey Fuller and the Denver Broncos selected offensive tackle Vinston Painter in a span of three picks early in the sixth round. It was the longest wait for the first Hokie to come off the board since 1993, the last time Virginia Tech didn't have anyone selected."
Hampton Roads:
Corey Fuller (No. 171 overall)
"It feels great. It's hard to breathe right now," Fuller said, an hour after he'd been selected. "I don't know if I'm still dreaming or what."

Fuller hadn't spoken with the Lions in the lead-up to the draft, but Jim Schwartz coached Corey's older brother, Vincent, as a defensive coordinator with Tennessee and later as head coach of Detroit. The speedy 22-year-old comes from a football family, with Vincent, who played six seasons in the NFL and two younger brothers, Kyle and Kendall, who will likely start at each cornerback slot for Virginia Tech next season.

It continues a meteoric rise for the 6-foot-2, 204-pound Fuller, who originally ran track at Kansas, transferred to Virginia Tech in 2010 to play football and didn't emerge as a solid threat until his senior season, when he caught 43 passes for 815 yards and five touchdowns.

"He's got great size, great speed. He's got a lot of upside," Detroit GM Martin Mayhew told the Lions' website. "I really want to see what this kid can do on special teams, but he made some big plays in the passing game. We're talking about getting bigger and faster, he's another guy in that same vein."

The Lions were in the market for a receiver who could stretch the field to open things up for Calvin Johnson. Fuller, who has a track background and ran a 4.43-second time in the 40-yard dash at the combine, certainly could fill that role. While the Lions have plenty of slot-type receivers, including Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles and Mike Thomas, they were looking for more outside receivers, especially given the February release of Titus Young.

Vinston Painter (No. 173 overall)
"It's just a big relief, man, I can tell you that much," Painter said.

Painter was selected two picks later at No. 173 overall, rising up draft boards after starting one year in college and turning in an impressive combine performance, where he put his size (6-4, 306), physical skills and football smarts on display.

Once one of the top recruits in the state coming out of Maury High, Painter bounced around several positions before settling in as a tackle. He started all 13 games at right tackle last year, earning honorable mention All-ACC honors by the coaches.

"He's a hard-working, physical tackle," Denver Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway tweeted. "We like his potential."

Denver is pretty set at its offensive tackle positions, with Pro Bowler Ryan Clady on the left side, Orlando Franklin on the right and Chris Clark capable of backing up on both sides. The Broncos apparently could take a look at the 6-foot-6, 309-pound Painter at guard as well.

For what it's worth, Painter says he's most comfortable at right tackle, where he started last year. Not playing right away might not be the worst thing for Painter, who only started one year in college and still is -- here's that word again -- a developmental guy.

Elway expounded on that tweet in a press conference later: "Here’s a guy where we were looking for a swing tackle and he kind of fell to us. He’s a guy that has played defensive line. He’s very young when it comes down to offensive line because he was a defensive lineman, I believe, for the first two years in college. He is really just coming into his own on the offensive side. He’s a big guy 6’6”, 309. I think he’s 16-percent body fat and is a guy we want leading us off the bus because he’s a good-looking guy. I think when you look at the youth and the upside that he has because of the fact that he’s only been on the offensive side for a couple of years so we were happy with that."

Marcus Davis
"Teams passed on me for whatever reason," Davis said. "That’s up to them. But going into camp, I’m going to use that as motivation. Everybody passed on me. The Giants gave me an opportunity to come in and try to prove myself. So I’m just going to use that and come into camp a different person."

Davis will still get his shot in the NFL, announcing Sunday that he had agreed to a free agent deal with the New York Giants. They called with about 30 minutes left in the draft. Davis and his agent talked it over, preparing for a worst-case scenario -- not getting drafted -- and agreed that New York was a great situation for him. He decided on the Giants about five minutes after the draft ended.

He'll have familiar faces there. The Giants drafted two Hokies early in last year's draft who figure to have prominent roles this year -- running back David Wilson and cornerback Jayron Hosley. They also signed outside linebacker Alonzo Tweedy to an undrafted free agent deal yesterday.

Davis, who led Virginia Tech with 51 catches for 953 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year, still doesn't know all the reasons that led to him not being selected, although there were numerous theories -- from the receivers' lackluster blocking last year to his agent's relationship with NFL teams to concerns about a shoulder injury from five years ago.

Several other Hokies didn't get selected Saturday, but have latched on with teams as undrafted free agents. Those players, so far, include linebacker Bruce Taylor (Bengals), offensive tackle Nick Becton (Chargers), and defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins (Steelers).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ab-Soul w/ Kendrick Lamar - "Illuminate" (2012)

Control System is the second independent studio album by American hip hop recording artist Ab-Soul, released May 11, 2012, via Top Dawg Entertainment. Spin Magazine named the album the twelfth best Hip Hop album of 2012. The track was produced by Skhye Hutch.

"Illuminate" contains a sample from Live to Tell by Madonna, and an interpolation of "A.D.H.D.", written by Kendrick Lamar, Herbert Stevens and Mark Spears.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Caps Win Fifth Southeast Division Title in Six Years

"The same team that started the season with two wins in its first 13 games and entered play on March 21 in 14th place, seven points removed from a playoff spot and nine points off the division lead, went 14-2-1 in their past 17 games."
Surely, if the Washington Capitals were going to make the playoffs, it would come down to the wire. Their start was so terrible that even an optimistic die-hard would figure that, with the right breaks, perhaps they could steal a berth in the final game of the regular season.

Yet here they are, postseason-bound with two games to spare, quite the achievement for Alex Ovechkin and first-year coach Adam Oates. Tuesday night's 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets clinched the Southeast Division for the Capitals, who were next-to-last in the Eastern Conference as recently as March 21.

"I remember 20 games ago looking at the schedule," said Mathieu Perreault, one of five Capitals to score a goal Tuesday. "Like, 'Man, we're probably going to have to go 16-4 to get in' -- and basically did it. It almost looked impossible if you look back 20 games, but this team has got so much character, and they found a way to do it."

If the Capitals win their final two, they will indeed finish with 16 wins in 20 games, but that would be gravy at this point. They're in the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, a run that includes five Southeast titles. As a bonus, they will leapfrog several teams with better records and enter the playoffs as the conference's No. 3 seed for winning their division, even if it is the weakest division in the NHL.

"We had a lousy start," Oates said. "And I don't think many of us thought we would come this far. But we obviously put some really good hockey together, and the guys have grown and it's obviously a good feeling right now."

The Capitals blew a two-goal lead, survived a pair of replay reviews and exhaled deeply when defensemen John Erskine cleared two shots off the goal line. They also had to kill off a power play with a one-goal lead late in the game, but they held to win for the 10th time in 11 games.

Ovechkin scored his league-leading 31st goal -- an empty-netter in the final minute -- and Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera and Nicklas Backstrom also scored. Braden Holtby made 24 saves for the Capitals.

The loss keeps the Jets in ninth place in the East, one spot away from the playoffs but with slim chances of moving up because they have only one game remaining. They trail the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators by one point, but the Rangers have two games left and the Senators have three.

"The way we started, there were a lot of doubters," Hendricks said. "Our fans were against us a little bit, the media was hard on us a little bit. But we came and did what we set out to do."

"Ovechkin set an NHL record with his goal, although it's one that probably deserves an asterisk. It was his 13th in the month of April, an accomplishment made easier because the lockout-modified schedule is extending the regular season deeper into the month than usual. The previous record of 12 was set by Mario Lemieux in 1993 and tied by Winnipeg's Alex Zhamnov in 1995."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Duke Dumont w/ A*M*E* - "Need U (100%)"

Peak U.K. Chart Position: 1
"Need U (100%)" is a textbook vocal house track — in fact, it gives itself away with its title, which references '90s house classics by David Morales ("Needin' U") and Crystal Waters ("100% Pure Love"). The song's main attraction is the vocal performance by singer A*M*E, but "Need U (100%)" transcends thanks to the details: the rumbling bass line, the humming refrain, the whip-cracking snare. It all builds up to a light-rush of a final 30 seconds, with an undulating vocal sample laid over the top of the track for an effect that mimics Gui Boratto's euphoric techno classic "Beautiful Life." Despite its No. 1 status, "Need U (100%)" unfortunately has little to no chance of crossing over in America anywhere outside of clubs. Given our Guetta-saturated landscape, this is the type of dance track without enough bleat to crossover in America.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spotlight: Jay-Z

"Jay-Z has sold his stake in the Brooklyn Nets -- less than one percent worth -- so that he could become an NBA player agent with his newly founded Roc Nation Sports, which is partnered with CAA. League rules specify that to represent players, there can't be a conflict of interest in owning a team. He's already signed Robinson Cano and Victor Cruz to Roc Nation Sports."
Men's Health:
Growing up, Shawn Carter was far from the likeliest candidate for this sort of mind-boggling success. He was always recognized as bright--even today, the first word anyone who meets Jay-Z invariably uses to describe him is smart--and in the sixth grade, he tested at 12th-grade levels. But the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn were overrun by drugs and violence in the '80s. His father left the family when Carter was 11, and his mother had to raise him, his older brother, and his two older sisters. When he was 12, Carter shot his brother for stealing his jewelry. (They have since reconciled.) Carter attended high school with fellow Brooklynites the Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes, but dropped out to deal drugs in a region that extended from Brooklyn to Maryland and Virginia--as he details in his music--and to dabble in the still-nascent hip-hop game.

Along with the dealers who ran the neighborhood around the Marcy Projects, Jay-Z remembers identifying sports figures as his first models of success. "Growing up where I grew up, we looked to athletes," he recalls. "They were our first heroes. They came from the same places we came from. I mean, you can't watch TV and see someone who is successful that you can really relate to. That person isn't real, he doesn't exist. But athletes traveled the world, had these big houses, and gave their families a better life. We were like, 'Wow, that's really cool.' These guys get paid millions of dollars to play the game they love."

Around the same time that he began to identify with athletes, Carter experienced another revelation: hip-hop. He began writing nonstop in notebooks, keeping his mother and siblings awake at night as he pounded the kitchen table to create beats. He hooked up with local rapper Jaz-O, who brought him to England when he toured there. Carter recorded with Jaz-O and also with Big Daddy Kane. But despite the acknowledgment of his skills (and his growing anxiety that either violence or the law would eventually catch up with him on the streets), Carter was reluctant to give up dealing. He was rolling in a Lexus and making more money, as far as he could tell, than most rappers.

Still, he decided to take the plunge, but no record company was willing to offer him a contract. So with two partners, Carter formed Roc-A-Fella Records, and, in 1996, released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, which established him as a major figure on the hip-hop scene. It was a heady moment, but Jay-Z barely realized it at the time. "I was naive," he recalls. "I made that album to impress my friends, so they would say, 'Oh, wow, look what you did!' It was my first album on the label that we owned. I was like, 'Okay, what happens now?'"

What happened was that Jay-Z left drug dealing behind and began to build his empire, moving steadily from "grams to Grammys" as he puts it in one song. But the process wasn't easy. The treachery of life on the streets, where he faced bullets at close range, turned out to be nothing compared with what he would encounter in the upper echelons of the music business. "I come from a world that's completely different from the music industry, and it wasn't recognizable to me at all," he says. "I come from a place where you had to keep your word, where people would stick with you no matter what. That's impossible in the music business, where if you're not hot, people are not talking to you. I just tried to be a man of my word."

The choice of Roc-A-Fella as his label's name would prove telling. On one hand, it's standard hip-hop braggadocio to establish a connection between a fledgling rapper and one of the richest and most powerful families in American history. But it also suggested the means through which Jay-Z would eventually establish his own business empire. The Rockefeller family and other 19th-century industrialists established a monopolistic hold on all aspects of the goods they produced. If you owned the mines that produced coal, for example, you also bought the railroads that transported it, the refineries that prepared it for market, and the utilities that provided its end product to the general population.

As Jay-Z's career has progressed in the past dozen years, he has sought to establish a similar hold on the lifestyle market for which his music provides the soundtrack, and in which he stands as the ideal model to emulate. Rather than providing anything as tangible as coal or oil, Jay-Z, through his myriad branded investments, manufactures a way of being that makes it at least theoretically possible to never leave the world of his products. You can enjoy his music while sporting Rocawear clothing (estimated as doing $700 million a year in business), wearing one of his fragrances, and sipping his Ace of Spades champagne. You can attend his concert and end the night at one of his 40/40 nightclubs. His videos, DVDs, and CD booklets provide free exposure for all of his products, all of which, in turn, enhance every other aspect of the Jay-Z brand.

Jay-Z feels comfortable in all of these realms. "I've never looked at myself and said that I need to be a certain way to be around a certain sort of people," he explains. "I've always wanted to stay true to myself, and I've managed to do that. People have to accept that. I collect art, and I drink wine . . . things that I like that I had never been exposed to. But I never said, 'I'm going to buy art to impress this crowd.' That's just ridiculous to me. I don't live my life like that, because how could you be happy with yourself?"

By selling nearly 40 million albums and building a business empire that extends far beyond music into clothing, fragrances, the Brooklyn Nets, sports bars, liquor, and hotels (to name just a few of his seemingly innumerable investments), Jay-Z has transformed himself into one of the most potent brands in the world. But that brand retains its power only if people remain convinced that the product they are purchasing somehow genuinely reflects Jay-Z and his tastes.

"Hip-hop is more about attaining wealth," he continues. "People respect success. They respect big. They don't even have to like your music. If you're big enough, people are drawn to you."

Consequently, any discussion of credibility, or keeping it real, elicits a response of disbelief from him. "That's an insecure emotion," he explains. "You make your first album, you make some money, and you feel like you still have to show face, like 'I still go to the projects.' I'm like, why? Your job is to inspire people from your neighborhood to get out. You grew up there. What makes you think it's so cool?"

Of course, Jay-Z has not been immune to those insecurities himself. In 1999, he was arrested for stabbing a record executive in a New York club, and in 2001, he was charged with possession of a loaded handgun. Against his lawyer's advice, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the stabbing case and was sentenced to three years' probation. The gun charge was dropped.

He's far from just a figurehead or a media front man. He takes his businesses as seriously as his artistry, and he goes at both with the same level of determination. He's clear about his own views, willing to listen to others, eager to keep everybody loose and motivated, and far more interested in long-term strategy than short-term gain. Even in the current economic environment, which is challenging to say the least, he's insistent on executing his game plan rather than making changes that might not ultimately be right for his brands.

Indeed, part of the refinement Jay-Z has attained entails that big-picture vision of success. It's a vision that extends beyond business and beyond music. It's about what makes your life meaningful, and it goes beyond lifestyle to a way of life. "I'm hungry for knowledge," says Jay-Z. "The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter. That's what this world is about. You look at someone like Gandhi, and he glowed. Martin Luther King glowed. Muhammad Ali glows. I think that's from being bright all the time, and trying to be brighter.

"That's what you should be doing your whole time on the planet," he concludes. "Then you feel like, 'My life is worth everything. And yours is too.'"

More information:
» Men's Health: A Business, Man
» Decoded: Secrets to Entrepreneurial Success
» Forbes: Jay-Z and Warren Buffett

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

J Dilla Tributes & Unreleased Material

After his death at age 32, in 2006, James Yancey's catalog remains fodder for bootlegs, reissues, and retrospectives. Jay Stay Paid offers unreleased material, the official imprimatur of Dilla's mother, Maureen "Ma Dukes" Yancey, and music supervisor Pete Rock, who sequences 28 beats into a synth-heavy, rhythm-and-gangsta vibe, inviting old friends (Doom, Phat Kat) and new jacks (Diz Gibran) to add hot verses. With peaks (Black Thought's raging "Reality Check") and valleys (Blu's too blunted "Smoke"), the album is patchwork, but Dilla's brilliance remains stunningly apparent.

The Lost Scrolls Vol. 1, released in February 2013, is the first in a series of unreleased music from J Dilla. Fat Beats will distribute the 10-inch, which features four tracks from Dilla's vaults: "DeWitt To Do It," "Smack a Bitch," "Ruff & Rugged," and "The Throwaway." The latter is credited to the Yancey Boys — J Dilla and his brother Illa J — and features Frank Nitt on vocals, who also helped to assemble Lost Scrolls. When Yancey's family auctioned off J's record collection on eBay, they said they'd hold onto all of Dilla's personal recordings and unreleased music for a posthumous release, so expect many more volumes of Lost Scrolls in the future.

The Diary is the forthcoming posthumous album from the late hip hop musician J Dilla. Unlike Jay Stay Paid (2009) and Rebirth of Detroit (2012) – both edited with unreleased instrumentals - The Diary is a collection of Dilla's vocal performances over production by the likes of Madlib, Pete Rock, Nottz, House Shoes, Karriem Riggins, and others. It is currently without a release date, but expected in 2013 on Pay Jay Productions, Inc.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Capitals: Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been named the NHL’s “First Star” for the week ending April 7, the NHL announced today.

Ovechkin led the NHL with seven goals and tied for the League lead with nine points in four games. He also paced all skaters with four power-play points, including two goals, raising his season totals to an NHL-best 14 power-play goals and 21 power-play points. Ovechkin began the week by scoring two goals, including the game-winner, and adding an assist in a 5-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes April 2. He netted the lone shootout goal in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders April 4 and then recorded his 12th career hat trick, including the game-winner, and an assist in a 4-3 triumph over the Florida Panthers April 6. Ovechkin closed out the week by scoring two goals in a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning April 7, bumping his season goal total to 25 – tied for first in the NHL with the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos

The 27-year-old Moscow native leads the Capitals and ranks tied for first in the league in goals and ranks tied for sixth in points. He has recorded 16 goals and seven assists in his last 14 games, including scoring his 20th goal of the season on April 2 at Carolina. The only other active players to score at least 20 goals in each of their first eight NHL seasons are Jaromir Jagr (17), Teemu Selanne (11) and Ilya Kovalchuk (10, through last season). Ovechkin became the 36th player in NHL history to score 20 or more goals in his first eight seasons in the league and became the only player to have scored 20 or more goals each of the last eight seasons (since 2005-06).

The Capitals have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and currently lead the Southeast Division by two points. Washington is in the midst of a season-high, four-game winning streak.

Holtbeast is pretty nasty too:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Nationals Predicted to Win the World Series

“Like the ’86 Mets, the 2013 Nationals are the best team on paper at the start of the season. And like that championship team, Washington has young power pitching, a deep bullpen with multiple closers, a blend of power and speed, and an unmistakable swagger.”
Washington Post:
Last spring, at a moment in time when the Washington Nationals had never finished with a winning record, Davey Johnson proclaimed that his general manager could fire him if the Nationals did not win their division. He does not react to expectations; he ratchets them higher than anyone.

And so today, in the dead of winter, Johnson raised the Nationals’ hopes as high as possible. After the Nationals added Dan Haren to their 98-win roster, Johnson declared nothing less than a World Series title would satisfy in 2013.

“World Series or bust,” Johnson said. “That’s probably the slogan this year. But I’m comfortable with that.”

Comfortable? Johnson would not allow any other directive frame his final season as Nationals’ manager. His confidence ensures Johnson will saunter out of the dugout in his own swashbuckling way. He has told Nationals officials not to load up just for one big run, that he can take whatever roster the Nationals give him, with the future in mind, and take it to October.

“If we don’t win, it’ll be my fault,” Johnson said over the weekend. “I want it to be a solid base for a long time. I’m not trying to hold on to all the chips to protect my ass. I don’t worry about my ass. I think we can win with whoever we got.”

So, no, Johnson isn’t hiding from expectations. He’s demanding they be heightened. “If we’re not the favorite this year, I’m going to be embarrassed with all you guys that didn’t pick me,” he said.

With Haren in the fold, the Nationals have their final starter and a roster that is almost set. They have a loaded rotation, an athletic defense and a balanced lineup. They still have some holes in their bullpen, but the roster in general would not be recognizable in comparison to their collection of “talent” two or three seasons ago.

“We’ve had questions in the past, but we don’t have a whole lot of questions,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a year of great experience in the pennant race and a tough playoff series against the Cardinals. But we’re going to be fine next year.

“Actually, from a managing standpoint, I look at the coming year, we’ve got guys that now are going to make it more difficult for me because they’ve earned the right to play more, and that’s a good problem to have. But this is one of the best ball clubs I’ve ever had.”

The only major question remaining is whether the Nationals will re-sign Adam LaRoche. Johnson has advocated strongly for LaRoche to return. He invited LaRoche to his charity golf tournament and, he said today, set LaRoche up with the best foursome. (LaRoche, incredibly, holed a double-eagle from 260 yards during the tournament.) His sales pitch continued at the winter meetings.

“Adam LaRoche is gonna come back,” Johnson said. “I mean, if I have to go to Kansas and take him and all his cattle to Florida, I will. I told him.”

The Nationals have held firm on giving LaRoche only a two-year contract, while LaRoche wants a three-year deal after both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2012. Johnson wants them to bridge the gap, to finish his managerial career with LaRoche on the field. If they can’t, Johnson will surely expect a championship, anyway, and he will not be shy about it.

“Shoot, I thought it was my last year 10 years ago,” Johnson said. “But I really like the challenge. And I said at the end of the year in ’11, that I wanted to be around because I thought this ball club, if we do the things I thought we were capable of doing, we could win the pennant.

“We came so far, and I’ve been with clubs where we made progress like the New York Mets when I first came in, and we won 90 games then 98, then 108. I think our organization, we’re primed to take that next step. Normally, it takes longer than the process last year. We made giant steps last year.”

Other predictions that the Nats win the pennant:
» ESPN MLB Preview
» Sports Illustrated Experts
» Comcast SportsNet Baltimore
» MLB Blog: Keith Olbermann
» Thomas "Lombeardi" McAllister

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Louisville Rises to the Occasion, Beats Michigan 82-76

Luke Hancock produced another huge game off the bench, scoring 22 points, and Rick Pitino became the first coach to win national titles at two schools when Louisville rallied from another 12-point deficit to beat Michigan 82-76 in the NCAA championship game Monday night.

"This team is one of the most together, toughest and hard-nosed teams," the coach said. "Being down never bothers us. They just come back."

More like relentless to the very end.

They're not stopping now, either. The players intend to hold Pitino to a promise he made: If they won a national title, he'd get a tattoo.

Better leave a lot of space, coach, if you want to make this a tribute to the team.

"I have a couple of ideas," said Hancock, who became the first sub in tournament history to be designated as most outstanding player. "He doesn't know what he's getting into."

"Our biggest motivation," Peyton Siva added, "was to get coach a tattoo."

That's about the only thing that didn't exactly turn out in Pitino's favor. Earlier Monday, he was introduced as a member of the latest Hall of Fame class. On Saturday, his horse won the Santa Anita Derby to set up a run for the roses. And last week his son got the coaching job at Minnesota.

The Cardinals (35-5) lived up to their billing as the top overall seed in the tournament, though they sure had to work for it.

Louisville trailed Wichita State by a dozen in the second half before rallying for a 72-68 victory. This time, they fell behind by 12 in the first half, then unleashed a stunning spurt led by Hancock that wiped out the entire deficit before the break.

"I had the 13 toughest guys I've ever coached," Pitino said. "I'm just amazed they could accomplish everything we put out there."

No one was tougher than Hancock, who matched his season high after a 20-point effort in the semifinal victory over Wichita State. This time, he came off the bench to hit four straight 3-pointers in the first half after Michigan got a boost from an even more unlikely player.

Freshman Spike Albrecht made four straight from beyond the arc, too, blowing by his career high before the break with 17 points. Coming in, Albrecht was averaging 1.8 points a game and had not scored more than seven all season.

Albrecht didn't do much in the second half, but Hancock finished what he started for Louisville. He made it 5-for-5 when he hit his final 3 from the corner with 3:20 remaining to give the Cardinals their biggest lead, 76-66. Michigan wouldn't go away, but Hancock wrapped it up by making two free throws with 29 seconds left.

While Pitino shrugged off any attempt to make this about him, there was no doubt the Cardinals wanted to win a national title for someone else -- injured guard Kevin Ware.

Watching again from his seat at the end of the Louisville bench, his injured right leg propped up on a chair, Ware smiled and slapped hands with his teammates as they celebrated in the closing seconds, the victory coming just 30 miles from where he played his high school ball.

Ware's gruesome injury during the regional final will forever be linked to this tournament. He landed awkwardly, snapped his leg and was left writhing on the floor with the bone sticking through the skin. On this night, he hobbled gingerly onto the court with the aid of crutches, basking in a sea of confetti and streamers.

Louisville again came out wearing Ware's No. 5 on the back of their warmup jerseys; the front said, "Ri5e to the Occasion." When the title belonged to the Cardinals, Ware put on a championship cap and got a big hug from Pitino. Then, they lowered the basket so the injured player could cut a strand out of the net.

This one belonged to him as much as anyone on the court.

"These are my brothers," Ware said. "They got the job done. I'm so proud of them, so proud of them."

Peyton Siva added 18 points for the Cardinals, who closed the season on a 16-game winning streak, and Chane Behanan chipped in with 15 points and 12 rebounds as Louisville slowly but surely closed out the Wolverines (31-8). Louisville kept the Wolverines off the offensive glass after halftime, limiting Michigan to one offensive rebound. The Cardinals created more second chances in the second half, grabbing 11 of their 15 offensive rebounds.

Michigan was in the title game for the first time since the Fab Five lost the second of two straight championship games in 1993. Players from that team, including Chris Webber, cheered on the latest group of young stars.

But, like the Fab Five, national player of the year Trey Burke and a squad with three freshman starters came up short in the last game of the season. Burke is the seventh player to score at least 20 points while shooting 60 percent from the floor in a title game loss.

"A lot of people didn't expect us to get this far," said Burke, who led the Wolverines with 24 points. "A lot of people didn't expect us to get past the second round. We fought. We fought up to this point, but Louisville was the better team today, and they're deserving of the win."

Louisville has a chance to make it two national titles in 24 hours. The surprising women's team faces Connecticut on Tuesday night in the championship game at New Orleans.

More information:
» ESPN: "Louisville-Michigan was perfect"

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Hokies Tribute to Posterizing Duke

Erick Green

Joey Van Zegeren

C.J. Barksdale

Robert Brown

Malcolm Delaney

Terrell Bell

Dorenzo Hudson

Jeff Allen

Victor Davila

A.D. Vassallo

Hank Thorns

Cheick Diakite

J.T. Thompson

Coleman Collins

Jamon Gordon

Zabian Dowdell

Deron Washington

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It's T-Time!

Hampton Roads:
On Tuesday, some members of the weight training staff gauged Trey Edmunds' eagerness to step into Virginia Tech's Bull in the Ring/Oklahoma-like drill to start practice.

"I told them I was ready for it," he said. "No matter who they put me against, I was ready."

At about 3 o'clock Wednesday, Edmunds saw his matchup posted outside the locker room. He'd be taking on linebacker Deon Clarke, another member of the 2012 signing class who is roughly his size.

"Then I saw him. He was in the locker room smiling," Edmunds said. "We went back and forth talking junk between each other. And just from there, our energies just went up. And that went on to how we practice. We both just had an outstanding practice, I think."

That appears to be the Hokies' goal with the drill they call T-Time or, as coach Frank Beamer described it, Tech's Toughness Time (a naming process that kind of sounded like this). It's something of a hybrid between the Oklahoma Drill and the Bull in the Ring, and it's the first thing the Hokies do at practice after stretching.

Two players line up across from one another, explode off a snap and try to push the other out of a ring. Shane Beamer did it some with the running backs last year. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler did it some with Urban Meyer at Florida and later with offensive line coach Jeff Grimes at Auburn.

"We’re trying to make our unit be as enthusiastic and together and as tough as we possibly can," Loeffler said. "Enthusiasm is contagious."

"I think it’s a good thing to start out practice and there’s a clear winner and loser," Grimes said. "And every day we kind of look at the matchups and there are people that we put in who we want to see how they rise to the occasion or fall. It’s a great chance to just see how a guy’s going to compete when the entire team is watching him."

-- Beamer was asked if the emphasis on toughness this spring was because he thought there was a lack of toughness last year. "Naw, I think we had tough kids," he said. "We just didn’t always play tough, mentally and physically, for whatever reason. I just think it’s always been part of the program here, and I think the more you emphasize it, the more you get what you want. So I think the kids want that too."

-- Shuman has flipped over to right tackle and Laurence Gibson to left tackle the past few practices. It's just Grimes trying to get a sense of what he has on the line. "I want to see who can do different things," he said. "I’m not smart enough as a coach to just kind of guess and figure it out based on a guy. I’ve got to see him do some different things and see where guys play best. Then you’ve got to look at the matchups too. Who’s going to be playing next to which guard? So there are a lot of different factors that come into play." He said he doesn't have a timetable for settling things out. He might mix and match all spring.

-- Left guard David Wang was in a blue, limited contact jersey for an unspecified reason Wednesday. Caleb Farris took his spot with the first team.

-- Cornerback Donaldven Manning has packed on about 20 pounds since the start of last season, going 155 to around 174 right now. How? By using a creatine product and eating five meals a day. "After the bowl game ... [my family] forced me to eat five meals a day, which helped me to gain weight," he said. "So I just continued to eat and rest my body, and the weight began to come on fast, because I wasn’t running or doing too much active stuff. I mean, I kept it simple workouts, like one-on-ones, but it didn’t provide much sweat. So my body was absorbing most of the food and I got bigger." Manning said he had about two to two and a half hours between meals.

-- Tech had its first real scrimmage setting at practice this spring Wednesday, running about 45 plays. The Hokies will have a bigger scrimmage at Lane Stadium that's open to the public Saturday at 2:45 p.m. "[Today] kind of got our feet in the water and tested the waters a little bit," Edmunds said. "But we’re very excited. The offense is, the defense is. We can’t wait to get after it Saturday."

More information:
» Bud Foster Talks LBs