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John Thompson III, Sashi Brown, Tommy Sheppard, Ted Leonsis, Daniel Medina of Monumental Basketball // Photo Ned Dishman NBAE via Getty Images

Wizards’ Front Office Flips Page With New GM Tommy Sheppard

As the Washington Wizards embark on a new season, all eyes are on newly minted general manager Tommy Sheppard, who assumed his role this summer, and how he’ll guide the team in a period of rebuilding. Yes, that delightful word every sports fan – especially those in DC – loves to hear. Sheppard took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about the upcoming season and how he may be the leader the Wizards have been waiting for.

On Tap: How are you feeling about the upcoming season?
Tommy Sheppard: We are really excited. Everything we did from April on has built up to this moment in time as we get ready for training camp. We’ve had some pretty amazing turnaround in a short amount of time in terms of how many new players and new staff [have been added to the roster]. I think the best days are certainly ahead.

OT: You worked with former GM Ernie Grunfeld for many years. What did you learn philosophically from him that you will take with you into your new role?
TS: No matter what, you need the very best talent. Talent is the biggest, most important commodity in the NBA. I think there are so many ways to acquire talent. I put a high premium on character. Data-driven ways of scouting and the way we evaluate plays now is a little different. We worked together a long time and I have the most respect for [Grunfeld], but we are different people with different approaches. My challenge now is to execute a vision we are looking at collectively and not just, “Hey, this is how I want everything to look.” It is critical to everyone working with us that they feel like they have a piece of this, and that’s part of the new NBA as well.

OT: Does the team anticipate John Wall playing this season at any time?
TS: We’ve made a huge investment in John. This isn’t about this season. It’s about the rest of his career. Our performance staff has so much fire power and wisdom that they can truly test when someone is 100 percent, and John’s resume speaks for itself. He’s played through so many injuries in his career. But we have to be more thoughtful with load management and stress on players. We’re not going to rush anyone back, and certainly not John. You can’t fix your mind on a date. So, when he’s 100 percent healthy – not a month or a day [sooner].

OT: How do you envision using the G League as a place to develop players?
TS: We used it last year and were tremendously successful. We promoted our head coach of the G League [Jarell Christian], who is now an assistant with the Wizards. Thomas Bryant spent time there, and Troy Brown played there and got valuable game exposure and finished the [season] as a starter. The last roster spots will always change, and we are going to rotate a lot of players through to see what they can do. We don’t want to take away from the core of the Wizards. That’s the biggest piece: developing players under contract.

OT: Is your main focus this season on a playoff run or are you more focused on player development?
TS: This year, because we have brand new coaches and new players, it’s about getting everyone on a foundation and setting a routine. Playoffs to me is the big picture. You want to build something sustainable. We have to have wisdom to be patient and prudent with the money we spend so we’ll have more money in off years. This summer would have been easy to sign [Tomas] Satoransky, [Jabari] Parker and [Trevor] Ariza, but that’s propping up a team that didn’t make the playoffs. Those are good players and we will miss them, but logic told me they are signing one- or two-year deals – kind of like moving from one dilapidated house to another. Sooner or later, you have to bring it down to bring it back up, and I think we’ve done that.

OT: When you do have free time, what do you like to do around DC?
TS: I’m a museum junkie. I love the African American History [and Culture] Museum and the Air and Space Museum. I’m a big fan of SpaceX and what [Elon] Musk is doing, so I try to go back and figure out that history that led to this and what they are trying to create. I’ve got a big family and we live near Annapolis and have horses, so we love to be outdoors. And as far as restaurants go, Chloe down at the Navy Yard is one of my favorites.

 The Wizards’ preseason starts on Monday, October 7 at 7 p.m. with a home game against the New York Knicks. Learn more about the season at www.nba.com/wizards and follow the team on Twitter

Paul Arriola // Photo: courtesy of D.C. United

D.C. United Has Playoffs On Their Mind

As the calendar turned to August, D.C. United sat in third place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference but were right in the thick of the race – sitting only a few points out of the top spot. A lock to make the playoffs, the team has been coming on strong this summer, going 3-2-5 (adding 14 points) in its last 10 contests and making a run for first.

Midfielder Paul Arriola, whose name is consistently brought up in transfer talk, is in his third year with the team and has proven a vital squad player under head coach Ben Olsen’s scheme.

“It’s been a better first half of the season than it was last year, which was my first full year, and we had this great second-half run at Audi Field,” Arriola says. “Having had so many home games this year, we’ve gotten a taste of what a real MLS season is like. There’s times the ball is going your way and the refs are calling it your way, but then there are times we can’t buy a goal or other teams are playing better than us.”

That rollercoaster ride is something all soccer players experience, and he knows the team is capable of being on the fun, upswing side of that journey as the year goes on. Arriola will be counted on to help D.C. United in its championship run after coming off a strong showing for the U.S. National Team in the Gold Cup.

“We’ve put ourselves in a great spot to be in the playoffs,” he says. “We’re not in the do-or-die situation we were in last year in the second half, but we feel we will get those big results. Last year, it took me about three months to feel like myself as a player because of the long off-season. But this year, with hard training, I came out of the blocks really hot – first with the National Team and now with United. I’ve played a very versatile role so far and [am] happy with what I’ve done, but not content.”

The team’s offense is led by former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, sporting a brilliant season with a team high of 11 goals and seven assists in league play this year. He also recorded two goals and an assist in two Open Cup games and is proving why he’s an international sensation.

Luciano Acosta has chipped in five goals, midfielder Lucas Rodriguez has four and Arriola has scored four himself. On defense, the team is counting on Leonardo Jara, Steven Birnbaum and Frederic Brilliant to keep the opposition in check as the offense does what it’s capable of doing. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is having a fine season, with 88 saves and eight shutouts in 115 shots faced, accounting for an 8-6-8 record through the team’s first 22 games.

Midfielder Russell Canouse has been with D.C. United since 2017 and racked up a career high 1,634 minutes already for the team. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native is known for his passing accuracy and considered one of the top passers in the league.

“The past month, we left some points on the table that we should have gotten, but we have 11 games left,” Canouse says. “I expect us to pick up some points, and our goal is to have home-field advantage for the playoffs. Our recent win against Cincinnati was an important one for us because that gave us a lot of confidence. Another big result was the Orlando game where Wayne hit the 65-yard goal.”

As the new home for D.C. United, Audi Field has been everything the players had hoped for and more – and Arriola is loving the Audi Field vibe.

“The fans push us – not just myself, but as a team,” he says. “When I look around the stadium and see the amount of people wearing an Arriola jersey, [it’s] amazing. The way [our fans] support the team and never give up on us, that’s something a lot of teams don’t get. They are definitely special to us.”

To bolster the roster in the second half, the team recently added former University of Maryland standout attacker Gordon Wild, and he’s expected to provide some strong firepower in the final two months. The team also brought in former USMNT midfielder Jose Torres on a trial basis, in case an injury or transfer occurs in the next couple of weeks.

“Our team chemistry is only getting stronger,” Canouse says. “Guys are starting to understand how much quality we have on the team and what we can achieve. We find ourselves in a good spot. Ben has done a great job keeping us levelheaded.”

Arriola is optimistic but sees room for improvement in the coming months.

“There’s work to be done and we’re tying a lot of games, but we almost hit a wall where we weren’t able to win games,” he says. “The key for the rest of the season is to find our identity and collectively understand who we are and the type of team we are. In the end, it’s going to take a player to make a big play every single game. But if we stay true to ourselves, we can do what we need to do.”

For more information on the remainder of D.C. United’s 2019 season, which runs through October 6, visit www.dcunited.com.

Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; 202-587-5000; www.dcunited.com

Jon Bostic // Photos - courtesy of Redskins

Redskins’ Hopes Lie in Newcomers

Last season didn’t exactly go as planned for the Washington Redskins, and the team labored to a 7-9 season. The outcome led to some changes in the off-season including the draft day additions of quarterback Dwayne Haskins out of Ohio State and star end Montez Sweat out of Mississippi State, and both are expected to play prominent roles this fall.

Many around the league were shocked when Haskins fell to Washington at No. 15 and though not fast, he’s enormously sized and can throw – with many comparing him to Ben Roethlisberger. Coach Jay Gruden has yet to commit to a starting quarterback but has said Haskins will be given equal opportunity to winning the job along with Case Keenum and longtime Redskin Colt McCoy, who is coming off a broken leg.

While McCoy has been on the team for four years and knows Gruden’s system, he doesn’t have the arm for making the big throw down field. Many fans would rather see the 31-year-old Keenum – who threw for 3,890 yards and 18 touchdowns for Denver last season – as QB1 until Haskins is truly ready to step in. Playing for the University of Houston, Keenum set NCAA records for total passing yards, touchdowns and completions.

Other additions include signing Landon Collins away from division rivals the New York Giants in a $84 million deal, inking offensive lineman Corey Robinson and bringing in Jon Bostic, the team’s projected starting middle linebacker.

“I think we are a good group of young guys and I can see we’re already growing every day,” Bostic says. “We have a lot of coaches around here who have been around ball for a long time. Getting their knowledge and seeing the guys work hard, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Over a six-year career, Bostic has spent time with the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, recording 313 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He’s coming off one of his better years, starting 14 of 16 games with a career-high 2.5 sacks last season in Pittsburgh. Wearing No. 53, Bostic is enjoying his time in camp and likes what he sees from the squad.

“It’s a work in progress, but that’s what training camp is for,” he says. “We’re all getting used to playing with each other and getting better every day. We’re excited to get going.”

The linebacker core includes returnees Shaun Dion Hamilton and Josh Harvey-Clemons, five-year NFL vet Marquis Flowers, and rookies Cole Holcomb and BJ Blunt.

“We have goals as a unit and want to be one of the top defenses in the league, but we understand it’s not going to just be given to us,” Bostic continues. “We have to work hard during and after practice. We have a lot of potential on paper, but potential isn’t going to lead us to W’s. It’s the work that will lead us to those W’s.”

Disappointing news came out of camp early on when it was announced that the offensive line may be without perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. In late July, he had yet to report due to a contract dispute, which would leave Ereck Flowers to man left tackle with rookie Wes Martin switching to left guard. The hope is that Williams will arrive soon to shore up what could be a strong point for the team.

Adrian Peterson returned to the all-star form of his early years as a new running back with the team, rushing for 1,042 yards on 251 attempts and registering seven TDs. Derrius Guice, who missed his entire rookie year with an injury, and Chris Thompson, now in his seventh year with Washington, join him in the backfield.

Questions remain about the team’s next wide receiver, with Jamison Crowder off to the Jets and a returning crew that saw no one player score more than two touchdowns all season. Two draftees in Ohio State’s Terry McLaurin and NC State’s Kelvin Harmon will see some action and receiver Josh Doctson will be relied on to do more than make the occasional big grab.

“Just seeing what they are accomplishing on the offensive side of the ball – it’s been fun,” Bostic says. “Coach Gruden is an offensive-minded coach and he always wants to beat the defense. We’re all competitive and out there trying to beat the offense every day. We’re all getting each other going in different ways and that will keep us strong.”

If whoever wins the quarterback job gets into a groove, Peterson has a repeat performance, the youngsters make some noise and the playmakers on the defense do their job, the Redskins could win 10 games and be a big player come playoff time.

“Our goal is to win the division and take care of business,” Bostic says.

Don’t miss the Washington Redskins’ first home game on Thursday, August 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Learn more about their upcoming season at www.redskins.com.

FedExField: 1600 Fedex Way, Landover, MD; 301-276-6000; www.redskins.com

Adam Eaton // Photo: courtesy of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club

Rev Up the Park: Nationals’ Adam Eaton on Leading the Drive

The Washington Nationals have come a long way since the first two months of 2019’s baseball season. They’re now much closer to where fans and foes never thought they’d be: a team close to having the best record in the MLB’s National League East.

But in the midst of a ride as wild as a 162-game season, there are things to focus on bigger than baseball – and Nationals’ right fielder Adam Eaton knows it. The 30-year-old lefthander from Springfield, Ohio is in his third year with DC’s baseball team, and with that came his third annual Rev Up The Park charity event.

Rev Up The Park combines Eaton’s love for cars with his passion for making a difference. With the help of the Nationals Dream Foundation and his connection to the Dragonfly Foundation, his third year has been the biggest one yet with over 200 registered cars and over $22,000 raised. Eaton has been able to see the benefits of his support, keeping in touch with Dragonfly Foundation Cofounder Christine Neitzke and her son Matt, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2010 but is now cancer-free thanks to the foundation’s efforts.

“To actually see families that have benefited from [the Dragonfly Foundation’s] programs is huge for me,” Eaton says. “To continue to see them giving back continues to fuel me to donate my time, money and efforts to hopefully help those families to survive and have a brighter side to what they’re going through.”

The event, held on July 27, raised funds for the Dragonfly Foundation in support of pediatric cancer patients and their families. Eaton says he’s not alone in pursuing his passion, as a good portion of Major League Baseball players try to stay in touch with their hobbies.

“Baseball is such a mental and physical grind,” he says. “Having a distraction, life perspective and being in touch with life outside of baseball is huge for us as baseball players.”

Whether it’s hunting, fishing or cars – his Dodge Viper ACR in particular – “everything outside of our professional lifestyle is always important for us to do [so we can] continue to be human beings and do things outside of baseball.”
Since childhood, owning American muscle cars has motivated Eaton, and remained a focal point of his personal life as he worked his way through the Minor Leagues and became a 19th-round draft pick in 2010.

“I love baseball and wanted to be able to afford vehicles,” he says. “That was it. That was my only thought. This is very much a ‘pinch me’ moment. I never thought in a million years that I’d ever own my dream car, and I’m very excited about it. I’m an American muscle car guy through and through. That’s all I own and will ever own. I’m patriotic and love my country and try to give back the best I can. It’s a very surreal moment.”

Another car fanatic on the Nationals is ultimate utility player Howie Kendrick, who also looks forward to this event every year and is happy to be able to support Eaton and the cause.

“It’s really cool to see the following he’s gotten now with this event,” Kendrick says. “Every year it grows. It’s a blast to talk to the fans and car people in general. Adam takes a lot of pride in this event and it shows with the way it’s run and the people who donate their time to come help out. It [means a lot] to come out and be able to support Adam.”

Kendrick mentions that teammates Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon are also big car guys themselves – but not as big as himself and Eaton, who find themselves bonding over it often.

“Athletes and cars go hand in hand. Me and Adam are the two biggest car guys. We’re constantly talking cars, and you couldn’t think of a better event for his charity. I’m happy to be here and happy to support it.”

The Nationals Dream Foundation has been a major source of positive influence in the District, supporting local youth baseball teams and keeping the baseball influence high in the community, as well as its military initiatives.

“Our guys are so willing,” Eaton says. “We’ve got a really good group of guys. We have a platform to influence the community in a positive manner. [The foundation] is the number one priority outside of baseball.”

He doesn’t think about legacy – just the opportunities he’s given and how he can use his platform to help others. Nothing is set in stone, and Eaton remains humbled and happy to be where he is.

“They’ve given me the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says. “I’m blessed that the Nationals gave me the opportunity to play and help the community. I just want to be as positive as I can, play as hard as I can and let the chips fall.”

Eaton has always taken pride in setting a good example on and off the field, even when he was battling major injuries as a newer member of the team in previous seasons.

“Even being a new guy and being hurt, I wanted to try and [be a good] influence and work as hard as I could to get healthy. It’s about knowing that you can make an impact, [and] not just through playing baseball. It’s all about just playing to the fullest every day – hustling and playing the right way.”

Eaton works with the team’s younger outfielders, 22-year-old Victor Robles and 20-year-old Juan Soto, noting how he just wants to be a leader with his never-give-up mentality of “just trying to let them see the right way to play the game.”

“I try to influence them in a positive manner. That’s the cool thing about baseball. You play every single day and you constantly have chances to be positive or negative – and it’s your choice. The older I get, hopefully the better I get to approaching it and trying to learn through failures and successes.”

For the Nationals’ starting right fielder, there’s just something special about rocking the curly “W” on his chest in the nation’s capital.

“[It’s] really cool to be able to wear the curly ‘W’ and be in front of people that represent this country: politicians and government officials, [and] just people that live in this area. It’s really unique for me and something I take great pride in, and I know that the Nationals do as well.”

Eaton has evolved in his all-around leadership role from his first year as a National in 2016 to the present, as the team keeps driving to nab the top spot of the NL East Division.

“Come support us in the next few months,” Eaton says. “It’s going to be a heck of a ride.”

With eight homestands remaining, catch the Nationals’ regular season games at Nationals Park through Sunday, September 29. At time of publishing, the Nats are 57-51. Learn more at www.nationals.com

Nationals Park: 1500 S Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-640-7368; www.nationals.com

Mallory Pugh // Photo: courtesy of the Washington Spirit

Women’s World Cup Champs Look Ahead

The sound of cicadas echoed loudly outside of FedExField, and the summer sun beamed unforgivably onto the concrete. My eyes adjusted to the dark of the tunnel as I passed through the depths of the stadium and onto the pitch. Immediately, my ears recognized the short, urgent calls of the Washington Spirit players communicating seamlessly to each other as they trained.

As I made my way over to the group of other media day attendees on July 22, I noticed their cameras trained on two players in particular: 21-year-old Mallory Pugh and 24-year-old Rose Lavelle. All eyes were on the pair, still riding the high from their 2019 Women’s World Cup win on July 7 and kicking back into gear for the second half of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season.

Pugh experienced rapid success very early in her career, receiving her Olympic callup at 17. The youngest American to debut on the national team in 11 years, her skill and success has the nation optimistic for the future of American soccer.

Star midfielder Lavelle is coming off of a critical shot for the U.S. in the 69th minute of the World Cup Final against the Netherlands. The landmark goal not only clinched the record for most team goals in a single FIFA Women’s World Cup, but also distinguished Lavelle as the second youngest American to score in a World Cup Final. Her exceptional performance in Paris earned her the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Bronze Ball.

Not only are these two young women living out their dreams on the international stage, they’re also experiencing success together as roommates and best friends.

“I have been so privileged and honored just to be around her,” Pugh said about Lavelle, giving her friend a sideways glance along the interview table at FedExField. “When she scored her first goal, I started crying. I was so happy for her.”

Pugh sat back after speaking to Lavelle’s inspirational and supportive role in her life. She whispered a sincere, “Thanks Rosie,” and the two young women exchanged a moment of mutual understanding and gratitude.

“That’s hard to follow up,” Lavelle laughed. “I know Mal’s younger than me, but I’ve always looked up to her. When you get to do what you love with people you love, it makes it that much more fun.”

Pugh switched gears to the remainder of the NWSL season, saying the team is very focused. The athletes hope the national attention garnered from the World Cup win will increase the attention on their regular season play, but the panel of female athletes expressed some skepticism.

“It’s almost been frustrating,” said team captain Andi Sullivan. “You have those same players that you saw in the World Cup – they’re all here. So, why are people not engaging with it?”

Head Coach Richie Burke echoed Sullivan’s sentiments, pointing out that his “world-class” team is “underpaid, underrecognized, underappreciated.” However, Burke expressed that the newly signed ESPN and Budweiser partnerships are steps in the right direction. His comments were met with concurring nods from all the players. This will be the first time in history that the NWSL will have a broadcast agreement with ESPN.

“Any exposure we can get is wonderful,” Pugh said. “I want people to see what we can do.”

As the interview continued, it became evident that certain themes will resurface over the course of the 2019 season and Spirit seasons to come. First, the team will have to face a reality where achieving the viewership they believe they deserve will continue to be an uphill battle. Also, their pursuit of equal pay will not slow with the sunset of the 2019 Women’s World Cup win. The players looked confident that vying for both viewership and satisfactory compensation are contests they can win.

With the resolve of someone beyond her years, Pugh commented, “Everyone is saying how competitive and how great this league is, and I think people just need to see that. Now that we have the option and they actually can do that, it’s absolutely amazing.”

#PackThePlex and join the Washington Spirit at the Maryland SoccerPlex for the remainder of their 2019 season, which runs through early October. Catch home games this month on Saturday, August 10, Wednesday, August 21 and Saturday, August 24. Tickets start at $25. Visit www.washingtonspirit.com for more information.

Maryland SoccerPlex: 18031 Central Park Cir. Boyds, MD; 301-591-0927; www.washingtonspirit.com

Photo: Courtesy of D.C. United

Ben Olsen Still Kicking As D.C. United Head Coach

When Ben Olsen hung up his cleats in 2009, the famed D.C. United midfielder figured his 24-year relationship with soccer had ended. After college ball at the University of Virginia and an entire Major League Soccer career with D.C. United, Olsen hadn’t yet considered a coaching career as a way to deepen his relationship with the sport he gave his life to. Despite his hesitation to man the sidelines, he joined the team in 2010 as an assistant coach. Just a few months later, after a poor start to the season, the team installed him as head coach. 

“It was a strange way to get a head coaching job,” Olsen says. “In some ways, it was my first job. I was swimming for a couple years. Going from [being] a player, that doesn’t prep you to be a coach. Of course, you get knowledge about how you want the game to be played, but you’re not prepped to manage and deal with a group of 30 men and their emotions.”

Fast forward to today, Olsen is still leading the D.C. United team on the field. Though a lot has changed since taking over as the interim head coach, Olsen has led talented teams and underachieving ones and seen years of great investment and their leaner counterparts. The 41-year-old has amassed more than 100 wins and counting throughout his 14-year tenure, the longest of any D.C. United head coach.

“It’s rare to have been at a club this long – not only from a coaching standpoint but piggybacking on a great career. It’s been a huge part of my life. I’m humbled and burdened with this responsibility to get these fans a championship. That’s the goal, and that would be a success, to get these fans that have been great to me a championship.”

Few iterations of this team have been as strong as this season’s unit, featuring the legendary Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and Júnior Moreno. The team raced off of to a hot start, winning three of its first four games and capitalizing on the momentum from last year’s late season run.

“We were hoping we could pick up where we left off, and we were able to do that for the first month of the season [by] having the same group return,” Olsen says. “The relationships were there. Preseason, we pushed the group a little bit further toward our identity and how we wanted to start winning games. Sometimes early in the season, you can catch teams that aren’t really who they are yet. Now we’re at a tough spot where you have injuries and suspensions, and you have to rely on your depth.”

As Olsen mentioned, the team has come back down to earth since their blistering opening month. The team had a record of four wins, two losses and two draws as of late April.

“We’re on track,” Olsen says the day after a 0-2 defeat to New York City FC. “The parity in the East is very strong [and] to get caught up in how we’re doing in the standings is a bit silly. You’d rather start this way and have some wins under your belt, but things change quickly in this league. You try to stay level and just get better by tactically figuring out how the group can be at its best.”

This season also marks the first full slate of home games at the team’s new Audi Field. Playing his entire career at the historic RFK Stadium, Olsen notes the differences in a number of areas from players to staff – and how much the entire organization has evolved for the better.

“Audi Field was the first step of D.C. United taking a step [toward] becoming an elite MLS team. That’s the catalyst of this resurgence. With that comes Wayne Rooney and some of the younger players. I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs and now to come out of some of those lean years, you have to enjoy the moment because things change.”

D.C. United returns to Audi Field on Wednesday, May 15 versus Toronto FC and on Saturday, May 18 versus the Houston Dynamo. For more information on Olsen and the team, visit www.dcunited.com.

Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; 202-587-5000; www.dcunited.com

Photo: Ned Dishman, NBA Photos

DC Enjoys A New Kind Of Go-Go

After years of planning and construction, people in the DMV can finally travel to into the city to see live go-go. And I don’t mean go-go music, the genre founded by DC legend Chuck Brown. I mean Capital City Go-Go basketball.

With a home court at the brand-new Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast, the NBA G-League’s Capital City Go-Go kicked off their first season in the District last November. Owned and operated by Monumental Sports, the city’s newest professional basketball team serves as a developmental team for prospects who need to improve before jumping to an NBA roster.

“It’s good basketball, a lot of talent and a lot of highlights,” rookie guard Chris Chiozza says. “The people we have on this roster are incredible. We have NBA guys, some people that should be in the NBA, people trying to get into the NBA and people that are trying to get called up. We’re a fun team to watch.”

The NBA G-League is the official minor league of the NBA, providing players out of college like Chiozza, foreign prospects from overseas or even high school grads forgoing college the opportunity to test themselves at a higher level of competition. There are currently 27 teams, and the games can be seen on ESPN, NBA TV and local networks.

For years, the Wizards sent players they were interested in to neighboring teams, but now they’ve finally established their own developmental program. However, the team is far from just a little brother to the Wizards, as the quality of play is nothing to undermine. In its inaugural season, the team is off to a successful start at 15-11, good for second place in the Southeast division.

“It’s been pretty good,” head coach Jarrell Christian says. “Nobody really knew what to expect coming in, but I think obviously we’ve won some games. Once you develop a team and the players as individuals, the wins will follow. I think our guys have done a really good job at becoming better players and better men on and off the court.”

While every pro sports team views winning as the ultimate goal, being in the minor leagues involves adjusting this mindset as individuals on the roster are constantly working on their own skills in the hopes of getting a contract with an NBA team. Several players have been on both DC teams since October including Jordan McRae, Devin Robinson and the team’s top pick from last year’s draft, Troy Brown Jr.

“I looked at a recent boxscore for the Wizards, and there were four or five guys who had played for the Go-Go this season,” Christian says. “That’s the whole reason why we’re here. The fact that we’ve been able to get those guys playing minutes before playing in an NBA game is why we exist. I’m excited about it, and we have a talented team.”

While a majority of rosters will include a number of younger players, veterans who refuse to give up on the dream of the major leagues round out the rest of the spots. Former University of Maryland guard Pe’Shon Howard is no stranger to playing in the G-League after suiting up for the Sacramento Kings’ developmental team last season.

“This [first year] has gone really well,” Howard says. “For a team that’s pretty big, with the staff and players we have, it’s really well put together for a first year. We have an identity and the coaches have us playing confidently.”

As a veteran, Howard understands the importance of balancing the team’s success with his own skill development. Scouts, coaches and fans are always drawn to teams that win, which in theory will help players get to that next level.

“For me, the main thing is competing and winning,” Howard says. “I think for me and this organization, we all know that winning is the easiest way to [personal] success. It makes it a lot easier to develop and adjust, because it’s not always about me. I always want to be on a team that wins.”

With talented players, innovative coaches and a beautiful new arena, the Go-Go have largely shunned any growing pains by establishing themselves as a tough out for other teams. Don’t miss out on the remainder of the season, as the team marches toward the G-League playoffs, because these are high-level players making music on the court.

“I think a big part of us being an expansion team is being innovative,” Christian says. “We have to continue to see what works best as a staff and for our players.”

For more information on the Capital City Go-Go or for tickets to future games, visit https://capitalcity.gleague.nba.com.


Long Island Nets v Capital City Go-Go

The Entertainment and Sports Arena Breathes New Life Into City

After more than a year of construction starting in summer 2017, the Entertainment and Sports Arena opened last September in Southeast DC. The multiuse facility, designed to host everything from concerts to e-sports competitions, is the practice facility for the Wizards, Mystics and Capital City Go-Go – and the home court for the latter two teams. On Tap spoke with Events DC President Gregory O’Dell about the $65 million, 4,200-seat arena’s local impact and future programming.

On Tap: What has the response from the local community been like so far?
Gregory O’Dell:
The response has been overwhelmingly fantastic. One of the things we wanted to do was put people to work. We had more than $10 million in construction contracts in [Ward 8], and more than 50 percent of the staff in the building are from Ward 7 and Ward 8. We thought this would be a great catalyst [for Congress Heights] and will drive foot traffic there. It’ll be the start of a wider and broader project.

OT: Now that it’s been operating for a few months, has the arena met expectations?
GO:
It has. We’re seeing the diversity in the programming that we wanted. People are coming from across the city and it gives people access to Congress Heights, which will bode well for the future and the community.

OT: How has the relationship with the Wizards, Capital City Go-Go and Mystics bolstered the arena’s programming?
GO:
I’ll give lots of credit to Mayor [Muriel Bowser] and [Monumental CEO] Ted Leonsis. The Wizards enjoy the training facility, [as well as] the fans of the Go-Go and Mystics. They’ve all been supportive of us and we enjoy having them there.

OT: Have there been any unforeseen setbacks?
GO:
Everything has gone smoothly. In fairness to the city, they’ve done an incredible job with the infrastructure job of the campus. There are growing pains for everyone when there’s construction, and we’ll have to make adjustments with the growth, but it’s nothing to complain about and we’re pleased.

For more information about the arena and news about future programming, visit www.esaontherise.com.

The Entertainment and Sports Arena: 1100 Oak Dr. SE, DC; 202-249-3000; www.esaontherise.com

Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images courtesy of Washington Capitals

These Aren’t the Same Old Caps, and It’s Time to Pay Attention

The threat of a premature Capitals exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs is as predictable a spring ritual as tourists swarming the National Mall to snap selfies with the cherry blossoms. The Caps have made the playoffs eight times since drafting Alexander Ovechkin #1 overall in the 2004 NHL Draft, and have never advanced past the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The complete and staggering anthology of Caps disappointment and futility can be found here. Regular season dominance and President’s Trophies give way to first round collapses, second round no-shows, and more than one Game 7 heartbreaker. The offseason gives way to trades, splashes in free agency, and coaching changes that have annually failed to propel Ovechkin and the Caps to the Eastern Conference Finals – especially with Sidney Crosby and the hated Pittsburgh Penguins standing in the way.

The black and gold have given the hometown team fits over the years, (the Caps had been 0-3 in the Ovechkin era against Pittsburgh in the postseason) with the Pens knocking the Caps out in both 2016 and 2017 en route to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Along the way, Sid the Kid has become the face of the league, while Ovechkin, although undoubtedly a superstar, has repeatedly had to face questions about his heart, desire, and leadership skills. With each passing year, the shadows of past playoff disappointments grew longer for the Russian-born captain (as well as longtime Caps like Braden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Jay Beagle), and while still relatively young at 32, he must know the window won’t stay open forever.

It seems insane to think the Great 8 has played over 1,000 games in his storied 13-year career in the nation’s capital, amassing a truly spectacular 607 goals and over 1,100 points in that span. When he eventually hangs up his skates, they will undoubtedly be placed in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, but without lifting that 34.5lb trophy (and then possibly drinking vodka out of it), the career of one of the NHL’s (and DC’s, for that matter) greatest athletes will seem incomplete, anticlimactic.

After vanquishing a scrappy Columbus Blue Jackets team in the first round, the stage was set for yet another showdown with the Penguins. After the heartbreak of the last two seasons, knocking off the two-time defending champs, with such a perceived mental edge, seemed like a Sisyphean task. Instead, a hard-fought series ended on the stick of Evgeny Kuznetsov (after a pass from Ovechkin) in overtime of Game 6, and Washington’s usually irrepressible captain exhaled like a man who had just heard the word “negative” on a medical diagnosis.

A less hungry (or even desperate) team might have wilted in the face of the scintillating Tampa Bay Lightning, the Eastern Conference’s top seed. After exorcising the demons of the second round, a letdown would have been anything but shocking. The first two games brought a continuation of what we saw against Pittsburgh: a team that is hungry, fearless, and determined, dominating the Bolts in the series’ first two outings in Florida.

On Tuesday night, Lightning dominated both in and outside of a packed Capital One Arena. The Caps supplied some offensive pressure, but too often were lackadaisical with the puck, and Braden Holtby was outperformed by his counterpart in Andrei Vasilevskiy, falling 4-2. Heading into Game 4 on Thursday, the Capitals have an honest to goodness series on their hands, and it’s time to start paying attention.

Sports serve as a respite from the pressures of a demanding city. It’s all too easy to become inured to DC’s talented sports teams flaming out in the postseason. At a time when so many stories are scary, maddening, or devastating, the Capitals’ quest for redemption and validation is so much more than distraction. We project ourselves onto our sports heroes to catch a glimpse of who we might be when placed on the highest stage. At their best, sports can remind us that darkness doesn’t last forever, that there’s no problem that can’t be overcome, that redemption is always possible.

I realize that seems like a huge amount of pressure to put on a franchise that already carries more baggage than a 747, but with just six wins to go, they’re more than halfway there. If they can do it, the Capitals will have climbed one of the tallest mountains of all. And if they do, you’ll wish you had been there to watch the ascent.

For more in the Capitals playoff season visit www.nhl.com/capitals.