Dennard deals with draft disappointment

Dennard deals with draft disappointment

By Tom E. Curran

On the third day of the 2012 NFL Draft, after 223 young men had already been selected, Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was chosen by the Patriots.

Until a week before the draft, the 100 or so friends and family gathered in the Wilcox High gym in Georgia figured they'd be celebrating a proud moment for a native son.

But after Dennard got arrested for assaulting a police officer and spent the weekend before the draft in jail, the tenor of the event changed some.

Relief trumped rejoice. Bad enough that Dennard had gone about 150 spots after he could have been drafted, imagine if he hadn't been selected at all?

No sympathetic looks were sent Dennard's way, no attempts at deciphering his outward level of disappointment. He'd left the event hours earlier.

Their native son was the nation's example of what a stupid incident less than a week before the draft can do to your NFL employment prospects.

Dennard punched a cop. That's what the incident report from a night out in Lincoln, Nebraska says and Dennard will be arraigned on the charge this Wednesday.

While the offense carries a maximum five-year prison term, even if Dennard's found guilty, jail seems a remote possibility since he's got no history of legal troubles.

In fact, Dennard's paying for the incident already both in the amount of money he would have made as a second or third-round pick (his pre-incident projection) and in reputation and embarrassment.

The Patriots haven't made Dennard available to the media. But his agent, Brian Murphy, said that Dennard had a surprising reaction to his draft freefall.

"His reaction to the whole process was mind-boggling to me because he said, 'Things happen the way they're supposed to happen. And this is all happening for a reason and all I can do is prove everyone wrong and show that I'm a great cornerback, a great teammate and a great man and he wants to reward the Patriots for the faith they showed,' " said Murphy. "I wouldn't describe him as down and out."

As Dennard's agent, Murphy has an obvious interest in putting a positive face on a negative situation. But coupling Murphy's comments with those made by Dennard's head coach at Nebraska and by Bill Belichick, the notion Dennard's arrest was completely out of character is more believable.
"That isn't who he is, that's never been who he is, and that's not going to be who he is in the future," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said to ESPNBoston's Field Yates. "And I put my reputation, and I put everything I stand for as a football coach behind that young man."He is a tremendous young man, and one who you want not only representing you as a football player, but the type of kid you want in your community, the type of kid you want representing your organization."Meanwhile, Belichick told SIRIUS-XM's NFL Radio that, "We just don't feel that's who he is, or even how the account of the incident came out in some places, that's what happened. But we'll see. Bottom line is we were comfortable with him, and that if he did make a mistake like so many of us have, that he'll be able to represent our organization and our team the way we want it represented and we were comfortable taking him."

That so many people showed up to Dennard's draft party even with the legal issues shows a healthy respect for Dennard among people who know him well.

"He's a perfect representative of the town and they're so proud of him," said Murphy. "When I met him, it was always, 'Yes, sir; No, sir; Yes, Mr. Murphy.' When I asked what was important to him, he said taking care of his mom and representing his town well. It was a neat experience watching how the people in town reacted to him."

Murphy got to know Dennard well after the 22-year-old agreed to be represented by Murphy's firm.

"When they sign with Athlete's First, they come out to California and train at our academy," Murphy explained. "We literally see them every day and we get to know them pretty well. And we had 13 or 14 people out there including (Patriots third-round chouce) Jake Bequette and of all those guys, Alfonzo was as polite, respectful, quiet and hard-working as anyone. He's the type of guy you want to represent because you know he's not going to get in trouble, ironically. ... We described him to many teams as, 'This is a guy you don't have to worry about. He just wants to play football and take care of his family.' "

According to Murphy, the past 10 months have been filled with adversity for Dennard. To be candid, though, some of it - like the Lincoln arrest and a fight with South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery in the Capital One Bowl - was self-created.

A thigh injury (Murphy described as "severe") early in his senior season and a hip injury before the Senior Bowl were other issues Dennard faced.

"Those were three things that happened during the course of the season that built his character through adversity," Murphy explained. "Each time he said, 'I'm going to learn from this, I'm going to get better from this.' "

Regardless of what happens Wednesday, the jury will remain out on Dennard until some time passes.

Declarations that his arrest is "Not who Alfonzo is..." won't carry any weight if he can't stay trouble-free.

He's got people who believe in him, though. From Foxboro to Lincoln, Nebraska to Georgia a lot of people insist Dennard is worth backing.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

celtics-al-horford.jpg

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

celtics-isaiah-thomas.jpg

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.