Ihedigbo: 'It's all about continuing to fight'

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Ihedigbo: 'It's all about continuing to fight'

FOXBORO -- Surprisingly, injured cornerback Devin McCourty returned to Patriots practice on Saturday, after missing the entire week with a shoulder injury that he suffered in Sunday night's win over the New York Jets.

The practice was a "sweats and shells" session, and while the media was only allowed to watch the opening minutes, it's unknown as to how much contact McCourty made.

If the reports are true that McCourty separated his shoulder on Sunday, it may be unrealistic to think that he'd be able to make a complete return this soon.

If he's not available for Monday night's game at Gillette Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs, then the Patriots know it's just another opportunity for someone else to step up and make a name for themselves.

"Like it's been all year, guys have to seize the opportunity," said Patriots safety James Ihedigbo on Saturday. "McCourty's a phenomenal player, and whatever the case is -- I can't speak for someone else -- but if he's up, if he's playing, he's going to be flying around and making plays. If a guy has to step up, then a guy has to step up. That's how it is in this league."

Regardless of how ready McCourty may or may not be, just seeing him back on the field so soon on Saturday, was motivating to the rest of the team, who may also be a little banged up.

"This time of year, it's all about continuing to fight," said Ihedigbo. "Everyone in the league is battling something this time of year. So you really look up to guys who can fight through certain injuries or whatever it may be, to be on the field playing. So definitely, you have to look up to those guys and say, 'You know what, I've got to pick it up even more, when a guy like that's battling.'"

Hayward and Stevens reunite for their first All-Star appearances

Hayward and Stevens reunite for their first All-Star appearances

NEW ORLEANS –  For years, Gordon Hayward dreamed of this day, of being able to step on the floor and be among the top players in the NBA.

But in all those scenarios that raced through his mind, the idea that his first journey towards official stardom in the NBA – being named an all-star – would come at the same time that Brad Stevens would make his all-star coaching debut too?

“It’s really cool,” Hayward said. “If I were to sit here and say we’d both be at this position seven years ago, eight years ago when I was sitting down with him for a recruiting visit, there’s no way I would have believed you. It’s pretty special that we’re both here.”

Indeed, both Stevens and Hayward have arrived by taking somewhat atypical journeys. 

For Hayward, his emergence during the NCAA Tournament showcased a big-time talent at a mid-major schools whose skills, in the eyes of many, could translate well at the next level. 

“None of us knew how good Gordon could be at this level,” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com about Hayward. “But he was more athletic than we thought after working him out. And you knew he could shoot, but he can handle the ball a little better, too. And that’s how a lot of us saw him; a good player who had some things going for him early that probably translated better at this level than the average fan might realize.”

Stevens, who led Butler to a pair of national runner-up finishes, recruited Hayward at a time when he was a highly regarded tennis prospect.

He was good enough to where there was a point when Hayward thought about giving up basketball altogether to focus solely on playing tennis. 

“In high school, I was 5-foot-10 as a freshman and I wanted to play a college sport,” Hayward said. “There’s not too many 5-10 basketball players that make it, let alone play college but then make it to the NBA. I thought I might have a better chance at playing tennis in college. That’s when I almost decided to go with this full-time.”

Hayward was in the middle of working on a speech to tell his high school basketball coach that he was going to quit the team to focus on tennis full-time. 

And then he had what turned into a life-changing conversation with his mother. 

“I came up to her, and was talking to her about it. And when I was going to do it, she told me to stick out the year,” Hayward recalled.

She reminded him of all the time he put in to become a better basketball player, and why he wouldn’t want to just throw all that to the side for a sport that they both knew he loved. 

“I hit a growth spurt at the end of the year, and gradually got better and better,” he said. 

That growth, both in terms of his game and the attention that came with that improvement, has led him to being an NBA all-star, an undeniable acknowledgement that he is among the best in the NBA. And making it all that much sweeter is that he’s getting to enjoy it for the first time with Stevens, a man whose role in Hayward’s life and ascension to this point should not be understated. While Hayward acknowledges the role Stevens played in his steady improvement as a player, the role Stevens played in his life was even more significant in his growth as a person. 

The two don’t talk nearly as often as they did during their Butler days or shortly after Hayward was off to the NBA and Stevens was still in the college ranks. 

But there is an undeniable bond that will forever link these two with one another, a bond that becomes all that much tighter with them making the unlikely journey from being more than just big-time talents at the mid-major level. They are now among the best in their respective roles, achieving the kind of success so few believed was possible a few years ago. 

While Stevens acknowledges how unique and cool it is to be here with Hayward, he quickly shifts the focus to what he has always believed to be the keys to success: team and player, in that order.

“For him to get a chance to be among the elite players in the game is a special opportunity that was earned,” Stevens said. “It’s earned with your individual success and what your team is able to do. Their team is having such great success. I’m happy that he gets a chance to experience this, and that they look like a team that’s going to make a deep run in the playoffs.”

To hear those words is not at all surprising to Hayward. 

“He’s such a good coach and such a great guy and mentor to me,” Hayward said. “I’m happy we’re here.”

Jackie Bradley Jr. explains why he wouldn't skip White House visit

Jackie Bradley Jr. explains why he wouldn't skip White House visit

Jackie Bradley Jr. will likely have a spotless attendance record for White House trips.

The Boston Red Sox outfielder began discussing those championship trips to meet the president after Red Sox chairman Tom Werner referenced the New England Patriots' Super Bowl win at a team get-together on Friday morning.

“If my team is going, yes, I’m going,” Bradley Jr. told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, adding later, “I don’t like politics, not even a little bit.”

The Patriots so far have six players who have openly stated they will not attend New England's White House trip to meet President Donald Trump. Team leaders like Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty are among those unwilling to attend.

For Bradley, the White House trip is not about making a political statement.

“The reason why we’re going there is because we did something together as a team. The White House is cool,” he said. “I’m with my team."

The 26-year-old outfielder has twice attended the championship trip to the nation's capital. In college, he went with the South Carolina Gamecocks after they won the College World Series. He later attended with the Red Sox in 2013. Bradley Jr. said he enjoyed attending the White House to meet Barack Obama, but added he wasn't concerned with which president was hosting the event.

He said: “How many people can say they’ve been to the White House? That alone. There is a lot history there, and I’m a big fan of architecture. I think the whole thing is unique.”