April 17, 2015
If the ideal commencement speaker should be both successful and inspiring, then the University of Albany is making a great choice.
School officials called on junior guard Peter Hooley, the hero of the Great Danes' America East tournament title game victory over Stony Brook.
Six weeks after his mother's death after a 4.5-year battle with colon cancer and four weeks after he returned from a period of bereavement in his native Australia, Hooley felled Stony Brook with a top-of-the-key three just before the buzzer sounded. The shot earned top-seeded Albany a one-point victory and propelled the Great Danes into the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season.
“It’s an honor for me to speak on behalf of our graduating class,” Hooley said in a release issued by the school. “I’m looking forward to congratulating everyone on our last four years together, as well as wishing the Class of 2015 the best going forward.”
Hooley's story attracted nationwide attention in March both because of his dramatic shot and his emotional and poignant reaction afterward. Tears flowed down his face as he knelt next to the scorer's table just after the final buzzer sounded.
Hooley dedicated the shot to his mother after the game, telling reporters it was only at her request that he decided to come back from Australia to finish the season at Albany. The 6-foot-4 guard expanded on his close relationship with his mother in a recent blog post titled "Dear Mum."
"Most people know the story of you and I back when you were diagnosed. I had always planned to go to America to play basketball, and the day we found out about your cancer, I told you I couldn’t go anymore. I had to be there for you, but you cut me off and almost put me on the plane yourself. You said I had to go, if not for me then for you. You wanted me to live my dream more than anything.
"A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from an anonymous person who reached out to me through my coach. A 12-year-old boy had just lost his mother on the Saturday before his championship basketball game on Sunday. The kid had told his Dad that he wanted to play because “Peter is playing for his mother.” They asked if I wanted to give him the boy a call and just talk to him. I said yes, of course. But right before I made the call, I wondered how I was going to manage it. I know you would have wanted me to do it, but I didn't think I could. This little boy had just been through my worst nightmare, and I was supposed to help him through it. How? But I called, and we had a good talk for a while. He was doing good. We spoke about basketball, video games, school and anything else he wanted to talk about. And right when I hung up the phone, I could only smile.
"I said from the beginning that if my story managed to touch just one person, then it had done its job. Yet, from all of this, it was maybe that one phone call that made me the happiest I had been in a long time. That one special moment I could share with a kid who was going through the toughest thing I had ever gone through, that made me feel like I had made you smile too. That I had made you proud."
Here's a recommendation for you, Peter: Share that story during your commencement speech on May 17. By the time it's over, there won't be a dry eye in the house.
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When elite center Stephen Zimmerman announced Thursday night that he has chosen UNLV over the likes of Kentucky, UCLA and Kansas, his decision surely inspired a mixture of joy and relief from Rebels coach Dave Rice.
The presence of a skilled 7 footer can only help Rice entering a crucial year in which he will face pressure to finally achieve a breakthrough.
In Rice's four-year tenure at UNLV, he has stockpiled more talent than any Rebels coach since the program's golden era under Jerry Tarkanian. He has landed nine Rivals top 50 prospects, six in the past three recruiting classes with Zimmerman (No. 11) and wing Derrick Jones (No. 43) set to arrive next fall and forward Justin Jackson (No. 40) coming the following year.
All that talent hasn't always translated into a return to the glory days just yet though. UNLV has yet to finish higher than third in the Mountain West under Rice, nor has it won an NCAA tournament game, falling in the opening round in both 2012 and 2013 before missing the postseason altogether the past two years.
The common complaint about Rice is that he's better at collecting talent than coaching it, but it's probably his approach to building a roster that merits scrutiny more than his Xs-and-Os prowess. Constant roster turnover and a lack of experience and chemistry have been the biggest factors in UNLV's struggles the past two seasons.
Seven of UNLV's nine rotation players from the 2012-13 season did not return the following year. Five of UNLV's top eight players from the 2013-14 season were not back last year. The result has been a pair of talented but disjointed teams that take too long to mesh and often appear to be missing key elements necessary for success.
UNLV will experience less roster turnover this offseason, but ex-transfers Cody Doolin and Jelan Kendrick are graduating and leading scorer Rashad Vaughn is headed to the NBA draft. The Rebels could also lose second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Christian Wood to the draft too depending on what he decides in the next week or two.
If Wood opts to delay NBA riches for one more season, however, the Rebels could boast one of the nation's elite frontcourts. He and Zimmerman would likely form a formidable duo in the starting lineup with Oregon transfer Ben Carter and former top 50 recruits Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan also in the mix.
The question would be whether UNLV would have sufficient guard play and outside shooting to complement that stable of frontcourt standouts.
Six-foot-6 combo guard Patrick McKaw will almost certainly be one of the starters after displaying great promise during the second half of his freshman season. Incoming freshmen Jones and Jaylen Poyser, Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagears and returners Jordan Cornish and Daquan Cook all figure to compete for playing time as well.
How best to fit those pieces together and to mesh the newcomers with the returners is the challenge that lies ahead this offseason for Rice.
Talent-laden UNLV teams have underachieved under Rice the past couple seasons. He can't afford for it to happen again this season in a year that could be make or break for him.
Video of new UNLV commit Stephen Zimmerman:
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The recent success of the perennially loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament has spawned another holiday tournament in the same region.
Global Sports Management, in partnership with Caymax Sports LTD, announced Thursday it will hold a new eight-team tournament in the Cayman Islands beginning Nov. 2017. The Mountain West is sponsoring the Cayman Basketball Classic and will have a team in the field every year.
How much partnering with this event will help the Mountain West depends on the quality of the field Global Sports Management annually attracts and what sort of TV deal gets negotiated.
If power-conference programs flock to it and ESPN or another major network airs it, it could be a boost in exposure and strength of schedule for the Mountain West. If the event struggles to attract top teams or a prominent TV network, it could be more of a hassle than it's worth given the cross-country flight required for a Mountain West team to participate.
The blueprint for the Cayman Basketball Classic will surely be the Battle 4 Atlantis, which has brought some of the nation's elite programs to Paradise Island in the Bahamas the past few years.
Last November, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida and Georgetown were among the participants and seventh-place game combatants UCLA and UAB ended up meeting again in the Sweet 16. Next November, Syracuse, UConn, Michigan, Gonzaga and Texas will be among the eight participants.
A strength of schedule boost would be welcome for the Mountain West given the schedules every team in the league besides San Diego State and UNLV have assembled in recent years. Boise State and Colorado State suffered in particular because of their schedules last March, the Broncos landing in the First Four despite earning a share of the regular season conference title and the Rams missing the NCAA tournament altogether despite a 27-win season.
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April 16, 2015
Of the legion of college basketball programs who have tried to bolster their brand by installing distinctive new floors, only a few have actually managed to improve the look of their court.
Count Oakland University among those.
The new blacktop-style court that the Golden Grizzlies unveiled this week manages to successfully straddle the line between memorable and garish. All that's missing is a chain-link fence around the court and chains instead of nets.
"It’s branding our program," Coach Greg Kampe told the Oakland Press. I know that when our games are on TV, no matter where you are in the country, when you turn that game on, you’re going to know it’s Oakland University immediately when you see the floor. I’m really excited about that.”
The trend toward distinctive court designs began in 2010 when Oregon unveiled a new fir-tree lined court. More schools seem to follow suit every offseason, from Long Beach State's palm trees, to George Washington's D.C. monuments, to Florida International's beach theme.
Amazingly, Oakland isn't even the first Division I program to go with the blacktop-style look. Central Florida did it to mixed reviews two years ago.
So what Oakland lacks in originality it makes up for with a nice design. It's atypical, but it's an improvement.
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Had either sophomore forward Bobby Portis or junior guard Michael Qualls returned to school, Arkansas had a good chance to sustain last season's success and compete for a second straight NCAA bid.
Instead the Razorbacks appear poised to take a big step backward next season after losing both to the NBA draft on back-to-back days.
Qualls' announcement Wednesday evening that he will turn pro ensures Arkansas will lose four of its top five scorers from a 27-win team that finished second to Kentucky in the SEC and nearly toppled North Carolina in the NCAA tournament's round of 32. Qualls, Portis and seniors Rashad Madden and Alandise Harris accounted for 65.1 percent of Arkansas' scoring this past season and 58.9 percent of its rebounding.
For Arkansas to weather that roster attrition and still remain an upper echelon SEC team, it will need returning guards Anthlon Bell and Anton Beard and talented but enigmatic big man Moses Kingsley to each make a substantial leap next season.
Bell is a streaky 3-point shooter who averaged an impressive 7.9 points per game off the bench but shot only 37 percent from the field. Beard is a point guard who sparked Arkansas for a stretch during league play but faded terribly late in the season and went scoreless in the NCAA tournament. Kingsley is a former coveted recruit who has shown flashes of fulfilling his pedigree but has so far lacked the intensity or skill level on offense to become an impact player.
Arkansas will also need immediate contributions from its two top incoming recruits. Six-foot-9 center Ted Kapita and 6-foot-2 guard Jimmy Whitt both are top 100 prospects with the potential to help Arkansas make up for all that it has lost.
The frustrating thing for Arkansas has to be how close it was to having a preseason top 20 team next fall.
Portis reportedly strongly considered returning even though the SEC player of the year's ability to run the floor and knock down mid-range jumpers makes him a likely mid-first-round pick this June. And Qualls arguably should have come back considering the high-flying 6-foot-5 shooting guard isn't likely to be taken in the first round and would have greatly benefited from another year to improve his wayward jump shot.
Nonetheless, both turned pro, leaving the Razorbacks with plenty of holes to fill. That's why another upper echelon SEC finish appears unlikely unless some of their unproven players make great strides this summer.
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NC State guard Trevor Lacey isn't likely to be selected in this June's NBA draft. He would be the centerpiece of a preseason top 20 Wolfpack team if he returned to school.
So clearly Lacey made a bad decision Wednesday when he announced he was forgoing his final year of college eligibility and entering the draft, right? Well, not necessarily.
Lacey will turn 24 in October, young by real-life standards but not for a pro basketball prospect. He'd be 25 by the start of his first professional season if he returned to NC State as a fifth-year senior making him as much as six years older than fellow draft prospects.
For Lacey, staying in school would mean forfeiting another year of earning potential, something that is a lot tougher to do as a 24-year-old than it is at 19 or 20. The window to make money playing pro basketball is only so long, and Lacey doesn't want to waste another year of it even if it means trying to fight his way onto an NBA roster as an undrafted free agent or heading overseas to play in Europe or Asia.
Whereas younger prospects can sometimes improve their draft stock and their initial NBA salary by returning to school, Lacey doesn't have that same room for growth. Scouts have watched Lacey for years and have a pretty good idea of what he is as a prospect: A scorer who excels at making tough shots off isolation plays but lacks the size, length or elite athleticism to be more than a fringe NBA prospect.
The downside to Lacey's decision is that he could have enjoyed a special season at NC State had he came back as a fifth-year senior.
Seven of the Wolfpack's top eight scorers from a 22-win team would have been back had Lacey opted to return. They also add West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson, who is nearly the outside shooting threat that lone departee Ralston Turner was but also is a more versatile scorer.
NC State can still make the NCAA tournament without Lacey, but the second-team All-ACC pick won't be easy to replace. He averaged 15.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists last year, his first with the Wolfpack after sitting out the previous year following a transfer from Alabama.
A few minutes after NC State released that Lacey was leaving, Lacey sent the following two tweets.
One day they love you they next minute they hate you lol— Trevor Lacey (@TrevorLacey5) April 15, 2015
Mama always told me I can't please everyone.— Trevor Lacey (@TrevorLacey5) April 15, 2015
NC State fans have every right to be disappointed, but they should cut Lacey some slack.
This was a tough decision. It wasn't an illogical one though.
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April 15, 2015
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson needs to massively upgrade his program's talent level to compete in the American Athletic Conference. Houston native Damyean Dotson sought a school willing to offer a chance to resurrect his stalled career.
As a result, it appears the second-year coach and Oregon transfer will form a partnership that can only be described as high-risk, high-reward.
Houston announced Wednesday that it has signed Dotson just over a year after he and two teammates were at the center of a sexual assault investigation. No charges were filed in the case because authorities were skeptical they could prove the sex was nonconsensual, but Oregon still dismissed Dotson, fellow starter Dominic Artis and Providence transfer Brandon Austin last spring.
"He has learned from previous experiences in his life and has shown himself worthy of a second chance," Sampson said in a statement released Wednesday by the school. "I am certain that he will make the most of this opportunity."
The situation underscores the risk-reward choices a school like Houston must make as it seeks to raise its stature in college basketball.
On the one hand, Houston went 13-19 in Sampson's debut season and lacked sufficient talent to compete with the likes of league powers UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati and SMU. On the other hand, taking some kids with checkered histories may be the only way Sampson can upgrade his roster in short order because top 100 prospects with choir boy images probably aren't knocking down the Cougars' door at this point.
Still, the boom-or-bust factor with Dotson is especially high because of the 6-foot-5 guard's talent and the severity of the allegations against him.
Dotson started 70 games in two seasons at Oregon and averaged 10.4 points and 3.4 rebounds for a pair of Ducks teams that won at least a game in the NCAA tournament. He is capable of being an impact player for Houston, but another off-court misstep could bring a torrent of negative publicity for him and the school and raise questions regarding whether Sampson and his staff vetted Dotson's past sufficiently.
Sampson told the Houston Chronicle he has researched Dotson's past extensively and feels comfortable adding him to Houston's roster. For the past year, Dotson has taken classes at a community college and worked in John Lucas' Athletes After-Care Program. He will continue to meet with Lucas on a weekly basis even while he is enrolled at Houston, Sampson said.
Since Dotson is eligible immediately after sitting out this past season, he should help Houston ascend in the American Athletic Conference next year.
Leading scorer Jherrod Stiggers will forgo his final year of eligibility and turn pro, but starters Danrad Knowles, Devonta Pollard and LJ Rose are expected back and a handful of new recruits will also arrive. Houston will also add transfer Ronnie Johnson, who averaged 10.8 points and 3.7 assists in his final year at Purdue.
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April 15, 2015
The Duke team that takes the floor next November will bear little resemblance to the one that captured the national championship nine days ago in Indianapolis.
The Blue Devils will have to replace four starters who accounted for 71.4 percent of their points, 58.6 percent of their rebounds and 76.7 percent of their assists this past season.
Point guard Tyus Jones became the third Duke freshman to leave the program Wednesday morning when he joined classmates Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow in declaring for the NBA draft. Senior guard Quinn Cook is the fourth starter leaving the Blue Devils.
Whereas it was a foregone conclusion for weeks that Okafor and Winslow would enter the draft, it was less clear what Jones would do. The 6-foot-1 point guard will likely be selected in the first round because of his ability to knock down outside shots or get into the lane and set up shooters or big men, but concerns about his modest size, strength and lateral quickness will hurt his chances of cracking the lottery.
Jones boosted his stock this season with his performances in some of Duke's biggest wins. He scored a combined 46 points in two victories against rival North Carolina, he made the most crucial plays down the stretch when the Blue Devils became the first team to beat ACC champion Virginia this season and he was the most outstanding player in the national title game against Wisconsin.
"People have already seen him and know how he handles himself, especially in pressure situations and in the biggest games," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement "He comes through like a champion. I loved coaching him, and I believe he’ll be an outstanding professional. At this time, I think it’s so appropriate for him to take advantage of this opportunity."
Jones' departure instantly makes point guard Duke's biggest question mark entering next season.
Combo guard Grayson Allen might be best suited to fill the void unless Krzyzewski adds a transfer or a late signee. There's also a chance that the Blue Devils could persuade class of 2016 prospect Derryck Thornton to reclassify and come to Durham a year early, but Scout.com reported Wednesday that such a move is still unlikely to happen.
In addition to concerns about point guard play, Duke also may not have much in the way of perimeter depth next season, nor will there be any proven low-post scoring threats on the roster.
Allen, returning starter Matt Jones and highly touted incoming freshman Luke Kennard are each quality players, but Duke needs to find another option or two off the bench behind them. Incoming freshman Chase Jeter, Rice transfer Sean Obi and returners Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee form a solid frontcourt, but none of those guys are likely to instantly command double teams the way Okafor did.
While there's still time for Duke to address the holes in its roster for next season, it seems clear the Blue Devils are likely to take a step backward if they don't.
In Krzyzewski's previous 35 years in Durham, he had only lost five one-and-done players to the NBA draft. He lost three in seven days this spring, leaving the Blue Devils scrambling to avoid a rare rebuilding season.
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The Duke freshman whose stock rose fastest during the Blue Devils' national championship run is poised to take advantage.
Justise Winslow announced Tuesday he is forgoing his final three years of college eligibility and entering the NBA draft.
"My family and I have decided that I should declare," Winslow said in a statement. "Considering the success and growth that I have experienced over this past year as a player and as a person, I believe it is time to take the next step on my career path and play at the highest level."
The departure of Winslow has been nearly a foregone conclusion for weeks because of how brilliantly he has performed since late January when he replaced Amile Jefferson in Duke's starting lineup as an undersized power forward.
Winslow cemented himself as a lottery pick by averaging 14.6 points per game during the latter half of the ACC regular season and the league tournament and elevated his stock even further by spearheading Duke's title push. In six NCAA tournament games, Winslow was unstoppable in transition, dangerous off the dribble and deadly from behind the arc, averaging 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists to lead the Blue Devils to their fifth national title.
One concern about Winslow is that he'll have to slide back to the wing in the NBA, meaning his quickness won't be such a mismatch for opposing defenders. His outside shot had also been considered a weakness entering the season, but he shot 41.8 percent from behind the arc for the season and 8 of 13 in the NCAA tournament, repeatedly punishing opposing defenders who helped off him or played him to drive.
Winslow becomes the sixth one-and-done prospect in Mike Krzyzewski's Duke tenure, joining classmate Jahlil Okafor and previous Blue Devils stars Corey Maggette, Luol Deng, Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker. Point guard Tyus Jones could be No. 7 if he too decides to enter the draft later this month.
If all three star freshmen leave, Duke will be a vastly different team next season. The Blue Devils will have to build around title game hero Grayson Allen, returning starter Matt Jones and an incoming class that includes highly touted Chase Jeter and Luke Kennard.
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April 14, 2015
When Shaka Smart left for Texas earlier this month, VCU may have lost more than just the most successful coach in program history.
The Rams also could have to say goodbye to all three members of Smart's final recruiting class.
Tevin Mack, Rivals.com's No. 78 recruit in the class of 2015, has received a release from his letter of intent, ESPN.com reported Tuesday. The 6-foot-6 small forward originally chose VCU in November over UConn, South Carolina and Georgia.
Mack's decision comes less than a week after fellow Rivals 150 prospects Kenny Williams and Jordan Murphy also received releases from their letters of intent to VCU. Williams, a sweet-shooting 6-foot-2 guard from Virginia, initially chose the Rams over North Carolina. Murphy, a 6-foot-7 small forward from Texas, had previously considered UNLV.
It's unclear at this point whether new VCU Will Wade will be able to persuade any of the three to reconsider and stick with the Rams. Wade, a former assistant under Smart who spent the past couple years coaching Chattanooga, will likely run a similar trapping, up-tempo system to his predecessor's.
The potential loss of a strong recruiting class is a blow to a VCU program that also must replace departed seniors Treveon Graham and Briante Weber. VCU will build around the likes of highly touted wings Terry Larrier and Melvin Johnson and frontcourt standout Mo Alie-Cox next season.
Rivals.com video of Tevin Mack:
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