ACC Stock Report: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 16th, 2019

With #1 Duke’s home loss to Syracuse Monday night — and more significantly the injury and extended absence of Tre Jones — some of the luster of this weekend’s highly-anticipated match-up with conference-leading Virginia has eroded. Or perhaps Tony Bennett’s squad just appears like it will inevitably run roughshod through the ACC for the second consecutive campaign.

Stock Rising:

Jeff Capel is Making a Mark in Pittsburgh Already (USA Today Images)

Jeff Capel: While he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s first choice, Capel has left little doubt that he was the right choice to clean up the mess of the two-year failed marriage with Kevin Stallings. Capel entered the program last spring having to do yeoman’s work just to construct a playable roster. But now, after Monday night’s victory over Florida State, the feisty Panthers have already vanquished two NCAA Tournament likelies (Louisville), and in doing so, have brought back some of the energy that used to be synonymous with the Peterson Events Center.

Behind the precocious freshman trio of Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney, Capel’s crew has already exceeded last season’s win total by four, and in so doings has risen from 138th in KenPom to start the season to a current standing of 68th. Pitt’s upcoming schedule is arduous, however, as three of the Panthers’ next four games are away from home (and the home game vs. Duke), but it is undeniable that a basketball trajectory is veering upward again in the Steel City.

Stock Zig Zagging:

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ACC M5: 12.03.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 3rd, 2018

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  1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: After coming up just a little short at Iowa in last week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Pittsburgh struggled early in Friday’s annual City Game with cross-town rival Duquesne. But the Panthers eventually got it going and won going away, 74-53, in front of a crowd of 12,246. We mention the game’s attendance because it represents a 21 percent increase over last year’s meeting in the same event, furthering the notion that first-year head coach Jeff Capel is rebuilding the excitement level for his program in the Steel City. Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot noticed a difference with Capel in charge, saying, “[Former Pitt] Coach [Kevin] Stallings is a finesse guy who is a little more offensively oriented. This team is more like Duke [where Capel played and was an assistant coach].”
  2. Louisvile Courier-Journal: Louisville took another positive step in its own rebuilding process by winning at Seton Hall, 70-65, on Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals showed during Feast Week that they were ready to compete with the big boys — dropping close games against Tennessee and Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off — before edging top-10 Michigan State in overtime last week. In adding a significant road win over a Big East club, Chris Mack‘s balanced attack — only Dwayne Sutton (12 points) reached double figures — has become the norm this year. Sophomore breakout player Jordan Nwora (17.7 PPG) leads the squad in scoring, but eight other Cardinals are averaging between 6.3 and 10.0 points per contest. Keep an eye on this team over the next month.
  3. USA Today: Three ACC schools took part in Saturday’s Miami Hoophall Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena, although the sparse crowds suggest that the four games would have fit better in a local high school gym. Georgia Tech was the first squad to see action, ultimately blowing a 16-point second half lead in falling to St. John’s, 76-73. We are now in year three of the Josh Pastner era, and some clear patterns have emerged:  First, the Yellow Jackets will defend hard (they are currently 16th in national defensive efficiency); next, they will struggle to make shots from deep (30.7% 3FG this season). If their shooting holds, Georgia Tech will fail to make at least 33 percent of its three-pointers for the third straight season. Until Pastner can recruit some shooters into the program — and shouldn’t he have by now (?) — the Yellow Jackets’ limited offense will hold them back.
  4. Miami Sun-Sentinel: Georgia Tech wasn’t the only ACC team to blow a huge lead in the Hoophall Invitational. Home team Miami squandered a 15-point second half advantage in losing to Yale, 77-73, its third consecutive defeat. Head coach Jim Larranaga has noticed a fatal flaw in the Hurricanes’ defense this year — after Yale’s Miye Oni (29 points) torched his club, the Hurricanes’ coach noted, “We just don’t have a guy that can stop a guy like that.” Previously, Bethune-Cookman’s Malik Maitland (29 points) and Fresno State’s Braxton Huggins (28 points) found similar success against the Hurricanes’ defense. This raises the obvious question — if mid-major players are slicing up Miami, what will happen when the stars of the ACC get a crack at the Hurricanes?
  5. WRAL Sportsfan: The only victorious ACC school in Miami on Saturday was NC State, which pulled away late to top Vanderbilt, 80-65. Much like the Wolfpack’s game at Wisconsin earlier in the week — when the Badgers rallied to overtake them — NC State was in control for most of the way before being challenged in the second half. This time, Kevin Keatts’ team responded positively in what was only their second match-up with a team ranked in KenPom’s top 175. NC State forward Torin Dorn is quietly putting up impressive numbers in many areas. The 6’5″ senior is leading the team in scoring (16.6 PPG) and on the boards (7.6 RPG), while making 55.7 percent of his two-point tries and 50.0 percent of his three-point attempts. Additionally, Dorn has collected 14 steals and only committed nine turnovers in eight games this year.
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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Tuesday Preview

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 27th, 2018

After Monday’s games, the 2018 Big Ten/ACC Challenge is tied with a pair of surprising results — Nebraska won at Clemson and Boston College outlasted Minnesota. ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews tonight’s heavy slate of action. (All rankings via KenPom as of Tuesday, November 26.)

Clemson Gave up a Home Game Last Night Against Nebraska (USA Today Images)

  • #16 Virginia Tech at #38 Penn State. Buzz Williams has another terrific offense brewing this season in Blacksburg. The Hokies currently rank seventh in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency and are making 41.4 percent (26th nationally) of their shots from long distance. They’ve also gotten the start of a breakout season from sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker (29.8 PER, 60.6% eFG). Their hot shooting will be tested tonight by a Penn State defense that is allowing its opponents to make just 22.9 percent (fourth nationally) of their attempts from three-point range. While excellent on the perimeter, Virginia Tech lacks size and could be vulnerable to Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (26.6 PER, 24.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG).
  • #95 Illinois at #52 Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s club currently ranks just 51st in offensive efficiency, which is an odd sight to see. The last time a Brey team finished outside the top 50 in that category was all the way back in 2004-05. Part of the struggles this season have laid at the feet of T.J. Gibbs, the expected star of this team who has shot just 32.4 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from three-point range. Notre Dame will need to make some shots tonight to get a win, as the Illini feature a talented young backcourt of sophomore Trent Frazier (17.6 PPG, 58.3% eFG) and freshman Ayo Dosunmu (14.5 PPG, 57.6% eFG).
  • #8 Michigan State at #58 Louisville. Hello, Jordan Nwora. It hasn’t taken long for the talented Cardinals’ sophomore to break out this season, already the team’s leading scorer (18.4 PPG) despite coming off the bench. Nwora (29.4 PER, 57.6% eFG) is not simply a scorer, however. He’s posting a 27.8 defensive rebounding percentage and his turnover percentage is much improved this season despite more usage. While Nwora is actively turning into an ACC star, the Cardinals still have issues on the defensive end. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from long distance. They’ll have a tough task scoring tonight against Michigan State (eighth in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency).

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ACC Opening Week: Three Up, Three Down

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 9th, 2018

After a busy opening week that has so far resulted in a perfect 12-0 record for ACC teams, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) takes a look at three positives and three negatives from around the conference. (Brad Jenkins covered Duke in his Opening Night takeaways)

THREE UP

Ty Jerome Continues to Show His Importance to Virginia (USA Today Images)

  • Let the Ty Jerome hype begin. Kyle Guy is the All-American and De’Andre Hunter gets the NBA love, but Ty Jerome is still the engine for this Virginia team. On Tuesday night, Jerome notched 20 points in the Cavaliers’ win over Towson, making six of his nine shots from three-point range. His 70.9 Defensive Rating will obviously trend toward normal as the competition improves, but his size allows him to bother smaller guards and is the key to Tony Bennett’s defense.
  • Florida State’s shooting. While Leonard Hamilton’s team defense was impressive in the Seminole’s blowout win over Florida, it was their shooting against the Gators that was even more intriguing. A team that shot just 35 percent from long distance a year ago and lost its top two shooters (CJ Walker and Braian Angola-Rodas) probably shouldn’t be expected to make 11-of-23 three-pointers against another high-major team, but Florida State did just that. It appeared as if Hamilton’s team might be lacking a knock-down outside shooter this season, but if PJ Savoy (5-of-7 3FG) can fill that role, the Seminoles could become something special.
  • Jeff Capel’s freshmen. Yes, it was only one game against Youngstown State, but it’s clear that this is a new era at Pittsburgh. Three freshmen guards started for Jeff Capel’s team on Tuesday night, and it is already obvious that they are the future of the Panthers’ program. Point guard Xavier Johnson scored 16 points and added six assists and five rebounds; Trey McGowens poured in 17 points and shot 6-of-11 from the field; Au’Diese Toney added 12 points and nine rebounds. The Panthers will still struggle in the ACC this year, but their rookie trio will at least give Pittsburgh fans a reason to tune in each night.

THREE DOWN

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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.

Danny Manning needs his young stars to come through for Wake Forest to move up the ACC standings. (Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal)

  • Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year, gentlemen! Let’s start with a look at the projected bottom of the league. Matt, you did our preview piece on Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Can any of these teams surprise us and contend for an NCAA bid like the Yellow Jackets did two years ago?
  • Matt Auerbach: Great to be back, guys! The short answer to that, Brad, is no. I just can’t see it. The best-case scenario for the first two, particularly Pittsburgh, is that they are competitive and playing a more exciting brand of basketball than they have the last two years. Jeff Capel was a home run hire that will ultimately steer the Panthers back to relevance. Josh Pastner built up some equity with his run to the NIT finals two years ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be excited about in Atlanta. As for Wake, if Jaylen Hoard could have a Trae Young or Deandre Ayton type of impact, sure. While extremely talented, I think the odds of that occurring, however, are near nil, and the pressure will be mounting on Danny Manning if another disappointing season ensues.
  • Mick McDonald: Great point on Capel, Matt. Pitt basketball at least feels interesting again. They’ll be bad this year but I’ll be interested to see how guys like Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens begin their careers. I think they may actually be better than Georgia Tech. Pastner’s team looks rough.
  • Matt Auerbach: Without a doubt, of the three, I’d be least surprised if Pittsburgh won four or five games.
  • Mick McDonald: I know Manning keeps pulling good recruits but it feels like he needs to have a team make some noise sometime soon.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think there’s a chance for Capel to do something like what Pastner did in his first year in Atlanta based on the new energy he has in the Pitt program, but the ACC schedule rotation did him no favors — they have zero home games against the predicted bottom four in the league. Is Manning the ACC coach on the Hot Seat this year?
  • Mick McDonald: I guess, but given how his recruiting is going, I’d bet Manning gets at least one more year.

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ACC Burning Questions, Part I: Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech & Wake Forest

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 24th, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season that tips off in just under two weeks, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) begins at the bottom of the conference, with Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest

Pittsburgh Burning Question: Can Jeff Capel reignite the Oakland Zoo?

Jeff Capel Takes Over a Pittsburgh Program in Need of a Refresh (USA Today Images)

While the recently dismissed Kevin Stallings is an easy mark, the lazy conclusion is to heap blame upon his shoulders for the moribund state Pittsburgh basketball is in. Sure, Stallings’ 4-32 ACC record (including the first winless conference season in school history) rationalizes fan apathy, but a deeper look reveals that the rapid downward spiral tracks all the way to the top. The school’s decision to end its longtime affiliation with the Big East for football reasons has had a significant negative effect on what had been a stellar basketball program. In Pittsburgh’s last 12 seasons as a member of the Big East, the Panthers entered the AP top 10 in 11 of those campaigns. Their conference affiliation switch ultimately cost the very successful Jamie Dixon his job, leaving Pittsburgh basketball at a crossroads.

Enter Jeff Capel, Mike Krzyzewski’s top lieutenant and former Oklahoma head coach, to clean up the mess and re-energize the fan base. Capel’s first job was to shore up the roster and he did so in earnest — convincing eight of the 11 possible returnees to remain on campus and bolstering them with a four-man freshman class highlighted by top-100 prospect Trey McGowensJared Wilson-Frame is the most accomplished of the upperclassmen, a solid scorer (13 PPG) for a team that Capel promises will play faster than 338th nationally in tempo. Will Capel’s arrival along with a promise of a more appealing brand of basketball allow for a re-emergence of the Oakland Zoo — even if the Panthers still aren’t very good? Stay tuned on that question.

Georgia Tech Burning Question: Is there any juice down in Atlanta?

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ACC Non-Conference Games: Ten Worth Watching

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 23rd, 2018

Even in the face of fervent anticipation, the start of the college hoops season has a way of sneaking up on us. Now only two weeks away and with the brutal gauntlet of a full conference slate coming seven weeks after that, it feels like a good time to preview the 10 most compelling non-conference match-ups that ACC members will encounter during the upcoming campaign. This list excludes preseason tourneys (Duke heading to Maui, for example, among others) and the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which we will preview in more depth ahead of those events. Here we go, in calendar order, starting with the Champions Classic on opening night.

It’s Always Must-See College Basketball when Duke Meets Kentucky (USA Today Images)

  • November 6- Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Indianapolis). In a very off-brand, sensible decision, the NCAA has stopped burying the season’s annual tip-off on a pedestrian Friday night and instead will utilize the grand stage of the Champions Classic to get things going. In the nightcap game of the Indianapolis event, two teams with legitimate championship aspirations and talent galore will meet once again. For Duke, the nation’s top-rated incoming class features do-everything wing R.J. Barrett along with explosive man-child Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus Jones, the 2015 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player). In an unusual turn of events, it will be Kentucky that is armed with the more experienced roster, as the Blue Devils’ leading returning scorer will be junior big man Marques Bolden (3.9 PPG), while the Wildcats retained sophomores Quade Green, P.J. Washington and Nick Richardsfrom last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad.
  • November 6: Florida at Florida State. This annual tussle will serve as the rivals’ season opener this year, as the Gators look to avenge a home thrashing by the Seminoles last season. Florida State returns seven of its top nine scorers, including leading man Phil Cofer, from a squad that was within a whisker of the Final Four a year ago. The cupboard is not bare for Mike White, either, as Florida features a dynamic, experienced tandem on the wings in seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson. Numerous explosive athletes on both sides of the floor will make this game worth flipping to during the commercial breaks of the Duke/Kentucky tilt.
  • November 15: Connecticut vs Syracuse (Madison Square Garden). Two old Big East foes will rekindle their long and storied rivalry at a familiar venue in New York City. The Orange return all of their top pieces from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, including the ACC’s third-leading scorer, Tyus Battle. He will be joined by a pair of exciting rising sophomores in Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, giving Syracuse a roster that should easily result in a top-half ACC finish. New Connecticut head coach Danny Hurley will begin the process of getting this proud program back on track after consecutive sub-.500 seasons that led to the ouster of onetime championship coach Kevin Ollie.

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ACC M5: Offseason Storyline Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 16th, 2018

morning5_ACC

We are now just three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will provide key question previews of all 15 ACC schools and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte a bit later this month. But first, let’s catch up on some of the most important storylines affecting ACC schools since the season ended last April.

  1. FBI Trial. Perhaps the biggest offseason story in college basketball is taking place right now in a New York City federal courtroom. The FBI’s investigation into the shady world of big-time recruiting has led to a criminal trial of several former Adidas employees who are accused of defrauding colleges by paying recruits (and their families) to sign with certain schools. Not surprisingly, the riveting testimony has generally revealed that college basketball programs are not really “victims” in this process; rather, as CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish points out, they are co-conspirators. Two ACC schools are mired in this web as former assistant coaches at Louisville and NC State have been accused of paying recruits. The oddest reaction to the evidence that has been released so far came from North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who claimed that he was “dumbfounded” by the recent revelations. This is the same coach that has publicly stated he once turned Florida in to the NCAA for its recruitment of Mike Miller nearly 20 years ago.
  2. NCAA Reform. After receiving a number of recommendations last spring from the Dr. Condoleezza Rice-led Commission on College Basketball, the NCAA Board of Governors and Division I Board of Directors announced some reform measures — such as giving athletes more flexibility in professional opportunities — in how the sport operates. Unfortunately, none of these incremental changes will really address the root cause of the behavior that has been uncovered in the ongoing FBI investigation. As long as the antiquated model of student-athlete amateurism exists, there will continue to be a market for talented high school players to receive money and benefits from interested parties.
  3. New Regimes Begin. The ACC’s two new head coaches — Louisville’s Chris Mack and Pittsburgh’s Jeff Capel — spent the late spring and summer restocking and preserving their respective rosters. When Mack took over the Cardinals’ program, he inherited just six returning players (including only one starter), one redshirt transfer and no incoming freshmen. Mack responded by signing three graduate transfers, two of whom, Christen Cunningham (Samford) and Khwan Fore (Richmond), should see major backcourt minutes in his first season. For Capel, job one was to convince several holdovers from the disastrous Kevin Stallings era to remain with the program — the longtime Duke assistant not only managed to perform that task, but he also signed some highly-rated freshmen to fill out the squad in his initial campaign in the Steel City.
  4. Bye Bye, RPI. Finally! Believe it or not… Ronald Reagan was sitting in the Oval Office when we last had an NCAA Tournament field selected without using the RPI. As the guiding metric for the Selection Committee since way back in 1981, the RPI has been an outdated tool for at least a decade in the era of advanced analytics. But as this article from SBNation.com points out, plenty of mystery surrounds the replacement rating system being called the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). As with the RPI, the NET will be used primarily as a sorting tool in the hope that Quadrant results – part of the evaluation system put in place a year ago – will better reflect actual team strength. There will be no shortage of discussion, and we shall see how it works when March rolls around.
  5. Conference Hype. The ACC is receiving considerable preseason love from the national media heading into the 2018-19 season. Seven league members are in both the CBSSports.com and ESPN.com preseason Top 25 ratings while NBCSports.com places eight ACC teams in its version. As expected, each of last year’s top three teams in the league – Virginia, Duke and North Carolina – are once again regarded as consensus top-10 squads. Several ACC players are showing up on preseason All-America teams as well, led by North Carolina senior Luke Maye and Duke superstar freshmen R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson. We got an early peek at Coach K’s talented young duo in August, when the Blue Devils played three exhibition games in Canada.
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ACC Year in Review: Virginia’s Disappointment Stains Otherwise Strong ACC Season

Posted by Matt Auerbach on April 13th, 2018

For the first time since the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas, the ACC was without representation during the season’s final weekend. Despite that disappointment, the ACC still finished the year rated as the second strongest conference via KenPom, with two of its nine NCAA Tournament entrants — Florida State and Duke — falling just a game short of a trip to San Antonio. That said, ACC regular season and tournament champion Virginia dominated the conference in stupendous fashion, winning the regular season by four games over runner-up Duke in large part thanks to the stingiest defense since the 38-1 Kentucky team in 2015. A convincing three-day run in Brooklyn left little doubt that Virginia was a worthy #1 overall seed heading into the Big Dance. We all know what happened next.

Virginia Became the First #1 Seed to Lose to a #16 Seed (USA Today Images)

  • Biggest Surprise: What happened in Charlotte several weeks ago defied all the laws of common sense and conventional basketball wisdom. The ignominious distinction of becoming the first #1 seed to fall to a #16 will sting the Virginia program for years — perhaps decades — but given the passage of time we can also start to begin to appreciate a tremendous season submarined by an inexplicable 40-minute sample size. And while that upset alone is the exact definition of a surprise, a Cavaliers team that was picked to finish sixth in the preseason laying waste to the entire ACC for three months qualifies as a legitimate surprise on its own right.

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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 11th, 2018

With the 2017-18 season in the books, here are a few ACC storylines to follow over the next several months. 

FBI Investigation / NCAA Action

Last September the college basketball world was rocked by news that the FBI was sticking its nose into the seedy underbelly of the sport’s recruiting practices. Several prominent programs were identified as involved in pay-for-play schemes, with ACC members Louisville and Miami experiencing significant subsequent fallout from those allegations. The Cardinals, for example, fired Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino right before the start of practice, leaving inexperienced assistant coach David Padgett to lead the team to a disappointing NIT berth. Furthermore, the NCAA is expected to eventually revisit its sanctions against the Louisville program from the stripper scandal to determine if more penalties are warranted. At Miami, head coach Jim Larranaga saw his integrity questioned for the first time in his lengthy career, which may have affected his team’s performance on the floor which culminated in a forgettable 0-2 postseason. The greater impact of the FBI probe on the two schools has unquestionably been in recruiting – neither team has yet to sign a newcomer for the 2018-19 campaign, leaving incredibly thin rosters in place heading into this offseason.

Jim Larranaga has to rebuild his reputation as well as Miami’s roster in the wake of the FBI’s investigation into NCAA basketball recruiting. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After the FBI case was initially made public, the implication was that many more schools and athletes would eventually be caught up in the government’s web of wiretaps, plea bargains and confessions. We didn’t hear any more information from the FBI until this week, however, when the government claimed that at least one member of the N.C. State coaching staff was allegedly involved in a cash payment to the family of Dennis Smith in late 2015. So far, all of the allegations involve schools and players tied to the shoe company Adidas, but if shenanigans related to Nike are also exposed, expect a number of prominent other schools (including ACC heavyweights) to be affected. While we wait on further developments in this expanding case, it’s already worth noting that the credibility of one of the FBI star witnesses as well as the conduct of one of its chief investigators has been called into question. Stay tuned.

Rule Changes – On and off the Court

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