Let the dissection of the Pac-12 media poll begin. The league will have its media day from the San Francisco headquarters today, and the schools will be represented by each head coach and a few select players. The Pac-12 Networks and website will have live coverage, and here’s a schedule of when to expect each coach to take the stage and address the media in attendance. Who’s ready for commissioner Larry Scott’s rose-colored declaration about how the league is stronger than it’s ever been and another non-story update on the failed DirecTV negotiations? If there is such thing as suspense on this day, it will come from the predicted order of finish behind the likely favorite, second-ranked Arizona. In fact, the folks in Tucson are already wondering whether the Wildcats can run the table in conference play.
Speaking of Wildcats and running the table, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson highlighted the group from Kentucky and skimmed through its schedule to pinpoint the toughest tests that stand in the way of a perfect season for the preseason No. 1. Among the contests circled was the December 20 matchup with UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic. Quality opponent and neutral court – the game will be played in Chicago – is a good start to the makings for an upset. And, as Gleeson pointed out, the timing of the game should give both programs a fair barometer and good sample size to mesh. That will be particularly important for the Bruins, who add Isaac Hamilton and Kevon Looney to the mix but are short on experience and in search of a defensive identity.
The intrasquad showcases continued Wednesday as Stanford put on a Cardinal and White scrimmage. Head coach Johnny Dawkins has work to do in reloading the program’s first NCAA Tournament qualifier of his six-year tenure. It appears he has already found the breakout star of Year 7, as Rosco Allen turned heads with a winning performance in the dunk contest and 11 points and six rebounds in the 20-minute scrimmage. A team that finished in the top five in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting, the Cardinal have another dead-eye shooter to watch as Dorian Pickens edged out Chasson Randle in the contest. Randle, a first-team all-conference pick last season, led all scorers with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
In Salt Lake City, Utah hosted its “Night With the Runnin’ Utes.” After a lackluster intrasquad scrimmage last Friday, head coach Larry Krystkowiaksaid his team is “making progress” and has the ability to go two-deep at each position. Utah played 16-minute halves that include a halftime shakeup in the rosters. It was a good night to be on Jordan Loveridge’s team as the junior scored a combined 27 points in split duty for each squad. The forward finished 8-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, and converted all seven of his free throws. The sidebar of the night belonged to 7-foot freshman Jakob Poetl, who returned after missing a week of practice because of a concussion suffered while playing dodgeball during a team dinner at Krystkowiak’s house. The Austrian collected 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
At Colorado, sophomore guard Jaron Hopkins is making it a point to be more aggressive. Head coach Tad Boyle, who is looking to fill the void left behind by standout Spencer Dinwiddie, said the notable difference is in Hopkins’ decision-making. Hopkins received a crash course in his first year as the Buffaloes adjusted after Dinwiddie’s season-ending injury, so the transition should be more accelerated and less foreign this time around.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, UCLA.
What Went Right
Although it took some time to get there, this Bruins team coalesced nicely as the season wore on. Kyle Anderson turned into an All-American talent while the pieces around him were, by and large, rock solid. Team chemistry was light years better than under the previous administration, and eventually Steve Alford’s first team in Westwood won over a wary fan base. While a Sweet Sixteen appearance is not going to earn accolades from the most jaded fans, the first year of the Alford era was definitely a step forward for the program.
Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA’s Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)
What Went Wrong
Honestly, for this program and with this team, a loss in the Sweet Sixteen to a #1 seed isn’t exactly an underachievement. Sure, maybe a better performance by the Bruins’ frontcourt against Florida could have extended their season, and maybe Alford made some substitution errors in dealing with some minor foul trouble in that game. Certainly there were some defensive breakdowns too (how does Michael Frazier get that wide open that often?). But all told, Alford got about what he should have gotten out of this season’s UCLA club.
With the start of the early signing period well underway, we’re going to spend almost all of this morning’s rundown on recruiting. And to kick things off, not only did Arizona have a big night on Thursday by getting a hard-earned victory over a tough San Diego State team, but they heard whispers of some very good things for the future as well. Stanley Johnson, a top-10 recruit out of Mater Dei in the greater Los Angeles area, will announce his decision on where he will attend school next season and the rumors are that Johnson will select Arizona over competitors like USC and Kentucky. With four-star guys Craig Victor and Parker Johnson-Cartwright already committed, Sean Miller’s got the beginnings of another phenomenal class.
On the other side of the things, Oregon State is struggling through a rough start to the season, but Beaver fans not only can celebrate the signing of a new recruit, but this specific recruit – junior college transferGary Payton II – offers up ties to the most recent glory days of the basketball program in Corvallis. While “The Mitten” doesn’t have the accolades that “The Glove” brought to OSU, he is a strong defender like his father and will provide some excitement for the Beavers next season. Meanwhile, there are three other recruits who have already verbally committed to Oregon State who may sign in the coming days. The big question that remains is whether head coach Craig Robinson will still be around to enjoy the fruits of his recruiting labor.
Up in the Bay Area, both Cal and Stanfordhave signed highly regarded recruits. Mike Montgomery signed four-star point guard Ahmaad Rorie, who had committed to the Golden Bears almost two years ago, while Stanford inked five-star power forward Reid Travis, who just committed to the Cardinal last week. Johnny Dawkins still has a couple four-star recruits in point guard Robert Cartwright and center Michael Humphrey who have already verbally committed, but they still need to make it official. And then, of course, we’ll need to see if Dawkins is still around to welcome them into Palo Alto next season.
Let’s switch from NorCal to SoCal to check out what USC and UCLA got done yesterday. Trojan head coach Andy Enfieldsigned three players, including big guys Malik Price-Martin and Jabari Craig along with four-star point guard Jordan McLaughlin, all of whom will be significant upgrades in terms of players who fit in with the style of play that Enfield wants. Expect these three to get big roles early for the cardinal and gold. Meanwhile, across town, Steve Alford signed Kevon Looney – a five-star power forward –and Hungarian power forward Gyorgy Goloman, who is spending 2013-14 at a prep school in Florida. Looney, in particular, is a big-time get for UCLA.
Lastly, we’ve got football again tonight. And, while we’ve got sufficient focus on basketball this time of year, we’ll be sure to take a couple breaks this weekend to keep our eye on some exciting Pac-12 football. Connor and I continue our battle for prognosticating supremacy, and we’re in a tight contest. Last week we both went 4-1, with Connor eking out a fun one when Arizona State knocked off Utah, and me riding Myles Freaking Jack !!!!! (yes, I believe those exclamation points are now officially a part of his name) to a UCLA win over Arizona (although I was wishing I was watching a UCLA/Arizona basketball game the whole time). On the season, Connor’s still got a one-game lead on me, with him checking in at 58-15 and me at 57-16. Our game of the week comes tonight, when Washington and UCLA meet up at the Rose Bowl (a 6:00 PM football game at the Rose Bowl on a Friday night? Yeah, calling that thing half full at kick-off will be extraordinarily optimistic). I’m leaving the Bruins bandwagon to hop on Bishop Sankey and company, while Connor’s going with the Bruins at home.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
It’s been a whirlwind two months for four-star forward small forward Trevon Bluiett. On September 3, the No. 12 ranked small forward and No. 41 overall in the class of 2014, announced his commitment to UCLA. One month later on October 3, Bluiett decided to re-open his recruitment and look for a college closer to his hometown of Indianapolis. On Saturday, Bluiett ended his recruitment for a second time and chose to play for the Xavier Musketeers. The commitment gives Xavier one of its top overall recruiting classes along with a big-time scorer.
Bluiett stands at 6’5” and 185 pounds and is one of the top wing scorers in the class of 2014. This past summer, Bluiett played on the Nike EYBL AAU circuit and averaged 19.3 points per game while shooting 38.4 percent from the three-point line and 80.4 percent from the free throw line. He scored 20-plus points in 10 of his 22 games; including one where he went off for 41 points. Not only can Bluiett put the ball in the basket but he also contributes in other ways shown by his 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
With Bluiett’s announcement, Xavier now has five commitments from the senior class. Bluiett is the headliner, but the class also includes four-star power forward Makinde London (#71 overall, #17 PF) and four-star shooting guard J.P. Macura (#89 overall, #20 SG) to go along with three-star center Sean O’Mara (#25 center) and three-star shooting guard Edmond Summer (#27 SG). The additions of Bluiett, Macura, and Summer will help tremendously with the Musketeers’ outside shooting. Last season only three Musketeers hit 10 or more three-pointers, and only one of those, junior guard Dee Davis will be around when this renowned recruiting class arrives on campus.
Looney Heading West to UCLA
While Steve Alford might have lost four-star recruit Trevon Bluiett just one month after his commitment in September, he offset that loss this past week with another player from the Midwest in five-star forward Kevon Looney. Just last Thursday, Looney committed to UCLA from his Hamilton (WI) High School in a decision that caught most everyone by surprise. The No. 14 ranked player in the country chose the Bruins over Tennessee, Duke, Florida, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The #14 player in the class of 2014 surprised almost everyone on Thursday afternoon with his college commitment. Kevon Looney, a five-star forward, decided to head west and chose UCLA over Duke, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan State and Wisconsin. The commitment is a huge deal for head coach Steve Alford who struggled recruiting in his first summer at UCLA. Not only did Alford get a talented prospect and likely McDonald’s All-American, but he also signed his first five-star recruit and put to rest any doubts about his recruiting skills. Looney is a 6’8” combo forward that hails from Milwaukee and will join talented shooting guard Isaac Hamilton (#31 – 2013) in sunny Southern California next year. The Bruins will lose the Wear twins to graduation after this year and most likely forward Kyle Anderson will be off to the NBA as well, leaving plenty of playing time available for Looney. Alford spent time in July following Looney around from game to game and eventually sold UCLA to Looney. “UCLA is a great campus, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen,” said Looney. “They have a great style I can fit in.”
2. Kentucky Moving Up the Recruiting Rankings
Soon after five-star forward Kevon Looney made his announcement to UCLA, four-star shooting guard Devin Booker made his announcement as well. The 6’5” shooting guard chose Kentucky over Missouri, Michigan State and Michigan. Booker currently attends high school in Mississippi, but used to live in Michigan as he currently resides with his father, a former star at Missouri. Despite those connections, Booker still chose to play for John Calipari and the Wildcats. With the commitment, Booker joined five-star center Karl Towns Jr. (#11 overall, #4 center) and point guard Tyler Ulis (#29 overall, #6 PG) in the 2014 Kentucky class. Earlier in the summer, the smooth-shooting Booker noted that he enjoyed playing with point guard Ulis and this connection played a large part in his commitment as he indicated to Scout.com. “Going into my college decision a lot of it was playing with Tyler [Ulis]. I’ve been playing with Tyler at camps the past two years. He finds you wherever you are at. He just makes the game a lot easier for me.”
Earlier this week, we spent the better part of a Morning Five poking around the state of Oregon. Today, we’re gonna spend most of our time in Los Angeles, where Steve Alford got his recruiting mojo going on Thursday when five-star recruit Kevon Looney made a verbal commitment to the Bruins. With the UCLA frontline undermanned in 2014-15, Looney’s choice of the Bruins over other big-time programs like Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee and Wisconsin is a huge boon to the program. ESPN’s scouting report on the big man is glowing: a combo forward who can hit the three, score off the bounce, and pound the boards. Still, after Alford previously got burned when Trevon Blueittbacked out of his commitment to UCLA, just remember that nothing is set in stone until that letter of intent gets signed.
And as Isaac Hamilton proved to UTEP, even a signed letter of intent doesn’t exactly seal the deal. Hamilton, a four-star wing in the 2013 class, was originally the centerpiece of Tim Floyd’s recruiting class in El Paso. But Hamilton second-guessed that decision over the summer and decided that he didn’t want to play at UTEP after all. Floyd refused the youngster’s request to back out of his commitment, but Hamilton petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility after he chose UCLA for his college. Hamilton’s petition was rejected on Thursday, meaning that not only will he be ineligible to play for the Bruins this season, but he’ll lose a year of eligibility. He’ll get to practice with the squad this year, but will be relegated to scout team action.
Wrapping up the news at UCLA, the Bruins got their season underway on Wednesday night with an exhibition game against Cal State San Bernardino. Despite playing without senior forward Travis Wear, who is sidelined, perhaps for up to a month, due to surgery to remove his appendix, the Bruins rolled to an easy 30-point win. Jordan Adams returned from his broken foot to lead all scorers with 25 points, while David Wear filled in ably for his brother with a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double. Tony Parker, who will team primarily with David Wear to make up for Travis Wear’s absence, had 10 points, three blocks and three boards. Meanwhile, Kyle Anderson’s debut as the Bruin point guard began with 10 points, 10 boards and five assists along with three turnovers.
We’ll stop over across town before we leave LA, as ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil profiles Andy Enfield and the new USC basketball program. For a guy with a business background, Enfield is not only talking about Xs and Os with the Trojans, but about branding and selling a hip and exciting style of basketball to potential recruits. He did that and more at Florida Gulf Coast with a school that completely lacked a brand prior to last season’s Dunk City run, so Enfield sees his job at USC as different, but perhaps easier, than the task he undertook at FGCU.
Lastly, here’s your reminder to flip the calendar and realize that next week at this time, we’ll be preparing to dig into our first weekend of college basketball. As such, let’s take a peek at the AP Top 25 basketball poll, released yesterday to, well, OK, nobody really cares all that much about polls in a sport where we actually decide the champion on the court of play. But, still, Top 25. Arizona leads the way for the conference, checking in at #6 overall, while Oregon checks in at #19, a few spots ahead of UCLA at #22. Four other Pac-12 schools were in the “others receiving votes” category (Colorado, Arizona State, Washington and Stanford), while California, which Doug Gottlieb notoriously had as his #10 team in the nation, was curiously absent.
With a little over a week until the start of the season, Iowa State might have just suffered the biggest injury setback after Melvin Ejimhyperextended and bruised his left knee during Wednesday’s practice. Ejim is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks, which would also include a game against Michigan. Ejim’s injury will place an extra burden on sophomore Georges Niang and will force Fred Hoiberg to try to find a serviceable replacement to support Niang on the inside and keep the Cyclones in contention for the NCAA Tournament when Ejim returns.
Zay Jackson‘s time at Murray State has been nothing if not eventful. Last year, Jackson was arrested after running over two people with his car in a Wal-Mart parking lot. He was subsequently suspended by the team for the season before returning and was expected to start before hearing his ACL in early October. Yesterday, he announced that he would be transferring from the school. We have no idea where Jackson is headed, but we can guess that Steve Prohm will be much less stressed going forward.
We are sure that Florida will be fine by the time that March rolls around, but that probably won’t make Billy Donovan feel any better right now. On Tuesday, he found out that Michael Frazier would be out indefinitely with mononucleosis. Yesterday, the school announced that Scottie Wilbekin, Damontre Harris, and Dorian Finney-Smith had been suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules. The Wilbekin and Harris/Finney-Smith suspensions appear to be separate incidents, but this will still be another big blow for a team that is getting weaker by the day. Based on what Andy Hutchins at Alligator Army has found out it appears that Wilbekin will be out for at least six games and Harris/Finney-Smith will be out for at least three games. Even if that includes the team’s exhibition game against Florida Southern, the three would probably also be out for the team’s trip to Wisconsin turning what was once a promising match-up into a mismatch.
It seems like we have updates on transfer waivers everyday. Today’s update has one approval and one denial. The approval comes out of Baylor where Denver transfer Royce O’Neale was granted a waiver that will allow him to play for Baylor this season. O’Neale, a 6’6″ guard who averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season as a sophomore at Denver, transferred to be closer to his ailing grandfather. On the other end of the spectrum, Isaac Hamilton was denied his waiver to play for UCLA this season. Hamilton was attempting to have his National Letter of Intent that he had signed with UTEP voided by the NCAA after Tim Floyd refused to release him. As a result, Hamilton will be allowed to practice with the Bruins, but will not be allowed to play for them until the 2014-15 season.
Yesterday, was also a big day for high school recruits with three top-25 recruits announcing their commitments. Kevon Looney, a 6’9″ power forward, led the group off by committing to UCLA. The Bruins were able to beat out Wisconsin, Duke, Florida, Michigan State, and Tennessee with the Volunteers reportedly coming in second for his services. The announcement was a bit of a surprise as many recruiting analysts had the Bruins below Duke, Florida, and Tennessee for his services, but with how frequently Steve Alford has lost recruits at UCLA we wouldn’t be shocked to see Looney back out either. Looney was followed by Devin Booker, a 6’6″ shooting guard, committed to Kentucky with the Wildcats beating out Michigan State, Michigan, and Missouri. While having a top recruit commit to Kentucky is certainly not surprising it is worth noting that Devin’s father, Melvin, was a first-team All-American at Missouri in 1994 leading them to a 14-0 Big Eight record. Finally, James Blackmon Jr., a 6’2″ shooting guard, committed to Indiana (again). Blackmon’s decision is particularly notable because he originally committed to Indiana before backing out and was said to be considering Kentucky (where his father played) before recommitting to the Hoosiers.