Morning Five: 10.15.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2013

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  1. It’s October 15, the traditional date of Midnight Madness, and although nobody to our knowledge is honoring Lefty Driesell by meeting at the campus track and running a six-minute mile illuminated by car headlights at each turn, the feeling is still pretty much the same — college basketball is nearby. This Friday night will feature the annual ESPNU Midnight Madness coverage of a number of prominent schools holding their celebrations, and a mere 21 days later we’ll jump right into the opening games of the season. Despite all that, the unknown is still more interesting than the known to many people, which explains why recruiting chatter and hype dominate the headlines  and social media. The biggest news on this year’s Columbus Day? Class of 2015 superstar forward Ben Simmons, coveted by every major program in America including Duke and Kentucky, verbally committed to LSU. As The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg explains in his background piece, Simmons’ commitment to a school that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2009 makes more sense with the knowledge that Simmons’ godfather/LSU assistant coach, David Patrick, played overseas basketball with his father in Australia and the families are apparently quite close. Regardless of the reasons for the commitment, LSU’s Johnny Jones is loading up on talent, especially in the frontcourt.
  2. Patrick, an Australian himself, was the primary link to a number of Aussie stars (including Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova) that he recruited to play for his former employer, Saint Mary’s College, in Moraga, California. Although he was not personally implicated in any wrongdoing during his three years as an assistant coach there, the NCAA found that the program had committed several recruiting violations and slapped the school with a four-year “failure to monitor” probation last spring. As a result, the Gaels’ head coach, Randy Bennett, received a five-game suspension along with a one-year off-campus recruiting restriction, and those penalties were upheld on appeal Monday by the Infractions Committee. During Bennet’s nearly two-week layoff, which will begin in late December and include the first Gonzaga game in Spokane, he will not be allowed to perform any basketball-related activities whatsoever. Can you imagine a Type A personality like Bennett taking a midseason vacation? The NCAA should seriously consider putting an ankle monitor on him during those days.
  3. Wiggins, Wiggins, Wiggins. Remember the hype we mentioned above? Well, after a week that featured the precocious 18-year old as a Sports Illustrated cover boy in an effort to introduce him to America as the Next. Big. Thing., everybody else is now talking and writing about Andrew Wiggins. Even LeBron James got into the act, telling Rock Chalk Blog before a preseason game in Kansas City over the weekend that his best advice for Wiggins is simply to “live in the present.” For a far more thoughtful analysis of Wiggins’ identity and game, TSN‘s Mike DeCourcy has that covered. It’s a well-deserved read to better understand the young phenom, especially given the notion that Wiggins revealed “his true identity a half-dozen times or so each afternoon with a sequence that perhaps only three people on the planet are capable of executing.” Wow. Finally, Grantland chimes in with a piece from Corban Gable called “Livin’ for Wiggins,” a fan manifesto that attempts to outline how one excitable Jayhawker prone to hyperventilation is going to make it through this season. Hey, whatever works, so long as his boss Simmons stays away from college basketball.
  4. The next huge thing doesn’t just apply to teenagers in sports; it sometimes also figures in the management and administrative components of the games we love. Anybody who has marked the meteoric rises of successful young coaches like Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart and Josh Pastner knows that. Myron Medcalf from ESPN.com writes that with these coaches’ continued success, many administrators, especially at mid-major schools, are becoming less hesitant in pulling the trigger on 30-something candidates who show that they really know and can teach the game. It actually makes a good deal of sense. As he notes, recruiting 365 days a year takes a tremendous amount of attention and energy, something that younger coaches have in spades. But truthfully, this should surprise nobody who works in the business world, a similarly cutthroat environment where strong quantitative and analytical skills combined with greater sophistication with technology give the young guys a leg up on many of their older colleagues.
  5. The AP reported on Monday that the SEC will announce later today that it plans on making Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena its “primary” site for the annual SEC Tournament. The tourney will bounce back and forth between Nashville and several other cities (Atlanta, Tampa and Saint Louis) over the next seven years, but from 2021-26 the Music City will hold exclusive ownership over the event. We’ll have more on this later today, but there’s no question that Nashville’s geographic location nearest the five northern SEC schools that take basketball the most seriously has something to do with this decision. The Big Blue Behemoth is merely three hours to the northeast, and both Tennessee schools along with Missouri and Arkansas also do a good job supporting basketball. This is a win from both a competitive and financial standpoint.
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Morning Five: 10.11.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 11th, 2013

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  1. In a week full of trash talk, hype machines and other nonsense, how about this for a heartwarming story of substance? ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz revealed the story of Robert Kirby, a 53-year assistant coach at Memphis who recently donated one of his kidneys to his sister, Virginia Kirk, as she gradually slid toward renal failure. It was similar to the conditions that took their mother’s life some 17 years ago, but she wouldn’t allow any of her 13 children to become a donor. Kirby wasn’t about to allow that to happen to his older sister this time around, so after become approved as a match, he underwent the procedure to remove the kidney on Tuesday and was went back home yesterday. He’ll be back on the sidelines at Memphis very soon, perhaps a few ounces lighter but no worse for the wear. Major props are due for the longtime assistant still looking for his first head coaching job, but if his selflessness in this situation is any indication of his integrity and loyalty, we hope some enterprising school in need of a head coach next April gives him a good look.
  2. While we’re on the subjects of perseverance and selflessness, America’s favorite bench-warmer in last year’s Final Four is well ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation. Kevin Ware, the Louisville guard who broke his leg so horrifically in last year’s Elite Eight contest against Duke, is, according to his head coach, going to be in uniform for the Cardinals’ first regular season game against College of Charleston on November 9. Rick Pitino stopped short of saying that Ware would play in that game, but considering that he’s already been practicing and still has several weeks left to prepare for his return, we’d have to believe that there’s a reasonably good chance that he’ll be play in that game. And while all anybody really wants is for Ware to find his fortitude so that he can contribute again, the fact is that Louisville is a better team when he can bring his energy, speed and defensive intensity off the bench.
  3. For years we’ve derided the fact that what we still call “Midnight Madness” really doesn’t have much in the way of midnight associated with it anymore. For those of you who may not remember how it was named in the first place, it had to do with the NCAA’s mandated start of practice, which for many years was at the stroke of midnight on October 15. In later years the NCAA moved the start date to the weekend closest to October 15, and of course now teams can have it in late September. All this maneuvering has taken some of the fun out of it, so we’re always looking for the new and creative ways that schools choose to celebrate the new season. Cincinnati is one school trying something different. The Bearcats will have their “Midday Madness” next Friday, October 17, at Noon in downtown’s Fountain Square. The event, featuring some light scrimmaging and fan-friendly competitions, will be open to the public and will provide a nice fall afternoon respite for the office drones working nearby. Sure, it’s a little hokey, but it is a creative way to reach fans in a way that UC otherwise wouldn’t. We like it, and wish more schools would follow their lead in coming up with interesting ideas.
  4. Over the last five seasons, Steve Fisher’s San Diego State program has averaged a total of 27 wins per year as he has built the program into one of the very best in the west. He’s done so on the backs of stars such as Kawhi Leonard, Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and a host of others, but none of those players were exceptionally rated prospects when they arrived on campus. That may be changing, with news on Thursday that Rivals.com top-20 recruit Malik Pope (Elk Grove, CA) has committed to SDSU. Kansas and Gonzaga were also in the mix for Pope, but the 6’9″ wing (you read that correctly) was impressed with how Fisher’s program didn’t back off of him when he broke his leg twice in the last eight months (the injuries will cost him his senior year). San Diego State’s class is already among the best in program history, and if the Aztecs lock down their final target, Zylan Cheatham, it would be safe to call this group a top 25 class that would benefit the school for years to come.
  5. The last time Kansas did not win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title was in 2003-04, Bill Self’s first season in Lawrence. The Jayhawks finished two games behind a Tony Allen and John Lucas III-led Final Four Oklahoma State team. Ten years later, Big 12 coaches are not about to make the mistake of leaving KU off the preseason top line in the league standings, even if the roster features zero returning starters. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, returns five starters to a young squad led by NPOY candidate Marcus Smart. So what did the coaches do? They split the difference. Kansas and Oklahoma State received the same number of votes (77 total, five first place votes each), ensuring that proper respect was given to both the team with the most returning talent and the team with the most incoming talent. It will be a mighty fun race in the Big 12 this season. Oh, and the Rick Barnes dead man walking watch? Eighth.
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The Double-Edged Sword with All the Andrew Wiggins Hype

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 10th, 2013

Everywhere I turned on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but notice it. On the internet, throughout the Twitterverse, in a story on the cover of the local USA Today at the gas station. Andrew Wiggins, next to Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. As if the hype wasn’t already out of hand, setting a present-day Wiggins next to a classic photo of Wilt in his Kansas days doesn’t exactly temper any of these expectations.  Instead, it magnifies them. With all the mention of Andrew Wiggins also comes exposure for Kansas. Sure Bill Self has lured top talent to Kansas before, but time after time the past few years, Self has been on the losing end of an elite talent recruiting battle to Kentucky’s John Calipari. Another top prospect, headed to Lexington instead of Lawrence. Don’t get me wrong, Self still brought in exceptional talent, just not consistently the cream of the crop.

But Andrew Wiggins was different.

SI's Wiggins/WIlt Comparisons are Fueling the Fire (credit: Sports Illustrated)

SI’s Wiggins/WIlt Comparisons are Fueling the Fire (credit: Sports Illustrated)

A year ago, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the top prospect in the last several years would head to the program churning out lottery picks at a record-setting pace. Wiggins is a fan of the famous rapper, Drake, and Drake is a fan of Wiggins. Both are fellow Canadians. Drake is also a familiar face in Kentucky basketball, so it all seemed to make sense. Except it didn’t happen that way. Wiggins broke the mold, committing to Kansas last spring in a small non-televised event.

Within the last few weeks, it was rumored that Kelly Oubre’s recruitment had come down to Kansas and Kentucky — the first real recruiting battle between Self and Calipari since the Wiggins commitment. Oubre attended KU’s Late Night in the Phog last Friday, and this Tuesday, he cancelled an upcoming visit to Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness to commit to Kansas. Another win for Self against Calipari and perhaps a small turn in momentum along the recruiting front in college basketball. In an interview with KUsports.com, Oubre talked about going to Kansas to replace Wiggins after this season. Make no mistake about it, Wiggins’ footprint at Kansas has already made an impact on the way top shelf talent views Kansas. And it doesn’t stop with Oubre.  Kansas is in the mix for the ultimate package deal in Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, and are rumored to be one of the leaders for top ten prospects Cliff Alexander and Miles Turner as well.

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Is Rick Barnes a Dead Man Walking at Texas?

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 10th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

By the start of next college football season, two of the sport’s most high-profile jobs will have new coaches. One of them (USC) already fired its former coach, Lane Kiffin, and has presumably begun searching for a replacement. The other (Texas) has yet to dump longtime coach Mack Brown, but unless the Longhorns can engineer a miraculous midseason turnaround and win the Big 12 – and even that may not be enough to save Brown’s job – it’s all but guaranteed he too will be gone by the end of the season. That seems even more likely after former Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, a longtime supporter of Brown, resigned last week. Both of these job searches will be fascinating to observe; it’s been a long time since two true titans of the sport have undergone head coaching changes. We’re more concerned about the college hoops side of things here, but that doesn’t mean we need to stop talking about coaching turnover. USC hired a new head coach, Dunk City orchestrator Andy Enfield, in April, and Texas enters the season with Rick Barnes’ coaching hot seat simmering. That was the general consensus following Texas’ 16-18 finish (and NCAA Tournament miss) last season, but the possibility seems even greater after comments published in Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel’s recent article on the Texas athletic department shined a critical light on Barnes and Longhorns basketball. One damning assessment came from an unnamed high-ranking Texas official: “I can’t imagine [Barnes] turning it around.”

Will Rick Barnes last beyond this season? (Getty Images)

Will Rick Barnes last beyond this season? (Getty Images)

There were other harsh statements regarding Barnes included in Thamel’s piece (along with a number of unquoted characterizations from Thamel himself), and taken together, they seemed to paint a picture of a program in desperate need of a coaching change. Over 15 seasons at the school, Barnes has led the Longhorns to three Big 12 regular season championships, made four Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights and one Final Four. He has brought in elite high school players like Kevin Durant, Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Damion James. His teams almost always – even last season, when it ranked sixth in effective field goal percentage defense – play some of the toughest defense in the country. As C.J. Moore of Basketball Prospectus points out, Texas has finished in the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings in 10 of the last 11 seasons. If that’s all true, why have the Longhorns struggled so much lately?

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Morning Five: 10.10.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 10th, 2013

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  1. Wednesday was a bit of a weird college basketball news day, mostly filled with quotes, non-controversies, and Andrew Wiggins. Ever heard of him? Let’s start with Jesus Shuttlesworth combined with Butch McRae (bonus points for that reference), otherwise known as Kansas’ young superstar, Wiggins. His fantastic Sports Illustrated cover started making the rounds on social media Tuesday night and Luke Winn’s profile story (print or digital subscription only) released yesterday. The comparison he makes is with another couple of former Jayhawk stars who came to the Great Plains to make their basketball marks, Wilt Chamberlain in 1955 and Danny Manning in 1984. Wiggins is the third star in this line of succession, but as Winn writes in his supplemental Wilt, Danny, Andrew: 22 Thoughts column (available online), “It is not a pronouncement that Wiggins will have a Wilt-like impact.” It is, however, an informative and compelling read, but his 22 Thoughts piece might be more fun. Over the series of blurbs, Winn manages to reference Neal Cassady, shows a ridiculous looking drawing of a giant “Wilt” hand dunking a basketball, and reveals some Wiggins-related tweets from starstruck KU students that will have you cracking up at the absurdity of it all. Check out both stories, even if you are so cheap that you have to read the paper copy in the checkout line at the grocery store.
  2. As we all know, Kansas also picked up Kelly Oubre from the class of 2014 earlier this week. The commitment was notable in that it represented the third straight time that uber-recruiter John Calipari had been beaten out for an elite recruit (Wiggins, Emmanuel Mudiay, Oubre). While three times isn’t necessarily a trend, it is a bit odd considering Calipari’s prodigious record of recruiting success. Well, at least one explanation for the commitment was revealed on Wednesday, as Oubre’s father, Kelly Sr., told the Lawrence Journal-World that Self “doesn’t kick you out if you’re not ready.” Although he didn’t name who he was referencing with his barb, it was interpreted by the rest of the world as a shot at Calipari’s one-and-done program (he later told KSR’s Matt Jones that he meant nothing of the sort). Kentucky fans rightfully took umbrage at the allusion, pointing out that a number of talented freshman have in fact become sophomores at Kentucky (Terrence Jones, Alex Poythress, Doron Lamb, to name a few), but the damage was already done. Kentucky vs. Kansas again, anyone — this is getting pretty good.
  3. Or Kentucky vs. Michigan State? Wait, we already have that one on the schedule, coming on November 12, just over a month from now. The background on this is somewhat convoluted, but the gist of it is that a student at Michigan State’s September Madness reported that head coach Tom Izzo said that the Spartans were going to “kick Kentucky’s a–.” John Calipari of course caught wind of it, and did what he does even better than recruiting and coaching — he spun it to his favor. In two separate public venues over the last week, Calipari has made reference to the MSU comment and spun it back to his own players “not knowing” when they will play the other elite teams on their schedule. Leave it to some other enterprising reporter to poll the Wildcat players as to when they will play the defending national champions (answer: December 28), but suffice it to say that the marketing pitch is already in full blast this season. Like we said, non-controversies.
  4. Players don’t know when they play, and coaches don’t know who they play. Does anybody pay attention anymore? We’re only half-kidding. Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger published an interesting piece on Wednesday that revealed George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt and Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli didn’t even realize they were playing in the same conference (the Atlantic 10, if you’ve lost track) this season as recently as July. Even this week, Martelli mentioned that, as he waited for his train to Brooklyn, he wondered where his peer and longtime A-10 competitor Fran Dunphy at Temple was. Then he realized that Temple is now in the Big East, along with Xavier and one-year wonder Butler. Honestly, it’s going to take a while to get used to these changes for everyone. We really can’t blame them for this gaffe (but that doesn’t excuse the fictional Kentucky players that don’t realize who they’re playing).
  5. Some injury news to finish off a strange M5 on this Thursday (we warned you). Texas point guard Javan Felix underwent hip surgery last week and is currently on the mend with an indefinite timetable for his return. With all the pressure on the Longhorn basketball program given athletic director DeLoss Dodds’ recent disparaging comments, this is not good news for Rick Barnes. Felix is the most experienced returning guard on the team, and if he can’t go at 100 percent this season, Barnes is going to need to do the best coaching job of his entire career just to keep this team above water. Down at Florida, Will Yuguete and Eli Carter are still not ready to practice due to their injuries, but more importantly, Billy Donovan has reinstated senior guard Scottie Wilbekin to the team. Wilbekin has had found repeated trouble in his time at Florida, but he has satisfied his head coach in recent months to earn his spot again. The Gators are a tough team to figure this season — they bring in some excellent transfer and freshman talent, but the returnees more or less look like a collection of role players. We know they’ll be good, but can they become great?
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Morning Five: 10.09.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 9th, 2013

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  1. The biggest news in the college hoops universe on Tuesday without a doubt sent a shudder through the spines of the rest of the country’s basketball powerhouses. Class of 2014 wing Kelly Oubre tweeted that he will be attending Kansas next season, which taken by itself may not be a remarkable piece of information. But the fact that the top-10 recruit chose KU after visiting Lawrence for Late Night in the Phog last weekend, and the additional fact that he cancelled his official visit to Kentucky next week for Big Blue Madness, and the third fact that Kansas head coach Bill Self has signed four top-20 prospects in the last 12 months… well, let’s just say that Self has never had trouble winning with good talent. What will he be able to do with great talent? Oubre is a great early pickup for the Jayhawks and his commitment may just be the tip of the iceberg in Lawrence — top-five prospects Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are visiting soon and KU is reported as one of the purported “package deal’s” four finalists (along with Duke, Baylor and Kentucky). We’ll have more on the topic of Oubre and Bill Self’s hot hand in recruiting later today.
  2. That’s for next year, what about this season? The two highest-quality basketball leagues that are not members of the “power seven” conferences released their preseason polls and all-conference teams on Tuesday. The new-look Atlantic 10 features a 13-team field with high expectations for Shaka Smart’s VCU program, chosen as the #1 team (with 19 first-place votes) in its first year in the league. Jim Crews’ Saint Louis squad was the only other team to earn #1 votes (five), but we’re certain that this league will not be a cake walk for either team — the A-10 always produces one of the nuttiest regular season slates in college basketball. The conference’s five-member preseason first team features two VCU players, guard Treveon Graham and forward Juvonte Reddic. La Salle, sitting quietly in third place in the preseason poll, placed three players on the league’s three preseason teams, more than any other squad. Keep an eye on the Explorers this year.
  3. Across the country, the Mountain West released its preseason poll as well, and even with the loss of former head coach Steve Alford, New Mexico appears to be the team to beat (grabbing all but one #1 vote). The remaining #1 vote went to UNLV, tied for second with Boise State, with head coach Dave Rice looking to replace a whole lot of talent that didn’t quite mesh well together. The MW was sensible enough to pick only a single preseason team of six players, with New Mexico placing preseason POY Kendall Williams as well as center Alex Kirk on the squad. Boise had a couple selections as well, wing Anthony Drmic and guard Derrick Marks. UNLV’s Khem Birch and Nevada’s Deonte Burton filled out the group. The quiet team in this year’s Mountain West is San Diego State, picked fourth — Steve Fisher’s team has not finished below that spot in the regular season standings in nearly a decade (2004-05), so even though the Aztecs also lost a great deal of talent, we’d expect that they too will be heard from.
  4. We’re not going to be one of those schadenfreude types who takes great pleasure in the misfortune of others, but we heard more than a few snickers in the background earlier this week when news was released that Murray State’s Zay Jackson had torn both the ACL and LCL in his right knee during a recent practice and will miss the entire season. If the name sounds familiar to you, it should; Jackson made international headlines for all the wrong reasons a little over a year ago when he was videotaped running his car into another person after a verbal altercation in a Walmart parking lot. He served a total of 60 days in jail on assault and wanton endangerment charges, and at least from reports surrounding the Murray program this year, he had grown up and put the incident behind him. His father had also passed away recently, so we certainly wish him well going forward and hope that he uses his rehabilitation time wisely.
  5. We’ve written previously about the NFL’s recent trend in looking at some of college basketball’s better athletes to fill some out its roster spots, especially at the tight end position, and the world is starting to take notice. New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham, an explosive but otherwise average forward on the Miami (FL) basketball teams of the late 2000s, just won the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award, the first ever given to a tight end in its nearly 3o-year history. His September of work resulted in 26 receptions and six touchdowns to help the Saints off to a quick 4-0 start, and as this article describes, guys like he, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron are completely changing the concept of the position in NFL circles. We’ve known all along that college basketball’s best athletes are some of the most versatile and skilled in the world — it’s interesting that both homegrown and other sports around the globe are starting to take notice.
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Who’s Got Next? Kameron Chatman Heads to Ann Arbor, UNLV and Vanderbilt Rising Fast…

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2013

whos-got-next

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 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Chatman Leaving the West Coast for Ann Arbor

On October 2, four-star small forward Kameron Chatman committed to the Michigan Wolverines. At 6’7”, 195 pounds, Chatman is currently ranked as the 8th-best small forward and 23rd overall. He chose Michigan over three Pac-12 schools in Arizona, Oregon, and USC. Chatman is one of the more intriguing prospects in the class of 2014, which John Beilein and the Michigan coaching staff realized early on. The Michigan recruitment first began in the summer of 2012 with a phone conversation between Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer and Chatman’s father, Canaan. Subsequent to the phone conversation Michigan watched Chatman play in Vegas and then made him a top priority over the next year.

Chatman Is a Great National Get For Michigan

Chatman Is a Great National Get For Michigan

In 2012, the Portland native made his mark playing a year above his age group on the 17U Nike EYBL circuit with Inner City Portland Elite (ICP). He teamed up with current Pac-12 freshman Roshcon Prince (USC) and Jordan Bell (Oregon) and averaged 11.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting 44% from the field. After the AAU season ended, Chatman decided to follow his ICP coach, Sharrief Metoyer, to California high school powerhouse Long Beach Poly. Unfortunately for Chatman, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) suspended him for the year based on this transfer. Despite the suspension, Chatman still practiced with the team and went up against Prince and Bell on a daily basis. After the one year suspension, Chatman decided to head home to Portland and will attend Columbia Christian School for his senior season.

Over the spring and summer, Chatman shook off his basketball rust and averaged 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game for ICP under the watchful eye of Beilein and various Pac-12 coaches. At the end of his summer, Chatman cut his list down to the four schools mentioned above and took visits to all of them. His first visit came on September 6 to Michigan and then he traveled to Oregon, USC, and Arizona in the following weeks. Despite having the earliest visit, Michigan and Beilein impressed the Chatman family enough while providing Kameron with the chance to compete in the hyper-competitive Big Ten.

Overall, Chatman is a tall and talented multi-dimensional wing that oozes potential. He is still coming into his frame with a long 6’9.5” wing span. He is a strong rebounder as shown by his per-game averages despite mostly playing on the perimeter and can do a little bit of everything on the court. This commitment gives Michigan a player who can man different roles on the court and will clearly pay dividends for the Wolverines in the future.

Okonoboh Heads West

Dave Rice already had five-star forward Dwayne Morgan making the trek from the east coast out to Las Vegas. Now he also has Goodluck Okonoboh, a four-star center coming from Boston to the desert. Okonoboh is currently the 5th-ranked center in the class of 2014 and 37th overall. This past Thursday night, Okonoboh made his decision to attend UNLV live on ESPNU. The other two finalists for the center included Big Ten powers Ohio State and Indiana. Okonoboh noted, when asked why he decided on UNLV, “the relationship with Coach Rice. We have a great relationship on and off the court. They had the best blueprint for me.”

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Morning Five: 09.05.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 5th, 2013

morning5

  1. Wednesday was a day of moves — some planned, others not — as we slowly but assuredly inch our way to the start of season practice at the end of the month. The biggest news, of course, was that former Missouri guard Michael Dixon had been cleared by the NCAA to play at Memphis this upcoming season. Dixon was dismissed from Missouri last fall after a pair of unrelated sexual assault allegations (no charges were ever filed against him), leaving the former Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year something of a free agent last season. Perhaps using the Dez Wells/Xavier incident as a related precedent, the NCAA decided to allow Dixon to play without sitting out the mandated transfer year, a good call considering that would have represented a 32-month layoff for the senior. His addition to a Memphis backcourt of Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson makes Josh Pastner’s group one of the most talented in America — the key question is whether there will be enough basketballs to go around. In Dixon’s final year in Columbia, he accounted for nearly a quarter of the available shots while he was on the floor, while the returning Memphis trio also likes to chuck in the 19-22 percent range. Still, there’s plenty of reason for Memphis players and fans to be excited now, as Johnson tweeted a picture of the “4Kings” soon after the news was released yesterday — Dixon is a player who can mean the difference between a Sweet Sixteen and a Final Four.
  2. Another player on the move is former Louisville, FIU and Minnesota (albeit ever so briefly) forward, Rakeem Buckles. According to ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman, Buckles was back on campus at FIU last week and plans on spending his final year of eligibility playing for the school where he sat out last season. He had originally intended to transfer for a second time to Richard Pitino’s club after FIU was put in APR jail (hey, Isiah), but the NCAA rejected his waiver request leaving him with few other viable options. Buckles has been a case study in hard luck over his career, suffering two ACL injuries at Louisville that never allowed him to find much momentum there, followed by a transfer to a school where he now has no shot at sniffing the NCAA Tournament. At a minimum, we hope that he has an injury-free 2013-14 season with the dangling carrot of a possible pro career awaiting him somewhere overseas.
  3. So about those transfers… Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated has been quiet lately, but now that we can see the finish line of the offseason, expect a lot of great new stuff from him. On Tuesday he published his second annual look at the phenomenon of up-transferring, the growing tendency of good players at small programs to transfer to bigger programs to finish out their careers (especially in the case of those using the graduate transfer exception). What he finds is that the trend that appears to have taken off during the last offseason has continued on its upward trajectory. A total of 30 up-transfers are at bigger programs heading into this season (with three others awaiting NCAA decisions), a slight increase over last year, with notable new talent at national contenders such as Florida, Duke, Kansas, Arizona and several others. Oregon by itself is hoping to have as many as three up-transfers in its lineup, one year after former transfers Arsalan Kazemi (Rice) and Tony Woods (Wake Forest) led the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen. Winn digs into some of the theories and reasoning behind why this trend continues to grow, and as always, you’ll enjoy the thoughtful analysis that he puts forth.
  4. Rivals.com released its post-summer Top 150 of prep basketball prospects yesterday, and there were few surprises as Chicago’s Jahlil Okafor remained firmly planted at the top of the list. Emmanuel Mudiay, the most heralded recruit that Larry Brown has wooed since Danny and Ed Manning came to Lawrence, Kansas, has moved into the #2 overall position. The rest of the top 10 at this point only bears one other committed player, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson at the #10 slot, but as we know that will begin to change in earnest as we head into the official visit period and look forward to the November signing day. Speaking of package deals — the Mannings were of the most epic variety — Adam Zagoria from Zagsblog.com breaks down the likelihood that any of the rumored deals in this year’s senior class will actually attend school together next season. The most likely scenario remains the longest-running one, which is that Okafor and Minneapolis’ Tyus Jones will end up in the same place next year — most likely at Duke. While getting two top five players in the same class has become de riguer at Kentucky under John Calipari, it’s still nearly unprecedented elsewhere. So if Coach K pulls off this coupling of elite hoops talent at the ripe age of 66, it will prove perhaps once again that as long as Krzyzewski is still involved in this game, Duke isn’t going anywhere.
  5. Winn’s partner at SI.com, Andy Glockner, was also active this week. The resident master at crowd-sourcing his Twitter followers to develop interesting column ideas, he sought to answer the question of which of the major conferences was most likely to produce the 2013-14 national champion? Given that this isn’t the BCS and there’s a wider variety of talent diffused throughout more leagues in college basketball, Glockner writes that there was “absolutely zero consensus” to the answers (we’d have to imagine that “SEC” would carry three-quarters or more of the vote in college football). Breaking down the component parts of each conference viewed through the “title or bust” analysis, he ultimately settles on the Big Ten, SEC and ACC as the three leagues with the strongest possibilities. We’d have to agree — each of those conferences has at least two teams with national championship talent, and although coaching, seeding, injuries and a lot of luck has to do with who ends on on the crown in April, you’d want to hedge your bets as much as possible with teams carrying the most future pros.
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Ohio State and LeBron James Sort of Like One Another

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 4th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Back when he was Cleveland’s homegrown basketball superstar, leading the Cavaliers to 60-win seasons and stoking hopes of a cathartic end to the city’s tortuously long championship drought, arguably no professional basketball player identified with his home state more conspicuously than LeBron James. LeBron wasn’t just the Cavaliers best player – he was a prodigiously gifted Ohio-born talent, a player no Cleveland fan could possibly dislike, whose selection as the No. 1 pick to Cleveland in the 2003 draft felt equal parts suspicious and fortuitous. Then, the relationship between state and player was severed on contentious and disdainful terms; James, an unrestricted free agent following the 2009-10 NBA season, went on national television and spurned his hometown team in favor of joining the Miami Heat, where he would go on to win two (and counting) NBA Championships. The antipathy seems to have receded with the perspective of time – people aren’t burning LeBron jerseys in parking lots anymore, for starters – and reasoned fans (there are outlandish exceptions, to be sure) have seemed to come to grips with the basketball-related motivations for James’ decision. There is even speculation LeBron would return to Cleveland if he decides to leave the Heat in free agency next summer. His ties with Cleveland, and the greater Ohio basketball scene, were never completely broken, in other words. James always had a soft spot for Buckeye State hoops. Which leads us to Tuesday, when Ohio State – the state’s premier Division I college hoops program – treated a score of media to a tour of the Buckeyes’ freshly renovated practice facility, where a soon-to-go-viral LeBron-related surprise was lurking amid the locker room nameplates:

Another symbol of LeBron's OSU love, placed prominently in the team locker room, isn't a bad way to boost coach That Matta's recruiting efforts (Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Another symbol of LeBron’s OSU love, placed prominently in the team locker room, isn’t a bad way to boost coach That Matta’s recruiting efforts (Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Just one more little recruiting flourish for a program already pulling in top Midwest talent on an annual basis? That’s the most obvious explanation. But the nameplate represents something larger than mere prep prospect eye candy. LeBron and Ohio State basketball have forged an interesting relationship over the years, a link that runs deeper than sheer geographical commonality. In 2007, when Nike created a James-Branded apparel line, Ohio State became the first program to swap Nike logos for the King’s unique emblem. James has openly discussed his Buckeyes fandom, and repeatedly said he would have chosen to play basketball at OSU, were the NBA’s 19-year-old age limit – which forces otherwise pro-ready high school players to play somewhere other than the NBA (re: college, but for a few exceptions) for one year after high school – imposed three years earlier. The bitter taste James left in plenty of Cavaliers fans’ (and, given the location and lack of local professional alternatives, probably a few Buckeyes fans’) mouths when he “took his talents to South Beach” did not ruin his relationship with Cleveland, much less OSU, and so he continues to share a special relationship with the program. From attending Buckeyes home games, to receiving an honorary No. 23 Buckeyes jersey, to earning the praise of football coach Urban Meyer – LeBron has made no secret of his affinity for all things OSU, and the program has reciprocated his attention and support not only with public praise and courtside seats, but also by serving as a court-stomping billboard for his trademark footwear, including this season, when the Buckeyes plan to sport this collection of flashy kicks for games. When the best basketball player in the world has cast his lot with your basketball program, a relationship encompassing everything from public endorsements to live appearances to custom gear, slapping his name above a locker and discussing his ability to help your team on the court this season faux-hypothetically is a small price to pay for his continued support.

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Morning Five: 09.04.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 4th, 2013

morning5

  1. Labor Day is in the rear-view mirror now, so prepare yourselves for two solid months of preview material from the college basketball writing industry. Frankly, in the need to fill space with relevant content, we all probably overdo it a tad, but with the start of practice mere weeks away and preview magazines already hitting the newsstands, it’s hard to not get excited. SI.com‘s Andy Glockner has put together his third annual “non-conference primer” for us, which, if you’re not familiar, breaks down the slates at a number of the top programs in America. He slots 13 schools into four separate categories ranging from “This is how you do it” (Kansas) to “Not good enough, given context” (Louisville, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and UCLA), and there’s not much room for disagreement. Even more agreeable is that simply reading about some of these games is more than enough reason to start daydreaming.
  2. One of the schools that falls into Glockner’s “Certainly acceptable” category is Michigan, which boasts non-conference games with Duke, Stanford, Arizona, Iowa State and possibly a rematch with VCU in the Puerto Rico Shootout. The rise of John Beilein’s Wolverines over the last few years has been well-documented as a trademark success story where great coaching, recruiting and player development all intertwined, and now Michigan fans everywhere can get the inside scoop on the progression with former walk-on Josh Bartelstein’s new eBook, “We On.” Bartelstein originally started blogging behind-the-scenes for MGoLive.com with his “Bartelstein Blog” while Michigan was sitting at 1-6 in the Big Ten during his sophomore year. The Wolverines went on to make the NCAA Tournament that season, following it up the next two years with a Big Ten championship and a trip to last year’s national title game. With a courtside seat for all the fun, Bartelstein’s documentation of the rise of Michigan basketball will sell for $7.99 and is sure to inspire some copycats along the way. Does Andrew Wiggins blog?
  3. One basketball player who wouldn’t have trouble finding a willing readership if he ever decided to blog is LeBron James. The two-time NBA champion never attended a single day of college, but when you’re as marketable as he is, you don’t have to. The Ohio State University has already claimed James as its own (remember, James’ talents are originally from Akron), wearing his line of basketball shoes and gear since 2007. Never one to miss a great recruiting opportunity, Thad Matta has decided to dress up the Buckeyes’ locker room with a nameplate and locker filled with James’ OSU product line. This is simply brilliant — we’re guessing that most 16- and 17-year olds don’t realize that James was a prep-to-pros kid a decade ago — so, in the worst case, recruits are impressed by the school’s association with the World’s Best Player; in the best case, they might believe he actually played in Columbus. That sound you just heard was John Calipari getting out his hammer to nail a photo montage of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett on the wall of the locker room at Rupp Arena. Hey, friends of the program…
  4. One of the nastiest rumors of the summer involved Louisville hardwood hero Kevin Ware, he of the gruesomely snapped leg against Duke in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. We won’t lower ourselves to discuss the content of the Kentuckiana rumor-mongering other than to say that his head coach, Rick Pitino, summarily dismissed any accusation that Ware had been suspended from the team. Pitino also said that Ware was recovering nicely but he is still a month to six weeks from getting back onto the basketball court, and even then, he’s likely to have some issues trusting his body for a while. With all the depth that Louisville will have in this year’s backcourt, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to foresee a redshirt year for the junior should he take a bit longer to come around after what was such a devastating injury. And who would blame him (other than the conspiracy theorists, of course)?
  5. We’ll end with a sad note today as Butler’s friendly canine mascot, Blue II, passed away over the Labor Day weekend. The English bulldog became synonymous with Butler basketball as the school spent the better part of his nine-year lifespan rising from the role of plucky mid-major to that of a national program. His final blog post located here, entitled “I Leave You With ‘Thanks,’” is pretty much the tear-jerker that you’d imagine it would be, inasmuch as you can suspend reality to give the slobbery mascot his own voice. That suspension of belief wasn’t very hard for this writer, nor would it likely be hard for many millions of other dog owners who too consider man’s best friend an indispensable part of the family. A snarky commenter on Twitter yesterday suggested that, given the short life span of dogs, it’s best to consider them merely as pets and remain “detached” so as to not suffer after they’re gone. To that we say, that’s no way to live, sir, no way to live at all. Rather, we should strive to attach with all your heart’s desire — these furry little creatures will never let you down. RIP, Blue II.
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No Dante Exum in 2013-14? College Hoops Won’t Suffer Too Much

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 29th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

In the immediate aftermath of the Miami Heat’s thrilling seven-game victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, college and professional basketball fans alike directed their focus not at the player draft looming one week ahead, but at the 2014 draft – the one expected to be populated by the most talented recruiting class, featuring one of the most talented players, of the past decade. Speculation of various teams “tanking” was abundant and widespread. General managers assumed futuristic, pick-stacking, salary-shedding free agency strategies. “Wig-out for [Andrew] Wiggins” entered the lexicon. Everyone wanted to get in on the talent bounty waiting in the 2014 draft lottery. Rightfully so. By now, the biggest prospects basically roll off the tongue as a reflex: Kansas’ Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, among others. But there’s one name you might not be quite as familiar with. That name is Dante Exum, an Australian-born 6’6″, 188-pound slasher who had scouts swooning after stealing the show at the FIBA U-19 World Championships in the Czech Republic this summer (along with a standout performance at the Nike Hoop Summit), where he averaged 18 points per game, just under four assists, and dropped 33 points against a formidable team from Spain.

Even in a loaded 2014 draft class, Exum should be a lottery pick if he declares (Getty Images).

The NBA Draft chatter intensified, and Exum’s lottery bona fides soon hardened into a national scouting consensus, leaving little doubt he would join Wiggins and Randle and the like in upper reaches of the first round next June. Earlier this summer, ESPN.com draft insider Chad Ford ranked Exum third on his list of “Top 100 Draft Prospects” for 2014. The only lingering question about Exum, who is on track to finish his high school course work in October, making him eligible to enroll in any American university at the end of the fall semester, was whether he would bring his hyperbolically mythologized land-down-under skills to the Division I ranks for a few months before entering the draft. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman answered that question on Tuesday:

“Schools have been saying I can start in early December and play this season,” Exum told ESPN. “But if college is the option, I’ll stay in Australia, do workouts with the national team and then go to college next August. Playing this season in college is not an option.”

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Emmanuel Mudiay Could Represent a Turning Point for SMU

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 26th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

None of the 15 victories SMU tallied last season were quite as important as the massive recruiting win it scored Saturday night. That’s when Emmanuel Mudiay, a consensus top-five player and arguably the top point guard in the 2014 class, subverted the natural college hoops recruiting food chain by announcing at halftime of the Under Armour Elite 24 game that he would spurn scholarship offers from Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, among others, to attend SMU. The natural reaction? Woah. Why would a player as talented and with as clear a path to the NBA Draft lottery as Mudiay, turn down not only the sport’s most proven preps-to-pros pipeline (Kentucky), but a Big 12 juggernaut (Kansas) that’s won nine-consecutive conference championships and is welcoming the most celebrated high school prospect since Kevin Durant (Andrew Wiggins) to its campus this fall? Mudiay answered that very question on the ESPNU airwaves:

With Mudiay making his verbal commitment, the arrow is pointed up for SMU (Getty Images).

“I prayed about it a lot, and this is what I felt was the best fit. My family is here, and they can see me play, and I will learn from a Hall of Fame coach in Larry Brown. He has done it in college and the pros. He knows what it takes to get there, and I think we can do some special things at SMU.”  

The allure of Larry Brown is one thing. Brown is considered one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, the only one (it should be said) to have won championships at both the college and professional levels. Brown is a tremendous coach, but if Mudiay’s decision was exclusively the product of a longing to reap the benefits of Brown’s individual tutelage, the commitment wouldn’t feel as important as it does. There were other factors involved. Mudiay is the biggest recruit SMU has ever landed, but he is not the only highly-ranked player to choose the school. In fact, just this year, the Mustangs are bringing in Keith Frazier, a McDonald’s All-American from Dallas, along with a group of well-regarded transfers, including former Illinois state guard Nic Moore, former junior college big man Yanick Moreira, former Villanova forward Marcus Kennedy, and former Illinois guard Crandall Head. Make no mistake: Mudiay is a better player and a more esteemed prospect than any of those guys. But the point is that he is the best of several; he is not the only one. Mudiay’s commitment is the rousing culmination of a recent uptick in recruiting, and if his decision prompts other top-ranked players to follow suit, that uptick could calcify into an accepted recruiting standard.

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