Enjoy UConn’s performance for what it was: amazing

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NEW YORK – After 15 games and five grueling but gratifying days full of basketball, the Big East Tournament is finally over.

And UConn, after winning five games in five days and completing a task no one thought possible, will head back to Storrs as champions with a thrilling, 69-66 win over Louisville.

The trek isn’t over, however. With the NCAA Tournament just a half a week away, the Huskies now have to get ready to play whatever opponent in whatever location the Selection Committee assigns them on Sunday evening. Starting Sunday morning, the talk will turn from “what an incredible performance” to “was the performance worth it?”

“Now that the tournament is over I can tell you that I was definitely tired,” Big East Tournament MVP Kemba Walker said after the game. “With about 2 minutes left I was gassed, but I just wanted to win this game so bad that you know my heart took over.”

The NCAA Tournament will start either Thursday or Friday for the Huskies, but the turnaround for the event will be much quicker than that. Even if they play Friday, the Huskies have to be at their location on Wednesday, meaning that at most, UConn will have three days at home. That is assuming they headed back to Storrs Saturday night and not Sunday morning.

Jim Calhoun said that Kemba told him during the game that he couldn’t feel his legs. So when says that he was gassed after playing 190 minutes over the course of five days, I suggest you believe him.

And when you are that tired, two or three days is not a lot of recovery time, especially when you have an opponent to prepare for.

So tired legs are a legitimate concern. And they will likely be the reason that a lot of folks will be picking UConn to make an early exit when they fill out their brackets.

“As long as we’re in the tournament and we get a reasonable seed, you know, hopefully we take a day off and be ready to play,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun said.

Let’s say they aren’t.

Let’s pretend that UConn gets bounced in the second round by a lower seed.

It goes without saying that it will be a disappointment. For UConn fans, for UConn players, for the UConn coaching staff.

But it won’t tarnish this team’s legacy. What they did this week won’t soon be forgotten. Not by those fans, not by those players, and not by that coaching staff.

This was one of the greatest championship weeks I can remember. There were buzzer beaters. There were upsets. Game after game went into overtime. The past four days were, without a shred of a doubt, the epitome of what turns March into March Madness.

And the Huskies were the stars.

After rolling through No. 16 seed DePaul in the first round, UConn knocked off heated rival Georgetown to advance to play No. 1 seed Pitt. In a back-and-forth battle, the Huskies won at the buzzer on a ridiculous step-back jumper from Kemba. UConn advanced to take on another heated rival in Syracuse where, in overtime, Jeremy Lamb spurred the Huskies to victory after Scoop Jardine erased a six point deficit with 40 seconds left in regulation.

And in the final, UConn survived blowing a 12 point first half lead to beat the Cardinals and win the title.

“What these kids have been through this week, it’s been as moving for me as anything I can possibly think of,” Calhoun said.

In the grand scheme of things, sports don’t matter. They are games. We play them for fun. We watch them for our enjoyment, and hopefully some excitement. We watch them because the athletes are incredible at their craft, doing things most of us only dream of. We pay absurd amounts of money to go to games because there is nothing more beautiful than a well run fast break, or a perfectly turned double play, or a well timed fade route. We cheer for our favorite teams because, for one reason or another, we have a special bond with that team. When they win, it makes us happy.

But sports won’t get you a job in this economy. The NCAA Tournament is not going to help you make your mortgage payments. The World Cup will not help solve the conflict in Iraq. Or the Sudan. The Olympics are not going to cure AIDS or help the people hurt by the Japanese earthquake.

What sports does give us is moments. Moments that will forever be trapped in time. Moments that you can look back on in 40 years, and still remember like it was yesterday.

For every UConn fan, every UConn player, and every member of the UConn coaching staff, this past week was one of those moments.

And if you truly are a college basketball fan, then it was for you too.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.