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Not the top dog, but these Kentucky ‘Cats march to Final Four

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The Kentucky Wildcats hoops team arguably carries more weight in college basketball than any other program in the country.

Their fans are completely and utterly narcissistic (and that’s a compliment, I swear I’m not trolling!), their media will chase – literally chase – coaches out of town, and their players are treated like royalty in Lexington. So it doesn’t really seem fitting that the Wildcats take on the name of Cardiac Cats, or something like that, en route to their first Final Four appearance since 1998. [Editor’s note: That term’s been used recently at Kentucky.]

But this go-round the heavyweight isn’t necessarily the favorite, having to down two higher seeded teams and boasting a roster that doesn’t have nearly the star power of the squad that fell one year ago in the Elite Eight.

With that, you can’t not love this team, and you can’t help but laud the coaching of John Calipari during this recent run, capped by a 76-69 win over North Carolina.

Sure freshman Brandon Knight was the most important player on the floor for Cal, and fellow freshman Terrence Jones was the second most important, but it was the unheralded bit pieces that were huge and a blast to watch this weekend.

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Down an Enes Kanter from the beginning of the season, a frightened Big Blue Nation turned its eyes to a guy who lost tweeting privileges and embraces jean shorts like he’s a true hillbilly.  I’m referring to Josh “Jorts” Harrellson if you’re uninformed, a senior who still has a little bit of baby weight to shed, but has made a strong case for being the toughest player in the entire country.

Over the span of just eight days, Harrellson went toe-to-toe with West Virginia’s Deniz Kilicli, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, and North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller and John Henson, and prevailed in each and every one of those battles.

Of those players, all but maybe Kilicli have an NBA career ahead of them. Harrellson, as much as I’ve grown to love him this season, does not. Consider this “The Best Time of His Life,” and I’m sure he’s totally cool that.

DeAndre Liggins, who could have easily wavered at playing second-fiddle to a handful of highly regarded freshman these past two seasons, was truly a key cog for this team that won the East Region. Liggins came up especially huge for UK this weekend, averaging 13.5 points and weaseling into the deeply rooted Kentucky basketball historical lore. Surely nobody in the Bluegrass State will ever forget that corner three he nailed with just seconds to play; the dagger in the Tar Heels coffin.

I’m not sure that Kentucky will win the national championship, but they certainly have no glaring deficiencies to suggest they can’t cut down the nets in Houston.

At the very least, this is a juggernaut the entire country can root for.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelin.

Auburn continues to stockpile talent, adds top 50 prospect in 2017

Bruce Pearl
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Auburn’s hire of Bruce Pearl was almost universally lauded as the first step towards the return of relevance for the Tiger basketball program.

And while the results have yet to shine through on the floor, Pearl is unequivocally stockpiling the kind of talent that will allow him to push for trips to the NCAA tournament and maybe one day contend for a league crown with Kentucky.

The latest step came on Sunday, when Pearl landed a commitment from Chuma Okeke, a top 50 wing prospect out of Georgia.

“He is a versatile wing who can handle and score,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “Coming off of a big July, Okeke could move up the national rankings and Auburn pounced on him right away.”

Okeke joins big man Austin Wiley, a top ten player in the class, and Davion Mitchell, who is likely one of the five best point guards in the country, in what is currently the nation’s best recruiting class in 2017. That’s before you consider that Pearl already has Mustapha Heron, a top 25 prospect, joining the mix this season.

“This group has the makings of a monster recruiting class for Auburn,” Phillips said.

Okeke picked the Tigers over Florida State, Georgia and a number of other programs across the southeast.

VIDEO: Watch Virginia freshman Jay Huff dunk from the free throw line

Tony Bennett
AP Photo/Nell Redmond
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Jay Huff is a member of Tony Bennett’s best recruiting class to date, a 6-foot-11 top 50 recruit from North Carolina.

He also happens to be pretty athletic.

Don’t believe me?

Check out this video that McDonald’s All-American Kyle Guy tweeted out on Sunday night:

Yup, that’s Huff taking off from the foul line to dunk.

Not bad, young fella.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

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Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)

POSTERIZED: Class of 2016 forward Chris Seeley has a massive dunk on defender

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The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.

At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.

The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.