Calipari doubts anyone’s better than Terrence Jones

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Terrence Jones often played his way into John Calipari’s doghouse last season. That’s not happening this year.

Calipari lauded the 6-9 sophomore Tuesday, telling local media that Jones’ work ethic finally matches his immense talent. He’s now the first guy in the gym, he stays late and he spent the summer improving his game.

Jones, according to Calipari, might be the game’s best player.

“If there’s a better player in the country, I gotta see him. Maybe that guy’s in our gym, I don’t know. If there is somebody better than Terrence, I gotta see,” Calipari said. “His focus on basketball compared to what it was last year is not even close.”

Calipari – who noted Jones’ improved ball-handling, shooting and conditioning — expects Jones’ extra work and dedication to result in a Josh Harrellson-esque jump, which would be nothing short of spectacular. Jones was already one of the game’s elite players as a freshman. If he improves as much as Harrellson did, we’ll see a transcendent player.

That’s a scary thought for Kentucky foes.

It may not result in a massive stat bump, though. Kentucky’s got plenty of talent and Calipari says everyone’s upping their game, especially senior Darius Miller and freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who “try to kill each other” during practice.

The result? “Darius has never been better,” Calipari says.

Hey, Calipari even lauded Eloy Vargas, a 6-11 senior who wasn’t good for much last season other than giving Harrellson the occasional breather.

Much of this no doubt counts as coach-speak and early season lauding designed to boost his guys’ confidence and encourage fans. But if half of what Calipari says is true, then that Dec. 3 game against North Carolina went from must-see TV to essential viewing for any sports fan.

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Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”