Despite two tough losses, young St. John’s ‘getting there’

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NEW YORK- Friday night’s heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M showed, in just forty minutes of gametime, the range of emotions that the St. John’s Red Storm will endure this season.

After lacking energy in the first half and falling behind by 11 in the first half, the Red Storm surged back to take the lead in the second half, up 57-56 with 22 seconds remaining.

Texas A&M guard Elston Turner knocked down a jumper from the top of the with ten seconds remaining and St. John’s Nurideen Lindsey could not convert on either of two free throws with seconds remaining, allowing the Aggies to escape, 58-57.

“What I shared with the team after was similar to last night, in terms of the talking points,” said St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin after the game. “There were stretches we played really well, but by we put ourselves in a hole…and down the stretch, we weren’t able to put a team away because of things within our control.”

The up-and-down emotions of the past few months are becoming a difficult reality of competing at the high-major level, something that this program has not experienced since the early 2000s.

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Around this time last season, Lavin was helping to bring nothing but good news to a reemerging St. John’s program.

Off the court, news broke almost weekly of another top 100 recruit pledging to the Red Storm. On the court, Lavin was leading a group of nine seniors, a collection that had underachieved up to that point in their careers, to the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance in nearly a decade.

As summer came, the difficult news began.

Four players have decommitted in as many months, including two of the three players from the Class of 2011 who were ruled ineligible by the NCAA earlier this season.

Former point guard commit Jevon Thomas signed with Dayton. Forwards Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Sampson remain open in their recruitment. Big man Ricardo Gathers still has St. John’s at the top of his list, he says, but will sign in the Spring.

Kyle Anderson, a prized 2012 prospect from powerhouse St. Anthony (Nj.), turned down the Red Storm and signed with UCLA.

The roster that remains in Queens, though lacking depth and size, is a reason for a reasonable amount of optimism, with three top 100 recruits and two more highly-touted junior college transfers.

But if these past two games at Madison Square Garden have proven anything, an elusive truth of a climb toward national prominence has emerged:

Reasonable expectations will take you far.

A critical fan base has been quick to discount the progress under Steve Lavin, while others have talked of a deep run in the NCAA tournament with this inexperienced group of first year players.

The reality is that this team has and will progress through a natural flow of triumphs and defeats. They will lose games that they should have won. Perhaps they will steal a win on the road in an unfriendly environment.

And it seems that is the attitude they preach.

“We’re getting there. We know how talented we are. As a defensive team, we have to get stops, get rebounds, and we’ll be fine,” said freshman guard Phil Greene, who has 10 points and three rebounds in the loss.

The most remarkable thing about this team is their sense of togetherness. They seem to find safety in numbers, seeing themselves as one unit, instead of six different players.

Freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison, who had 12 points against A&M, was quick to come to the defense of his teammate.

“You can’t just blame Nuri. Everybody missed free throws. I feel like I lost the game,” said Harrison. “I’m pretty sure [junior forward God’sgift Achiuwa] feels the same way, and [freshman forward Moe Harkless] missed two free throws.”

Then, in a unique show of humor after such a loss, he looked at Greene, who sat at the opposite end of the media table.

“Phil was 100% [from the line], so he’s good.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.