Kevin Parrom

Arizona’s freshmen all the talk, but its veterans are key

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NEW YORK – The way to win championships at the college level is through success on the recruiting front.

Regardless of whether a coach wins by bringing in a crop of top 50 recruits every season or through identifying the under-the-radar players who will thrive in their system, the key to winning games is bringing the right kids into the program.

Since he’s been at Arizona, Sean Miller has been a powerhouse recruiter, landing in eight four-star recruits and four five-star recruits once the Class of 2012 is included. You want a good gauge of how much talent has he brought into Tucson? Two four-star recruits — Momo Jones and Daniel Bejarano — have transferred out because they were recruited over. Perhaps more impressive is that both Derrick Williams, who was probably the best player in the country last season not named Jimmer or Kemba, and Kevin Parrom, who may be Arizona’s MVP this year, were three-star recruits coming out of high school.

So its no wonder that this year’s incoming class of Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson were the guys that got the majority of the headlines for Arizona over the past two months.

But the reason that Arizona is 4-0 right now, the reason they were able to overcome a 19-4 run that whipped St. John’s fans into a frenzy at Madison Square Garden — the Johnnies home-away-from-home — that put Arizona in a late 66-58 hole, was Miller’s veterans.

Only one freshman, Johnson, was playing during crunch-time on Thursday night. It was the play of Miller’s veteran leaders that sparked a game-winning, 18-2 run in Arizona’s 81-72 victory in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

“Tonight we were more of a function of a couple of our veteran guys having been in the winner’s circle from a year ago,” Miller said after the game. “Finishing the game showed a lot of toughness.”

“We depended on our veteran and veteran leadership at the end of the game.”

There no question that Arizona has talent on their roster this year, but the knock on them, at least at this point in the season, is that they don’t have a go-to player. There is no star on this team. They don’t have that one guy that you can rely on to get a bucket in a crucial moment. There isn’t one player that can simply be isolated and asked to make a play to end a run or at the end of a game.

Tonight re-enforced that theory. There isn’t one star on this roster. Instead, Miller has three or four veterans that are capable of rising to the occasion.

The Wildcats looked like they were ready to take control of this game midway through the second half. After Turner threw Johnson a back-door alley-oop for a thunderous dunk, Arizona had a 54-47 lead with 14 minutes left and all the momentum in their favor. But Phil Greene answered with seven straight points, and after Chol gave Arizona the lead back on a lay-in, St. John’son scored 12 of the next 14 points to take an eight point lead and what appeared to be control of the game.

That’s when Arizona’s upperclassmen took over.

Kyle Fogg got into the middle of the St. John’s zone and found Johnson for a three. After a breakaway dunk by Turner, Fogg against broke down the zone and found Solomon Hill for a dunk. On the next possession, Jesse Perry made a nice move for a layup along the baseline and Hill followed that up with an offensive rebound, drawing a foul and hitting both free throws. All of a sudden, the Wildcats had the lead back.

The next three possessions were much of the same. Parrom found Fogg for an open three, Perry tipped in his own miss and Johnson found Parrom for yet another open three (Arizona made 14 of them), and with just 2:26 remaining, Arizona had a 77-70 lead and cruised to the nine point win.

“Very important,” Miller said when asked how valuable having multiple veterans capable of thriving when the lights are the brights. “That’s why I can’t understate the importance of Kevin Parrom because he’s now yet another very experienced player for us and, without him, we’re not nearly the same team.”

“Kyle looked like a seasoned, experienced player out there, and he is. He’s been in the Sweet Sixteen his freshman year, he’s been in the Elite Eight his junior year, he’s started now since I’ve been the coach at Arizona almost every game that he’s played, and you can feel that. Here we are in November of his senior year and he stepped up.”

Parrom and Fogg shot just 5-17 combined, but they had 11 assists to just a single turnover. Hill and Perry combined for 26 points and 17 boards, with seven coming on the offensive end of the floor.

With performances like that from his veterans, Sean Miller is going to win a lot of games this season.

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

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Hartford coach John Gallagher, AP Photo
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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.