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.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.

Adam Silver on lowering NBA Draft age minimum: ‘It’s on the table’

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined Dan Patrick this morning and was again questioned about the potential of the NBA changing the age limit to declare for the draft.

“If you’d asked me that a year ago, I would have said ‘if I didn’t have to negotiate this with the union, I would have raised the age minimum to 20 from 19,'” Silver told Patrick. When pressed on it, Silver said, “It’s a possible option. It’s on the table,” adding that it will be discussed by the union and in an owner’s meeting, and that he still doesn’t know what he thinks the best answer is.

But the big news is that he’s actively considering a change.

I wrote a long piece about the one-and-done rule and why the topic of what’s best for the kids is incredibly complicated. Owners don’t want to pay teenagers millions of dollars to develop; they’d rather let them develop in college and have an extra season or two on the back-end, when the player is in his prime. The players don’t want to spend a year in college, but the marketing and branding opportunities for them — not to mention to booster money that is floating around on a college campus — makes going to college a better option that going to the G-League, and that’s to say nothing of the fancy dorms, private flights and perks of being a celebrity on a college campus.

The truth is probably this: The NBA is trying to take control of basketball’s feeder systems. And I’m not just talking about making the G-League a better option than the collegiate ranks.

“It’s no longer an issue of 19 to 18 or 19 to 20,” Silver said. “I think it means that we as the NBA need to do something that we’ve avoided, which is getting more involved in youth basketball. If you sit with the folks from Nike or Under Armour or Adidas, they can tell you who the top 100 14 year olds are in the world, and there’s a fairly close correlation between the top 100 at 14 and the top 100 at 18.”

“Then I look at some of the players coming in internationally who are becoming full time professional basketball players, as we see in soccer, at 16 years old,” he added. “And they’re on a better development program and a more holistic one, in terms of injury prevention and monitoring in terms of control over them.”

This is a really nuanced decision, and again, if it interests you, I would encourage you to read what I wrote last week before listening to the hot take mafia work this story line over.

Because the fact of the matter is that there is a lot more to consider here than simply whether or not high school seniors should be allowed to go directly to the NBA.