Recruiting rundown: UNLV should be optimistic about Shabazz Muhammad or Anthony Bennett

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The two uncommitted national top-10 prospects in the 2012 class both play in Las Vegas, and while the nation’s top recruit, wing Shabazz Muhammad has had a well-documented recruitment, 6-7 power forward Anthony Bennett’s college preferences have been a mystery at best to those that following recruiting closely.

The powerful post prospect cut his list from ten to five over the weekend, naming Kentucky, UNLV, Florida, Oregon and Washington as his contenders. That list was put out by Bennett prior to his friend and fellow native of Canada, Khem Birch, declaring for UNLV, and that move likely puts the Running Rebels even more into the status of a serious player for landing his commitment.

Kentucky will be a huge presence in Bennett’s recruitment until the end, but UNLV fans have to like their position with both Bennett and Muhammad. The longer the season progresses and the more success that UNLV has on the hardwood figures to be to their benefit in both recruitments against the blue bloods of college basketball.

Florida was a finalist for Birch, so not getting him isn’t promising, especially for team that looks to need interior help in the near term. Oregon has some track record with Canadians on their current roster, and also has signed one of Bennett’s teammates, point guard Dominic Artis. Still, from the outside looking in, this could be a Kentucky/UNLV race.

Bennett’s recruitment has been deliberate and on his own time table so far, and that is expected to continue. He’ll have five official visits to take before he trims his list and makes a final decision.

Seton Hall lands a crime stopper and show stopper
It’s not too often that a high school junior has reached almost urban legend status in the basketball community, but 5-6 point guard Aquille Carr of Patterson (Md.) has done just that. After getting the upper hand on current professional Josh Selby in a game in the Baltimore area as a freshman, Carr has only increased his rep as a dynamic prospect, extending from the Northeast to internationally.

Amidst reports of an Italian team offering him a six-figure contract, and the legend that crime decreases in his Baltimore neighborhood when Patterson plays, Carr is arguably the most exciting player watch nationally in the 2013 class, and is known by his nickname, the “Crime Stopper.” Though his size is a clear and obvious limitation, that hasn’t stopped high-major colleges from sending scholarship offers his way. Late last week, Carr ended his recruitment early, declaring the Seton Hall.

Carr is oftentimes a blur on the floor, and has earned his distinction as a top-50 player in the class. He’s an above the rim player that attracts crowds wherever and whenever he plays. He is quick and explosive, with the penchant for making a difficult play look easy. On the other hand, with that goes his prowess for turning the ball over unnecessarily, struggles at times in the half-court set, and the occasional defensive mismatch.

At Seton Hall, Carr will have an outstanding tutor in associate coach Shaheen Holloway, who has already taken Carr’s projected path, as he had a solid career as a diminutive point guard in the Big East at Seton Hall. Also, coach Kevin Willard is a rising star in the coaching profession, and also plied his trade as a Big East point guard at Pittsburgh.

Gaining Carr’s commitment, the Pirates first in the 2013 recruiting class, does not come with a downside, though. Seton Hall was believed to be a serious contender for Gill St. Bernard (N.J.) point guard Jaren Sina, who was formerly committed to Alabama, and the son of a former Seton Hall player in Mergin Sina, his coach. Sina is a fundamentally sound lead guard that would have been a nice addition, as well. That seems extremely unlikely now.

At a minimum, when the Pirates’ staff determines that he’s ready to play, Carr’s flair and style of play will attract attention to the Seton Hall program. In terms of credibility and positive press, adding Carr is huge for Seton Hall, as well.

St. John’s gains one, loses one
Earlier in the week, shooting guard commit Darrick Wood of Bridgton Academy (Maine) was the sole remaining member of the St. John’s recruiting class for 2012. National top-50 power forward Ricardo Gathers is entertaining other offers after his decommitment, and former point guard pledge Jevon Thomas signed with Dayton during the early signing period.

Wood re-opened his recruitment though, with the nebulous statement that the Johnnies still lead for his college services. Still, the track record of such players ultimately signing with a school that they decommit from is sketchy at best. With only a half-dozen recruited scholarship players on the current roster, St. John’s needed some good news in the worst way.

That pick me up came in the form of Jamal Branch, who was formerly known as a backup freshman point guard early on this season at Texas A&M. Branch didn’t get much of a shot for the Aggies, but immediately becomes a key member of the St. John’s plans for next year. He’s a pass-first, defensive minded point guard, and both of those skills are currently is nowhere to be found currently at St. John’s.

Branch is a native of the Lone Star State, like current freshman D’Angelo Harrison, and the two Texans could form a dandy duo. While coach Steve Lavin has his health as a priority, the program’s long-term success will rely on adding five or more players for next season, in order to start the season with a fair shot and a near full boat of scholarship players. If Branch becomes eligible at mid-season, as expected, he’s a quality addition and a welcome break from a recent streak of bad news.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.