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Onions? Bill Raftery’s got ’em. But that’s not why we love him

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Dick Vitale may be college basketball’s most famous TV analysts, but Bill Raftery is its most beloved.

If all he ever gave the game was this brilliant moment, it’d be enough for anyone. But Raftery offers insight, honesty and boundless enthusiasm for a game played by kids. Sure, Raftery has his own catchphrases, but for some reason they’re less cloying and overtly obnoxious than Vitale’s. (Just seeing #ONIONS! trend on Twitter makes me smile.)

This isn’t a new thing. Raftery’s been praised and rightly hailed as a gem for years, and probably not long after he began his broadcasting career in 1981.

But this lovely feature by David Roth at The Classical explains what’s behind Raftery’s brilliance and why hoopheads can’t get enough of him. There are several “yes” moments in the story, but I found this excerpt on how Raftery’s avoided the decline that enviably affected Vitale, Bob Knight and Billy Packer to be most telling:

Vitale has retreated utterly, vanishing loudly into grandfatherly digression and howling baroque; Knight is as professional as is possible for someone who so transparently doesn’t give a shit, but is not so much disinterested as he is uninterested. The sour and departed don of college basketball commentators, Billy Packer was, by the end of his long career, an ugly wound bandaged glumly into a suit—his grumpy disconnection from the kids playing the game, the fact that they simply could not or would not see what he saw or do what he wanted them to do, made him unbearable: an intensely knowledgeable but densely disagreeable black hole from which only peevish disdain could escape. This hasn’t happened to Raftery.

Improbably and remarkably, Raftery instead reveals himself multiple times a week as somehow unblemished in his enthusiasm for the game and undiminished in his patience with both the mistakes that slow and soften college basketball, and the kids who have made those mistakes in front of him, week after week, for nearly 30 years. More than that, Raftery’s decades in college basketball seem somehow both to preserve and restore him—he seems, bafflingly but blessedly, happier to be there with each meaningless game he researches and explains. This is the patience that approaches grace—facing down all that rude and unceasing and inevitable imperfection and still seeing something perfectible, or at least intermittently and haltingly great; something human and messy and still worth admiring, and worth thinking about, and worth talking about until last call, and for maybe one more drink after that.

This game’s played by teenagers and young men. They’re still learning the game and what life holds. Raftery gets this, revels in it and thrives.

Why else would he be having so much fun after all these years?

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Top-100 guard commits to Xavier

Chris Mack has Xavier back in the Sweet 16 (AP Photo)
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Xavier has added a top-100 prospect into its 2017 recruiting class Wednesday.

Elias Harden, a shooting guard from Georgia, pledged to the Musketeers via social media to become the second member of Chris Mack’s next class.

“The recruiting process was not EASY AT ALL,” Harden wrote on Twitter. “I wanna thank all the coaches that took time to recruit me.

“WIth that being said I will continue my academic and athletic career at Xavier University.”

The 6-foot-6 guard is ranked 92nd overall by 247Sports and had offers from Auburn, Maryland, Texas Tech and Ole Miss. He joins Jared Ridder, a Missouri guard, as part of the 2017 Xavier class.

The Musketeers return the bulk of last year’s 28-6 team that narrowly missed out on the Sweet 16.

Clemson recruit to enroll early

Brad Brownell
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Clemson will get a four-star recruit on campus a year earlier than it expected, though his on-court debut for the Tigers will remain on schedule.

A.J. Oliver, a guard from South Carolina, will enroll early at Clemson and redshirt this upcoming season, he announced via social media Wednesday.

“I woke up this morning and realized that the greatest opportunity for me is to enroll early into Clemson,” he wrote on Twitter. “I will redshirt a year & start my college career early.”

Oliver, whose mother is the head women’s basketball coach at Clemson, was a consensus top-100 player in the class of 2017 who committed to the Tigers last December. Texas Tech and the College of Charleston were involved before his commitment.

A three-star shooting guard, Scott Spencer of Virginia, was previously the only member coach Brad Brownell’s 2016 class. While Oliver’s decision to redshirt will keep him off the court for the 2016-17 season, he’ll have spent a full season in the Tiger program before making his debut in 2017

The cupboard isn’t bare in 2017 for the Tigers due to Oliver’s reclassification because Clemson received a commitment from power forward Malik Williams, a consensus top-150 player, earlier Wednesday.

Kentucky used Calipari-Chaney fight in media training

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Kentucky held some media training sessions yesterday, and one of the topics that head coach John Calipari used to make a point was … his blow-up with John Chaney. The moment was captured on SnapChat by a trio of Kentucky newcomers.

You remember that incident. Chaney, then the head coach at Temple, and Cal, who was coaching Atlantic 10 rival UMass at the time, nearly came to blows over the way that Cal handled officials during the game. Before the video below picks up, the two shared this exchange:

“Could I say this to you, please?” Chaney said, before the video above picks up. “You’ve got a good ball club. But what you did with the officials out there is wrong, and I don’t want to be a party to that. You understand?”

Cal responded: “You weren’t out there, Coach. You don’t have any idea.”

Chaney fired back: “You got a game given to you by officials right here with G.W. on three bad calls, O.K.? Then you send your kids out there pushing and shoving. You had the best officiating you could ever get here. And for you to ride them, I don’t want to be a party to that.”

And that led to “I’ll kill you”:

(h/t KSR)

VIDEO: Shaq’s son, Shareef O’Neal, with monster dunk in Vegas

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Shareef O’Neal is a top 50 prospect in the Class of 2018. In Vegas this past weekend, he threw down a monster put-back dunk.

South Dakota State gets two commits

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Tuesday was a busy and productive one for South Dakota State on the recruiting trail.

The Jackrabbits secured two 2017 commitments from the state of Wisconsin in Ryan Krueger and Alex Arians, a source tells NBCSports.com.

Krueger is a 6-foot-5 wing player from New London, Wisc. while Arians is a 6-foot-4 guard from Madison, Wisc., who also held an offer from Wright State, which is coached by former SDSU coach Scott Nagy. Both players spend their summers playing for the Wisconsin Swing grassroots program.

The pair make it a trio of commits for the Jackrabbits in 2017 with another Wisconsinite, Alou Dillon, pledging to first-year Jackrabbits coach T.J. Otzelberger, himself a Wisconsin native, earlier this summer.

South Dakota State went 26-8 last year and the bulk of the team that made the NCAA tournament last year, including sophomore Mike Daum, who led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman.