Under Armour’s splash into Memorial Weekend a success

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Various shoe and apparel companies have made sponsoring grassroots events and basketball teams at the high school level a priority over the years. In recent years, Nike has established itself as the premier sponsor, with adidas and to a lesser extent, Reebok, also involved in the game.

Now, Under Armour seems to be making a strong push into the spring and summer calendar, by becoming a sponsor of several pre-existing tournaments to formulate the new “Under Armour Summer Championship Series”. Under Armour also entered the crowded Memorial Day Weekend tournament landscape, by hosting their inaugural Are You From Here? Classic, in Dallas, Texas.

The weekend tournament hosted Under Armour’s growing stable of grassroots programs, which now includes the Houston Defenders, Philly Pride, DC Assault, Juice (NY), Illinois Wolves, and several other traditionally strong “AAU” programs. With other grassroots basketball teams mixed in with Under Armour’s squads, there was formidable field on hand at the sprawling facility at Duncanville High School, which is notable for a first year event.

The star of the weekend was unquestionably 6-5 shooting guard Aaron Harrison of the Houston Defenders. He and his twin brother Andrew Harrison have established themselves as top-10 prospects in the 2013 class nationally, but it was Aaron’s turn to shine on the final day of the tournament.

A bullish and extremely physical guard, Aaron Harrison was faced with his star brother going down to an injury in the first half of their quarterfinal game against a Kansas City Run GMC with two high-major backcourt commits in Conner Frankamp (Kansas) and Travis Jorgenson (Missouri). Harrison ended up with 29 points and turned the tide to push his team to come from behind victory.

After that performance, Harrison logged a mind-blowing 42 points as his team, still missing Andrew Harrison, suffered a one point semifinal loss to eventual event runner-up Net Gain Sports, of Minnesota. Harrison was at another level from his opponents in those two games, as he was consistent from 3-point range, was impossible to stop in transition, and created huge scoring swings with heads up defensive play. His physicality prevents even forwards and posts from locking him down.

Prior to the event, the Harrison’s college list was composed of Kentucky, Maryland, Baylor and Villanova. Now, it seems as if SMU can be added to that list. The Harrisons, along with several of their teammates on the Houston Defenders, trekked to SMU’s campus to meet with new coach Larry Brown on an unofficial visit. To no surprise, Brown reportedly has scholarships available for the twins if they want to attend SMU. It probably more likely though that Brown can add some of the supporting cast on the Houston Defenders, rather than the Harrisons.

Two players that were originally expected to be members of the 2013 class at Maryland and Towson, were also in the event. When Damonte Dodd committed to Maryland some months ago, it’s fair to say that he was among the most unknown pledges in any BCS college’s recruiting class at the time. On the flip side, point guard Frank Mason looked like an absolute steal for Towson.

As the spring turns into summer and Damonte Dodd continues running with DC Assault and Mason is still on the roster for Team Loaded (North Carolina/Virginia-based), it seems less likely that each player will end up in the D1 ranks next year, and prep school could seem more probable. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but it will be a situation worth monitoring as both played quite well in this tournament.

Dodd, in particular, was way better than his unknown rep would seem to indicate. He passes the look test and seems like a high-major center in the lay-up line, but when the action starts and he hits the floor, he can play, too. There aren’t many actual sleepers in this era of heavily recruited early identified high school prospects, but Dodd appears to have a chance to be one.

The 17-U (Senior-to-Be) division was won the Milwaukee Runnin’ Rebels, which featured 6-8 forward Kevon Looney, a 2014 prospect. Looney is long, athletic, and a top-20 prospect nationally due to his fluidity and inside-outside offensive game. Damontre Jefferson, a 5-9 point guard from the 2014 class, put up serious points and was dynamite backcourt player all weekend in the championship run.

The Runnin’ Rebels took out Net Gain Sports, a squad which was also led by an elite 2014 prospect in 6-4 shooting guard Rashad Vaughn. He has a bevy of Big Ten suitors, which is no surprise given his terrific all-around game and heady play. Vaughn is quickly working his way into a universal top-25 national ranking in his class.

The 16-U (Junior-to-be) division championship was captured by a hometown entry, Dallas Showtyme. Their star over the course of the weekend was 6-6 wing D’Angelo Allen. The youngest age group, the 15-U (Sophomore-to-be) title was won by Net Gain Sports.

Some of the prospects that played well over the course of the weekend included 2013 Purdue commit Kendall Stephens (Illinois Wolves), 2014 shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead (Juice-NY), 2013 Kansas commit Conner Frankamp, 2013 BYU pledge Nick Emery (Utah Reign), 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay (Texas Select), 2014 Virginia commit BJ Stith (Team Loaded), twin 2014 wing forwards Caleb and Cody Martin (Team Loaded), and 2014 point guard Alex Robinson (DJH5).

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

Five-star forward King picks Oregon

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Oregon has nabbed one of the top players in the 2018 class.

Louis King, a top-20 forward, committed to Dana Altman and the Ducks on Thursday via a video on social media.

“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.

“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”

King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.

“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”

 

Four-star forward Miller Kopp commits to Northwestern

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Northwestern has a second four-star recruit in its 2018 class.

The Wildcats received a commitment from Miller Kopp, a 6-foot-6 forward, on Thursday, he announced via social media.

“I built a really strong relationship with (coach) Chris Collins and I fell in love with the campus,” Kopp told Scout. “I knew it would be a nice campus and have that stuff, but I think me and him are wired the same way. II think that his personality fits mine and I think we complement each other. I’m definitely excited to be able to go to a program on the rise and be able to make some history.”

Kopp picked the Wildcats over offers from Georgetown, Butler, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. The Houston native is ranked in the top-100 of his class by most recruiting services.

He gives Collins and the Wildcats an exceedingly strong 2018 class, which already featured four-star guard Pete Nance of Ohio along with three-star recruits Jordan Lathon and Ryan Young. It represents a major leap forward for Northwestern. It would appear that the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance last March has brought momentum to the recruiting trail.

 

NEXT ONE? Hoops phenom at 13 has college offer, NBA height

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Emoni Bates walks out a front door of Clague Middle School with just inches to spare.

A wide smile tops his 6-foot-7, extra-lean frame. He’s holding a seventh-grade honor society certificate in his right hand. His braces gleam in the afternoon sun.

Meet the best 13-year-old basketball player in America, according to some recruiting services. One of his highlight reels on YouTube has been viewed about 1 million times.

“I don’t really pay attention to it,” Emoni insists in a voice just louder than a whisper, “because if I pay attention to it, it’s just going to get to my head.

“And I don’t want it to get to my head. I just want to play basketball.”

He’s got the pedigree.

Emoni’s father, E.J. Bates, has been around the game most of his life. He picked greens and baled hay as a kid in nearby Milan, Michigan, then developed into a smooth-shooting guard. But he didn’t take school seriously until it was too late. Instead of playing for a basketball power like Kansas and maybe even in the NBA, E.J. wound up going to Kentucky Wesleyan and settling for pro hoops in Switzerland.

E.J. is determined to make sure his son doesn’t make the same mistake. The academics are a sign of that. House rules bar Emoni from picking up a basketball until his homework is done.

Yet E.J. knows when kids are this good this early, distractions roll in like waves. Already, it seems, lots of people want a piece of Emoni. Prep, private and public high school coaches are lining up. Colleges have him on their radar. DePaul took it a step further, offering Emoni a scholarship in late August. Two other much-touted players in the Class of 2022 — Amari Bailey of Illinois and Skyy Clark of California — also have offers from DePaul.

E.J. knows the shoe company bird dogs and other hustlers looking to buy favors are lurking, too. So he and wife Edith, who works for the Red Cross, keep their inner circle very tight.

“I’m his coach to keep the snakes away,” Bates says, sitting on one of Clague’s concrete benches. “We’re not for sale.”

The Bates family has agreed to provide The Associated Press with a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the life of one of the most coveted basketball prospects in the country for at least the next five years. The periodic series will include video, photos, audio and text updates to track his progress.

Will Emoni stay near his current home to attend a public high school? Or will he take his next step at a private school like Detroit Country Day, like Michigan native Chris Webber?

Will he follow the footsteps of Marvin Bagley III and other five-star prospects, reclassifying to finish high school in three years? Bagley did to play college ball at Duke this coming season — and potentially to get a jump on a pro future.

Will E.J. and Emoni emulate the father-son team of LaVar and Lonzo Ball, grabbing headlines while hawking their own brand at every turn?

No one knows.

E.J. says all options are on the table. But he won’t be loud, unlike LaVar Ball in the lead-up to his son Lonzo being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t have to brag about what we’re doing,” E.J. says. “I let other people do all the talking about how good Emoni is because word of mouth is the best advertising there is.”

A POTENTIAL STAR IS BORN

Emoni James-Wayne Bates was born Jan. 28, 2004, at the University of Michigan hospital. He was on the light side — 6 pounds, 7 ounces — and a little long at 21 inches. Just over a year later, Emoni slept with his head cradled in his left arm and his right wrapped around a black and red basketball. A cherished photo was made.

“He would always sleep with the ball,” his father recalls, holding a framed picture in his Ypsilanti, Michigan, home. “If the ball wasn’t around, he would cry about the ball. Even to this day, he has a mini-ball he keeps with him, which is crazy to me.”

There were more hints. During a second visit to the doctor, E.J., who is 6-foot-4, and Edith, 5-9, asked how tall their son might grow.

“He was off the charts,” E.J. laughs, “so they couldn’t tell us.”

Emoni has shot up 7 inches in the last two years. He’s tall enough right now to play shooting guard at any level. He handles the ball like a point guard and launches 3-pointers like a savvy veteran. He can create his own shot like a wing or drive the lane and dish off to a teammate like another rail-thin former prodigy, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant.

But adding weight and muscle is an ongoing challenge. He weighs just 155 pounds — not heavy or strong enough to play a dominating inside game that would complement his fluid perimeter skills.

“We try to stuff him full of food at night and hope it sticks,” E.J. sighs.

TEEN CELEBRITY

The Adidas Invitational in Fishers, Indiana, attracts some of the Midwest’s top seventh-grade AAU teams. Inside Best Choice Fieldhouse, talk centers on whether the Bates Fundamentals squad starring Emoni and coached by E.J. can live up to the hype.

“They’ve been hearing a lot about him,” says Bernetta Kelly, watching her son’s Peoria Area Elite team take its shot.

Bates Fundamentals wins 95-44 and Kelly understands why. She approaches Emoni and asks for a photo with her son and his team.

“I’ve seen the best players from Pittsburgh to Vegas the last four years, and he’s been the best in his class,” Peoria coach Zach Martin says. “I told the guys, ‘There are not many times you will be able to say you played an NBA player, but you just did.'”

After another lopsided victory in the two-day tournament won easily by Bates Fundamentals, Emoni walks off the court. A younger competitor darts out of his team’s pregame layup line to slap his hand. Moments later, the excitement follows Emoni out the door.

“Hey, that’s him,” a young boy entering the facility says to teammates.

How does a 10-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana, know who Bates is?

“YouTube,” he says.

Duh.

The highlight reel posted last summer had nearly 1 million views before Emoni walked into the doors at Clague for the first time as an eighth-grader. Several other videos have racked up 500,000-plus views in less than one year.

By the spring of 2018, the suspense about where he plans to attend high school may be its own mini-drama. Then a few years later: Which college?

E.J. and Edith hardly need reminding that’s still a long way off. As good as the recruiting services have become at projecting stars, it’s easy to forget the object of all that attention is still just 13. At times, the recruiting experts simply miss.

“It’s always a crap shoot,” E.J. says. “You don’t know what life will deal you. You never know what can happen with injuries, the loss of motivation or pressure getting to be too much.”

Yet fans of two college basketball powers with the inside track can already start thinking about the fall of 2021, when Bates can officially sign a scholarship offer. In quiet moments, Emoni sometimes does, too.

Asked about his favorite programs, the soft-spoken kid doesn’t hesitate to name the early front-runners.

“Michigan State and Kentucky,” Emoni says.

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Follow the series: https://www.apnews.com/tag/TheKid

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Follow Larry Lage at http://twitter.com/larrylage

NCAA punishes Pacific men’s basketball for violations

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STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — The men’s basketball team at Pacific has been punished by the NCAA for academic and recruiting violations under former coach Ron Verlin.

The NCAA said Wednesday that Verlin failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he violated academic misconduct and recruiting rules to get prospects eligible. He also failed to monitor his coaches and violated NCAA ethics rules when he encouraged others to give false information during the investigation.

The baseball program was also cited because former coach Ed Sprague impermissibly provided an athletic training student with a $16,000 scholarship to help with the housing costs of two baseball student-athletes, including her brother.

Penalties for the school include two years of probation, recruiting and scholarship reductions, a $5,000 fine and a vacation of all games in which ineligible athletes participated.

Memphis lands commitment from 2018 center Connor Vanover

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Memphis picked up its first commitment in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night as unique center prospect Connor Vanover announced his decision on Twitter.

At 7-foot-2, Vanover brings elite size to the interior for the Tigers and he’s also skilled enough that he was a 43 percent three-point shooter during his stint playing with Pro Skills in the Nike EYBL this spring. Although Vanover needs to add strength and athleticism to adapt to the college level, he simply has size that you can’t teach. Pair that size with an intriguing perimeter jumper and it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Tubby Smith is able to develop Vanover the next few years.

A three-star prospect according to Rivals, Vanover averaged 9.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during the spring. Originally from Arkansas, Vanover is spending his senior season of high school ball at prep school powerhouse Findlay Prep.