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.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.