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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.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.