As July nears, familiar faces have strong starts for 2013

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The men’s college basketball July evaluation period is around the corner, and several familiar upper echelon college basketball programs are well positioned as a key month on the recruiting trail approaches. It’s too early to formulate team recruiting rankings, with around 30 of the top-100 high school prospects in the 2013 class verbally committed, but several schools have started strong in their efforts for next season. Ten schools that appear to be ahead of the game, in no order, are as follows:

North Carolina: Two top-20 prospects would be considered a haul at many schools, and the Tar Heels have locked down two potential impact players with in-state power forward Isaiah Hicks and USA U18 team member point guard Nate Britt. Hicks is an interior talent with massive potential, while Britt is a consummate point guard who has proven his talent in tough D.C.-area contests.

Florida: The Gators are no strangers to backcourt talent under coach Billy Donovan, but top-5 national talent Kasey Hill could star as an impact freshmen. Hill is considered the No. 2 point guard prospect and is the total package as a lead guard. The next step is to add a big man to Hill and what looks to be a deep backcourt going forward.

Kansas: If the 2012 recruiting class for the Jayhawks was meant to build depth, the 2013 class emphasizes quality. Two top-50 prospects are already locked up, with in-state combo guard Conner Frankamp currently playing from USA Basketball’s U17 team, and 6-6 swingman Brannen Greene. The Jayhawks can afford to be selective in targeting another top tier talent or two to complete this class.

Duke: While the Blue Devils will have to add some depth around him, 6-4 shooting guard Matt Jones is an all-around dandy. With scoring pop that extends deep across the 3-point line, Jones will be capable of stretching the floor. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that Jones plays on a grassroots team with the national No. 2 prospect, undecided power forward Julius Randle.

Michigan: There arguably isn’t a star in this group, but with three easy top-100 players, the Wolverines have a great group already committed to join a program on a definite upswing. Derrick Walton is the heir apparent at point guard if Trey Burke heads to the NBA after his sophomore season, and shooting guard Zak Irvin and power forward Mark Donnal both look like future starters.

Marquette: A great group of talent in Wisconsin is to the Golden Eagles’ benefit, as coach Buzz Williams and his crew of relentless recruiters have already snagged three pledges. All three are natives of Milwaukee, with burly wing forward Deonte Burton a strong player that fits perfectly in the system, as well as point guard Duane Wilson. Touted junior college forward Jameel McKay is also a Milwaukee native, though he’s playing at Indian Hills CC in Iowa.

Purdue: Perhaps like no other conference, the Big Ten schools have emphasized early verbal commitments in recent years. The Boilermakers will add tremendous depth and potential star power with their three early verbal commitments, headlined by knock down outside shooter Kendall Stephens, a long 6-5 guard with skills. In-state point guard Bryson Scott looks competent, and wing Basil Smotherman is a guy with some potential. Overall, this is a solid group.

Arkansas: When the Razorbacks received a verbal pledge from 6-9 power forward Bobby Portis, not many people had a firm evaluation on him. That’s changed. Portis has shot up player rankings charts with tremendous play at times. In Portis, the Razorbacks have a legitimate top-25 player that has the potential to go even higher. In-state point guard Dederick Lee recently decommitted from Arkansas, but the Hogs have time to find another lead guard to fill his shoes.

Alabama: It’s not always easy to find big men that can walk and chew gum, but the Crimson Tide has two early pledges from top-100 players in the 2013 class, in 6-10 center Jimmie Taylor and 6-8 forward Shannon Hale. Both big men have shown flashes in the spring, and have participated on different squads in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. Alabama was among the last BCS schools to land a pledge in 2012, but is off to a hot start in this class.

Louisville: Dynamo combo guard Anton Gill looks like a slick fit after his pledge to the Cardinals. He’s a value with potential to play both guard slots, and has the ability to be a top notch guard at the college level. Strong numbers returning to the roster allows Louisville to be picky in their recruiting efforts, but it’s no secret that they’d like to add a talent big man to Gill.

Next Five: BYU, Indiana, Ohio State, Georgetown, Notre Dame..

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

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

A post shared by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (@sviat_10) on

The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.