Wiggins, Randle talk of LeBron James Skills Academy

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The move of Nike’s traditional individual high school and college player camp from Akron, Ohio to Las Vegas didn’t break many hearts, and luckily for the NBA scouts and media members present at the LeBron James Skills Academy, the swoosh camp was able to pull in many top prospects who are primarily affiliated with other shoe companies (namely several elite players on the adidas circuit), due to the lack of other events over the weekend.

More than 90 high school players and 20 college players received coaching from instructors ranging from Kevin Eastman to Jay Bilas, played against a talented cohort of prospects, and in some cases be were observed by members of the USA Basketball team (including the event’s namesake, James) that was training in Sin City.

While the depth and overall talent level of the high school portion of the camp was arguably the best of any single event over the course of the spring and summer, two players stood out in the minds of nearly every close observer of the event. 2013 power forward Julius Randle of Prestonwood Christian (Texas) and 2014 wing forward Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep (WVa.) via Toronto stole the show and were clearly the elite prospects and top potential NBA players.

Randle can handle the rock in addition to his ideal power forward skills at 6-9, and showed why some talent evaluators consider him to be the top prospect in the 2013 class nationally. The grumbling regarding his floating on the perimeter remains, but his remarkable agility and talent near the hoop are unmatched among post players nationally.

Randle was cryptic, as always, regarding his potential college choice and it’s not clear that any school should feel like they are in good shape for him at present. He declined to name a list, and the reality is that he can attend any school in the country that he wishes to. When he’s in prime form, Randle uses his strong upper body to power through defenders with a skill level sufficient to finish above or near the rim in a variety of ways. A punisher in the post, Randle finishes over people with alarming regularity.

As good as Randle was, it was Wiggins that who the considerable assortment of NBA scouts salivating regarding his potential. Due to this year’s recruiting calendar created by the NCAA, NBA scouts were allowed to attend the event and evaluate players, while college coaches were not. Wiggins is immediately striking as he is like a rocket blasting off when he plants his feet and explodes to the hoop. No player gets up faster and higher than Wiggins.

There is simply no player in high school hoops who has the future potential that Wiggins does.

For what it’s worth, Wiggins listed Kentucky, Florida State, Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse, but his decision is believed to be likely to come down to the Wildcats and the Seminoles (his father played for FSU). Nothing has progressed beyond speculation at this point, but it seems reasonable for Wiggins to explore reclassification to the 2013 class to speed up his seemingly eventual NBA timetable.

While Wiggins and Randle were the cream of the crop, plenty of other players also showed off their talents. Two already committed incoming seniors, point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) and power forward Bobby Portis (Arkansas) both looked strong. Williams-Goss is among the most intelligent point guards in his class, while Portis has excelled all spring with a nice combination of skill and athleticism, coupled with a 6-9 frame.

Uncommitted prospects that turned heads included class of 2013 big men Kennedy Meeks of North Carolina and Austin Nichols of Tennessee. Backcourt stars included point guard Anthony Barber, a top-10 prospect that is down to Kansas, Louisville and Alabama, and South Carolina native shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell. On the wing, James Young (who recently picked up the Kentucky scholarship offer he desired all spring) had some moments, as did Los Angeles-area player Isaac Hamilton, a member of a talented SoCal hoops family.

Only a few underclassmen received a prestigious honor in even being invited to the camp, and slight 5-9 point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright of Loyola (Calif.) and 6-7 wing forward Jalen Lindsay of Christ Presbyterian Academy (Tenn.) clearly made the most of the their opportunity. Also on the horizon are 6-9 incoming high school sophomores Diamond Stone of Wisconsin and Ivan Rabb of California. Both will receive more attention than they ever thought was possible, sooner rather than later.

In all, the 2012 LeBron James Skills Academy featured a terrific collection of high school talent, and an easy opportunity to evaluate their gifts under one roof in Las Vegas, as exterior temperatures hovered around 110 degrees at peak times.

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

Seven identified after threats made against referee John Higgins following Kentucky Elite Eight loss

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College basketball referee John Higgins received threats to his home and business in late March after some controversial calls in North Carolina’s win over Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Seven people have now been identified for making threats against Higgins, according to an Associated Press report. The FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska field office said that information on the seven people will be referred to authorities in their jurisdictions.

An investigation over the last few months helped find the culprits, as the Omaha-based Higgins received emails, phone calls and voicemails to his personal home and roofing company following Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament departure. Wildcat head coach John Calipari might have ignited some of the anger in Kentucky fans by criticizing the officiating following the North Carolina loss.

“Based on the investigation’s findings, our office has determined that no local charges will be filed and that pursuit of any criminal charges would be best served by deferring to authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The length of the investigation was drawn out due in part to the large volume of potential evidence requiring analysis, and the multi-jurisdictional issues arising from the multiple states in which the communications originated.”

Polikov also said that at least two media outlets were exposing and promoting Higgins’ contact information.

“This information has been referred to the Federal Communications Commission for further investigation of the potential violations related to applicable federal communications regulations,” Polikov said.

Higgins received about 3,000 phone calls at his office in the two days following the game. Sheriff’s investigator Matt Barrall told the AP that an estimated 75 percent of the calls were from Kentucky area codes.

The roofing business that Higgins owns was also flooded with bad online reviews and negative star ratings, causing his Google rating to fall while also forcing Higgins to take down the Facebook page for his business.

Beilein still upbeat after Michigan loses another to NBA

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — For a major program, Michigan is a somewhat unlikely candidate for this kind of NBA-induced attrition.

The Wolverines have fielded some very good teams under John Beilein, but they haven’t been relying on prospects expected to jump to the pros as soon as they can.

“We’re not depending all our success on one-and-dones,” Beilein said. “Given that, our numbers right now are extraordinary.”

Beilein was referring to the number of players Michigan has sent to the NBA, particularly as early entrees. The Wolverines lost D.J. Wilson to the draft this offseason with two years of eligibility remaining, and now they’ll go through the familiar process of trying to replace a key player who turned pro.

The most significant early exodus occurred in 2013 and 2014, when Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all went pro before their eligibility was up. Michigan won a lot of games with those players, reaching the Final Four and Elite Eight those two years, but their development made them attractive to NBA teams and shortened their college careers.

Wilson’s rise followed a similar pattern. He averaged only 2.7 points per game in 2015-16, and then increased to 11.0 this past season and became Michigan’s leading rebounder. His efforts helped Michigan win the Big Ten Tournament and reach the Sweet 16, and now he’s off to the NBA draft. The entire sequence of events would have seemed highly improbable a year ago.

The Wolverines won’t receive much sympathy from their Big Ten opponents, especially since Michigan will still have big man Moe Wagner, who tested the NBA waters but ultimately decided to stay in school. The 6-foot-11 Wagner averaged 12.1 points last season and shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range, showing huge improvement in much the same way Wilson did.

After losing senior point guard Derrick Walton, it will be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense operates if Wagner becomes even more of a focal point. When Beilein was at West Virginia, the Mountaineers achieved success behind center Kevin Pittsnogle, whose skill set and 3-point shooting ability was at least somewhat similar to Wagner’s.

“We’re not going to put him in that category yet,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say, having a big man who can shoot the ball like that changes a lot of things.”

Michigan was also able to add a new point guard recently in Jaaron Simmons, a graduate transfer from Ohio. Simmons is eligible immediately in 2017-18 and will move up from the Mid-American Conference to the Big Ten.

“A lot of the mid-majors are having this happen to them, and I don’t like it at all, but the fact is if Jaaron doesn’t come here, he ends up probably somewhere else in the Big Ten,” Beilein said. “He’s just fundamentally so sound. He’ll be here this summer. Just as a person, I just wanted to coach the kid after spending an hour with him — just the leadership, the desire to win.”

Simmons could help the Wolverines withstand the loss of Walton, and Beilein indicated he could serve as a bit of a mentor to players like point guard Xavier Simpson, who is entering his sophomore season.

“We went all-in with (Simmons), knowing we had that scholarship,” Beilein said. “We felt that was a huge need for us, is to just have a little bit more experience in the backcourt next year.”

Follow Noah Trister on Twitter @noahtrister

LaVar Ball having ‘zero’ interaction with UCLA team bodes well for next season

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With the NBA Draft looming in less than a month, the biggest talking point has been just how much of an impact LaVar Ball is going to have on his son, Lonzo’s, NBA career.

It’s a question worth asking given the, ahem, outspoken nature of the eldest Ball.

But in the collegiate ranks, that’s a question that’s been asked about UCLA regarding next season. While Lonzo and LaMelo, who is finishing up his sophomore season in high school, are the stars that get the majority of the attention, there is another Ball brother that will be enrolling at UCLA next season: LiAngelo.

LaVar has already said that he expect Gelo to be a one-and-done player, which may not jibe with how good Gelo actually is. He’s not Lonzo and he’s not LaMelo. He’s not a dynamic athlete or a lead guard. He’s a 6-foot-5, 200 pound shooter with limitless range but limited upside. There’s a reason Rivals ranks him as a three-star prospect.

What’s going to happen when UCLA, a top 15 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, doesn’t give Gelo Lonzo-esque minutes or shots next season? How will LaVar handle it if his second son is coming off the bench for the Bruins?

Steve Alford doesn’t seem concerned about it, telling a reporter from the LA Times that LaVar was “never at practice, never called me” and was around the team “zero.”

“I think all parents probably should know that moving on to the collegiate level anyway,” Alford said. “It’s not high school, it’s not AAU. Your son’s on scholarship; your son’s at UCLA getting an incredible opportunity academically and athletically.

“Playing time, shots, that kind of stuff — we don’t entertain some of those phone calls anyway. I never had any issues at all with LaVar.”

It will be interesting to see if that continues next season.

The Bruins have a chance to be pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as last season, maybe not a Pac-12 title favorite or even the best team in LA — USC is loaded — but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them end up as a top four seed in the NCAA tournament with Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh returning and Jaylen Hands headlining the recruiting class.

Will LaVar be able to handle UCLA’s success if it comes at the expense of his son’s?

NCAA: Former USF assistant provided extra benefits, lied to NCAA investigators

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The NCAA has alleged that former South Florida assistant coach Oliver Antigua provided roughly $500 in impermissible benefits and initially lied to NCAA investigators about it, according to the Tampa Bay Times, who obtained the NCAA’s summary disposition report.

Oliver Antigua is the younger brother of Orlando Antigua, who was the head coach at USF until he was fired in January. Now an assistant on Brad Underwood’s staff at Oklahoma State, Orlando was not alleged to have committed an NCAA violation in the report.

Oliver is alleged to have provided the extra benefits to two student-athletes while they were being tutored by the sister-in-law of Gerald Gillion, a special assistant to Orlando who resigned last fall, four months after Oliver did. USF has already self-imposed a $5,000 and reduced their scholarships from 13 to 12, according to the report.

“The University of South Florida and the NCAA continue to work together to resolve the inquiry into violations of NCAA bylaws and university standards by a USF intercollegiate athletic program,” according to a statement released by the school. “USF anticipates having a final resolution with the NCAA sometime this fall. Until the process concludes and the matter is fully resolved, USF cannot provide further comment.”

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.