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.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Louisville’s Mitchell declaring for draft, won’t hire an agent

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Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is the latest to decide to see what the NBA might offer.

“I have decided to test the waters and not hire an agent!” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “I am excited to work out this summer for teams and hopefully participate in the NBA combine! I want it to be clear I have not decided to leave Louisville!”

Mitchell, who is expected to be joined by dozens of players, is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow him to work out for teams and attend the NBA draft combine before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft and return to school.

Players have until May 24 to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore, shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.4 percent on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-3 guard is projected as a potential first-round pick, but should he return, the Cardinals would project as one of the top teams in the country with nearly the entire core returning from this year’s 25-9 squad.

Moe-mentum: Wagner stands tall for Sweet 16-bound Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Ask Moe Wagner who he looked up to when he was younger, and suddenly the Michigan big man’s fiery demeanor makes a little more sense.

“Kevin Garnett was always my biggest idol, even though our play isn’t really similar. Just the way he brings intensity and energy to his team,” Wagner said. “That always was something that really impressed me.”

Now Wagner is providing his own emotional leadership to a Michigan team that has become one of college basketball’s most remarkable stories this March.

The Wolverines have won six in a row since they were involved in a plane accident on the eve of their Big Ten Tournament opener.

After winning that conference tourney, they opened the NCAAs with victories against Oklahoma State and Louisville – with Wagner scoring 26 points in the win over Louisville that sent Michigan to the Sweet 16.

The 19-year-old Wagner is in his second season with the Wolverines. He showed some promise in 2015-16, but averaged only 8.6 minutes a game as a freshman. He’s been a starter the whole way this season, teaming up with D.J. Wilson to give Michigan some unexpected production in the frontcourt.

The Wolverines entered the season with high hopes thanks to the presence of seniors Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.

The 6-foot-11 Wagner has made them even tougher to defend. The sophomore from Berlin is averaging 12.2 points a game, and unlike Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan – two of Michigan’s top big men of the recent past – Wagner is a threat from beyond the arc. He’s made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2016-17, putting even more pressure on opposing teams.

An expressive player on the court, Wagner admits he’s still learning how to keep his emotions under control.

Coach John Beilein says Wagner can be hard on himself, but he has an upbeat attitude the Wolverines can appreciate.

“I don’t want to rob him of his energy and his passion,” Beilein said. “If you heard him in timeouts – I mean, he is really into it. And it’s encouraging things he’s saying.”

The key for Wagner is to stay on the court. He’s been whistled for 100 fouls this season – no other Michigan player has more than 80 – and he picked up two in the first 3:11 when the Wolverines faced Oklahoma State in their NCAA Tournament opener Friday. Wagner played only 14 minutes in that frenetic game, which Michigan won 92-91 .

Against Louisville in the round of 32 , Wagner went 11 of 14 from the field and kept his poise after being called for his second foul late in the first half.

“He’s always just been an excited guy – play hard and play with a lot of passion,” Walton said. “I don’t think anything has changed. I think he’s just channeling it a little better.”

The seventh-seeded Wolverines face third-seeded Oregon on Thursday night in a regional semifinal. Michigan has won seven in a row, a streak that began with the team’s last game of the regular season.

What happened next is well documented. The day before its opening game in the conference tournament, Michigan’s plane slid off the runway .

There were no serious injuries, and the Wolverines arrived in time to play. Then they won four games in four days to take the title.

Now, Michigan is two victories away from an improbable Final Four appearance. If the Wolverines actually make it that far, Wagner will be a big reason why – and he’ll probably be as excited as anyone.

“One of my youth coaches actually used to say that I was somebody who, like, sees the basketball court as a stage and really enjoys it,” Wagner said. “Last year, I started to understand what that actually means, and kind of embraced that this year. That’s just me. I really love it. I really enjoy it.”

 

California’s Ivan Rabb declares for the NBA Draft

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Ivan Rabb announced on Wednesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft and foregoing his final two seasons with California.

“I want to thank everybody for their support,” Rabb said in a statement. “Since the day I committed to Cal, the love from Bay Area fans was overwhelming. I could genuinely tell that people really appreciated seeing me come to Cal and succeed and do well. Haas Pavilion will always hold a special place in my heart, and I won’t forget how incredible it felt to be “Oakland’s Own” as I ran onto the court in front of my friends, family and team.”

As a sophomore, Rabb averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 boards. He’s projected as a mid-to-late first round pick in the draft a year after making the decision to return to school as a projected lottery pick last season.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum declares for the NBA Draft

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Duke’s Jayson Tatum will declare for the NBA Draft and hire an agent, the program announced on Wednesday.

Tatum is a projected top five pick in the NBA Draft. He averaged 16.8 points playing the role of small-ball four for the Blue Devils this season after missing the first month of the season with a foot injury.

“I have absolutely loved coaching Jayson Tatum,” Coach K said in a statement. “His skill set and work ethic will make him a star in the NBA. Whichever team selects him will be getting a humble, thoughtful and talented young man whom we are proud to call a member of the Duke basketball brotherhood.”

Tatum was the most talented player on the Blue Devils this season, but it was an up and down year for Duke as a whole. They were predicted by just about everyone to win the national title back in the preseason, but they eventually bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the second round.