With the Olympics right around the corner, we got to thinking about what a college Dream Team would look like. So, through a thorough and strenuous email conversation that took way too long to complete, Raphielle Johnson and myself put together a 12 man roster that we believe would be the best that college hoops can produce. Agreements? Disagreements? Why are we morons? We love the feedback.
Point Guard: Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Going with the best defensive point guard as the starter, given the fact that this group has enough offensive ability to flourish with Craft running the show. He’s a pest defensively, which can prove to be problematic for many teams. Craft averaged 4.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game for Ohio State last season, and while he may not be a great perimeter shooter the rising junior did shoot 50% from the field overall. – RJ
Shooting Guard: Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Canaan gets the start at off-guard thanks to his ability to shoot the basketball. The 6-foot-0 combo-guard averaged 19.2 points during an all-american campaign as a junior, knocking down 45.6% of his threes — while taking 6.5 per game — despite being the focal point of every defensive game plan the Racers faced. His size is a bit of a concern defensively, but it is nullified a bit by the number of quality defenders in the starting lineup. – RD
Small Forward: Mike Moser, UNLV: Moser gets the start thanks to his versatility. A 6-foot-9 forward, Moser can rebound the ball, he can make plays defensively and he can help keep the floor spread with his ability to shoot. It also helps that he will be able to play multiple positions, giving more versatility to the lineup. – RD
Power Forward: Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller is the best low-post scorer in the country. It’s that simple. He also runs the floor extremely well for a player his size. Zeller’s presence will be the most effective when he slides over to the center spot and a guy like Doug McDermott is at the four. Imagine a lineup of Craft, Canaan, Moser and McDermott playing around Zeller. Who do you help off of? Do you allow Zeller to go one-on-one on the block? That’s scary. – RD
Center: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Noel may not have played a collegiate game yet but it’s impossible to deny his talent. Noel’s a mobile shot-blocker who should be fine defensively when involved in pick and roll situations, which has become more commonplace in the international game in recent years. Offensively he’s not at the stage where you make him the focal point of the offense, but Noel is plenty talented enough to cause some issues. And with the likes of Canaan and Moser, not being a dominant offensive big man isn’t a problem. – RJ
CJ McCollum, Lehigh: McCollum provides depth at both guard positions, given his ability to operate either with or without the ball in his hands. His ability to apply pressure to defenses off the dribble (McCollum ranked 9th nationally in free throw attempts) will definitely help off the bench, and he’s a very good rebounder for his position as well. – RJ
Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott has a skill set that should fit well with the international game. Versatility tends to serve teams well on the international level, and when you can use a player of McDermott’s caliber in a variety of roles (it can be argued that he should be starting) that’s a positive. – RJ
Solomon Hill, Arizona: Hill may be underrated nationally due to the Wildcats’ inconsistent 2011-12 campaign, but his versatility makes the rising senior a good fit for the international game. Hill averaged 12.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season, shooting 50% from the field and nearly 39% from three. – RJ
Tony Mitchell, North Texas: We went with Mitchell over Mason Plumlee as a last minute decision for three reasons: 1) his ability to step out and hit a three; 2) he’s a better shot blocker; and 3) he’s not a Plumlee. – RD
Patric Young, Florida: Young is a freak athlete, the kind of guy that will be always be the best leaper and strongest player on the floor during an international tournament. Combine that with the effort he gives on a possession-by-possession basis, and his inclusion was a no-brainer. – RD
Allen Crabbe, Cal: Crabbe made the roster because we were looking for someone with size and the ability to shoot that can play the two. One thing that became painfully obvious is that there are not a lot of big guards in college hoops this season.
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA: Muhammad may not have played a college basketball game yet, but he’s simply too talented to leave off of this team. His ability to slash and attack the rim will be valuable on a roster that has a number of jump-shooters. A back court pairing of Muhammad and McCollum will be fun to watch. – RD
Coach: Rick Pitino, Louisville: I just think that this roster looks like a Rick Pitino roster. A lot of shooters. A lot of small guards. A lot of athletes and shot blockers up front. I can see this team giving people fits with a 2-2-1 full court press. – RD
Final Cuts: Trey Burke, Michigan; Adonis Thomas, Memphis; Mason Plumlee, Duke; Jamal Franklin, SDSU; DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State; James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina; Wayne Blackshear, Louisville.
CBT Podcast: Listen as we put together the NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
We figured that it wasn’t enough just to simply list out who was on our All-America teams and who was our National Player of the Year, not when the decision is so wide open. Not when there are so many worthwhile candidates.
PRESEASON NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grayson Allen, Duke
Picking the Preseason National Player of the Year this season was not an easy thing to do. This year’s freshman class will rival the Class of 2013 — Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, etc. — in terms of overall talent, and there are a number of newcomers entering into a situation in which they should be able to shine. Hell, there are two potential No. 1 picks and a third projected lottery pick on Duke’s roster this season, and none of them are named Grayson Allen.
But the reason we picked all for this award is actually pretty simple: He’s the best player on the best team in the country. Don’t believe me? Think about this: As a sophomore, his first season playing consistent minutes at the collegiate level, Allen averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while posting a 61.6 true shooting percentage. That hasn’t been done by a high major basketball player since 1993, which is as far back as the CBB Reference database has statistics. As far as I know, it’s never happened before by a player at the high major level. For comparison’s sake, when Damian Lillard was a senior at Weber State, he was one of the three other players to post those stats.
And Allen did it while playing in a conference that sent six teams to the Sweet 16 and two to the Final Four last season.
Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz was one of just two other guys that we truly considered for Preseason Player of the Year. He’s the current favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and, given Washington’s uptempo style of play, he has a chance to post massive numbers. The biggest question mark here is whether or not the Huskies are going to be good enough to dance; to win the award on a team that’s not a national title contender is hard to do. It’s only happened three times in the last two decades, and all three of those winners — Doug McDermott, Jimmer Fredette and Kevin Durant — averaged more than 26 points. McDermott and Fredette were on teams that earned No. 3 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart was the third player to get serious consideration for National Player of the Year. He’s the guy that is most likely to have a Buddy Hield-esque, breakout senior season. As a junior with the Wildcats, Hart averaged a team-high 15.5 points and 6.8 boards, playing an integral role in Villanova’s small-ball attack. His ability to attack the glass and playing bigger than his 6-foot-5 frame will be even more important for Jay Wright’s club this season as they deal with a lack of size on the interior, but the key for Hart’s long-term future will be his three-point shooting. He made 35.7 percent of his threes last season and 46.4 percent the season before, but that was on relatively limited attempts and his flat shot and awkward release makes it tough to project him as a floor-spacer at the next level. Did he put in the work this offseason to make a jump the way Hield did last season?
Josh Jackson, Kansas: Jackson was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2016 by a number of outlets, and there are still people that believe he’ll eventually be the best NBA player out of this group. A freak athlete like Andrew Wiggins, Jackson is a bit more polished and a whole lot tougher than Wiggins was a freshman. It’s not crazy to think that he can match Wiggins’ output (17.7 points, 5.9 boards, nation’s top perimeter defender), and considering Kansas is a preseason top five team, that puts him firmly in the All-America discussion. But here’s what will limit him: If Carlton Bragg makes the improvement many expect him to, Jackson’s offense may be cut into, and considering there are a pair of alpha-dogs that will be the guys called on to make big shots in key moments, it’s hard to see him having any “Wooden Moments”.
Ivan Rabb, California: We went with Rabb as the nation’s best big man this season. Like Fultz, Rabb could end up playing on a team that doesn’t reach the NCAA tournament. That’s concerning, but there’s a real chance that Rabb could end up averaging 18 points and 10 boards this season. Last season as a freshman, he averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 boards playing as a tertiary option on the offensive end. He would have been a lottery pick had he opted to declare for June’s NBA Draft.
SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA
Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris is in an interesting situation this season. For the past three years, he’s defined himself as the model of point guard efficiency, a facilitator who makes big shots when he has to but who excelled as running a team and creating for the guys around him. This year? That talent around him is depleted, meaning Morris will be asked to become more of a volume scorer. We expect him to embrace that role and excel in it.
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: Smith tore his ACL last August, forcing him to miss his senior season of high school. But the injury meant that he was able to graduate high school early, enroll in college in January and spend the majority of his rehab time doing so with the Wolfpack trainers. The result? He’s returned from the injury as good as new, which is important considering the fact that so much of what makes Smith dangerous is his explosiveness. A potential top five pick, Smith is talented enough that he could take a perennially under-achieving team to the NCAA tournament.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: You may not recognize this name. A former top 30 recruit, Williams-Goss transferred out of Washington after an all-Pac 12 season as a sophomore. He sat out last year as a transfer and will step in to the starting point guard role this season. Gonzaga lost Kyle Wiltjer and Domas Sabonis, but with the talent they have returning — and becoming eligible this season — the Zags have the look of a top ten team, and we expect Williams-Goss to be their engine.
Austin Nichols, Virginia: Nichols is going to be the star for this year’s Virginia team, which is once again a contender for the ACC title. As a sophomore at Memphis, the former McDonald’s All-American averaged 13.4 points, 6.7 boards and 3.4 blocks. He spent last season redshirting at Virginia and learning the system, which he is a perfect fit for. He’s a better big man that Anthony Gill, and Anthony Gill was one of the most underrated players in the country last season.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant is another guy that had a chance to be a first round pick last season but opted to return to school. He had a promising first year in Bloomington, but it came with typical freshman mistakes: He was lost early in the year, especially on the defensive end. But Bryant has the tools, he plays extremely hard and he’s young for his grade; he was born five months after Josh Jackson.
THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA
Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Health is the big question with Brooks, and the reason that he’s a third-teamer instead of being in contention for the first team. Brooks has a foot injury, one that Oregon has already said could keep him out at the start of the season. If healthy, he’s a junior that averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 boards and 3.1 assists last season for a preseason top five team.
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Blossomgame had a chance to leave college and head to the NBA Draft this spring, but he opted to return to school for his senior season. Blossomgame is certainly talented enough to be on this list — he averaged 18.7 points last season — but without the hype of a guy like Smith or Fultz, will he be able to get the Tigers to be a good enough team that people will play attention to him?
Jayson Tatum, Duke: The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country, and trying to predict where production is going to come from in that offense is tough. Tatum is one of the best pure scorers in college basketball this season, but there’s a real possibility he could end up being the third or fourth leading scorer on this team. The good news? Jabari Parker and Brandon Ingram thrived in the role he’ll play. The bad news? Harry Giles III may be the best player on Duke come March.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso: Peters is the best player at the mid-major level in the country, a kid that graduated from school in three years and had the chance to leave for literally any other program in the country. He didn’t. He opted to stay at Valpo, where he’ll be the centerpiece of new head coach Matt Lottich’s offense. It’s not crazy to think he could average 23 points.
Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Who is going to be Kentucky’s leading scorer this season? It’s tough to figure out, right? Our money is on Adebayo, their 6-foot-10 center. He’s a freak athletically with more of a face-up game than he gets credit for. Given the lack of perimeter shooting for the Wildcats this season, Adebayo will be asked to carry much of the load.
We named Duke’s Grayson Allen the Preseason Player of the Year. Allen spoke exclusively to NBCSports.com about how things have changed for him in the last 18 months, going to unlikely hero to Duke star to a despised figure in college basketball.
The worst part wasn’t that he had gone from being celebrated as the surprising hero of a team that had won a national title to the Most Hated Man In College Sports.
The worst part wasn’t that he followed a path, carved by Christian Laettner and taken by J.J. Redick before him, that he never wanted to be on. It wasn’t that he couldn’t go anywhere online or watch any sports on TV without seeing, reading or hearing someone ridiculing him, or that he had heard the four most soul-crushing words any child can hear their parents say: “We’re disappointed in you.”
The worst part?
For Grayson Allen, in the midst of a year where he was playing the best basketball he had ever played and dealing with more public and personal turmoil than he had ever before dealt with, the worst part was that he knew that he had done this to himself.
It only took two weeks for Grayson Allen to fulfill the legacy he never wanted.
It started on a Big Monday, the day after Peyton Manning had won his second Super Bowl, when the Blue Devils hosted a top ten Louisville team that was just three days removed from announcing that they would be self-imposing a postseason ban due to a burgeoning escort scandal. All eyes were now on basketball, and all college basketball fans were tuned into to this game.
And Allen, who was well on his way to a second-team NBCSports.com All-American season, delivered with a moment that immediately went viral. After getting knocked to the floor on a drive to the rim early in the second half, Allen tripped Louisville’s Ray Spalding to stop a breakaway, a move that looked intentional but was awkward enough to earn Allen the benefit of the doubt.
That benefit went away two weeks later when, in the waning seconds of a 15-point win over Florida State, Allen extended his left foot backwards, sending Xavier Rathan-Mayes sprawling to the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor. This time, there was no denying it.
It was blatant.
It was intentional.
And it set off a firestorm.
The video was posted on every website. His picture was broadcast on every sports network. ‘Should Grayson Allen be suspended?’ and ‘Is Grayson Allen a dirty player?’ was a topic discussed by every personality paid to have an opinion.
Imagine if your worst moment was broadcast live to millions of people, if the dumbest thing you ever did — the event that plays over and over in your head as insomnia takes hold — was replayed over and over on Sportscenter. Imagine if those same videos, accompanied by a story written by someone you’ve never heard of that details how annoying you are or how punchable your face is, can forever be found by simply typing your name into Google.
That’s where Allen was when the calendar turned from February to March.
“I knew that I made mistakes,” Allen said. “I messed up. I always had to be reminded of that and see that on TV. It was tough. It’s embarrassing to see my mistakes, stuff I regret a lot, being replayed for everyone to see.”
Four months earlier, Allen was the player everyone had pegged as the nation’s breakout star. He wasn’t even a year removed from igniting Duke’s 2015 National Championship run, going from being a seldom-used, confidence-sapped freshman to the spark in a come-from-behind win over Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament title game. He had all the makings of being the Next Great Duke Villain — he’s white, he’s handsome, he plays with an edge and he’s damned good, good enough to be named the 2016-17 NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year — but simply being the footnote to the story of Coach K finally embracing, and succeeding, with the one-and-done model was not enough to make him memorable.
Not in the same way that Laettner and Redick are memorable.
It works like this: there is no middle ground with Duke. They’re like the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys in that fans either love them or actively root for them to lose, regardless of opponent. Playing at Duke comes with the caveat that you will be disliked because of the jersey you wear for you entire college career. It works that way for everyone, whether they’re white or black, good or bad, tall or short, whatever.
But when you reach the level of a Laettner and a Redick, it changes the equation. That’s when the target gets put on your back, and Allen got there last season. He averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 boards — which, when combined with his 61.6 true shooting percentage, gave him a stat-line that had never been accomplished at the high-major level before.
Throw in a pair of tripping incidents in the span of two weeks, and Allen didn’t stand a chance. The hate he had to deal with last season was arguably more intense than anything any previous Duke player has dealt with. All Laettner had to do was to shut off the TV. Twitter didn’t exist and FaceBook didn’t allow anyone that wasn’t a college student until after Redick graduated. Allen can’t post on Instagram or Twitter without getting a barrage of responses telling him just how terrible of a person he is.
“There’s nothing you can do to fully get away from it,” he said.
Allen spoke with both Laettner and Redick about how to deal with the backlash, and their message was simple: Tune it out.
“Listen to the voice of our team and our coaches and not worry about stuff from the outside that’s being said,” Allen said. “[Coach K] has been through so many seasons and had so many players come through. He knows how to deal with it.”
But they also told him that there is no blueprint for this, that different people have to find different ways to cope. He’s not Laettner and he’s not Redick. Laettner loved playing the role of the heel. Redick learned to embrace it, to use the vile things spewed from student sections as motivation, but it was also a defense mechanism.
“Instead of getting hurt by it, if this is who they want me to be, then I’m going to have fun being that villain,” former Duke assistant Chris Collins explained. At the time, Collins and Redick were, and still remain, incredibly close. “I think it helped him deal with all the things that were coming his way.”
That’s not Grayson.
He doesn’t like the attention. He doesn’t want the spotlight. “He never has,” his mom, Sherry, said, which is what made his decision this spring so interesting.
Allen had a chance to declare for the NBA Draft. He likely would have been a first round pick — potentially top 20 — and, in a worst-case scenario, he would have been taken early in the second round and landed a guaranteed contract. Living out a life-long dream while cashing NBA paychecks or going to class five times a week while spending another full season getting abused every time he leaves Duke’s Durham campus? Play a role on an NBA team or see a new crop of freshmen come in and cut into your shots and minutes?
It seems like an obvious decision, and for Grayson, it was.
Just not the way many expected.
“Getting that Duke degree, having the opportunity to play as a lead guard, having the opportunity to play with an extremely talented group,” Allen said, listing the reasons why staying in school was the easy choice. “Step outside my comfort zone more, talk more, be a leader more. I definitely think about winning another national championship.”
Sherry Allen is from the heart of SEC country. She understands how the life of a college athlete can be under a microscope, that a superstar for a powerhouse program living in the fishbowl of a college campus can have a mistake magnified out of proportion.
But she’s a football fan.
She didn’t realize that, in sending her son to Duke, she was potentially setting him up for this. It never crossed her mind, largely due to the fact that she never thought her son would put himself in this situation.
“The word ‘mad’? We weren’t ‘mad’ at Grayson, we were disappointed in Grayson,” Sherry said, realizing full-well that, for someone Grayson’s age, disappointing one’s parents is far worse than angering them. “We were disappointed because he wasn’t smart. And Grayson is smart. He let down for a brief moment, and he was not smart and he made a mistake. That was the disappointment for us.”
And that disappointment led to anguish as the newscycle spiraled.
“To tell you that I wasn’t hurt, I was,” she said. “I think the biggest hurt that I had personally was the name calling. To hear adults, who are parents and have children and are professionals, call names out to your child knowing that they are a parents their self, that was the biggest hurt to me.”
She tried not to let her son see it, because he was able to move on from this. He could put the trips and the hatred that it spawned behind him. He could block out the noise. He could focus on the message from within the team. She knew he could do all of that, and she was right. He played some of his best basketball down the stretch, leading Duke to the Sweet 16 despite playing without their starting power forward and with a six-man rotation.
But he wouldn’t have been able to do that if he knew that what he did had hurt the women he calls “such a big sweet-heart.”
“What Grayson would not be able to handle is if he knew that we were hurt, showing hurt and feeling hurt,” she said. “He would not have been able to move on from that.”
That’s what led to the phone calls.
As Grayson tells it, whenever his mom saw or heard or read something about him, she would call him to take her mind off of it. As Sherry tells it, she was simply calling to make sure that he was OK, that what she was seeing — whether it be a segment on First Take or a FaceBook post from a family friend — wasn’t bothering him. The truth doesn’t matter, because the end result of those conversations was that Sherry and her husband were able to get their message across to him: Move on. It happened, and unless you can go back and change the past, learn from it, grow from it, and let it go.
That’s the message that Allen was hearing from his coaches, too. It’s what he was hearing from his teammates. It’s what he’s spent the last eight months doing.
The question now is where he goes from here, because the tricky part is that playing with an edge is what makes Allen as good as he is. There’s a toughness to him, a competitiveness that cannot be taught. Ask anyone associated with the Duke program the last two years — players or coaches that were forced to scrimmage with the undermanned Blue Devils in practice last season — and they’ll all tell you playing against Grayson Allen is a miserable experience.
He’s never not going to play hard. He’s never not going to be super-competitive. He’s been that way since he first learned what sports were. But last year, he was competitive to a fault. Last year, he let the intensity of the moment get to him. He tripped Spalding after he didn’t get a call on a drive to the rim that left him on the deck. He tripped Rathan-Mayes after the Seminole point guard bumped him.
In those situations, he was the one that reacted.
But what happens if it’s not Allen’s fault?
The perfect encapsulation of just how bad it got for Allen last season came at the very end of their season. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks had just buried a long three to beat the shot clock with a few seconds left and the game no longer in doubt. After Allen dribbled out the clock, Brooks bumped into him and the announcer said that Allen “shoved” Brooks away.
That’s not the case. It was relatively harmless — as Allen tells it, Brooks apologized for running into him, complimented him for being a good player, Allen responded with a “you too, good luck”, and that was that — but since it was Duke and Grayson Allen, and since Coach K was caught on camera lecturing Brooks about the shot in the handshake line, it turned into a massive story.
The point isn’t to argue the merits of Coach K deriding opposing players. The point is that any little flashpoint involving Allen is going to become ‘a thing’ very quickly, and it’s fair to wonder if a fear of another incident — either consciously or subconsciously — will affect the way he plays this season.
There’s nothing he can say that will change this, either. This isn’t something that he’ll be able to fix during what is, in all likelihood, his final year on campus. He can’t un-light that fuse. That’s what happens when you’re caught on camera taking a pair of cheap-shots. Ask Draymond Green how the court of public opinion reacts.
But regardless of your opinion on Allen, it is important to remember here that he returned to school despite the fact that he’ll have to face the music every night. He returned to school because he wants to get his Duke degree, which he’s hoping to finish in three years. He passed up on guaranteed NBA money to chase a second NCAA title.
Education matters to him.
Winning matters to him.
The program he plays for matters to him.
He is everything we want our college stars to be.
And he knows that two moments of weakness ensured that he’ll never be remembered that way.
Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith
Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.
The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.
A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.
Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.
The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.
“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”
Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.