Arizona’s young big men benefitting from extra skill work

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With one of the nation’s best recruiting classes arriving on campus, the Arizona Wildcats have been one of the teams pegged to contend for the Pac-12 title this season.

Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski add some much-needed depth inside, something that was missing from last year’s team that fell to Bucknell in the first round of the Postseason NIT.

And once practice officially begins next month, those youngsters likely won’t have as difficult a time adjusting to the college game thanks to the amount of on-court work the Wildcats have been able to do.

It all began in June for Arizona, with individual and small group workouts for the players enrolled in the first session of summer classes.

Then came the ten NCAA-mandated practices ahead of their trip to the Bahamas, where Arizona rolled up four victories in convincing fashion.

Now Sean Miller’s players are working in small groups again, something that he’s taken multiple approaches to in regards to setting the sessions up.

“We try to do it two ways,” he said. “Sometimes they’re with each other in a position group where the focus is on their set of skills, but sometimes you can mix them up, have two smaller guards and two bigger guys, and you can work on different dynamics.

“We try to hit on all parts. Some defense and skill development, some team things. We try to make it almost like a mini-practice and most importantly try to simulate a fast pace.”

Members of the media were able to watch the three freshmen big men and sophomore Angelo Chol work out on Wednesday, and Miller sounded pleased with their progress when interviewed afterward.

There’s no glossing over the importance of Xavier transfer Mark Lyons this year, but the progression of the front court will determine just how far Arizona can go.

Both Chol and Tarczewski have added weight while Ashley is considered to be the most versatile front court player of the group.

“He can guard perimeter players, which I think will happen as his career unfolds, and we’re also counting on him to be able to guard the low post so we’re hitting him with a lot. He’s been here since June, and more than anyone in the program he’s been consistent with his work ethic, which is a heck of a compliment to give him as a freshman.

“The game comes easy to him. There’s times where during his career I’m sure he’ll be able to play with two front court players, there’s times where he can be one of the two front court players in the game. But it’s his versatility that’s his greatest gift.”

Their growth means that senior Solomon Hill, who has to be considered one of the early favorites for Pac-12 Player of the Year, won’t have to play the four as he did on many occasions last season.

Arizona was largely ineffective inside in 2011-12, and that ultimately led to them ending up in the NIT. Based on early returns, that shouldn’t be an issue in 2012-13.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Kansas lands second commitment in the Class of 2018

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Kansas landed their second big man in the Class of 2018 on Sunday, as David McCormack, a top 50 prospect, announced that he will be a Jayhawk when he plays his college ball.

The 6-foot-10 center picked Kansas over Xavier, NC State, Oklahoma State and Duke.

A product of the famed Oak Hill Academy, McCormack averaged 15 points and 10 boards on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit this spring. He joins fellow four-star big man Silvio de Sousa in the 2018 class for Bill Self, although the Jayhawks will get three players eligible after they sit out the 2017-18 season as transfers: Dedric and K.J. Lawson, who transferred in from Memphis, as well as Charlie Moore, a point guard from California.

Report: North Carolina won’t attend White House

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After capturing a national championship earlier this year, the North Carolina men’s basketball team will not be visiting the White House, a North Carolina spokesman said to Andrew Carter of the The Charlotte Observer.

Although the Tar Heels were invited to go to the White House from the staff of President Donald Trump, the team couldn’t figure out a date that worked.

“We couldn’t find a date that worked for both parties,” North Carolina team spokesman Steve Kirschner said to Carter. “We tried about eight or nine dates and between they couldn’t work out that date, we couldn’t work out that date, so – we would have liked to have gone, but not going.”

According to Carter’s report, Kirschner also said that North Carolina players, “were fine with going.”

With Trump’s recent comments towards NFL players and the national anthem and his Saturday morning tweet at Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the President with regards to athletes over the past 24 hours.

Although the timing of this may seem like North Carolina is making some sort of political statement, the school is downplaying any sort of politics by focusing on the bad timing.

Xavier freshman forward Jared Ridder will transfer

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Xavier freshman forward Jared Ridder will transfer from the program to move closer to home, according to a release from the school.

The 6-foot-7 Ridder hails from Springfield, Missouri as he was regarded as a top-150 prospect by Rivals in the Class of 2017.

“After much consideration and talking with my family, I have decided that it is in my best interest to move home,” Ridder said in the release.

“Jared has indicated to the coaching staff that he has a desire to be closer to home,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “While we are disappointed, we all want Jared to be happy moving forward. We wish him nothing but the best.”

A potent scorer and noted perimeter shooter at the high school level, Ridder helped MoKan win the Nike Peach Jam during the summer of 2016 playing alongside talented players like Missouri’s Michael and Jontay Porter and Oklahoma’s Trae Young. With a desire to move closer to home, could Ridder potentially land at a spot where one of his talented former teammates is playing?

Ridder averaged 24.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists during his senior season of high school ball at Kickapoo as he was a first-team, All-State selection in Missouri.

Four-star 2018 forward Ian Steere decommits from Creighton

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Creighton took a big hit to its recruiting efforts late this week as Class of 2018 forward Ian Steere is decommitting from the Bluejays, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Steere’s decommitment was first reported by Julius Kim of Elevate Hoops.

The 6-foot-8 Steere is considered a four-star prospect by Rivals as he is coming off of a very solid spring and summer playing with Team Charlotte in the Under Armour Association. A plus athlete who isn’t afraid to bang on the interior, Steere showing an improving skill level throughout the spring and summer as he could see his recruiting soar after opening things up.

According to a report from Jon Nyatawa of the World-Herald, one of the reasons that Steere is opening up his recruitment is his desire to be closer to his native North Carolina. With so many top programs looking for quality help on the interior, it’ll be interesting to see which programs jump in and try to recruit Steere the second time around.

John Wall emotional in Kentucky Hall of Fame induction speech

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John Wall was inducted into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday night as he delivered an emotional speech while talking to his mother.

The first inductee into the Hall of Fame to play for current Wildcat head coach John Calipari, Wall only spent the 2009-10 season in Lexington but he became the first national player of the year to play at Kentucky before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Thanking his mother, Calipari, his family, friends and Big Blue Nation, the Washington Wizards guard gave a very moving speech, including an emotional part directed to his mother at around 4:35.