Oregon State v Arizona - Semifinals

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.

Cody Riley cuts list to five schools

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Cody Riley has cut his list to five schools, according to Scout.com.

A four-star four man, Riley is now considering just UConn, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC.

Ranked the No. 29 player in the Class of 2017 by Rivals, Riley is an undersized-but-powerful forward. His bread and butter is on the block, where his strength and low center of gravity make him a nightmare to deal with, but he’s also skilled enough to do damage as a face-up four.

Riley is from California and will be playing his senior season alongside Marvin Bagley III, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2018, at Sierra Canyon.

Auburn continues to stockpile talent, adds top 50 prospect in 2017

Bruce Pearl
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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Auburn’s hire of Bruce Pearl was almost universally lauded as the first step towards the return of relevance for the Tiger basketball program.

And while the results have yet to shine through on the floor, Pearl is unequivocally stockpiling the kind of talent that will allow him to push for trips to the NCAA tournament and maybe one day contend for a league crown with Kentucky.

The latest step came on Sunday, when Pearl landed a commitment from Chuma Okeke, a top 50 wing prospect out of Georgia.

“He is a versatile wing who can handle and score,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “Coming off of a big July, Okeke could move up the national rankings and Auburn pounced on him right away.”

Okeke joins big man Austin Wiley, a top ten player in the class, and Davion Mitchell, who is likely one of the five best point guards in the country, in what is currently the nation’s best recruiting class in 2017. That’s before you consider that Pearl already has Mustapha Heron, a top 25 prospect, joining the mix this season.

“This group has the makings of a monster recruiting class for Auburn,” Phillips said.

Okeke picked the Tigers over Florida State, Georgia and a number of other programs across the southeast.

VIDEO: Watch Virginia freshman Jay Huff dunk from the free throw line

Tony Bennett
AP Photo/Nell Redmond
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Jay Huff is a member of Tony Bennett’s best recruiting class to date, a 6-foot-11 top 50 recruit from North Carolina.

He also happens to be pretty athletic.

Don’t believe me?

Check out this video that McDonald’s All-American Kyle Guy tweeted out on Sunday night:

Yup, that’s Huff taking off from the foul line to dunk.

Not bad, young fella.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)