Harrison Twins

Under Armour isn’t the only factor in the Harrison Twins’ decision, but it’s a big one

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Likely the most closely followed recruitment of the 2013 class will come to an end Thursday, when Aaron and Andrew Harrison, “The Harrison Twins,” will reveal the school to which they will pledge their names.

It’s down to Kentucky and Maryland, one option the defending national champion and the undisputed recruiting heavyweight champion of the nation, John Calipari, against Maryland, coach Mark Turgeon, and one other big factor in this decision: Under Armour.

The Under Armour affiliation, shared by Maryland and the Harrison Twins’ AAU team, the Houston Defenders, has been the conversation piece du jour since news broke that a commitment would be coming Thursday.

But why? Are there really no other factors? Of course not.

Much of the conversation has omitted a few key points:

The twins, from Texas, have close ties to Turgeon, who previously coached at Texas A&M. The twins’ father, Aaron Sr., is from Baltimore and family members still live in the area.

Harrison Sr. is also close friends with Maryland assistant Bino Ranson, who has been integral in the twins’ recruitment. Shaquille Cleare, a 6-9, 285-pound freshman at Maryland, played alongside the twins with the Houston Defenders.

So why the focus on Under Armour? Without a doubt, it’s the appealing part of the conversation, it goes beyond the realm of “traditional” relationship-based recruiting and into something that, on the surface, feels like a different kind of recruiting.

But it’s nothing new. We seem to have just had this conversation in the spring, when Shabazz Muhammad committed to UCLA, a team that shares the adidas logo with Muhammad’s AAU team, Dream Vision.

The reason that this recruitment, in particular, should be so interesting is not because it could involve the politics of basketball shoe companies, but because of which shoe company it involves.

The basketball shoe market in the United States is nearly a Nike monopoly. According to Forbes, Nike owns 92% of the market share, followed by adidas with 5%, Reebok (owned by adidas) with 2%, and Fila, And1, and Under Armour sharing less than 1% combined.

The real point is that Under Armour’s focus on grassroots, evident in anything from their influence on the AAU scene to the tone and style of their recent marketing campaigns, takes a big step toward success if the Harrison Twins commit to Maryland on Thursday.

Here would be a company, headed by Kevin Plank, that made a commitment to grassroots basketball and got its first big, consistent brand loyalty shift from the AAU scene to college.

Phil Knight took Nike and used local school Oregon as its flagship. Under Armour is now trying to do the same with Maryland.

As the numbers show, it has a long way to go to crack into Nike’s share of the shoe market, but a pledge from the Harrison Twins would be a big victory for Plank & Co. Thursday night.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.