SEC preview: Embrace the change

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

So much change in the SEC this season. And it’s not all in Lexington.

That change, for the most part, stays the same. Coach John Calipari brings in another top-flight recruiting class for a run at a second-straight national championship.

To continue the trend of change league-wide, the conference welcomes two new members in Missouri and Texas A&M and three new coaches. Add in that eight teams have recruiting classes of six players or more and there’s going to be a lot of new faces and places for fans and programs alike to take notice of during the 2012-13 season.

Change is a constant. It’s how the teams adjust to it that will determine how the SEC shakes out.

Five Things To Know

1.) Missouri and Texas A&M enter their first seasons in the SEC. In the media poll, the Tigers were picked to finish second behind Kentucky in the league. The Aggies were tabbed 9th.

2.) Kentucky, the defending national champions, just keeps hitting the conference with quality newcomers. A four-man freshman class paired with transfers Ryan Harrow (N.C. State) and Julius Mays (Wright State) will give the Wildcats a solid shot at a repeat.

3.) Mississippi State lost five important players to graduation, going pro or transferring. In total, the Bulldogs will have to make up for 59.6 points and 28.3 rebounds lost, and you can also factor in the 10.3 assists per game lost between Rodney Hood, who transferred to Duke, and Dee Bost, who exhausted his eligibility.

4.) Along with joining a new conference, Missouri brings in almost an entirely new roster. The Tigers offseason haul included 11 newcomers, with five transfers from four-year schools. Only three players return off last season’s roster, including forward Laurence Bowers, who missed all of the 2011-12 season with a torn ACL.

5.) SEC coaching experience is at a minimum this season. Three programs will have new coaches: LSU (Johnny Jones), South Carolina (Frank Martin) and Mississippi State (Rick Ray). Four other programs, Missouri (Frank Haith), Texas A&M (Billy Kennedy), Tennessee (Cuonzo Martin) and Arkansas (Mike Anderson) have coaches that are in their second seasons in the conference.

Impact Newcomers

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky – The general consensus on Noel, a 6-10, 205-pound Top-5 player in the Class of 2012, is that he’s a more raw Anthony Davis, which is funny considering Davis was a freshman just a year ago. But Calipari has developed a reputation for developing big men, and Noel should be no exception.

Ryan Harrow, Kentucky – Calipari’s attack is predicated on an aggressive point guard. Harrow, a 6-2, 175-pound transfer from North Carolina State, will have to be it. He’s apparently shown flashes in practice, and being a third-year guy in the college game — with a redshirt year, obviously — he can command some respect from the youth on the team. He averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists for the Wolfpack two seasons ago.

Devonte Pollard, Alabama – The Crimson Tide’s lone incoming recruit this season is a good one. A 6-8, 200-pound wing who can slash and shoot. There’s a decent base coming back for coach Anthony Grant, and it will all be built around Pollard.

Alex Oriakhi, Missouri – The Tigers needed a center, badly. The former UConn forward was arguably at his best during the Huskies’ 2010-11 national title run as a sophomore, but a lack of playing time last season — he averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game — and general discontent left the 6-8, 255-pound banger looking for a change. He’ll use the graduate transfer rule to be eligible immediately.

Charles Carmouche, LSU – The 6-3, 183-pound guard’s story is a weird one. He played his first two seasons at New Orleans before they dropped to Division III, spent the past two seasons at Memphis, graduated, and now will finish at LSU. The New Orleans native averaged 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 2010-11, but sat out most of last season due to suspension and injury and the NCAA granted him a fifth-year as a result.

Breakout Players

Phil Pressey, Jr., Missouri – A lot of pundits are picking the 5-11, 175-pound Pressey to have a monster season for the Tigers. He’s the most complete player in the SEC, averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists last season. With Marcus Denmon gone, the control is all his and he’s going to do a lot with it.

Anthony Hickey, Soph., LSU – It’s too bad LSU wasn’t very good last season, or Hickey might’ve gotten more pub. The 5-11, 182-pound guard stuffed the stat sheet with per-game averages of 8.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists while starting 31 of 33 games.

Archie Goodwin, Fr., Kentucky – Noel is getting a ton of the copy. But it’s Goodwin who could thrive as a result. He was one of the best prep players in the nation at getting to the hoop and word is he’s retooled his jumper. Goodwin’s size at 6-4, 180 pounds, paired with his skill, puts him between a shooting guard and a smaller wing, positionally. But he’s the type of player that develops best in Calipari’s system.

Erik Murphy, Sr. Florida – He’s a big man who can shoot the three with consistency. The 6-10, 238-pound forward shot 42.1-percent from deep last season, averaging 10.5 points per game. He’ll get more shots with Erving Walker gone, but the main reason for the breakout will be his inside game. He led the team with 37 blocks last season and pulled in 4.5 boards per game.

Rickey Scott, Jr., Arkansas – Scott may benefit the most from Anderson’s system. The 6-3, 205-pound Irving, Texas native averaged 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and a team-leading 2.5 assists last season and could up that this season.

Player of the Year

Kenny Boynton, Sr. Florida – Boynton can score (a team-leading 15.4 points per game last season), rebound well for a guard (2.6 rebounds) and distribute (leading returner at 2.7 assists per game). Losing Walker means more shots for Boynton. What can he do with those shots? If he can stay steady or improve on his 44-percent field goal percentage and his 40.7-percent clip from three-point range, Boynton gets the nod at the end of the season. Though there’s about 8-10 players that could win it.

All-Conference Team

G: Phil Pressey, Missouri
G: Kenny Boynton, Florida
F: Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss
F: Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
C: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

Coach Under Pressure

Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss – It’s time for Kennedy to do something other than trudge into the NIT. He’s got his best team in his seven seasons at the helm, including Murphy Holloway as the rock. Four starters return and the Rebels bring in a six-man recruiting class, anchored by junior college transfer Marshall Henderson, and he returns four starters. Kennedy has pumped out 20-win seasons, but how long until just 20-win seasons aren’t enough?

Predicted Finish

1.) Kentucky – John Calipari just reloads with another crazy-talented recruiting class. Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein anchor the post. Alex Poythress on the wing and Goodwin and Harrow at the guard spots. Can Mays and Kyle Wiltjer anchor a seven-man rotation?

2.) Tennessee – There’s a lot of love for Jarnell Stokes. Rightfully so. If Trae Golden and and Jeronne Maymon are as consistent as they were last season, this squad has a proven shot at catching and beating Kentucky.

3.) Missouri – The guys coming back are as solid as anyone in the nation. Pressey, Laurence Bowers and Michael Dixon, Jr. Problem is, they’re it. The 11 newcomers will have to gel quick for this team to keep pace.

4.) Florida – A solid corps of veterans return in Boynton, Eric Murphy and Patric Young. The play of fifth-year senior Mike Rosario and how he improves on that 33.7 three-point percentage might be a key.

5.) Arkansas – B.J. Young surprised some folks last season in having the best season of any freshman outside of Kentucky in the SEC. As long as Marshawn Powell returns healthy and the nine-man recruiting class hits the ground running, Mike Anderson will have a good squad.

6.) Ole Miss – This is Andy Kennedy’s major proving year. He’s got one of the most underrated players in the SEC in Murphy Holloway, a solid perimeter presence in Nick Williams and returns four starters off an NIT team.

7.) Alabama – Six players come back that started at least 10 games for Anthony Grant’s squad, plus Devonta Pollard is the only incoming freshman and a stud. The Crimson Tide could be the biggest surprise of the season and finish better than seventh.

8.) Georgia – This isn’t really Georgia’s fault. They have a number of starters back and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope makes this team run, but the talent above them is just better.

9.) Texas A&M – Not sure what to make of this team. The Aggies lost Khris Middleton to the NBA, but return four players that started at least 13 games last season. It’s going to depend on what the bench does.

10.) LSU – What can the Tigers expect in Johnny Jones’ first season? A lot of Hickey and Carmouche in the backcourt. The question lies in the paint and who can help out Johnny O’Bryant.

11.) Auburn – Two full-time starters return for the Tigers, but Frankie Sullivan is going to have to do a lot for Tony Barbee’s team to be successful.

12.) Vanderbilt – Commodores, the Missouri Tigers feel your pain. However, they loaded up on transfers to heal their wounds. Kevin Stallings didn’t. Or a top-flight recruiting class. It’s going to be a tough drop in Nashville.

13.) South Carolina – Frank Martin took a big chance leaving Kansas State for the Gamecocks, and he isn’t inheriting much. Four players return that started at least 12 games, but those players haven’t experienced many wins.

14.) Mississippi State – This team was demolished by a mass exodus of transfers after Rick Stansbury “retired” or whatever you want to call it. If this team can even earn respectability, it’ll be an accomplishment.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 in the Live Summer Festival at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.

Appalachian State freshman shooter to transfer

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A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.

Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”

“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”

Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will  be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.

If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Iowa State adds graduate transfer Zoran Talley

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Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.

Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.

“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”

Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.

He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.

Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.

From the Top of the World to the Edge of a Dream: Kamaka Hepa’s journey from Alaska to Division I hoops

Jon Lopez/Nike
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Kamaka Hepa’s pursuit of becoming the first Inupiaq (Eskimo) to play in the NBA took him to Nike’s Peach Invitational last week, where he stepped on the court as a top 50 prospect being pursued by Shaka Smart, Mark Few and a dozen other coaches 3,700 miles from his hometown of Barrow, Alaska.

A town located 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle, the northernmost community in the United States, made up primarily of Inupiat.

A town that Hepa didn’t leave until tragedy struck.


Barrow, Alaska, is as unique as it is isolated.

Only accessible by plane, Barrow is as far North as you can get while remaining within the boundaries of the United States. When the thermostat cracks 50 degrees during the summer, it’s a scorcher. The temperatures during the winter months hover around -20 degrees and can drop as low as -50. The sun never sets in June and early July and residents go more than a month, from Thanksgiving through early February, without seeing the sun rise above the horizon.

One of eight villages that make up the North Slope region of Alaska, Barrow is steeped in the traditions of the native population. “The Inupiat people lived there for thousands of years,” said Roland Hepa, Kamaka’s father who is of Hawaiian and Filipino descent. “It’s their land.”

And the Inupiat live off of it.

It’s not easy, or cheap, to ship the processed food found at every grocery store in the Lower 48 states up to Barrow, meaning much of the population relies on subsistence hunting. It’s a means to survival in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.

“People attack our subsistence lifestyle because we kill animals,” Kamaka said. “It’s not something we do for game or just because. It’s how we survive.”

One of the animals that the Inupiat hunt is Bowhead Whales, a species that was nearly driven to extinction by intense commercial whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whale hunts are local tradition, a cultural norm that is inextricably woven into the fabric of the community.

“It’s a really long process, like two or three weeks,” Kamaka explained. “There’s different crews, and a whole bunch of people that will go out onto the Arctic Ocean while it’s frozen and set up camp where the ice meets the water. They’ll set up camp there for however long they have to until they get a whale.”

“It can feed a whole community. Whenever there’s a whale caught, the crew that caught it will put a flag on top of their house and the whole community will come and get their share of the whale. Everybody can come and get some. It kind of goes quick, but because there are multiple crews, multiple whales are caught. It continues for a whole process. They’ll save some and have a big gathering, called Nalukataq. It’s basically where the whole community will gather in one area, and we’ll do different cultural things, like dancing and games, and different crews will serve on different days, the elders and their families. It will continue for a weekend. I miss it.”

Basketball in Barrow is unique as well. When the warmest summer temperatures still require jackets, kids aren’t exactly clamoring to play baseball or football. Basketball, however, is hugely popular, because, as Roland put it, “the kids would rather stay in the gym and play basketball.” Only about 225 kids attend Barrow High School, the only high school in the area, which makes traveling to games a logistical nightmare. The Whalers have to fly to every game in every sport, and they fly in opponents that play in Barrow, including the other three high schools in their conference — Nome, Bethel and Kotzebue.

To ease the burden of travel costs, whenever the Whalers would play games in their league, they would play on back-to-back nights, flying in on Thursday, playing on Friday and Saturday and returning to Barrow on Sunday. They also played in quite a few tournaments in bigger cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks during the season in order to fill out their schedule. The relative scarcity of home games and the fervor with which the community supports basketball creates a raucous environment whenever a team did make the trip up to Barrow.

“The games are crazy,” Kamaka said. “The whole community is there, supporting. It makes it easy for us to feel passionate about the game.”

That community support is part of the reason it took Kamaka so long to make the decision to pursue the sport at a higher level.


Alaskan high school basketball is better than you realize, but even then, Kamaka had likely outgrown it by the time he reached his sophomore season in high school. A 6-foot-9 stretch-four that needs to develop toughness, strength and the ability to finish through contact and over length is only going to get so far playing at that level. Kamaka began attending exposure events as early as sixth grade, and according to his father, offers to play in the Lower 48 were rolling in before he had even reached high school.

Everyone — Kamaka, his family, his community — knew that, eventually, he would leave. The family often talked about when the right time to move south would be, but actually making the decision to move away from the only place you’ve ever called home is not easy for anyone, let alone a 15-year old.

“Our high school boys basketball team had never won a state championship, but when him and his classmates became freshmen, they had a couple of really good players,” Roland said. “Our community expected us to win a state championship. Our whole town was counting on us. So we weren’t going to make him move his freshman year.”

“Our community would have probably disowned us,” he added with a laugh.

So Kamaka stayed.

He won a state title as a freshman.

And the discussions began anew.

“There were options out there,” Roland said, but Kamaka wasn’t yet ready to leave.

Kamaka Hepa, Jon Lopez/Nike

Then came November 23rd, 2015, when Kawika Hepa, Kamaka’s oldest brother, died unexpectedly in Anchorage. He was just 29-years old. The family did not want to discuss Kawika’s death, but the tragedy shook Kamaka. He was a teenager, invincible on the court and a hero in his community. He never realized how fleeting life can be.

“Before he passed away, my brother wanted me to get out of Alaska,” Kamaka said. “The competition’s not terrible, but we thought there was more out there for me. He was always a big factor in that. He wanted me to play against the best players I could and get my game as good as I can. He thought that by moving, I would be able to do that.”

“When he passed away, I just had to do that for him.”

Kawika died a few days before the start of Kamaka’s sophomore season. In early December, he received a call from Reggie Walker, the director of Portland Basketball Club, a Nike-affiliated team that plays on the EYBL circuit. In February, Kamaka visited a few high schools in Portland, and a week after winning his second straight state title in Alaska, Kamaka was en route to Oregon with his family.

It’s been nearly 16 months since the Hepa family made the move, and Kamaka is thriving. From a personal standpoint, the adjustment that comes with moving to a city from a village of less than 5,000 people in the Arctic has been relatively easy for him. Basketball has allowed him to travel constantly throughout his younger days, and he would often visit his father’s family in Hawai’i. The family has, for the most part, remained together — Kamaka’s two older sisters are both living on their own, and his mother commutes between Portland and Barrow — knowing that the sacrifice they are making is what is best for their son.

“The only thing we miss is the family. When [my wife]’s home alone, you start missing each other,” Roland said. “We have a lot of family up there as well. Growing up in a family atmosphere, all of a sudden we move to a city where you make new friends, which is fine, we can make new friends, but that’s just not the same when you have family. That’s the only area where we feel the sacrifice.”

“My oldest son, he went to a private school and when [Kamaka] was ready to travel, we decided it’s probably best that we move with them.”

From a basketball perspective, things are going even better. Kamaka’s played on the most competitive circuit in high school basketball, the EYBL, in the spring and summer the past two years. He enrolled at Jefferson High School in Portland and won the 2017 state championship, his third ring in three years. He’s been working out two and three times a day since moving south and has slowly been climbing up the recruiting rankings; 247 Sports currently has him as the No. 50 player in the composite Class of 2018 rankings.

Best I can tell,* he is on track to become the first Inupiaq to play Division I basketball and the first Native Alaskan to play since former Oral Roberts forward Damen Bell-Holter graduated in 2013-14. Bell-Holter spent some time with the Celtics after he graduated, but was waived before the season began. Kamaka, who has the talent to one day do so, would be the first of his people to reach the NBA, and to my knowledge, Bell-Holter is the only Native Alaskan to spend time on an NBA roster.

*(I cannot find anyone else in my research. If you know of anyone I am missing, please email or tweet me.)

But Kamaka is not worried about that right now.

He’s mostly worried about the rain.

“Snow is better than rain,” Kamaka, chuckling, said of his new digs. “I’d take snow over rain any day. It just changes the whole mood.”