Burning Questions: Who will be this year’s surprise All-American?

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Real, live college basketball games start on Friday, and with all of our glorious preseason content finally finished, this week we will be providing you with water cooler fodder as we roll through a series of Burning Question. You can read them all right here.

Which player not on one of the NBCSports.com All-American teams is the most likely to become a first-teamer this year?

Phil Pressey, Missouri (Eric Angevine): Pressey showed he could dish and defend at a high level last season in the Big 12. With Kim English matriculated and Michael Dixon in the doghouse, Pressey will have ample opportunity to show he can score, too. I believe he’s up to the task.

Gorgui Dieng, Louisville (Troy Machir): The Louisville center is in the perfect position to excel this season. First and foremost, he has made tremendous improvements in each of his first two seasons, and if healthy, he will continue his upward progression this season. Second, He has players around him that him him the best chance to succeed. Guys like Montrezl Harris, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock, skilled forwards and wing players, will divert attention away from the big-man, which will allow Dieng to get more high quality looks. Dieng won’t be forced to do too much, which will allow him to excel at his craft. Finally, what real pressure is there on Dieng? He’s not the star and doesn’t have to be. Plus, Pitino does a good job keeping the media out of his player’s heads, so they can remained focused.This season was tailor-made for Gorgui Dieng to recieve All-American praise.

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (Daniel Martin): Franklin became a full-time contributor last season and capitalized. Now he has the reins of a team that will fight for the Mountain West title and has the potential to become a household name. He averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season, including just a shade up 20 points and 10 boards in MWC play.

Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (David Harten): Wolters has every tool that gets a college basketball player recognition. He can score (21.1 ppg), rebound (5.1 rpg), distribute (5.9 apg) and guard (1.7 spg). Problem is, he plays for a Jackrabbits’ team that just made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament and plays in the Summit League. His game translates against better teams — need I remind you how hard he clowned Washington last season? — and he’s proven countless times he can play on the big stages (19 points, 4 boards, 4 assists and 3 steals against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament last season). He could be on everyone’s All-American list by season’s end.

Andre Roberson, Colorado (Raphielle Johnson): Andre played the four for the Buffaloes last season, and while that may be the same in 2012-13 he’ll get to expand his game some. 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season, and with a better jump shot I’d expect the scoring average to increase. And there may be some motivation to be derived from the Pac-12 media picking Colorado to finish sixth in the conference this season. My money’s on Roberson.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.