Danny Hurley has Rhode Island heading in the right direction

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Danny Hurley knew that he’d have an uphill battle when he took over for Jim Baron at Rhode Island.

Forget, for a second, the fact that the Rams are coming off of a season where they managed to win just seven games, because that would just be too obvious. Maybe the fact that he’s coaching a team that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since people were still concerned about Y2K is a good indicator. Or how about the fact that the Rams only bring back four players from last year’s rotation — which managed to win just seven games, remember — two of whom missed a combined 30 games. Should I even mention that Hurley has just eight scholarship players eligible this season?

An empty cupboard at a program a long way from having relevant basketball tradition is hardly an ideal situation.

“Right now we’re not a good team,” Hurley said after his team lost to No. 4 Ohio State 69-58 in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. “We’re transitioning to try and become one.”

Moral victories aren’t the kind of wins that Hurley is used to collecting. But at this point in the program’s development, they are going to be in greater supply, and on Saturday night, Hurley’s team notched a definitive moral victory. The Rams outplayed Ohio State in the first half, and if it wasn’t for three ugly possessions in the final 1:30 of the half that led to a 7-0 Buckeye run, URI would have gone into the break with the lead.

In the second half, every time it looked like Ohio State was ready to pull away, the Rams had an answer. Mike Powell hit back-to-back threes with one second left on the shot clock to help erase an eight point lead early in the half. When OSU pushed the lead to 14 later in the half, the Rams responded with an 8-2 spurt to keep in striking distance. URI was completely overmatched and out-talented, but that didn’t keep them from fighting and scrapping and playing like they believed they deserved to win.

It’s not much, but it’s something. And coming off of a 19 point loss to lowly Virginia Tech and a 12 point loss to Kyle O’Quinn-less Norfolk State, this kind of performance a step in the right direction.

“We understand, the coaches and everyone involved in the program understand, the challenges that we’re facing in our first year here,” Hurley said. “All this does for us is strengthen our resolve to find a way to succeed.”

Hurley has pedigree. He won (a lot) as a high school coach at St. Benedict’s in New Jersey. He would have won a lot at his last stop — Wagner College — if he had been there for more than just two years. His father is Hall of Fame St. Anthony’s High School head coach Bob Hurley. His brother, an assistant on his staff, is Bobby Hurley, the former all-american point guard at Duke.

Losing won’t last long for Rhody.

“Obviously with his track record, he’s going to do a great job,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “I think it’s a great set up. With his background, he’s going to get great players up there. I think he’s got the right approach with what he’s doing.”

“With the way they played tonight, I think he might get there a little bit quicker than he thought he would.”

Help is on the way. Rhode Island has three transfers sitting out this season that could play a lot of minutes for the Rams this year — Gil Biruta from Rutgers, DeShon Minnis from Texas Tech and Jarelle Reischel from Rice. He’s also got a quality recruiting class coming in, with 6-foot-6 forward Hassan Martin and EC Matthews, a top 50 scoring guard from Detroit, joining the mix.

If the Rams can continue to play with the effort and determination that they did on Saturday with next season’s talent infusion, they’ll make some serious noise in the Atlantic 10.

How hard did they play on Saturday?

The large contingent of Rhode Island fans that made the 45 minute drive to Mohegan Sun Arena gave the Rams a standing ovation as they left the court.

“It felt good,” sophomore point guard Mike Powell said, “but I wish they were cheering because we won.”

It’ll come.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”