Western Kentucky v Mississippi Valley State

Sean Woods might not have many friends in return to Lexington

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Sean Woods is somewhat of a legendary figure in Lexington, Kentucky.

He was a member of “The Unforgettables” at Kentucky, a group of seniors that had stayed with the program through harsh NCAA punishment following the tenure of Eddie Sutton that resulted in several severe sanctions including an NCAA Tournament ban. Woods and other players such as Richie Farmer, John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus made it all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to Duke on the legendary Christian Laettner shot.

Well, Woods made his way up the coaching ranks, taking Mississippi Valley State to the NCAA Tournament last season — a nearly impossible feat if you look at the conditions of the athletic programs at the Itta Bena school. He’s now in his first season at Morehead State and he brings the Eagles down Interstate 64 to play the Wildcats.

After some of his comments in his pregame press conference, Woods might not get the reception he would like when the two teams tip-off on Thursday.

The question was posed by a reporter in the teleconference about how current Kentucky freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said he knew nothing about Laettner’s shot in 1992. From there, well, I’ll just let Woods tell it.

“Kids now-a-days, they play too many video games,” Woods said. “I mean, [just] being honest with you. They don’t get it. They play basketball, but they don’t know what basketball really is…I walked into a deal the other day when they had that telethon [for Hurricane Sandy relief] at WKYT, and I didn’t like the vibe, I’m just going to be honest with you, of those guys.

“It’s just, it’s totally different now. And it’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the way society is now. And you know, I think my generation…my [graduating] class to maybe four, five years after that, you know what I’m saying, these kids don’t know anything. And I bet you any type of money, besides the kids that are from Kentucky that’s on UK’s team, they couldn’t tell you anything about not one player in the history of Kentucky basketball.”

This is some pretty serious chatter from such a simple question, but if you listen to the audio, Woods seems to go off on a tangent that he probably has been thinking about personally for some time.

Earlier in the press conference, Woods started by prefacing what he meant. Pointing out that he never saw players like Earl Monroe and Wilt Chamberlain play, but knew all about them.

The comments look worse in print/online than they actually are. Woods seemed to be wanting to point out that the history of Kentucky basketball and how kids today don’t seem to know much about it, but took it a little too far.

He has a point. But history itself fades to some degree in everything. Our grandparents remember Pearl Harbor like it was yesterday (not that I’m comparing the two, just using it as a basis for a significant event) but for the 70s and 80s babies, it’s an historic holiday, but nothing that really gets to our hearts.

In sports parlance, it’s the same way for Kentucky basketball. I was way too young to remember “The Shot” itself, but I remember a lot of stories about it. Though I’m from the area, so it was unavoidable. Recruits of today outside the state aren’t necessarily devoid of history, they just have more current events and issues and moments to remember, not ones that happened before they were born (which makes me feel old as well).

Woods has since backtracked a bit via his Twitter account in a series of tweets.

In no way were my comments meant to offend or insult the current players at UK. Simply an observation of today’s youth everywhere….I greatly admire Coach Cal and what he has done for the University of Kentucky and college basketball….I will always be proud to have worn a Kentucky Wildcat uniform and to be the head coach at Morehead State University.

So there. It wasn’t the smartest of moves for Woods to say what he said at that length, but he did and he owned up to it (somewhat). He’s a great person and coach, and in dealing with him in several interviews and games, he’s a very honest and engaging person. Sometimes that’s a gift and a curse.

Regardless, Woods will probably have a few less fans when he enters Rupp Arena on Thanksgiving.

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

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(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)
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.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.