Isaiah Armwood, Rhamel Brown

Isaiah Armwood is thriving at George Washington

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Isaiah Armwood loved his time at Villanova, and the Villanova program loved him back. He was even named a captain prior to his junior season in Philly.

But in August of 2011, just a couple of weeks before school started, Villanova took a trip to France and the Netherlands, and Armwood realized that his dream of being a major contributor for the Wildcats may never come to fruition. The addition of Jayvaughn Pinkston and Markus Kennedy — plus the return of Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton — caused a mathematical quandary. Armwood was in line to be, at best, the fourth big man in Jay Wright’s rotation, and there usually aren’t a ton of minutes available for the fourth big man.

So Armwood left Villanova, announcing his intention to enroll at George Washington just six days later.

“I just wanted to go somewhere where it was more fit to me, where I had a bigger role on the team,” said Armwood, a Baltimore native that attended Montrose Christian Academy, a high school located in Maryland’s DC suburbs. “At Villanova it was a lot different. I still had a role, but it was a lot smaller because they focus on the guards there. I was just looking to transfer to where I could play a lot.”

Mike Lonergan certainly wasn’t complaining.

Having just taken the job at George Washington following the firing of Karl Hobbs, Lonergan was looking for a post presence to try and rebuild the Colonials around. Top 75 recruit Erik Copes had already decommitted, following his uncle and former GW assistant Roland Houston to George Mason. And while it took a year for him to finally see the court — Armwood wasn’t one of the fortunate transfers to be granted a waiver precluding him from sitting out the mandatory one season — the addition is finally starting to pay dividends.

Heading into Sunday’s date with Manhattan in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center, Armwood was averaging 11.5 points, 8.5 boards and 2.5 blocks. In the 67-55 win over the Jaspers, Armwood finished with a career-high 23 points, nine boards and six blocks. “I thought Isaiah really controlled the game,” Lonergan said.

“He played very well, he had six blocks and was a defensive presence that bothered us,” Manhattan head coach and former Louisville assistant Steve Masiello said. “I want to give him a lot of credit, he’s a terrific player. … We missed seven layups in the second half.”

Armwood’s role on the offensive end of the floor was obvious enough. He’s not exactly a back-to-the-basket presence, but he’s a terrific athlete with long arms and a soft touch around the rim, making him an ideal candidate for dump-offs when guards penetrate.

“I told him, if you stay near the basket, you’ll get 20 points,” Lonergan said, proving to be quite prescient. “They kept finding him under the basket.”

What makes Armwood so valuable, however, is that he’s more than just a prototypical shot-blocker and finisher in the paint. George Washington won on Sunday despite turning the ball over 23 times against Manhattan’s press. So Lonergan asked Armwood — the team’s 6-foot-8 leading scorer and defensive presence in the paint — to take over ball-handling duties, as well.

“It’s funny,” Lonergan said, “we’re trying to get the ball to our big guy at half court [to beat the press].”

Beating a beat-up Manhattan team is one thing, putting together a full-season of competitiveness in the very strong Atlantic 10 is another. It remains to be seen if GW will be able to pull that off.

But on a team that doesn’t have a ton of great perimeter play, a shot-blocker and finisher around the rim — especially one that can chip in on a press break — is an extremely valuable commodity.

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

 

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)
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
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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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.