College Hoops Player of the Week: Brandon Paul, Illinois

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Player of the Week: Brandon Paul, Illinois

Paul has made quite a transformation during his time in Champaign. He entered college as an athlete and slowly morphed himself into a chucker, a guy capable of doing things like this that usually needed 12-15 shots to get his 14.7 points and shot under 40% from the floor. This season, however, Paul looks like he’s playing with a completely different mindset. He’s more efficient, more potent and, against Gonzaga, showed that he has the ability to take and make big shots in the most important moments of a game. In short, Paul has turned himself from a guy with NBA potential to a player that will, barring a collapse, hear his name called in June.

The performance against Gonzaga wasn’t the best of Paul’s career, but it was one of the most impressive of the young season. He finished with 35 points on 10-16 shooting, hitting 5-9 from beyond the arc and adding four boards, three assists, three steals and two blocks. He sparked a second half run that allowed Illinois to take control of the game late and he hit the shots down the stretch that ensured the Zags would not be able to make a comeback. We’ve been fooled by hot starts from the Illini before, but in the same way that this appears to be a different Brandon Paul than last season, I think that this may be a different Illinois team from the last few years of Bruce Weber’s tenure.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team

  • G: Kevin Dillard, Dayton: The Flyers big win of the week came on Wednesday, when they went into Tuscaloosa and knocked off Alabama on the strength of 25 points and six assists from Dillard. They followed that up with a win over Miami-Ohio at home where Dillard tallied 15 points. No one expected by the Flyers to be in the mix at the top of the Atlantic 10 this season, but with some of the early-season struggles we’ve seen out of St. Louis, St. Joe’s, Butler and UMass, there’s no reason the Flyers can’t make a run at a top three finish in the league.
  • G: Grant Gibbs, Creighton: You want to know how good Gibbs was this week? Doug McDermott scored 59 points in wins over Akron and at in-state rival Nebraska, and I didn’t even consider him for this list. In those two games, Gibbs had 12 points, 11 boards and 18 assists while committing just a single turnover. Those numbers don’t include the nine assists without a turnover that Gibbs had in a 29 point drubbing of St. Joe’s last Saturday. In his last 102 minutes of basketball, Gibbs has 27 assists and just one turnover, which is probably why his assist to turnover ratio right now is 7.4:1.
  • G: Geron Johnson, Memphis: The Tigers bounced back from a rough performance in the Bahamas with a pair of impressive wins, including a 26 point victory over a good Ohio team. Johnson averaged 17.5 points for the week, while also adding nine assists, seven steals and 10 boards in the two games, shooting 15-24 from the floor. With Adonis Thomas, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black still trying to find a rhythm, it looks like Johnson may end up being this group’s most talented and dangerous player.
  • F: Anthony Bennett, UNLV: Bennett came up huge in the absence of Mike Moser in two games this week. He went for 18 points and six boards as the Rebels came-from-behind to knock off Portland in Portland and followed that up with 25 points and 13 boards in a win at Cal on Sunday. With Moser expected to miss quite some time after injuring his elbow on Sunday, Bennett’s ability to produce will only become more important.
  • C: Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State: For the second time this season, a player has recorded a triple-double involving blocked shots. Jeff Withey did it against San Jose State, and Bachynski did it against Cal State-Northridge, going for 13 points, 12 boards and 12 blocks in the win.
  • Bench: Adrian Coleman (Bethune-Cookman), Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Aaron White (Iowa), Kyle Fuller (Vanderbilt)

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

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.