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.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.