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.
After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.
The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.
A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.
“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”
While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.
Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.
Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.
The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.
Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.
(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)
The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.
At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.
The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.
LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.
The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.
“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.
Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.
Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.
According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.
Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.
With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.
The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.
Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.