Winston Shepard

Christmas Wish Lists: San Diego State looks to James Johnson for frontcourt muscle

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Over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams need. It’s the spirit of the holidays. We’re in a giving mood.

What do other teams have on their Christmas Wish Lists? Click here to find out.

Gotta have it list-topper: James Johnson proves to be the frontcourt force San Diego State needs him to be
The Aztecs picked up a much-needed addition to the lineup this week, as Virginia transfer James Johnson became eligible after sitting out the last year per NCAA transfer rules. What does Steve Fisher need from the 6-7 junior? Similar to Illinois’ need for a “Deebo”-like figure, San Diego State needs Johnson to be the inside muscle for a group that’s rather slender.

Deshawn Stephens has been SDSU’s best front court rebounder to this point in the season with an average of 5.3 rebounds per game, J.J. O’Brien is averaging 4.3 and Skylar Spencer at 3.8. But with Jamaal Franklin (9.7 rpg) being their best rebounder, San Diego State will need Johnson to take on a prominent role on the glass, beginning with the Diamond Head Classic this weekend.

Stocking stuffer: Taking better care of the basketball
Through ten games the Aztecs have 134 assists…and 128 turnovers. Given their attacking off the dribble the assist count isn’t a surprise, but nearly breaking even in assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t good. The biggest offenders when it comes to taking care of the basketball have been Franklin (4.2 turnovers per game) and freshman Winston Shepard (2.6 turnovers per game). With a schedule that has included four games against teams 201 or worse in the RPI, San Diego State has gotten away with occasionally being reckless with the basketball. That’s going to have to changes at the Aztecs approach Mountain West play.

Planning on re-gifting: Winston Shepard’s start 
It’s been a bit of a struggle for Shepard, who also sat out three games due to NCAA suspension. In seven games the Findlay Prep product is averaging 3.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, shooting 31.0% from the field and 38.5% from the foul line. Immensely gifted, Shepard was expected to be at the very least a critical reserve for San Diego State and there’s definitely time for that to be the case. Hopefully for SDSU fans the turnaround begins in Hawaii this weekend.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.