Russ Smith, a.k.a. the BasedKing, goes mainstream

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If you follow me on twitter, than you surely know by now that Russ Smith, the diminutive Louisville scoring machine, is my favorite player in the country.

He was last year as well, but that was before Smith decided to turn off some of his off-court hijinks and focus himself entirely on hoops. Now, Smith is putting together an all-american caliber season, which means that the rest of the country has been let in on my secret.

Luke Winn of shares the same infatuation with the little guy that Rick Pitino has dubbed “Russdiculous”, and while I will claim the glory of “discovering” Smith, I’ll allow Winn his time to shine. Because he not only wrote an amazing feature on Smith — who calls himself the BasedKing, as a roommate he calls Dark Slime and who lives in a fantasy world where he has tea parties at Waffle House (seriously) — but he also put together 11 Russdiculous facts that he couldn’t fit into his feature.

And seriously, everything about this kid’s story is awesome. Which is why you need to go read both of those stories. But I’ll give you my four favorites facts that Winn dug up:

– He once got stuck in an icebath because he drinks too much tea:

The BasedKing holds tea parties at a Waffle House near Louisville’s airport, where he indulges in hot, caffeinated beverages against the advice of Hina, who worries about their dehydrating effect. He once had to rescue a fully cramped-up Smith from a postpractice cold tub.

– His dad once tried to stay in jail to play a basketball game:

As a teenager visiting now-defunct Action Park in Vernon Township, N.J., he was arrested and incarcerated for giving a beating to someone who dared suggest that Big Russ and his friends wait in line, like everyone else, for a water ride. When Lou d’Almeida, the founder of the Gauchos AAU team—for which Big Russ then played, and whose early-youth programs he now manages—arranged to get him out, the response was not what d’Almeida expected. “Some guys heard I was a Gaucho,” Big Russ told him, “and now they’re counting on me to go one-on-one against the best guy from the other side of the jail. Could you wait till next week, so I can play the game?”

– Russ Smith almost left school during his freshman season, but what saved is season was a pep talk and a 1-7 shooting performance … in his boxers:

“The crazy thing is, I didn’t even get fully dressed for it — I had ankle socks on, and I normally play in three thick socks. I didn’t have an undershirt. And instead of my normal compression shorts I was just wearing boxers. I was saying to myself, ‘This is it, I’m going to sit through this game and then leave after.’

“But the team was playing bad against West Virginia and coach Pitino came to me at the end of the bench and said, ‘You’re going in. Go out and play hard, because no one is playing hard right now.’ I was like, alright, every time I touch the ball, I’m going to do something. I think I was 2-for-8, with a few steals, a few rebounds, and we came back from down 11. I subbed out with three minutes left, everybody was happy, and we ended up winning by one on Peyton [Siva]’s layup at the buzzer. After that, I stayed.”

This kid is so awesome.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

2018 NCAA TOURNAMENT: Fans guess location of Sweet 16 schools

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People in Times Square were quizzed on the location of the schools in the Sweet 16 and some guesses were pretty entertaining.

Another offseason of NBA talk begins for stunned Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari will take a few days before having a series of offseason meetings with his young team about their futures after an earlier-than-expected exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Calipari said he isn’t sure whether many of his talented freshmen and sophomores might return next season, or declare for the NBA draft.

“Until I sit down with all the guys, talk and see where they are with things and where their families are, I have no idea,” Calipari said.

They’re conversations Calipari knew were upcoming, just not this soon.

The fifth-seeded Wildcats could not take advantage of a clearer path to the Final Four paved by early round upsets of the South Region’s top four seeds. Kentucky fell 61-58 to No. 9 seed Kansas State in a Thursday night regional semifinal in Atlanta.

The disappointing season-ending defeat in which the Wildcats struggled to make shots typified the season for Calipari’s youngest group since his 2009 arrival in Lexington.

Kentucky (26-11) began the season ranked fifth in the Top 25 before dropping and eventually falling out. An up-and-down final month included four consecutive losses, the longest skid in Calipari’s nine-year tenure with the Wildcats.

They responded by playing some of their best basketball, winning four of their final five regular season games and rolling to a fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference Tournament championship as the No. 4 seed.

Kentucky’s quick improvement stoked hopes of a deep NCAA Tournament run and perhaps playing for a ninth national championship next weekend in San Antonio, Texas. That expectation will remain as long as Calipari continues recruiting highly touted prospects.

Despite the early tournament exit Calipari said he took satisfaction in getting the Wildcats to play their best in the postseason.

“Individually and collectively, this was a rewarding year for me,” Calipari said. “I wish it could have ended in another week, but for me to see how individual players got better, for me to see how this team came together, for me to see (forward) Jarred (Vanderbilt) in, Jarred out, all the stuff that went on with injuries, they hung in there and played a bunch of freshmen. I thought they really performed.”

Calipari now moves on to offseason discussions to see which freshmen return and to what extent he must retool — again.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are projected as first-round NBA draft choices and possible lottery selections. Forward PJ Washington has also generated first-round consideration.

Hamidou Diallo — a redshirt freshman guard who nearly entered last year’s draft pool despite not playing at Kentucky — improved his prospects in the tournament and has been mentioned as a first-round possibility. Jarred Vanderbilt made his Kentucky debut in January after missing 17 games with a left foot injury and showed promise as a rebounder, only to sustain an ankle injury that sidelined him for the postseason.

Sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones improved but could return along with guard Quade Green and forward Nick Richards. Freshman guard Jemarl Baker recently began working out after having left knee surgery last fall. Sophomore forward Tai Wynyard played sporadically before being suspended for the second half of the season.

As he routinely does, Calipari will encourage his entire roster to work out with NBA clubs to explore their options. Then the coach will explore his options.

Dan Hurley calls coaching UConn a dream and destination job

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STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Dan Hurley says he has landed at his dream coaching destination.

Hurley was introduced Friday as the University of Connecticut’s 19th men’s basketball coach, replacing Kevin Ollie, who was fired earlier this month amid an NCAA investigation and after a second consecutive losing season.

The 45-year-old Hurley, who left Rhode Island after six years and two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, has agreed to a six-year incentive-laced deal. He will have a base salary of $400,000 but will make at least $2.75 million in his first season, with supplemental income from media fees, speaking appearances and other perks. He could make up to $3.5 million in the contract’s final year.

He also has a chance to earn up to another $1 million a year for reaching certain athletic and academic goals.

But Hurley said the decision to come to UConn was not about money. It was about the opportunity to take the helm of a “storied program” that has won four national championships over the past 20 years.

“It’s a place that I always hoped I’d have a chance to coach and it’s like a dream come true,” he said.

Hurley, who played against the Huskies at Seton Hall in the 1990s, regaled the media with stories of being schooled on the court by the likes of Ray Allen and Chris Smith. Hurley said he modeled his coaching style in large part after UConn’s former Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, and plans to bring back that hard-nosed “championship culture.”

“For me, that centers around being the hardest working, hardest playing team in the country,” he said. “That’s our goal from when you see us opening night in November. The product you see on the court, there’s not going to be a more connected team. There’s not going to be a harder playing team. There’s not going to be a team in the country that is more committed to winning.”

Hurley said he shared that vision earlier Friday in a meeting with UConn’s players. He said he hopes to have most of them back next season, telling them they can leave behind a much different legacy than they have now.

The Huskies went 14-18 this past season and 16-17 in 2016-17 after going 30 years without a losing season.

Junior guard Jalen Adams said he hasn’t made a final decision about his future, but was impressed with Hurley and happy with the hire.

“I know a lot of guys at URI and all of those guys rave about him, talk about how he’s a great guy and a great coach and he pushes you to the limits,” Adams said. “I think that will be great for me personally and I think it will be even better for our whole team. I think our team just needs to be pushed and needs someone who will demand them to be a champion.”

David Benedict, UConn’s athletic director, said there was never a question of whether the school would have the resources to hire a top head coach, and said it did not have to raise additional money from donors to fund Hurley’s contract.

He said there was a brief conversation with Hurley about the NCAA investigation, but it never became a roadblock to the hire. Hurley has the right, under the deal, to extend his contract by an additional year if the school receives sanctions such as a reduction of scholarships.

Benedict declined to discuss Ollie’s decision to appeal his firing “with cause,” which could impact whether UConn will have to pay more than $10 million left on the former coach’s contract.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t have done something that we didn’t feel was within our right to do,” Benedict said.

Former Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore, who was a longtime assistant of Calhoun’s at UConn and was on Hurley’s staff at Rhode Island is expected to join Hurley in Storrs. Kevin Freeman, UConn’s director of basketball administration, was the only member of Ollie’s staff to attend the news conference.

Hurley said he plans to fill out his staff with a diverse group of coaches who can help him recruit in the mid-Atlantic region.

Hurley is the son of Hall of Fame New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. and the brother of Arizona State coach Bob Hurley. He said his last name has always been a recruiting asset in the Northeast.

“Coaches, families trust us with their kids because of the legacy my father has left as a Hall of Famer, but also as a community person who stands for the right things,” Hurley said. “I think nationally with the brand and our name, we could do a lot of good things.”

LaSalle parts ways with longtime head coach Dr. John Giannini

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La Salle announced on Friday that they are parting ways with head coach John Giannini.

Giannini had been the head coach of the program for 14 seasons, amassing a record of 212-226. Before taking over at La Salle, he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Rowan and eight seasons coaching at Maine.

“Today Bill Bradshaw and I mutually agreed that La Salle University could benefit from a new voice in leading the program,” said Dr. Giannini. “It is difficult to admit this but I have given every effort possible for success and I have received nothing but support and encouragement from Bill and President Hanycz. Greater things may be accomplished for this storied program and great university with the approach of a new coach. I am forever grateful, especially to my loyal staff and dedicated student-athletes. I look forward to my next challenge and La Salle’s future success.”

Kentucky clarifies ‘false reports’ they did not shake Kansas State hands after loss

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After Kansas State knocked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16, the purple Wildcats alleged that the blue Wildcats did not shake their hands after the game.

“They didn’t shake our hands,” Kansas State junior guard Amaad Wainright told ESPN last night. “It’s sorry.”

“They know what they did.”

Kentucky bristled at the allegations.

“They were turned and celebrating, so I walked off,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “There was no disrespect for anything. It’s just that they were celebrating, and I was happy for them.”

“My team’s not like that. There’s no disrespect in any way. They beat us. They deserved to win the game.”