Rodney McGruder

College Hoops Player of the Week: Rodney McGruder, Kansas State

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Player of the Week: Rodney McGruder, Kansas State

McGruder came into this season with the expectation of being one of the most dominant players in the Big 12, but it took a while for the Kansas State senior to really find his groove in Bruce Weber’s new system. In the Wildcat’s first Big 12 game of the season, McGruder showed why he came into the season with all of the hype: the Washington DC native scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half — hitting five threes in the second 20 minutes after entering the game with just 11 triples on the season — to lead K-State to a win over Oklahoma State.

“Rod got cooking and that was great for him,” Weber told reporters. “He got in one of those zones, and we needed it, and he rose up.”

The funniest part about McGruder’s Saturday had nothing to do with what happened on the court; it was what he did after he left the court. Following the game, McGruder did an interview with Kansas State radio and a spot on TV, took a shower … and left the arena without making his way to the press conference. It’s a good thing he lives close, because he had to turn around and make his way back to talk to local reporters.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team

  • G: Joe Jackson, Memphis: Jackson had 20 points, seven assists, four steals and just two turnovers in the Tiger’s 85-80 win over Tennessee on Friday night. The uber-talented Jackson looks like he is finally starting to play up to his potential. Over the last four games, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 5.3 assists and has just five turnovers in 141 minutes while shooting 19-34 from the field. The Tigers won the last four games. The last time they lost? Five games ago, when Jackson went for 23 points and eight assists against Louisville. And based on the way he’s played the past three weeks, I think we can chalk up the eight turnovers he had to Louisville’s pressure.
  • G: Preston Medlin, Utah State: After getting out to a slow start this season, Medlin is averaging 21.3 points and shooting 41.9% from three over his last four games. That’s includes a 3-0 stretch this week. In a 75-66 win over Seattle, Medlin had seven points and an assist in a game-changing 13-3 run late in the second half. And in the 82-75 OT win against Idaho, Medlin not only hit the game-tying three at the buzzer, but he took over in the extra period. The Aggies are now 4-0 in WAC play and 13-1 on the season.
  • G: Troy Daniels, VCU: You already should know about how hot Troy Daniels was over the last few weeks, but it culminated on Wednesday when he hit 11 threes in a win over East Tennessee State. He didn’t put up those same numbers against Lehigh on Saturday, but he did finish with 11 points and hit arguably the most important shot of the game in the final minutes.
  • F: Jerelle Benimon, Towson: Benimon has been one of the most improved players in the country this season, and he proved it again this week. The Georgetown transfer averaged 18.5 points, 12.0 boards, 4.5 assists and 4.0 blocks as the Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 start in CAA play. That includes a win at Drexel.
  • C: Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga: Olynyk may be the one player in the country that is actually more improved that Benimon. He had 21 points in the second half to lead the Zags to a win at Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve and followed that up with 33 points and 10 boards — his first career double-double against a Division I opponent — in a win at Santa Clara.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.