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.
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.