Massachusetts Saint Louis Basketball

St. Louis hoops welcomes 9-year-old with brain tumor into their family

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You won’t find an easier team in the country to root for than St. Louis.

Let’s start with the fact that this team is dealing with the loss of their head coach, Rick Majerus. He stepped away from the program during the offseason to battle a heart condition that eventually took his life a month-and-a-half ago.

You don’t think that’s tough on this team? Look at Brian Conklin’s reaction (6:30 mark) when he realized he would never play for Majerus again. Read this terrific story on what the Billiken team is going through this season while dealing with the loss. (The anecdote about Cody Ellis at the bottom is sensational.)

This group of kids — and while they’re big and muscular and athletic and playing a sport at a level most of use only dream of, they’re still kids, many of whom still can’t legally drink — has plenty to think about and deal with already, but they still find the time and the energy to welcome Joshua Brown into their world.

Who’s Joshua Brown, you ask? From Tom Timmerman:

Joshua Brown is neither a powerful booster nor a prized recruit. He’s a 9-year-old from Belleville with a brain tumor who has been adopted by the Billikens.

[…]

The SLU basketball team and Joshua came together through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a group that connects children with brain tumors with local college sports teams. The foundation was started by the parents of Jaclyn Murphy, who as a 9-year-old in 2004 had taken inspiration during treatments for a malignant tumor by a poster in her room of a college lacrosse player celebrating a victory. She declared that she would play lacrosse again when well, and eventually, through friends, word of this desire got to the Northwestern lacrosse team, which made her part of the team and, in just its third year of competition, won the NCAA championship.

The Browns had read about the foundation and signed up. The group reached out to SLU and the request found its way to Mike Lepore, SLU’s director of basketball operations, who signed them up.

I don’t want to take too much from the story, because it’s undoubtedly worth the click and the five minutes to read it, but it’s pretty clear that Josh is helping the Billikens just as much as the Billikens are helping him.

College athletes don’t ask to be role models or pillars in the community. They are there to play a sport and, maybe, learn a thing or two in class. There is nothing wrong with a player that simply wants to show up every day, do his job, do his classwork, and be left alone.

But there’s something so heartwarming about players that embrace being something more; that use their status in the community to help others that are not quite as fortunate as they are.

I’m sure St. Louis isn’t doing this for the attention or the positive media coverage, but they deserve. Kudos, fellas.

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)
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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
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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.