Well-traveled Julius Mays stars as Kentucky downs Mizzou in OT

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One look at the stat sheet will tell you exactly what this Wildcat team can be.

Four players in double figures. Willie Cauley-Stein with 12 hard-fought boards and seven blocked shots on defense. Sixteen points, eight rebounds and six assists from the oft-doubted Ryan Harrow. A smoking 50.8 percent from the floor, bolstered by 41.2 percent from deep. They beat a good Missouri team 90-83 to move into a tie with Alabama for second place in the SEC.

But, and there’s always a “but”, it took an overtime period to get it done, at home. And the Wildcats were bedeviled yet again by poor free throw shooting, hitting just 63.9 percent in the game. Prior to overtime, that number was closer to 53 percent.

It’s so obvious that the weaknesses in Kentucky’s execution are mental mistakes made by young players. If last year was the upside of recruiting young for the Wildcats, this year has been the downside.

And yet, without a doubt, this team is still in the hunt. Callow Kentucky teams of recent vintage have always had a veteran presence to rally around when things get tough, and this year is no different. The brightest spot for Kentucky tonight was reserved for fifth-year senior Julius Mays, who scored 24 points – his highest in a Wildcat uniform – and cobbled together a very efficient night’s work. He even hit eight of his nine free throws.

Mays has been well-traveled in college hoops, playing his first two seasons at NC State, then spending a year at Wright State, finishing his degree, and moving on to Kentucky for his final season. Experienced transfers had a major impact for both teams, in fact.

Mays can score – he did it in bunches at Wright State, where he established his standing career high of 33 points. It’s nice to know he can do so when called upon. But his real value to this squad of uber-talented tyros is as a combination Yoda/Dumbledore/Tim Duncan figure – the wizened vet who can show toughness (Mays stayed in the game when leg cramps made it difficult for him to get up and down the court), cool-headedness (making those free throws) and guile (inducing fellow fifth-year Oriakhi to foul out) when needed.

Haters gonna hate, but the NCAA tournament would be poorer without Kentucky in it. If Mays can lead his young charges to a couple of road wins, and a decent run in the SEC tourney, we won’t have to find out what that would look like.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Louisville’s Mitchell declaring for draft, won’t hire an agent

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Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is the latest to decide to see what the NBA might offer.

“I have decided to test the waters and not hire an agent!” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “I am excited to work out this summer for teams and hopefully participate in the NBA combine! I want it to be clear I have not decided to leave Louisville!”

Mitchell, who is expected to be joined by dozens of players, is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow him to work out for teams and attend the NBA draft combine before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft and return to school.

Players have until May 24 to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore, shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.4 percent on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-3 guard is projected as a potential first-round pick, but should he return, the Cardinals would project as one of the top teams in the country with nearly the entire core returning from this year’s 25-9 squad.