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Report: Pac-12 officials head investigated for targeting Sean Miller

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Some unbelievable news out of the Pac-12 Conference this afternoon as CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman is reporting that Pac-12 Head of Officials Ed Rush is being investigated by the conference for allegedly offering to pay referees to target Arizona coach Sean Miller.

Rush, according to a source within the Pac-12 officiating group, told a group of referees on the Thursday of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas that he would give them $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if they either “rang him up” or “ran him,” meaning hit Miller with a technical or toss him out of the game. Rush then reiterated during a Friday morning meeting, according to one referee in attendance, that officials should take similar action against Miller if he did anything on Friday in the Pac-12 semifinals against UCLA.

“He was emphatic about not dealing with him (Miller),” the ref told CBSSports.com. “He made that perfectly clear.”

This sounds like the referee equivalent of the NFL’s “Bounty-Gate”. If referees are being asked to zone in on a coach, then there is going to be a serious rift in the system and relationship between college coaches and refs for the time being, as if there already wasn’t one.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott also issued a statement to CBSSports.com.

“Based on the review, we have concluded that while Rush made inappropriate comments that he now regrets during internal meetings that referenced rewards, he made the comments in jest and the officials in the room realized they were not serious offers,” Scott told CBSSports.com. “Following our review, we have discussed the matter with Rush, taken steps to ensure it does not happen again, and communicated our findings to all of our officials.”

Rush also served as a referee in the NBA and as the league’s director of officiating for five seasons.

Goodman also goes on to quote a referee as saying that another official acted out of character when his issued Miller a technical in the Wildcats’ 66-64 loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 semifinals — one that was controversial from the get-go — and confirmed the official, Michael Irving, was in the room with Rush when he issued the alleged bounty. Miller was fined $25,000 for criticizing officials after that game.

Rush should lose his job and any credibility he has. Period. The man has been an official long enough to know that you don’t make statements like this, serious or not. And as of right now, whether he meant the bounty or not, it sounds like at least one official might’ve taken him seriously on that offer. The fact that Larry Scott seems to be ok with just a slap on the wrist is flat out wrong. The only “steps” the conference should be taking to ensure he doesn’t do this again, is by telling him he no longer has a position with the Pac-12.

Bottom line, whether Rush meant his comments or not, they may have had an affect on a pretty important game, which is grounds for severe punishment. His actions put the integrity of the game and those in his profession at risk.

There’s been a ton of scrutiny regarding officials this season, a lot more than in seasons past. And this sure won’t help alleviate the problem.

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten

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.