Kevin Ware is going to Atlanta for the Final Four

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He’s home.

Believe it or not, a day and a half after undergoing surgery to repair his mangled lower leg after suffering the most gruesome injury that we’ve ever seen on a basketball court, Louisville’s Kevin Ware was back with his teammates.

His brothers, as he calls them.

Ware suffered the injury in Sunday night’s 85-63 win over Duke and had surgery that evening. He was released from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon, making the drive back to Louisville with his family and arriving at the Louisville practice facility to meet up with the rest of the team.

WSFA was there when he arrived at practice:

As he walked in on one leg and crutches, WAVE 3 Reporter Jaimie Weiss asked him how he was feeling. He responded, “Good. Thank you.” His mother Lisa Junior was right behind her son carrying the Midwest Championship trophy. “Thanks for all your support,” she stopped to say. “Thank you so much. We appreciate it.”

Once inside, each player had the opportunity to give him a hug according to Kenny Klein, Sports Information Director. Ware’s girlfriend Brittany said everyone was crying. “It was very emotional.”

Perhaps most importantly, Ware will be making the trip with the Cardinals down to Atlanta, his hometown, for the Final Four.

I wrote on Sunday after he suffered the injury that we shouldn’t be surprised that the Louisville players were able to block out the distraction of Ware’s injury and trip to the hospital. That’s what athletes were designed to do. They compartmentalize. They can direct their focus on the game at hand, what’s happening on the court, instead of worrying themselves with matters at home or matters at school. They can hit free throws while thousands of students are screaming vile and revolting things at them. They can function with tens of thousands of people in the stands watching their every move and millions more doing the same on TV.

They’re trained to handle issues like this.

But if you saw the reaction of those players after the injury, than you should have a feel for just how close this team is. You should have an understanding of just how much it meant to them that their teammate — their brother — was in such agony.

It wasn’t a distraction, but you’re crazy if you don’t think that it was a motivating factor for the Cardinals to get to Atlanta, to Bring Kevin Home.

And you’re crazy if you don’t think that seeing him in the stands, on crutches, will be a motivating factor for Louisville once they get there.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make between $250,000-$275,000.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that will pay players with less than three years of professional basketball experience a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $250,000 that a two-way contract will pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chasing his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.