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Luke Hancock, not Kevin Ware, was most touching story from Final Four

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ATLANTA — With all due respect to Kevin Ware, he was not most heart-warming story from this Final Four.

And don’t get me wrong here. What he went through — and the way that his Louisville teammates responded — was incredible. The horrific injury, the tears on the court, the message of inspiration from a college kid whose leg had, quite literally, snapped in half on the court was nothing short of amazing.

But when it’s all said and done, Ware is going to be fine. We’ll see him play basketball again, maybe as early as the start of next season.

Luke Hancock’s dad may never have the pleasure of seeing him play basketball again. He’s sick. The family did not want to disclose his illness, but it’s bad enough that Hancock’s father almost couldn’t make it to Georgia.

He did, and what he saw was straight out of a dream. Hancock scored 20 points on Saturday night, including 13 in the final 12 minutes, as he made every big play down the stretch to lead a comeback against Wichita State to reach the title game. That alone was the kind of performance that would make Hancock a tournament legend and a hero in Louisville for the rest of his life. He’ll never sit down at a bar in that city and have to pay for his own beer.

What made the performance all the better was that Hancock isn’t a highly-touted recruit. He’s not an all-american and he didn’t have blue-bloods beating down his door while he was in high school. Before he went to Hargrave Military Academy for a prep year, he didn’t have a single scholarship offer. He wound up playing for George Mason for two seasons, but ended up transferring to Louisville — where his former prep school coach is an assistant on Rick Pitino’s staff — when Jim Larranaga headed south to Miami.

Hancock is Louisville’s sixth-man, the veteran leader and the strongest presence in the locker room. He’s a guy that has spent the entire season dealing with the painful recovery that comes with major shoulder surgery. He averaged 7.7 points on the season. He’s anything but a star on a team that includes Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan.

But Saturday night wasn’t even Hancock’s best performance of the Final Four.

On Monday, Hancock once again led the Cardinals with 22 points, but it was a two minute stretch late in the first half that firmly entrenched his position in March Madness lore.

After Spike Albrecht put on a show, scoring 17 first half points while Trey Burke was buried on the bench with two fouls, Hancock single-handedly led the Cardinals back. He hit one three. Then another. Then two more, each one deeper than the last. By the time the halftime buzzer had sounded, Louisville had cut the Michigan lead to just 38-37. Without that flurry of long-range bombs, Louisville wouldn’t be leaving the Georgia Dome with a ring.

For his troubles, Hancock was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, the first player to win that award while coming off the bench.

And he did it all in front of his father.

“It’s been a long road,” Hancock said. “There’s really no way to describe how I feel that my dad was here. It’s hard to put into words. I’m so excited he was here.”

“I always look at him after games and ask him: ‘How was that?'” Hancock added. “And he just smiled and said, ‘It was great.'”

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)
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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.