Class of 2015 star Derrick Jones highlights Sunday’s Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest action

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PITTSBURGH — Perhaps the most promising recruit at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest this weekend was Philly native Derrick Jones.

At 6-foot-6, Jones is a supremely athletic left-handed forward with an impressive wingspan, the kind of physical tools that will make any college coach drool. He’s ranked 37th in the country according to Rivals, but ESPN has him rated as the 13th best prospect in his age group. Making him all the more intriguing is that he’s young for his age, having just turned 16.

Colleges have taken notice. Jones said that St. Joseph’s, Kansas State, Rutgers, Xavier, Temple and Villanova have all been coming after him, but Jones appears to have a favorite right now.

“I really want to go to Syracuse,” he said on Sunday. That length and athleticism would make the Archbishop John Carroll (PA) a perfect fit in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.

Jones, who plays his AAU ball for We R 1, is far from a finished product, however. He needs to add some size to his frame, as he’s thin enough that a strong gust of wind could end up knocking him over. His skill level isn’t quite up to par either, as he gets by on his natural athleticism at this point in his development.

“I want to get better on my ball-handling and shooting ability,” Jones said.

The good news is that Jones plays hard — he’s really aggressive, and effective, attacking the offensive glass — and wants to get better. You can teach a player to handle the ball and you can develop a kid’s ability to shoot from the perimeter. But you can’t teach athleticism and you can’t make a kid care.

Jones’ isn’t the only We R 1 player getting high-major looks: Traci Carter recently transferred out of Roman Catholic and into Life Center Academy, but that hasn’t stopped college from pursuing the 6-foot-1 point guard. Carter lists Penn State, Xavier, La Salle and St. Joseph’s as schools that he currently holds offers from, but he said that Syracuse and Villanova, among others, have started showing more interest.

Unlike Jones, Carter doesn’t have a favorite right now.

“I don’t have a specific school that I want to go to,” he said, “I just tell myself that my goal is that I want every school in America to want me to go there.”

And how can he make that happen?

“Get my stamina up and shoot the ball better.”

Trayvon Reed looks to change the scouting report on him: Trayvon Reed turned a lot of heads with his performance at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest in 2012, and rightfully so. Standing 7-foot-1, Reed has the kind of athleticism and length that will put him on the radar of every high-major coach in the country. That’s why his offer list is so long. Georgia Tech, Auburn, Maryland, Florida State, Miami, Florida, Wake Forest and Georgia are the schools he listed when asked who has offered, but he also added, with a chuckle, that it’s basically “every school in the south.”

The key for Reed, who is ranked 59th in the Class of 2014 by Rivals, is to change the perception of him. Right now, the scouting report on the Shiloh (GA) prospect is that he’s talented, but that his motor isn’t always running and he doesn’t play with consistent effort. With some big name recruiters coming to see him play, Reed knows that now is the time.

“They should know how hard you have to go if you want to go to another level,” Reed said. “Because there’s some good college coaches here.”

His effort level isn’t the only part of his game that he’ll be working on during the spring and the summer.

“[I want to] work on my offensive set, getting better at just being a presence on offense,” said Reed, who is currently known as more of a defensive presence.

Jared Nickens’ recruitment is picking up: Jared Nickens made the decision recently to reclassify into the Class of 2014, and it may have been the best thing for his development as a player. Now as Westtown (PA), the 6-foot-6 wing is starting to show recruiters that he’s more than just a jump-shooter.

“I needed to mature mentally and physically to just work on my game,” Nickens said of the decision to reclassify.

Nickens played very well on Saturday at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest, showing an improved ability to use the dribble to create while also using his length to cause problems defensively. That shooting stroke is still there as well, as Nickens hit a three with two seconds left as Sports U, his AAU team, knocked off Team Loaded.

Nickens currently lists offers from Oregon State, Providence, Temple, Penn State, St. Joseph’s and Seton Hall, but he’s started hearing from Oklahoma, Georgetown, Miami and Dayton, among others. His first official visit is scheduled with Oregon State for the first weekend in May, and Craig Robinson recently had an in-home visit with the New Jersey native.

When asked what he’s looking for in a college program, Nickens said, “The players, my teammates, my coaches, I want it to feel like it’s a family. Good environment, Good academics. Good fan base.”

(Image credit: Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.