In late April, MAC Freshman of the Year and arguably Western Michigan’s top returning player, Darius Paul, informed the coaching staff he was transferring out of the program. This came as a shock to head coach Steve Hawkins as Paul, the younger brother of former Illinois star Brandon Paul, averaged 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds and looked to be the focal point of the program for the remainder of his career.
Paul’s mother, Lynda, told MLive.com on April 24th that her son has a “desire to play at a higher level,” and that there were four schools in the state of Illinois that had reached out to him. She continued to say:
“We’re pretty astute basketball people here – we’re not going to let him go somewhere where it would be a situation where it’s not better than the Western Michigan basketball situation. That would be crazy; that would be absolutely crazy.”
In a tweet Darius sent out late Saturday night, he made it known that the University of Illinois was one of these four schools and is where he will be spending his next four years. Per NCAA rules, he will out during the 2013-14 season, but become eligible for the next three seasons beginning in 2014-15.
Western Michigan went 22-13 last season and lost to George Mason in the semifinals of the CBI. The 22 wins was the most since 2003-04 when the Broncos won 25 games en route to a #11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the team’s success, Paul ostensibly had a desire to take his game to a higher level and in a better conference. Prior to his commitment to Western Michigan in October of 2011, he boasted offers from several high-profile programs such as Florida, Marquette, Miami (FL), and Missouri among others. Over the weekend, he attended Brandon’s postseason banquet at Illinois while on an official visit to the school.
Paul is the fifth player to transfer to Illinois during John Groce’s short time in Champaign. Since the end of this season, he is the third transfer Illinois has received as Illinois State junior forward Jon Ekey and Seton Hall sophomore guard Aaron Crosby also elected to play for the Illini.
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Rutgers has struggled to achieve success on the floor the last few years and head coach Eddie Jordan is hoping that some talented newcomers can help start a turnaround. With the start of practice, local media saw some of the Scarlet Knights’ early practice and Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press noted that the duo of freshman point guard Corey Sanders and junior college forward Deshawn Freeman were getting a lot of burn together.
With both incoming players being four-star prospects, it’s hardly a surprise that Jordan would see what the two were capable of. According to Carino, it meant a lot of Sanders driving and forcing the defense to collapse before finding Freeman.
“It seems like coach always has us on the same team,” Freeman said to Carino. “Ever since we’ve gotten here, he’s trying to get us to play together.”
Carino also notes that since Rutgers is deeper, longer and more athletic in general this season, the team could do more with a pressing defense to help create turnovers.
While Rutgers still faces an uphill climb in the Big Ten, they at least have some exciting pieces that will be in place for a few seasons.
LSU football and Leonard Fournette are off to a strong start this fall, but the beginning of October also means that college hoops is right around the corner. If you’re a Tigers basketball fan, you also have plenty to be excited about on the hardwood this season with the arrival of a loaded freshman class headlined by forward Ben Simmons.
While the versatile Simmons has solidified a spot in the starting lineup for next season, it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Johnny Jones uses the rest of his talented freshmen. In a story from Sheldon Mickles of the New Orleans Advocate, he looks into some potential LSU starting lineups.
Freshman guard Antonio Blakeney, a McDonald’s All-American with Simmons, is also expected to start, but does another talented freshman guard, Brandon Sampson get a shot to start? And what of Arizona transfer Craig Victor when he’s eligible to play in December?
Mickles believes the early favorite for starting lineup is guards Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Blakeney, Simmons and center Darcy Malone. When Victor returns, Mickles said Victor could push Simmons into the “center” position, which would be a matchup nightmare on the opposition because Simmons would be very tough for many college centers to defend.
Sampson also gets a mention from Mickles of having the potential to start down the line. Overall, a good problem to have for Jones and he’ll have to experiment to see which lineups are giving him the most. Having a productive starting five is nice, but I’m sure Jones would love to find the five players he wants to close with.