Al Skinner

Big name candidates for UMass Lowell head coaching job

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As UMass Lowell makes the transition to Division I, they will be doing so with a new head coach. In April, former UML coach Greg Herenda accepted the head coaching job at Fairleigh Dickinson replacing Greg Vetrone.

Herenda built the River Hawks into a strong Division II program compiling a record of 95-54 in his five seasons at the helm, including four straight tournament appearances. But, Division I is a different animal. UML is set to join the America East conference and will have to wait four years to become eligible for postseason play—similar to what Bryant University went through when making the move to the Northeast Conference.

In a report from the Lowell Sun last week, there are several big name candidates that are being targeted for the job: former big-time college coaches Al Skinner and Jim O’Brien, current Williams College coach Mike Maker—who was recently a candidate for the head coaching position at American University—and former Kentucky star and Louisville assistant Walter McCarty.

It’s hard to say if one of the candidates has emerged as a favorite, but former Rhode Island and Boston College coach Al Skinner may fit the description as outlined by UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan:

“We’re looking for folks with an outstanding track record, and with Division 1 experience. We’ve heard from coaches with experience at top-notch programs, and young and hungry assistants from Division 1 programs. I have been impressed with the caliber of coaches that we’ve received interest from.”

It is commonly known that there is little love lost between Skinner and Boston College who didn’t part ways on the friendliest of terms, but it’s hard to deny Skinner’s track record. Compiling a 247-165 record at BC cannot be discounted, nor can his seven NCAA Tournament appearances in a nine year span.

What about Jim O’Brien? Also a former Boston College coach who had much success in the mid-90s, but left for Ohio State where he took the Buckeyes to the Final Four in 1999, which they later vacated due to NCAA violations committed by O’Brien. O’Brien was eventually fired by Ohio State, but has been the head coach at Emerson College since 2011.

“Other notable names rumored to be in the mix for the UML job include current Emerson College and former Boston College and Ohio State coach Jim O’Brien, Williams College coach Mike Maker, Northeastern assistant Pat Duquette, Florida Atlantic assistant Mike Jarvis II, and former NBA veteran Walter McCarty.”

Another name to keep an eye on is current Central Connecticut assistant and former Holy Cross and College of Charleston assistant Sean Ryan. In an earlier article from the Lowell Sun, Ryan is “very interested” in the job:

According to a source, Ryan is “mustering a ton of support” among fans, alumni and others invested in the UMass Lowell men’s basketball program. The source also said that Ryan views UML as a “destination job, and a great opportunity.”

Ultimately, it comes down to the direction UML wishes to head in: a proven Division 1 head coach who’s demonstrated the capability of running a successful program, or a hot up-and-coming a coach who will bring the necessary energy to transition the program up a level.

Seeing that it’s already mid-May and UML is without a coaching staff in place with practices beginning in just over four months, expect a coach to be named in the coming weeks.

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11

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)
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
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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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.