Phil Martelli coping with more than just basketball challenges

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Losing at home in the first round of the NIT and failing to meet the high expectations set out for a team at the beginning of a season would be tough for any coach to cope with during the offseason. Make no mistake about it, St. Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli isn’t happy about his team’s conclusion to a very up-and-down season. He’s also not thrilled with the proposition of replacing forward C.J. Aiken who will not be returning for his senior season after declaring for the NBA Draft. But, in the grand scheme of things, these basketball related issues are the least of his worries.

In a story by Mike Jensen of Philly.com, Martelli has suffered through the passing of his sister–unexpectedly, due to heart failure–and his sister-in-law who lost her battle with cancer, and dealt with his elderly mother’s broken hip after falling all within the past two months.

Not to mention, the entire college basketball community has been made aware of his son Jimmy’s resignation as an assistant coach at Rutgers following the Mike Rice scandal.

It is well-documented that being a college basketball coach is a pressure-filled occupation–imagine your job depending upon the performance of 18-22 year old kids–so to compound those pressures with difficulty at home has taken its toll on Martelli.

The night of St. Joseph’s home loss to St. John’s in the NIT was when Martelli’s sister was dealing with heart complications. To give you an idea of just how sudden her death was, Martelli remarked: “my sister was on the phone with my secretary, asking if I’d leave tickets for my nephew.”

When he received the news of his sister’s passing, he said: “Basically, for no other description, her heart stopped beating. If the normal heart works at 75 percent capacity, my sister’s heart was working at 5 percent. Systems started to fail. It wasn’t a heart attack, it wasn’t a stroke. She was 53, with a 9-year-old.”

The lone bright spot over these past few months is that, despite his mother’s tumble and subsequent broken hip, she is recovering very well: “[She is the] shining light in this whole thing. She’s doing great. She’s encouraged by her therapy. She’s getting around. She’s getting out. I wouldn’t have bet on that.”

Being the head coach at St. Joseph’s for nearly 20 years, the performance of his program constantly weighs on his mind. The fact that the Hawks haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since their run to the Elite Eight in 2004, and haven’t made an appearance in the Big Dance since 2008 doesn’t make this time any easier for him. Understandably so, many of the St. Joseph’s faithful are wondering whether Martelli’s time is up on Hawk Hill, to which he responded with: “We’ve got to get better. I don’t begrudge anyone their opinion. Here’s my only thing – the greatest angst over winning or losing a game is felt by myself and my players and my staff.”

Martelli, who is regarded as one of the true gentleman to coach in college basketball, is ostensibly welcoming the challenge of bringing St. Joseph’s back to an NCAA Tournament as it acts as a nice distraction from everything that has transpired off the basketball court. St. Joseph’s figures to be somewhere in the middle of a competitive Atlantic 10 conference next season after losing Aiken and graduating Carl Jones.

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

A post shared by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (@sviat_10) on

The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.