Pac 12 Basketball Tournament - First Round

Planning for early departures begins well before April deadlines

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The days following the end of the college basketball season are important ones when it comes to the future of a program. Decisions have to be made by players with the potential to move on to the professional ranks, whether it’s to enter the NBA Draft or return to school for another season.

With the NCAA deadline to withdraw one’s name from the draft coming less than two weeks after the national title game, players and their families don’t have a great deal of time to decide their next move.

But for the programs involved, preparations for a possible departure begin well in advance of this period.

One school in that position this spring was Colorado, whose standout forward André Roberson had a tough decision to make. Roberson was one of the nation’s best forwards, as his defensive versatility and rebounding prowess played a pivotal role in head coach Tad Boyle’s ability to revive the CU basketball program. With averages of 10.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per contest, Roberson managed to earn first-team All-Pac 12 honors for the second consecutive season.

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The dilemma for the 6-7 Roberson: would he be better served from a skill standpoint to spend another season in Boulder, or should he make the move to the professional ranks with the idea of expanding his offensive repertoire at that level? In what was a tough decision, Roberson decided just before the NBA’s draft withdrawal deadline to go pro. And using the later deadline is something that happened by design, with the CU program encouraging Roberson to take all the time he needed to make an important decision such as this one.

“I think in André’s case it was one of those situations where he wanted to see who declared and who didn’t declare,” Boyle told NBCSports.com in a phone interview. “I think waiting until the end of the process makes the most sense because you have a better feel of who’s coming back to college and who isn’t.

“I think that makes good business sense and it was something that André was smart to do.”

With Roberson no longer in the plans for 2013-14, the next step for Boyle and his staff was the figure out how they would go about accounting for the loss of one of the best players in school history. The fact of the matter is that from a recruiting standpoint this process began last summer.

“If you’re waiting until the spring to replace a guy like André Roberson you’re going to be left holding an empty bag,” said Boyle. “We actually started in the fall with the idea that could happen. And as a college coach, I know that if kids are close and it’s going to come down to one of those ‘down to the wire’ decisions it’s more often than not going to tip towards the NBA.

“We recruit with the idea that [the player leaving] is going to happen. If that doesn’t happen, you have to be ready for that as well.”

When it comes to recruiting to the the possibility of a player leaving school early, every school has a different strategy. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a school willing to make promises in regards to playing time, some schools are more open than others when it comes to discussing the various scenarios with recruits.

“For our staff, when we recruit we try to be fully transparent,” said Boyle. “We try to talk about what could happen, what might happen and what most likely what will happen. Obviously, there’s no guarantee and there’s no 100% certainty.”

To this point Boyle brought up the recruitment of incoming freshman Dustin Thomas, a 6-8 forward from Texarkana, Texas. Had Roberson made the decision to return to Boulder for his senior season, there was the possibility of Thomas redshirting (as Wesley Gordon did last year) or seeing limited minutes as a freshman.

But with Roberson off to the professional ranks, there’s now the opportunity for Thomas to come in and earn minutes as a freshman. Colorado also received a commitment from 6-6 forward George King in the spring, with his decision coming in mid-May. It would be unfair to expect one player to account for Roberson’s production next season. But the combination of newcomers and returnees (Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott lead the way) gives Colorado a number of players who are capable doing so by committee.

The recruiting process is one that never stops, and while some programs may be able to recruit five-star prospects as if they’re rolling in on an assembly line that isn’t the case for all. When it comes to the early entry process, how a program recruits becomes even more important. The programs that experience consistent success plan accordingly for early departures, beginning their work well before the April deadlines are on the horizon.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.