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.

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.