NCAA Basketball Tournament - Murray State v Marquette

Can Isaiah Canaan make a splash in the NBA?

Leave a comment

Isaiah Canaan is a household name for college basketball fans. Murray State and the Ohio Valley Conference doesn’t typically generate household names in the powerhouse-dominated college basketball landscape, but if you take a cursory glance at Canaan’s four-year career as a Racer, you will quickly see how he broke the mold to become an unlikely mid-major college basketball superstar.

Among the highlights for the 6-0 guard: 2,050 career points, two-time OVC Player of the Year honors (2012 and 2013) and Consensus Second Team All-American honors during a particularly memorable 2011-12 campaign.

And that doesn’t even include the winning — and Murray State won a lot of games with Isaiah Canaan on the floor.  The Racers went 106-26 in Canaan’s four years on campus and earned two NCAA Tournament bids — making it to the Round of 32 both times — while coming from a league that typically only gets one bid.

“Murray State gave me the opportunity to be able to win and play at a high level,” Canaan explained to NBC Sports. “(Murray State) showed me the way to lead, to earn a lot of wins, and that a lot of (NBA) teams want to see a four-year guard that has won at the college level.”

For all CBT’s NBA Draft coverage and series on player development, click here

But for as great as Canaan’s career at Murray State might have been, history shows he has an uphill battle to take his career to the highest level and succeed. The OVC isn’t exactly a mecca for NBA prospects and after a six-year period from ’86 to ’92 that produced four NBA veterans with at least nine years of service to “The League,” (Eastern Illinois’ Kevin Duckworth, Morehead State’s Bob McCann,  Tennessee State’s Anthony Mason and Murray State’s Popeye Jones) the conference just hasn’t produced very many NBA players that have stayed around for more than a few seasons.

Carlos Rogers (Tennessee State), Trenton Hassell (Austin Peay) and James Singleton (Murray State) all proved to be capable NBA role players in the last 15 years, but it wasn’t until former Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried took the NBA by storm last season — earning All-Rookie First Team honors — that the turnaround began for the fortunes of OVC players trying to succeed in the NBA.

“Manimal” — as Faried is fondly known as in Denver — has shown that even though he was labeled as an undersized, low-upside draft pick by some draft pundits, that his production in the OVC could still translate to effective NBA seasons. This season, Faried averaged 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds for a 57-win Nuggets team.

Canaan is hoping to follow in Faried’s footsteps and prove that his production in college came against better-than-advertised competition. After all, how many one-bid leagues can claim three consecutive first round wins in the NCAA Tournament like Canaan and Faried helped Murray State (2010 and 2012) and Morehead State (2011) achieve in recent years like the OVC can?

“The OVC prepared me a lot (for the NBA) because I’ve played against some good guys like Kenneth Faried and Isaiah Canaan,” former Tennessee State forward and fellow NBA Draft hopeful Robert Covington explained. “Just because it’s a mid-major conference doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of competitors out there.”

Faried’s often thrilling and energetic play has opened some eyes in NBA circles but Canaan is a point guard hoping that an NBA franchise values his ability to lead a team.

And as you’ll notice from the aforementioned group of OVC alums to carve out respectable careers in the NBA: There aren’t many guards on that list.

So Canaan turned his attention to another point guard that forged a similar college-to-pro, four-year blueprint in NBA Rookie of the Year and former Weber State star Damian Lillard.

Similar to Canaan, Lillard came from a Big Sky Conference that isn’t known for producing pros, but that didn’t stop the Portland Trail Blazers point guard from taking the league by storm and becoming only the fourth player in league history to unanimously win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

And Canaan and Lillard’s college pedigrees are similar in a number of ways.

Although Lillard’s draft stock was closer to the lottery compared to Canaan’s current late first round, early second round projection — in part because Lillard is three inches taller (6-3 to Canaan’s 6-0) and possesses more NBA-level athletic traits — both point guards are two-time conference player of the year recipients and Lillard — like Canaan — also received some All-American honors despite coming from a league that rarely merits All-American inclusion.

“(Damian making it) does a lot. He might not know it, but he helped us a lot,” Canaan said of Lillard’s NBA ascension from the mid-major ranks. “It’s giving a lot of the people that might doubt us an opportunity to come and want to see some of the smaller school guys and realize that ‘hey, they can play just as well — if not better — than some of the big school guys.’ He gave us more motivation to do what he did.”

Nobody is expecting Isaiah Canaan to be the next unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year, but given his collegiate track record of winning games, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Canaan finding his way onto an NBA roster and sticking around the league for at least a few seasons.

As the NBA Draft Combine played out at ATTACK Athletics on Chicago’s West Side in early May, Murray State head coach Steve Prohm was one of the few college coaches in attendance there to track his former player.

Prohm sat along the west baseline for many of the drills during the point guard session of the combine and occasionally smiled watching Canaan run alongside players that came from powerhouse programs in Murray State’s own state like Kentucky and Louisville. Prohm helped recruit Canaan to Murray State as an assistant coach and eventually took over the reigns of the Racers for his star guard’s final two seasons.

Canaan could be drafted ahead of the players from the powerhouse programs that often overshadow players of his background and Prohm stopping in to watch the combine reminds Canaan of where he comes from in the basketball world. The OVC isn’t known for making every basketball player’s dream of making the NBA come true, but Isaiah is just thankful that he’s in a position to potentially make it happen.

“Coach Prohm is a tremendous coach with a great personality and he’s one of the guys that recruited me so I’m glad that he’s here with me,” Canaan said.  “I’m probably one of his first guys to go through this process. I’m just blessed to have a coach like him and to be able to showcase my abilities.”

Scott also writes for NY2LA Sports and can be followed on Twitter @sphillipshoops

CBT Podcast: Recapping Kentucky-UCLA, Player of the Year ranks, Cuse-UConn

Getty Images
Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the latest episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk podcast, I was joined by my former colleague Raphielle Johnson to discuss everything from Kentucky-UCLA to Syracuse-UConn to who deserves to be the Player of the Year after the first month of the season.

czficq-xeaaqbps

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Return on Investment: Dixon era already paying dividends for TCU

Pittsburgh v Wichita State
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jaylen Fisher was in demand.

Not only is the Tennessee native talented, rated by most services as a four-star recruit, he suddenly became available when players of his caliber are in short supply, having decommitted from UNLV last spring.

The likes of Baylor, Ohio State, Florida and UConn were all interested. So, too, was TCU.

While rarely a player for prospects of Fisher’s pedigree, the Horned Frogs had a strong recruiting pitch, starting with a new coach, Jamie Dixon, taking over for his alma mater after 11 NCAA tournaments in 13 years at Pitt, plus the assistant who got him to commit to UNLV, Ryan Miller, joining the staff.

TCU, though, had a perception problem.

“Last year they didn’t charter (to away games),” Dixon told NBCSports.com in October, “and everybody else chartered.

“Everybody was using it against us in the conference, saying TCU doesn’t charter to games. I didn’t know that because they had told me we were going to charter to every game. So we had to address that and get that out there.”

Such is life at a place that has long prioritized football and baseball, with winter being the time before spring football, not basketball season.

That, though, may be changing.

TCU is investing in basketball, from chartered flights, to a new arena to Dixon himself. The race is on to climb out of the Big 12 cellar, get to the program’s first NCAA tournament in nearly two decades and then win its first game there in three.

“We’re trying,” senior Karviar Shepherd said, “to make basketball a big thing.”

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 21: Head coach Trent Johnson of the TCU Horned Frogs reacts during the second half of the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on February 21, 2015 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Since bolting the Mountain West for Big 12 to pursue football glory, basketball has been a disaster for TCU.

The Frogs have won eight conference games in four years, going 0-for-2014 with 18 league losses that season. The highwater mark came in 2015, when they went 4-14 and finished a game ahead of last. They’ve finished last in attendance every year, averaging fewer than 5,000 fans per game.

“I came in knowing that it was going to be that way, kind of,” Shepherd, a four-star recruit in 2013, said. “I didn’t know it was going to be that intense, but it happened.”

Losses were only part of the ignominy for the Horned Frogs.

The school’s largest public pronouncement of caring about basketball also caused the program to appear its most unimportant.

They spent 2014-15 playing in a high school gym.

Certainly, it was an ends justify the means situation as TCU was displaced by a $72 million renovation to the outdated Daniel-Meyer Coliseum (now Schollmaier Arena).

But a season’s worth of games at the Wilkerson-Greines Athletic Center, home of the Fort Worth Independent School District, was no picnic.

“Playing at the high school was more like an away game,” Shepherd said. “We didn’t have that much of a crowd come in.

“It was kind of compact, orange all over. We had to get through it.”

TCU's Jalen Fisher, left scrambles for a loose basketball against Washington's Markelle Fultz during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, No. 30, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Bob Haynes/Star-Telegram via AP)
Bob Haynes/Star-Telegram via AP

The Horned Frogs now hope the growing pains have been worth it.

They spent last year in the Schollmaier Arena, a modern facility that helps keep pace with the rest of the league. The losses eventually proved too much for the school to stay with Trent Johnson, but their decision to act aggressively with his dismissal allowed them to pursue Dixon, who not only won at the highest levels at Pitt but graduated from TCU in 1987 after winning back-to-back Southwest Conference titles.

“Losing a coach that’s been with you for three years, any coach, that’s hard to do,” Shepherd said. “(Dixon) came in with a positive attitude, which helped us and guided us in to what he wanted to do.”

Dixon status as not only an alum, but one with connections to one of the few successful eras of TCU basketball is something that makes him uniquely qualified to turn the Frogs from cellar-dwellers to contenders.

“I think it gives more passion,” Shepherd said. “It’s TCU for TCU. He has that type of thing going on. He wants to do the best for his community, which is TCU.”

Dixon’s degree makes for a nice recruiting pitch, too.

“I think it brings something different,” he said. “Not many coaches out there are coaching at the place they went to school. I made the choice to come there. I had choices to be at other great places, other great programs, move to other great places and I think I‘m recognizing it more.

“I don’t think I saw it initially but now that I’ve been at it and I’ve seen and I’ve looked around, you can sell, you can talk about a different experience than the other coaches can. We talk about once you go to TCU, it’s not a four-year decision, it’s a decision for life.

“There’s no better example than myself.”

FILE - In this March 22,, 2016, file photo, TCU's new men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon acknowledges the crowds response as he was introduced during an NCAA college basketball news conference, in Fort Worth, Texas. Dixon’s Horned Frogs have started 4-0 in his first season but have gone 8-64 in Big 12 play over the past four years. (Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram via AP, File)
Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram via AP, File

TCU’s investment in basketball appears to be initially paying off. The Frogs are 8-0 heading into tonight’s matchup with their crosstown counterpart, SMU, tonight. The schedule they’ve conquered to remain unbeaten is no Goliath, but when you’ve spent as much time as TCU has with that zero on the front end of your record, strength of schedule is of little consequence, at least at this point.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Dixon said at Big 12 media day before the season. “The administration is expressing that and there’s some things that I have to bring to their attention, too as well.

“And then there’s things that are happening over time. Next year there’s going to be something that’s hot that everybody’s going to do and you’ve got to stay up with that. That’s what I learned at Pitt. You’ve got to stay up with the times and advantages because it’s a war out there.”

The real war is always on the recruiting trail, where it looks as though TCU is making up ground in the talent-rich Lone Star State. Kevin Samuel, a four-star center from Houston, and R.J. Nembhard, a four-star guard from right outside Dallas, are both signed for the 2017 class.

The Horned Frogs may be seeing early returns, but their true return on investment won’t be known for some time. TCU, even with a fast start, wouldn’t appear to be on an NCAA tournament track this season. Building a program, especially one with little previous historical tradition and playing in one of the country’s toughest league, takes time.

“You don’t want to say, that’s how we did it at Pitt. You don’t want to say that every sentence,” Dixon said, “but we’ve had experience building something from nothing. That’s the reality of it at Pitt. We need to do that.”

Part of that begins with changing perception. An 8-0 start – and potentially a win against SMU – would helps in that department. Dixon, though, has already begun to change the way TCU is thought of.

Before they got Samuel and Nembhard, the Horned Frogs got Fisher, getting out in front of any aircraft-related negative recruiting.

“When you’re picked 10th and you finish at the bottom,” Dixon said, “we’re easier to take shots at. They can find them and people are more apt to believe it too.”

So are the darkest days now behind TCU?

“The losses that we had,” Shepherd said, “it built character within each player, just knowing where we came from, where we want to be and where we’re going.

“It builds character.”

With the character secure, it’s now on Dixon and TCU to build a program.

Washington’s one season with Markelle Fultz looks destined to end in obscurity

Markelle Fultz, via UW Athletics
UW Athletics
Leave a comment

The hardest thing to do at a Power 5 school is to lose consistently, to put together an extended run of underwhelming, disappointing seasons without having to find new employment.

Only three of the 65 head coaches employed at Power 5 schools have missed five straight NCAA tournaments at their current job. Two of those three are basketball coaches at football schools, Penn State’s Pat Chambers and Clemson’s Brad Brownell. Chambers has built enough recruiting momentum in Philly that the argument can be made that his program is trending up; at least that’s the pitch that earned him a sixth-year. Brownell made the tournament his first season with the Tigers, and with Jaron Blossomgame back this season and Elijah Thomas coming eligible in December, this group will be the best team he’s had since then.

The third member of that ignominious group isn’t like the others.

Both Chambers and Brownell have coached a single NBA player at their current gig – Tim Frazier and K.J. McDaniels, respectively – and neither of them were first round picks.

Washington’s Lorenzo Romar has had five first round picks in the last five years.

None of them have played in the NCAA tournament, and without a win over No. 8 Gonzaga on Wednesday night, there’s a very real chance that Markelle Fultz, the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, will find himself watching the NCAA tournament on television as well.


As of today, Washington is 4-3 this season. They lost to Yale at home in their season-opener. They lost a pair of games to TCU – one on a neutral court, one on the road – and while the Horned Frogs are currently undefeated this season, they haven’t really landed a win that would let us know just how good they actually are.

After Wednesday, the Huskies won’t get another chance against a real team until Pac-12 play, and that could end up being a real problem.

A loss tonight puts them at 4-4 on the season and ensures that they will not have a quality non-conference win on their résumé, which wouldn’t be a huge issue if we could ensure that neither Yale nor TCU would eventually show up as a bad loss. But the other side of it is that the Pac-12 isn’t quite as loaded as we expected it to be. Oregon has fizzled out of the gate, failing to impress during non-conference play, while Arizona’s one relevant win – Michigan State – looks like it is anything but a marquee victory. UCLA is carrying the torch for the league.

Put another way, we’re looking at a situation where, for the second straight season, the best NBA prospect in college basketball will end up missing the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Ben Simmons-to-LSU experiment started slowly and ended as a train wreck, with the team opting not to accept a bid to the NIT.

How did this go so wrong?

RELATEDHow ‘keeping it in the family’ led Michael Porter Jr. to Washington

TUCSON, AZ - JANUARY 14: Head coach Lorenzo Romar of the Washington Huskies gestures during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on January 14, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. The Arizona Wildcats beat the Washington Huskies 99-67. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Lorenzo Romar (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

There are a couple reasons:

1. Washington just does not have the talent around Markelle Fultz that Romar needed, and it’s not entirely his fault. Marquese Chriss and DeJounte Murray, who both ended up being first round picks in the 2016 NBA Draft, were one-and-done players that no one expected to head to the NBA when they did. Chriss was a borderline top 50 recruit coming out of high school. Murray was closer to the top 30, but you’d be lying if you said you thought he was going to be able to leave school after one season with a guaranteed contract.

What’s left is a crop of players that are just OK. David Crisp is a fine player but isn’t necessarily a guy you want as your second option at the Pac-12 level. Malik Dime and Noah Dickerson are, at worst, serviceable high-major bigs. Matisse Thybulle hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that he had entering the season. Part of the reason that Romar is left with a roster bereft of high-level talent is a result of the way that he coaches.

Romar is going to play his most talented guys right away, said a person with knowledge of the way that Washington’s staff operates. It doesn’t matter if they are freshmen or seniors, he’s going to let his best players do what they can do. If that comes with a learning curve – Fultz isn’t going to get pulled for turnovers the same way that Chriss and Murray were allowed to play through their freshmen mistakes – then so be it. Compare that with a program like Wisconsin, where guys like Devin Harris and Frank Kaminsky, eventual top ten picks, were buried on the bench until they learned the system and earned the playing time. Even Bill Self has struggled with when to let his one-and-done stars play through their issues and when to hold them accountable.

Romar gives his talent a chance to showcase what they’re capable of, for better or worse. And, of late, it’s been the latter.

2. His teams don’t defend. “They were so ******* bad on defense. It was like they had never been coached,” a coach who has played the Huskies this season told NBCSports.com. “They had no plan.” The Huskies are entertaining to watch offensively because of how fast they play – they’re currently sixth in KenPom in tempo – but there isn’t much structure on that end and it comes at the expense of any kind of discipline on the defensive end.

That’s a by-product of giving his young guys freedom that they wouldn’t necessarily experience at other programs. It’s also a result of how he wants to play defensively. His best teams would get out and play a pressuring, half-court man-to-man defense, and with the new freedom of movement rules, that just doesn’t work. All Washington does is foul. They’ve been in the bottom 25% nationally in free throw rate the last two seasons. Chriss fouled out of 15 of the 34 games he played in college.

3. That environment isn’t necessarily the best for getting the most out of a guy like Fultz. For as talented as he is, Fultz still has some warts. He’s a slow-starter, a guy with a sleepy demeanor that has a habit of slowly growing into games. He’s a talented defender that doesn’t always play with the kind of effort on that end of the floor that he needs to. If he was from the west coast, he’d get criticized for having the same kind of “Cali-cool” that Lonzo Ball gets knocked for.

And it’s a shame, because Fultz really is an unbelievable talent.

But, at this point, it looks like he’ll be the unknown in this NBA Draft.

With the exception of Washington’s only game against Oregon and their second matchup with Arizona, every quality opponent that Washington plays will tip after 10:30 p.m. ET.

How many people are going to stay up that late to watch what could very well end up being a series of blowouts?


Lorenzo Romar is in a decidedly unique situation at Washington.

On the one hand, in the last five years, his teams have underperformed given the amount of talent that has come through Seattle. In 2011-2012, Washington won the Pac-12 regular season title but failed to get an at-large bid to the Big Dance with Terrence Ross, the No. 8 pick, and Tony Wroten, the No. 25 pick, on the roster. C.J. Wilcox, the No. 28 pick in the 2014 Draft, couldn’t get Washington into the dance either of the next two seasons, and this past year, Romar was NIT-bound despite having Marquese Chriss, the No. 8 pick, and DeJounte Murray, the No. 29 pick, on his roster. The only time in his Washington coaching tenure that he didn’t have a future first round pick on the roster was the 2014-15 season, and, in theory, that fact could change if current Gonzaga point guard and Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss gets drafted.

In 15 years with the Huskies, Romar has reached the tournament just six times, the Sweet 16 just three times and finished with fewer than 10 losses just three times despite a nine-year run where U-Dub finished top three in the Pac-12 seven times and won two regular season titles.

But he’s also been by far the best coach in the history of the program. The Huskies reached the Final Four in 1953, and in the nearly 50 years between that day and the day that Romar was hired, Washington reached just six NCAA tournaments and two Sweet 16s.

Washington fans have a right to be frustrated with the way his tenure has gone, but that frustration stems from the fact that Romar carried Washington to an unprecedented level of success.

But that’s in the past. Brandon Roy’s college career ended a decade ago. Isaiah Thomas was drafted in 2011.

So while there’s an outside chance that both Fultz and Michael Porter Jr., the star that Romar has committed in the Class of 2017, could end up being the No. 1 pick in their respective NBA Drafts, it may be more likely that, without a win on Wednesday night, Romar may never end up coaching the latter.

Coach K hopes to have Harry Giles back ‘before Christmas’

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 06:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils directs his team during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 88-80.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Duke’s freshman center Harry Giles II is close to returning to the game action, according to head coach Mike Krzyzewski, potentially as soon as Christmas.

“Harry’s participating,” Krzyzewski said, “he hasn’t had as much contact yet. We’re hoping before Christmas, those two games.”

Duke is playing UNLV in Vegas on Saturday, then after a nine-day break for finals, the Blue Devils get Tennessee State and Elon at home on the 19th and the 21st.

Giles warmed up with the Blue Devils on Tuesday night. Giles, who was long considered the top prospect in his class, has torn ACLs in both knees. He had a knee scope in October that has kept him out of action since.

“I don’t want to put a gun to his head, like, ‘You have to do it,'” Coach K said. “I want to see how he does during the exam period with a little more contact, before we go forward.”

Video: Belmont claims another late victory vs. Lipscomb

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 20:  Head coach Rick Byrd of the Belmont Bruins reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

History repeating itself led to another heartbreak for Lipscomb.

For the second time in a week, the Bisons fell to Belmont in the final seconds in their Battle of the Boulevard matchups. This time it was a Taylor Barnette 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining in overtime that gave the Bruins the win over Lipscomb, their 11th-straight over their intra-Nashville rivals, by the score of 78-76.

Last week at home, the Bruins erased an 18-point second-half deficit on Dylan Windler’s layup with under a second remaining to best Lipscomb.

In between to those two bad beats to Belmont, Lipscomb also managed to fit in a 72-71 loss to Tennessee State that came courtesy of a Tigers jumper with nine seconds left. Here’s guessing the 104-85 win over Tennessee Tech the Bisons also snuck in that week isn’t enough salve for those wounds.