NCAA Basketball Tournament - Murray State v Marquette

Can Isaiah Canaan make a splash in the NBA?

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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.”

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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

Kansas players make weight room gains – and losses – this summer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - JUNE 18: Udoka Azubuike #105 in red runs back for defense the NBPA Top 100 Camp on June 18, 2015 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images)
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Summer is the time to refine not only players’ skill sets, but also their bodies. Kansas’ highly-touted freshman duo of Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike have fulfilled the latter thanks to the Jayhawks’ strength and conditioning program.

Azubuike has dropped 27 pounds from his 7-foot frame while the wiry Jackson has added 17 pounds, according to the Kansas City Star.

“These guys have goals,” Adrea Hurdy, Kansas’ long-time assistant director for sports information, told The Star. “They come here in part because we have the resources to help them attain their goals.

“They want the challenge and want to become better people, better basketball players and better athletes.”

Only 16 years old, Azubuike arrived in Lawrence having been consistently listed as weighing around 270 pounds throughout his prep career. Getting leaner while still maintaining – and increasing – strength is a significant development for such a young player, who was a consensus top-50 player in the 2016 class.

Jackson, the country’s top rated incoming freshman, now weighs in at slightly over 200 pounds at 6-foot-8. Six-foot-10 forward Carlton Bragg,a sophomore, also got in on the body-changing as he’s put on 26 pounds to head into the fall at 247 pounds.

Kansas is a likely top-five preseason team with returners like Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, and having newcomers like Jackson and Azubuike along with sparsely-used but talented returnees like Bragg making gains in the weight room will only make them more formidable as they look to capture an astounding 13th-straight Big 12 title.

 

Texas bolsters 2017 frontcourt

Texas head coach Shaka Smart calls a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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Shaka Smart has added another four-star forward to his 2017 recruiting class.

Texas picked up a commitment Tuesday from 6-foot-8 Jericho Sims of Minnesota, according to multiple reports.

Sims, who visited Texas this past weekend, is ranked in the top-50 by Scout and in the top-75 by ESPN and 247Sports. He joins Royce Hamm, a top-100 forward from Houston, as members Smart’s second recruiting class at Texas.

“Jericho Sims is a late-blooming big man who has a lot of room to grow in terms of upside,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “A good athlete with a good frame to work with, Sims should help immediately on the glass and defensively but his offense will be a work in progress.

“Texas has a large recruiting class and targeted Sims later than many, so this is a nice commitment for the Longhorns.”

The commitment represents a significant get for the Longhorns, who beat out the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Ohio State, Connecticut and Sims’ hometown Gophers, whom his father played basketball for in the 1970s and his brother football more recently.

Sims and Hamm both are players that could help Smart and his staff transition more back to the Havoc style of play Smart employed at VCU as both have the length, speed and athleticism to help the Longhorns dial up the pressure and push tempo.

Five-star 2017 point guard Trevon Duval down to 10 schools

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 9: Trevon Duval during the 2015  Under Armour All-America Basketball Camp on July 9, 2015 at Queens College in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
(Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
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Five-star point guard Trevon Duval is the most electrifying lead guard in the Class of 2017. The native of Delaware dominated the Under Armour circuit this spring and is currently regarded by many as a top-five player in the class by most recruiting services.

Now he’s down to 10 schools as his recruiting is starting to become more of a focus. The 6-foot-2 Duval is down to Arizona, Cal, Kansas, Maryland, Oregon, St. John’s, Seton Hall, UCLA, USC and Villanova.

Things are still early in the process for Duval and it will be interesting to see if he schedules any official visits soon.

Ohio State gaining recruiting momentum with two 2018 commitments

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 24: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes claps on the sideline in the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 24, 2013 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Ohio State has lost quite a few transfers and hasn’t had a lot go their way with regards to recent recruiting, but things could be changing after a good weekend.

The Class of 2018 is starting to look really good for the Buckeyes as they landed commitments from wings Darius Bazley and Justin Ahrens this weekend. The two in-state products are grassroots teammates together on King James and they give Ohio State three commitments in that class.

Bazley is considered a four-star prospect on Rivals while Ahrens checks in as a three-star. They join another Ohio native, guard Dane Goodwin, in the class as this could be the group that helps bring Ohio State back in regular Big Ten contention.

Butler lands commitment from four-star 2017 forward Kyle Young

Atlanta, GA - SUNDAY, MAY 29: Nike EYBL. Kyle Young #34 of King James Session 4. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
(Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Butler picked up an important commitment on Monday as four-star forward Kyle Young committed to the Bulldogs.

A Class of 2017 stretch forward who can hit jumpers and has an improving skill set, the 6-foot-7 Young comes from Massillon, Ohio and he’s regarded as the No. 109 overall prospect.

Young was impressive in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer with King James as he averaged 15.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game as he shot 48 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range.

This is a nice grab for Butler as Young is the type of versatile perimeter shooter that they like to utilize and he should be able to help a bit on the glass as well.

Young joins a class that includes guards Cooper Neese and Jerald Butler.