SEC Mississippi St Tennessee Basketball

Mississippi State’s rebuilding project receives needed boost

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When Mississippi State hired Rick Ray as the school’s new basketball coach last spring, the former Clemson assistant had a lot of work ahead of him. Heavy personnel losses left Ray with quite the rebuilding project, and the end result of playing with such a young team (that was also hit hard by the injury bug) was a 10-win campaign in his debut season.

With the need to bolster the program’s depth quite apparent, recruiting is even more important for Mississippi State if the program is to be consistently competitive in the SEC. And on each of the last two days Mississippi State has received verbal commitments from players in the Class of 2015.

One day after 6-9 forward Joseph Struggs made his pledge to attend Mississippi State, 6-4 shooting guard Dante Scott did the same. According to Rivals, both players made unofficial visits to Mississippi State over the weekend.

While neither player has received the level of attention that follows around the nation’s best recruits, the ability to land prospects without the aid of on-court success is a positive sign for the Mississippi State program.

Mississippi State will enter the 2013-14 campaign with just four upperclassmen (three are seniors), so once again the Bulldogs will be a young team. But there’s more experience, with rising sophomores Craig Sword (10.5 ppg), Fred Thomas (9.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Gavin Ware (8.4, 6.4) all expected to figure prominently in Ray’s plans.

Both Sword and Ware were named to the SEC All-Freshman Team last season by the league coaches.

Rebuilding projects take time, and the Bulldogs will take their lumps in a conference that should be improved next season. But if they can apply the lessons learned during a tough 2012-13 season, Mississippi State is capable of showing signs of improvement as well.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Iowa State lands three-star SG Jakolby Long

Steve Prohm
Associated Press
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Iowa State received its fourth verbal commitment in the Class of 2016 Friday morning, as 6-foot-4 shooting guard Jakolby Long made his pledge to Steve Prohm’s program. A native of Mustang, Oklahoma, Long attends Mustang HS and played for the Athletes First grassroots program this summer.

In Nike EYBL play for Athletes First, Long averaged 16.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

According to Cyclone Fanatic, Long was also considering Georgia, Texas and Utah before deciding that he’ll play his college basketball at Iowa State. Long will join junior Matt Thomas, sophomore Hallice Cooke and transfer Nick Babb in the competition for minutes off the ball when he arrives on campus next year. According to Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune, Long could be a in a position where he sees solid playing time immediately.

Long joins junior college products Donovan Jackson and Emmanuel Malou, and 2016 forward Solomon Young in Iowa State’s 2016 class to date. And the Cyclones, who won’t use all 13 scholarships this season, still have room for a couple more additions for next season.

Iowa State has four seniors (Naz Long, Abdel Nader, Georges Niang and Jameel McKay), and junior point guard Monte’ Morris is considered by some to be a candidate to enter the 2016 NBA Draft.

UofL foundation hires firm to review escort allegations

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An independent Louisville affiliate has hired a law firm to review an escort’s allegations that former men’s basketball staffer Andre McGee hired dancers to strip and have sex with recruits and players.

The University of Louisville Foundation announced the hiring Thursday of the Stites & Harbison law firm. The foundation does fundraising for the university.

Louisville President James Ramsey also said Thursday he “fully” supports athletic director Tom Jurich “as we work to identify the facts in this situation.” Ramsey reiterated the school has hired former NCAA enforcement official Chuck Smrt to lead the athletic department’s investigation.

Men’s basketball spokesman Kenny Klein had no comment on a CBS Sports report that former Cardinals recruit JaQuan Lyle, now an Ohio State freshman, confirmed the “gist of allegations” detailed in Katina Powell’s book during a meeting Tuesday with the NCAA.

Lyle originally signed with Louisville before de-committing and eventually landing with the Buckeyes. OSU spokesman Dan Wallenberg confirmed the NCAA meeting via email on Wednesday but said there were no issues with Ohio State. He did not mention Louisville.

Powell’s book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen” was released online last weekend by a publishing affiliate of the Indianapolis Business Journal. A hardcover version of the 104-page book is scheduled for release on Monday.

The book states that McGee hired Powell and other dancers, including three of her daughters, for 22 shows allegedly performed from 2010 to 2014 at the players’ Billy Minardi Hall dormitory.

McGee left Louisville in 2014 for Missouri-Kansas City, which placed him on paid leave Friday. A message left Thursday with his Louisville attorney, Scott C. Cox, was not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for IBJ’s publishing arm could not be reached either.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has said McGee denied Powell’s allegations. In a radio interview Tuesday he denied knowledge of what took place and said last week that others he talked to didn’t know about the activities described in the book.

“I’m going through 15 people who worked here, and not one person even had a premonition of something wrong,” Pitino said Friday. “Not one person living in the dorm had even the slightest premonition. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Hall of Fame coach wasn’t mentioned in Ramsey’s statement in which the chancellor praised Jurich’s athletic program as “exemplary” at the school.

“It is important that the university – all of us – stay focused on our day-to-day work of providing our outstanding students with a world-class education,” Ramsey said. “The investigation of the allegations may take time and we must, as one university, continue doing the work we do to move our university and our community forward.”