Elite players returning to school and their impact on recruiting

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While much is made of how schools react to an unexpected departure to the professional ranks, just as important is how programs adjust when players decide to return to for another season. The decision can lead to a juggling act in some cases, with programs looking to keep as much talent as possible without surpassing the NCAA’s 13-scholarship limit. How that affects the newcomers expected to join the program ultimately boils down to whether or not the program has available scholarships.

That was certainly the case for Baylor, which retained the services of both Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. With those two returning to Waco minutes would be difficult to come by for a newcomer such as Dominic Woodson. As a result there was a parting of ways, with Woodson ultimately landing at Memphis where there’s a better opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Another Big 12 school that received positive news on the NBA Draft front is Oklahoma State, which will welcome back guards Markel Brown and Marcus Smart and forward Le’Bryan Nash. While Smart, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and one of the nation’s best lead guards, is the headliner of the three each has important roles to play for a program looking to ascend to the top of a conference that has been dominated by Kansas over the years.

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The decisions, especially Smart’s, to return to Stillwater may have surprised outsiders but they didn’t catch Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford off-guard.

“I think they all wanted to come back, but also they had an obligation to see where they were at as well,” Ford said of his three players in a phone interview with NBCSports.com. “We never discussed it with them [during the season] and we never let it become as distraction. Even as a coaching staff we didn’t talk about it a whole lot.”

Once the season was completed Ford discussed the possibilities with each player, and according to Ford his program prefers to go by the NBA’s withdrawal deadline when it comes to the decision-making process.

“I think the NBA deadline probably makes the most sense. I don’t know how much you gain with the NCAA deadline,” said Ford. “I know for us, we studied it and came to the conclusion that the NBA deadline is what we were looking at.”

To that point, the recruiting process when it comes to the possibility of losing a player (or players) to the professional ranks begins well before April. Programs can ill afford to not consider all possibilities during the summer/fall before the season begins, because if they do and a player does leave the pickings are incredibly slim in the spring from a recruiting standpoint.

Oklahoma State has five signees in its 2013 class, one of which being point guard Stevie Clark. But even with Smart being a projected lottery pick as the season progressed, Oklahoma State didn’t use the possibility of him leaving (and thereby opening up minutes) as a selling point.

“You can discuss the possible scenarios that happen, but for us in recruiting we don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on that,” Ford noted. “If we’re recruiting somebody to come play for us, we want them to come in and make an impact whether somebody’s leaving or not. That’s not something we’re trying to sell to recruits, that ‘somebody may leave so you may be able to step in.'”

In addition to the question of what a player with the NBA Draft decision in front of them will do, there’s also the question of whether or not that prospective member of the program will be on board with the idea of competing with an incumbent for minutes. For some recruits this can be an issue, with the desire for immediate playing time having a significant impact on their decision. But for others, the opportunity to not only compete for minutes but also play with other talented players is a plus.

That’s all part of the recruiting process, and accurately gauging a recruit’s thinking in situations such as this one is why programs can’t afford to wait until the spring to make moves.

The position that Oklahoma State found itself in at the end of April is an ideal one. Their three best players all decided to return for another season, but even if that didn’t turn out to be the case the Cowboys had done enough on the recruiting trail to ensure that they had enough depth entering the 2013-14 season.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.