Syracuse Orange Carter-Williams reacts as the official signals a three-point shot against the Indiana Hoosiers during the second half in their East Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Washington

The most important skill Michael Carter-Williams learned as a freshman? Work ethic

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All things considered, Michael Carter-Williams had a pretty great sophomore campaign as the point guard for the Syracuse Orange.

He averaged 11.9 points, 7.3 assists, 4.9 boards and 2.8 steals, which was impressive enough to get him into consideration as a lottery pick for next week’s NBA Draft once you taken into account the potential his length and athleticism gives him. It was more than just individual success as well, as Carter-Williams played an integral role in Syracuse making a run to the Big East tournament title and the Final Four.

Those numbers become even more impressive when you think about the fact that Carter-Williams spent his freshman season buried on the bench behind the veteran back court of Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters.

It was a humbling experience for the former McDonald’s All-American. A native of Hamilton, MA, and a product of St. Andrew’s (RI), Carter-Williams was anything but accustomed to sitting on the bench. He knew there was a risk that he wouldn’t play as much as he wanted to his first year, but he didn’t expect that he’d take the dreaded DNP-CD (Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision) 11 times. He didn’t think that he wouldn’t get a second of playing time in seven of Cuse’s last 11 games, including all four NCAA tournament games. It never crossed his mind that over the course of the final seven weeks of the regular season, he would take all of two field goals in a game.

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“I learned to re-appreciate the game, knowing what it’s like to not be out there playing,” Carter-Williams told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. It was more than just an appreciation, however. Carter-Williams learned that it would take more than a nice pass here and there or a soaring dunk from a 6-foot-6 guy that can play the point to further his career.

He learned that potential will only get you so far if you don’t put in the hours in the gym trying to reach that potential.

“It helped my work ethic,” Carter-Williams said, “because I was working out before and after practice everything day. I took my frustration out during those times.”

“When I wasn’t playing, [assistant coach Gerry McNamara] still had me come to games on gameday and workout before the games. I would get something in. It motivated me a lot. I wanted to be out there playing,” not doing drills prior to tip-off.

According to McNamara, the work with Carter-Williams went beyond the obvious. They weren’t simply doing two-ball dribbling drills for hours. It was more than just working on his jump shot or developing his crossover or lifting weights. With Carter-Williams, the Syracuse coaching staff went to work teaching him proper reads and developing his understanding of the game.

“A lot of pick and roll,” McNamara told NBCSports.com of what he worked on with Carter-Williams the most. “Every single read you could go through from every position. Every different scenario. His development, from an IQ standpoint, he took the next step.”

One of the first things that you learn covering college basketball is that every kid at every level of the game has a ‘great work ethic’ and is ‘always in the gym’ and is just trying to get better. Every kid watches film through all hours of the night. It’s about typical as you can get when it comes to sports cliches.

But it’s also pretty simple to pick out the players that simply say they put in the work and those that do. According to Eric Mussellman, who is currently as assistant coach at Arizona State but who has spent his entire life around the professional game, it’s that work ethic and level of commitment that is the biggest difference for players making the jump to the next level.

“Players that aren’t in the NBA have no idea what great work ethic is and how hard guys work on their own,” he told NBCSports.com, “and how they work on their craft and their game when they’re not in practice. The time commitment to develop yourself on your own time, be it the weight room, shot repetitions, studying your own game on film, studying your opponent’s game on film.”

As the saying goes, hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.

And perhaps that’s the greatest benefit that Carter-Williams will get out of his time picking splinters as a freshman.

It was a wake-up call.

“You know, I’m not sure,” Carter-Williams said when asked if he’d be in this position — coming off a Final Four, headed for the first round of the NBA Draft — had he played more minutes has a freshman. “I think I would have been successful during my sophomore year, I played through a lot of mistakes. I don’t think that I would be the player that I am this quickly without going through some adversity, and it really helped me not only on the basketball court but off the basketball court.”

Carter-Williams has plenty of work left to do. He needs to continue to cut down on his turnovers. He needs to become a better perimeter shooter. He needs to become a more consistent scorer and improve his on-ball defense. He needs to add some weight to his frame.

In short, he needs to put in the work to reach his potential.

He’ll be the one that determines whether or not that happens.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

 

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.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim makes TV appearance to talk Carmelo Anthony

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Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has drawn attention for some recent comments about former Orange star Carmelo Anthony.

After Anthony captured his record third gold medal with USA Basketball, his former college coach told Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard that Anthony didn’t have a great chance at winning an NBA title.

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said of Anthony. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title.”

Boeheim maintains that he was speaking of Melo’s legacy being about more than an NBA title and that he’s one of the game’s greats thanks to other accomplishments like the Syracuse title and gold medals. On SportsCenter, Boeheim made sure to stress where those comments were coming from, while also making sure his kids would stop being mad at him.

It’s much easier to understand where Boeheim is coming from in this instance and it clears up something that will probably go away now.