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.

 

Quinnipiac set to hire Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy as new head coach

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Quinnipiac will introduce Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy as the team’s new head coach on Tuesday, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Dunleavy has helped the Wildcats to a national championship and multiple Big East championships as the team’s associate head coach. A former walk-on for Villanova who transitioned into a director of operations and later an assistant coach, Dunleavy is the son of Tulane head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. Baker’s brother, Mike Dunleavy Jr., is still playing in the NBA as well.

The 34-year-old Dunleavy has experience with a championship program at Villanova so it will be interesting to see what he can do running his own program for the first time. Quinnipiac hired Dunleavy to replace Tom Moore, who was fired after 10 years with the program.

The Bobcats went to an NIT and made a few other postseason appearances under Moore but the program has never been to the NCAA tournament since making the transition to Division I in the late ’90s.

Report: Duquesne hires Akron’s Keith Dambrot as new head coach

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Duquesne has hired Akron head coach Keith Dambrot to the same position, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman.

The 58-year-old Dambrot has been head coach at Akron since 2004 as he’s helped the program to three NCAA tournament appearances.

The former high school coach of LeBron James at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Akron, Dambrot won two Ohio state championships with James before becoming an assistant coach at Akron in 2001. Dambrot eventually took over the head job over from Dan Hipsher.

Dambrot is reportedly getting a seven-year deal from Duquesne so the Dukes are making a major investment in him to turn around the basketball program.

Duke’s Christian Laettner shouts out North Carolina’s Luke Maye on Twitter after winning jumper over Kentucky

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Duke and North Carolina don’t have much in common.

But the historic college basketball rivals now have the distinction of earning late Elite Eight wins over Kentucky that involved a No. 32 making the winning shot.

Blue Devil legend Christian Laettner is famous for his 1992 buzzer-beater over Kentucky in the Elite Eight and he made sure to give some love to North Carolina sophomore Luke Maye after his own Elite Eight shot knocked out the Wildcats.

Rice’s Marcus Evans becomes one of top available transfers

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Rice sophomore guard Marcus Evans will transfer and play his final two seasons elsewhere, he announced on Monday.

The 6-foot-2 Evans has been a major scorer the last two seasons for the Owls as he averaged 19.0 points per game this season after putting up 21.4 points per game as a freshman.

With Rice head coach Mike Rhoades taking the VCU opening and the program struggling to consistently win, Evans seeking to play elsewhere should not come as much of a surprise.

Evans will have to sit out a transfer season before having two more years of eligibility but he should be one of the best options available this offseason. A proven scorer who has become more well-rounded this season, Evans could be a high-quality addition to any program this offseason.

A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, it will be interesting to see if Evans decides to play closer to home.

NBA Draft Stock Watch: Who has helped themselves in the NCAA Tournament?

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The term ‘prisoner of the moment’ is never more fitting than when weighing just how valuable an NCAA Tournament star turn is for a kid’s potential success as an NBA player.

We see it every year. Big tournament performances during deep runs in the dance is a great way to inflate draft stock while disappointing exits are an easy way to hurt it, even if it goes against the season-long data that is telling us something about a player. 

Who are the players that helped themselves the most this March? And who may have put a damper on their chances of hearing their name called early on draft night?

STOCK UP

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has played his way into the discussion as a potential first round pick by leading South Carolina to the Final Four. He has the physical tools to be an excellent defender in the NBA, and he certainly has the toughness and physicality, but it’s his shot-making that is the game-changer for him. He shot 39.4 percent from three on the season and is hitting 43.2 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament, and while the knuckle-ball action on his jumper is concerning, at some point it’s fair to wonder whether or not his less-than-ideal form is less important than the fact that it goes in. Thornwell, who was the SEC Player of the Year this season, will be an interesting 3-and-D candidate come draft night, and the spotlight on him from averaging 25.7 points while leading the Gamecocks to the Final Four will only help.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox solidified his standing as a potential top five during the tournament. The red flags are still there — Can he make threes in the NBA? — but at the end of the day, the NBA Draft is about whether or not you want one guy or the other guy. This is a draft that is absolutely loaded at the point guard spot, and for the second time this season, Fox outplayed a guy that many have slotted above him, Lonzo Ball. In the Sweet 16, he put up 39 points, the most impressive individual performance of the tournament, as Kentucky skated by UCLA more easily than most of us expected. Ball should probably still be considered the better, but when you’re sitting in that room making those decisions, it’s not going to be easy to bypass the guy that bested him twice.

Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell, a senior, has been one of the best defensive players in the country all season long, and never was that more apparent than when he went for 11 points, 13 boards, eight blocks and four assists against Kansas in the Elite 8. He totally changed that game, making Landen Lucas look like an eighth grader without any confidence and forcing the Jayhawks to miss a number of shots in the lane simply because they were aware that Bell could be lurking. He was probably worth a second round pick already, but that game very likely ensured that he will here his name called at some point on draft night.

Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey is a shot-maker. That’s what he brings to the table offensively. He can score. He’s gone for at least 20 points in all seven tournament games — Pac-12 and NCAA — that Oregon had played this year, and he hit innumerable big shots in the process, including a game-winner against Rhode Island in the second round and a pair of absolute daggers against Kansas. Undersized scorers come a dime-a-dozen at that level, but Dorsey ensured that he will get a shot this spring.

D.J. Wilson, Michigan: Wilson has been one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball this season given his size, athleticism and skill-set, and the attention that Michigan got as the darling of the conference tournaments and the first weekend of the NCAA tournament certainly didn’t hurt. I’m not convinced he’s in a position to be a first round pick, but I am certain that, if he opts to declare for the draft and sign with an agent, there will be a team willing to bet on the meteoric rise he had this year continuing.

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STOCK DOWN

Lonzo Ball, UCLA: With all the hype surrounding the Ball family heading into his showdown with De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky in the Sweet 16, you would’ve expected Lonzo, who has been terrific this season, to shine on the biggest stage. But that’s not how it went. He was completely overshadowed by Fox, who went for a career-high 39 points when they went head-to-head, bowing out of the tournament with nothing but a Sweet 16 to show for it. There’s a risk in making over-arching judgements on a player based off of one or two games when a season’s worth of data is telling you something else, but it is fair to note that Ball was outplayed in both of his matchups with another potential top five pick at his position.

Josh Jackson, Kansas: We’ve seen all season long what Josh Jackson can do on a basketball court, and one bad game where he got into foul trouble in the first four minutes is not going to change the way that scouts view his ability on the court. The concern with Jackson has nothing to do with basketball. It’s the off-the-court stuff, and it’s his temper. The biggest red flag surrounding him right now is an incident at a bar where he did more than $1,000 worth of damage to a person’s car. He got a few technical fouls this season. Against Oregon, he got into it with Duck players. Whether that affected his play, only Jackson will know, but it’s not all that hard to connect those dots. It’s easier to teach a 19-year old that cares too much to tone it down — the maturity that comes with getting older certainly helps — than it is to get a guy with no heart to be intense and tough, but that’s something NBA teams are going to have to consider when they decide whether to take Jackson in the top three of a draft this loaded.

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Justin Patton, Creighton: Patton is incredibly talented and loaded with promise, but after seeing the dip in his production once Mo Watson went out with a torn ACL — 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on a 74 percent shooting vs. 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds on 61 percent shooting post Watson — is concerning. Throw in that he was totally underwhelming against an undersized front line of Rhode Island in a first round loss, and there will be questions asked about whether or not he is a guy that is worth a first round pick.

Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard, by all accounts, had a terrific season. He’s a skilled scorer that can get his buckets in a number of different ways. He’s a lights-out shooter with an advanced array of moves to create space to get his shot off and a knack for scoring around the rim with both hands. But the concerns with him is whether or not he will be able to do so against guys that are as athletic and strong as NBA wings are. Picking a second round matchup with a South Carolina team loaded with those kind of defenders to have his worst game of the season wasn’t exactly ideal timing.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart does everything well, and he certainly proved throughout the season that he had improved on the things that he needed to improve — shooting, playmaking, ability off the dribble. But the concern with Hart is whether or not he’s going to be able to get his own shot when the guys he plays against are bigger, quicker, more athletic and just as tough as he is, and the way Villanova bowed out of the tournament — with Hart being unable to create a shot or draw a foul on a drive to the rim — is a perfect summation of the concerns NBA teams have about him.