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A broken foot failed to derail C.J. McCollum’s trek to the lottery

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Through 12 games in the 2012-13 season, Lehigh senior guard C.J. McCollum had done nothing to dispel the notion that he was one of the nation’s best players. With averages of 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game to that point in the season, McCollum was leading the country in scoring and well on his way to earning All-America honors for the second consecutive season (AP Honorable Mention as a junior).

That all came to a halt in a January 5 game at VCU, with McCollum suffering a broken bone in his left foot. While there was some hope that the Canton, Ohio native could possibly return to the floor in March, as Patriot League play progressed it became apparent that McCollum would not be ready to rejoin his teammates on the floor.

“Once we started getting towards the end of the regular season when we were losing time of competitive basketball our focus shifted,” Lehigh head coach Dr. Brett Reed said in a phone interview with NBC Sports.

“When it became apparent that it would not be in his best interest to come back for the Patriot League tournament, then immediately we transitioned to the idea of ‘let’s utilize the additional time and allow him to be healthy for the wonderful things he has in store career-wise beyond Lehigh basketball.'”

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The recovery process isn’t solely about a player getting his body back to full strength. It’s also about taking full advantage of the newly-found time to evaluate his game from a different perspective. McCollum did this through the use of both “mental reps” and spending even more time evaluating himself on tape, and he learned some valuable lessons.

“I broke down a lot of film while I was injured. I always broke down a lot of film when I was playing, but now I had more free time to analyze things with my coaching staff and become a player-coach,” McCollum said in a phone interview with NBC Sports.

In addition to being able to break down defensive schemes and also work to perfect his shooting form, McCollum also made strides to be an even better leader than he was before the injury. McCollum credited Dr. Reed for his continued progression as a leader both on and off the court.

“Coach Reed’s so mature beyond his years in terms of knowing the game and really breaking down the important parts of not only being a successful basketball player, but being a good person off the court as well,” said McCollum.  “That’s what he’s really done with me, just making sure I’m doing the right things off the court and continuing to develop my leadership skills.”

The idea of McCollum playing the point may be something that concerns those unfamiliar with his game and what he was asked to do at Lehigh. But to attempt to place McCollum into a particular “box” would be a mistake, as he certainly needed to be a playmaker for the Mountain Hawks.

“He’s been very involved with our program as a creator, both for his own scoring opportunities and for others with the way we would utilize him in ‘pick and roll’ basketball,” noted Dr. Reed. “Often he was our leading rebounder, which allowed him to start our fast break as well. So he was in a number of those positions [which allowed him] to utilize those skill sets.”

How did McCollum reach the point of being able to take on such responsibilities from a skill standpoint?

Hard work first and foremost, and some credit should also be given to a coaching staff that has experienced professional basketball in both the NBA and overseas.

“That was huge,” said McCollum when asked how this impacted his development. “Coach [Ryan] Krueger is one of the guys who came from the NBA (former video coordinator for the Nets), and he’s able to break down film on another level; he’s kind of perfected it and just knows the ins and outs of ‘pick and roll’ basketball.

“And coach [Antoni] Wyche, he actually played overseas and was a four-year starter at Notre Dame. He’s gone through it, so I can touch base with him and pick his brain about what it’s like to become a professional and what it takes to get there.”

For some players, suffering an injury that ended their collegiate career would be enough to send their draft stock in the wrong direction. That hasn’t been the case for McCollum, and while some may point towards his showings in pre-draft workouts the fact of the matter is that this process has been ongoing for quite some time.

And when his name is called on June 27, the moment will be one that’s been four years in the making for both McCollum and Lehigh.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

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)
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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.