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Allonzo Trier, former NYT coverboy, now a top 50 recruit

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s a story that you hear far too often in basketball circles.

A basketball player becomes a star before leaving middle school, getting scholarship offers to the biggest programs in the country while he’s trying to decide who he wants to ask to the eighth grade dance. That player gets flown around the country to play in exposure events, becoming a hired gun for AAU programs looking to secure a deal from a shoe company only to fizzle out before ever his career really ever got started.

The most famous example these days is Demetrius Walker, the biggest name in George Dohrmann’s book Play Their Hearts Out. ‘D’ was a star in his pre-teen years, having sprouted to 6-foot-3 and physically maturing before the rest of his peers. That size and athleticism allowed him to dominate, getting “ranked” No. 1 in his class as a center. He was capitalized on by his AAU coach and dubbed ‘The Next LeBron’ by Sports Illustrated. But Walker never got any bigger, and by the time the rest of his peers had caught up to him physically, Walker found himself behind when it came to developing perimeter skills.

Walker eventually finished outside the top 100 in his graduating class, enrolling at Arizona State for a season before spending two years as a reserve at New Mexico and, finally, transferring to Division I newcomer Grand Canyon University for his final collegiate season.

And he’s far from the only cautionary tale out there.

Renardo Sidney had the size and talent to be an NBA all-star at 15 years old, but he never learned how to work out, spent the first year-and-a-half of his college career suspended for illicit benefits he accepted as a high schooler, and is now an out-of-shape has-been looking for one final shot at a career. Taylor King committed to UCLA as an eighth-grader, ended up at Duke, and flamed out of two schools before finishing his career at an NAIA program. He was last seen playing in Taiwan. The list goes on: Derrick Caracter, Lenny Cooke, Schea Cotton. Cooke and Cotton both have documentaries being made about their life and their downfall.

Think about that.

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When Allonzo Trier was 13 years old, he was on the front page of the New York Times magazine, the subject of a feature on the capitalization of grassroots basketball in America. (The article can be found here.)

source:
New York Times

At the time of the story, which was written in early 2009, Trier was fully immersed in that world.

The summer before his sixth grade season, according to the author, Michael Sokolove, in the span of three months, Trier flew from his hometown of Seattle to the east coast four times while also making trips to LA and San Diego. He participated in the Adidas Junior Phenom Camps, which were run by Demetrius Walker’s former AAU coach Joe Keller. He had his own line of clothing with his personal motto, “When the lights come on, it’s time to perform”, and signature on them. He had received a questionnaire from John Calipari, who was then a coach at Memphis, and his mother was consistently receiving text messages from another college coach. When on campus at one school for a camp, he received a private, all-access tour of the team’s locker room and arena.

All of that happened when Trier was a 5-foot-5 point guard. All of that attention was heaped on him when he had just turned 13 years old.

Trier’s now 6-foot-3. He’s still a point guard, having developed some pretty good bulk for a high school junior, and is currently ranked 35th in the Class of 2015 by Rivals. Now living in Oklahoma, the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Marquette and Wichita State have offered him a scholarship.

And, according to Trier, the biggest regret he has with the article has nothing to do with the hoops side of it.

“It definitely released a lot of my life,” Trier told NBCSports.com while taking part in the Nike Global Challenge last week. “It put all my personal things out there of me and my family. There was a lot of good sides to it, but there were a lot of bad sides to it. Not everything that was said was true.”

In fact, Trier embraced the added pressure that came with being the coverboy for a magazine that covers much more than just basketball. He enjoyed the fact that it put a target on his back, that every time he took the court the team he was going up against had a chance to make their name and build their reputation by outplaying him. “I’m a competitive dude,” he said. “I like to win. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. If a guy is going to come competitive at me, I’m going to come competitive right back.”

Trier is different that some of the other phenoms, however. He’s not blessed with freakish athleticism, and he didn’t survive as a youth simply because he was bigger or faster or stronger than everyone else. Remember, Trier was a 5-foot-5 point guard when that story was written. “You have some kids that grow early, but I was small for a while, and I just started growing pretty recently,” he said. The reason that Trier was so good, and part of the reason that the New York Times story was written, was that his work ethic even as a 13 year old was tireless. He’d play for more than four hours a day after school, going through individual workouts and team practices.

The reason that some of the guys listed above flamed out was their belief that the NBA was a foregone conclusion; they didn’t need to work hard to get to the next level, they had already “made it”. They bought into their hype, Trier earned his.

But Trier admitted that, at times, the attention and the pressure to perform would wear on him. At times, it still does.

“You definitely have something to live up to. It’s as much pressure as you want to put on yourself,” he said. “You don’t ever want to disappoint. To be advertised to be this good, that means that every single game you play, there’s someone that hasn’t seen you play. If you don’t live up to it, then there’s a guy that’s seen you play on your bad day. He doesn’t think you’re that good.”

Imagine having to deal with that as a 13 year old.

Imagine thinking that every game you play will define your career despite being in the sixth grade.

What’s worse is that there will be people who think that the fact that Trier is “only” ranked 35th in the class means he’s a failure. The idea that a 6-foot-3 point guard who can’t jump all that high, who isn’t super-quick and who has made himself good enough to represent the US in Nike’s Global Challenge through hard work is a “failure” is crazy, I know. But the fact that he’s gone from No. 1 to No. 35 in four years will lead some folks to believe as much.

I’ll never support the idea of ranking and publicizing middle school athletes, but to Trier’s credit, he has a refreshing take on the subject.

“You have some of the most important people in the world that haven’t been able to [make the cover of the New York Times],” he said.

“It is what it is, but I don’t regret it.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Hartford coach John Gallagher, AP Photo
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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.