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.

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

Kansas went on an 11-0 run in the second half, forcing four Purdue turnovers during that stretch. Once the Boilermakers finally got back on the board, the Jayhawks led 69-56. That run broke open the game en route to the 32-point victory.

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan ended his season — and perhaps, his college career — with 18 points and seven rebounds.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

WATCH: LaGerald Vick’s 360 dunk

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It takes a lot of confidence to throw down a dunk better suited for pre-game lay-up lines than the middle of a NCAA Tournament game.

But Kansas sophomore guard LaGerald Vick thought this breakaway opportunity in the second half of a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue was the perfect time to throw down a 360 dunk.

Jordan Mathews three sends No. 1 seed Gonzaga past No. 4 West Virginia

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Jordan Mathews hit a three with less than a minute left and West Virginia missed a pair of threes on the final possession of the game as No. 1 seed Gonzaga won a dogfight, 61-58, over No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Mathews, who finished with 13 points on the night, spent 4:30 on the bench before checking into the game right before hitting the eventual game-winning three. It came on a possession fitting of this game, which was the embodiment of the mantra ‘a close game is not always a good game.’ Nigel Williams-Goss, who played arguably his worst game as a member of the Zags, turned the ball over immediately after gathering a defensive rebound. But West Virginia’s Nathan Adrian had a shot blocked at the rim and, after corralling the loose ball, Williams-Goss found Mathews open in the wing for a three that put the Zags up 60-58 with 37 seconds left.

What’s going to be talked about after this game is the final possession for West Virginia.

Jevon Carter, who finished with 21 points and who, prior to that final possession, continued to hit big jumper after big jumper for the Mountaineers, airballed a three and, after West Virginia gathered the rebound, threw up another tough three that bounced off the front rim. West Virginia again got the loose ball, and after Carter dribbled 15 seconds off the block, he gave the ball up to Daxter Miles, who didn’t have enough time to get the shot off:

That possession is going to haunt Carter for a long, long time, and West Virginia was rightfully criticized for the way that they “executed” on that possession — I wonder if Bob Huggins regrets not saving a timeout for the end of the game — but it’s impossible to criticize West Virginia without also mentioning that Gonzaga’s defense was as good as it gets.

Not just just on that possession, either.

The Zags made life difficult for West Virginia all night long, and that should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention to this Gonzaga team. West Virginia shot 26.7 percent from the floor. They were 5-for-23 from three, and if it wasn’t for the 20 offensive rebounds they grabbed — more than the 16 field goals they made on the night — Gonzaga would have walked out of the SAP Center with a comfortable win. They are, quite literally, the best defensive team in college basketball, according to KenPom, and they made the plays they needed to make down the stretch to get the win. That’s what championship-caliber teams do.

And if you still don’t believe that Gonzaga can win a national title this season, than I’m not sure what else you need to see.

West Virginia was a terrible matchup for Gonzaga. Their guards, as good as they’ve been all season long, are not cut out for playing against a back court that is that much tougher, that much quicker, that much more aggressive and that much more athletic than them. Williams-Goss, who was a second-team NBC Sports All-American, was exposed. He finished the evening 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just a single assist before finding Mathews for the game-winning three. As a team, Gonzaga turned the ball over 16 times. Josh Perkins didn’t even get a shot off. Silas Melson was 2-for-7 from the floor. Throw in Zach Collins, who had just a single point, and four of Gonzaga’s top seven players were flat out bad on Thursday night.

That was, unequivocally, a game played the way West Virginia wanted it to be played. The Mountaineers controlled the game.

And yet, Gonzaga is still headed to the Elite 8, one game — against the winner of No. 2 Arizona and No. 11 Xavier — away from the right to go to the Final Four.

The knock on this Gonzaga team was their toughness, both physical and mental. Would they be able to handle a team that plays the way that West Virginia plays? Would they be able to handle the game pressure of playing to the final possession in the Sweet 16?

The answer is yes.

That doesn’t mean Gonzaga is going to win the national title.

But they are certainly good enough to get it done.

No. 3 Oregon advances after thriller with No. 7 Michigan

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Oregon is returning to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season following a thrilling, 69-68, victory over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City on Thursday night.

In a game in which neither team could fully grasp control of the game, it came down to the wire. Michigan held a 3-point lead with two minutes to play. Jordan Bell, who was unquestionably the deciding factor in this contest, came up with the first of several critical hustle plays down the stretch. He knifed in on a missed free throw, for the second-chance bucket, cutting the deficit to one.

On the ensuing Michigan possession, Bell didn’t block it but affected Derrick Walton Jr.’s shot enough to force the miss. Tyler Dorsey, the other hero for the Ducks, continued his stellar play this month with a go-ahead layup after he spun through the Wolverine defense. Bell’s close out on D.J. Wilson sent his 3-point attempt way off the mark. Bell would corral another offensive rebound on the other end of the floor, and while Dylan Ennis left the door open for Michigan following another missed free throw, Bell, deservedly, rebounded Walton’s miss as time ran out.

“Do whatever you can to win,” Bell told reporters after the game. “Me, get every rebound, offense or defense, help my team out as much as possible.”

Bell had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey poured in 20 points. Walton Jr., who front-rimmed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, ended his collegiate career with stat-line of 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Zak Irvin added 19.

Dillon Brooks is without a doubt the star, but Bell and Dorsey round out a big three that could lead the Ducks to Phoenix.

Before the start of the Pac-12 Tournament championship game on March 11, Oregon announced that Chris Boucher would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. How would this effect Oregon’s defense days before it began its quest for a Final Four?

Bell has helped answer those questions on Thursday night. He’s a big reason why Oregon outscored Michigan, 34-16, in points in the paint. But his greatest impact was how he slowed down the two-headed monster of Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson, two forwards whose increased production is a big reason why Michigan’s unlikely run extended into the second weekend of the tournament. The duo scored a combined 19 points off 7-of-20 shooting.

The other for Oregon was the continued offensive tear of Dorsey. In six postseason games, the sophomore two-guard is averaging 23.0 points per game. He went toe-to-toe with Walton, who was playing as good as any guard in the country, in the final minutes and got the better of the battle. Playing at this level, Oregon has another go-to scorer, one who has no issue taking a big shot late in the game. In either matchup in the next round, that should come in handy. Dillon Brooks, one of college’s toughest matchups, will either be busy with Purdue’s massive frontline or locked in an all-out war with Kansas’ Josh Jackson the perimeter.

“I’m really fortunate to have Jordan for three years and Tyler for two and Dillon Brooks,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “We’ve just been really fortunate. We’ve got good players and guys that are unselfish. They want to win. They’re competitive. We got down four there and guys could have gave into it. They didn’t. They fought their way back. Shows you what kind of competitive spirit they’ve got.”

The Ducks, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, will face the winner of top-seeded Kansas and No. 4 Purdue on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.

“We know Purdue is really big and Kansas is Kansas,” Altman said.

WATCH: Steve Alford end practice with half-court shot

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford ended practice on Thursday by drilling a half-court shot on the first attempt.

According to the Associated Press, this has been a season-long battle between the UCLA coaching staff and the players.

“Truth be told, we’ve been getting slaughtered. We’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) literally takes a jump shot from the timeline. We were just lucky that they only got one shot at it. I think coaches are down about eight on the half-court shots this year. I told them, though, that the coaches are ahead at the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

No. 3 seed UCLA is set to play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Memphis. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats, 97-92, in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3.