Emphatic dunk just one of Rex Pflueger’s highlights in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. – 2015 shooting guard Rex Plfueger (Mater Dei HS) has been a productive member of the Compton Magic program for quite some time now, and his improvement has caught the attention of many high-major programs on the west coast.

But there wasn’t as much national attention during the spring, when Pflueger and his teammates took some lumps (and dished them out as well) against older squads in an attempt to prepare themselves for July, which is the most important month on the spring/summer recruiting calendar.

Those games ultimately paid off for both the Magic, who won the 16U division at the adidas Super 64 this past weekend, and for Pflueger as he played well throughout the final evaluation period of the summer.

“We played 17’s (age bracket) all spring,” Magic 16U coach A.J. Diggs told NBC Sports. “This summer we’ve played strictly 16’s, and all of our guys have looked dominant against their age group.”

Oh, Pflueger also did this while in Las Vegas.

While the dunk was impressive, Pflueger’s game encompasses a lot more than his ability to finish above the rim. Pflueger also has range beyond the three-point line, and his athleticism is an asset on the defensive end as well. Pflueger’s play throughout the week earned him a share of MVP honors in the adidas Super 64 16U division (with teammate Cameron Walker).

“My game is to always be in motion, always high-energy and trying to get the team going,” Pflueger told NBC Sports in an interview Saturday morning. “Defensively I feel like I’m one of the leaders on this team.”

To Pflueger’s point, in the immediate aftermath of that dunk he also combined with teammate Nicholas Pete to reject Bragg’s dunk attempt on the other end.

So which play holds more value as far as Pflueger’s concerned?

“Honestly I know the right answer is to say the block but both are pretty equal just because of the hype,” Pflueger said. “The block, mainly because it stopped [their] momentum and helped get our team going.”

Given his play throughout the spring and summer, Pflueger’s recruitment was bound to take off even before his emphatic dunk. In a playoff win over the Eric Gordon All-Stars, the Magic trailed by as many as 17 points before Pflueger’s hot shooting from deep helped to spark a Magic rally for a ten-point victory.

“Mostly Pac-12 schools, and others such as San Diego State, Gonzaga, Boston College and Notre Dame,” Pflueger said when asked about his recruitment.

But just because his team’s summer is complete doesn’t mean that Pflueger’s work is done. The next step for Pflueger, according to Coach Diggs, is to further develop his mid-range game. As Pflueger works to accomplish this task, look for his recruitment to gain even more momentum heading into the fall.

Image courtesy of adidas

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”