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Devin Booker and his father show the changed landscape of recruiting

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To get an idea of just how valued Devin Booker is as a basketball player, all you need to do is to take a glimpse at some of the programs that have offered him a scholarship.

Duke. Florida. North Carolina. Michigan. Michigan State. Kentucky.

The names don’t get bigger than that.

Missouri has also offered Booker a scholarship, and while Frank Haith’s program may not be on the same level as the six listed above, the Tigers have an actual chance to land Booker. His father, Melvin, was a Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and a second-team all-american for the Tigers in the early ’90s.

The father-son duo also happens to be a perfect example of the differences in how the recruitment for star players happens.

Devin has been a known commodity for years in Mississippi. He averaged more than 30 points as a junior at Moss Point HS. He plays for the Alabama Challenge, a Nike-sponsored AAU team that plays in the EYBL, and he’s a consensus top 30 recruit in the Class of 2014. This July, he played at the LeBron camp in Las Vegas then went to North Augusta, SC, for the Peach Jam. After heading to Washington DC for the Nike Global Challenge, Booker closed out his month with a trip to Orlando for AAU Nationals.

With the number of AAU teams and tournaments across the country, if you’re a recruit with a chance at playing at the high-major level, odds are good that your summer looked similar.

For Melvin it was much different. Midway through his senior year, Tulane, South Alabama and Central Florida were really the only programs recruiting him despite the fact that he was Mississippi’s Player of the Year. From Steve Waletnik of the Columbia Tribune:

That was until former Missouri assistant coach Rich Daly contacted him in the middle of his senior year.

The story went that Daly noticed Booker, who ranks seventh on Missouri’s career scoring list, as a high school sophomore. Daly was in the stands to watch Booker’s senior teammate Litterial Green — who went on to become the leading scorer in Georgia basketball history — battle future LSU great Chris Jackson. He made a note to keep tabs on Booker’s progress but forgot to follow up until two years later, in the middle of the season, when Coach Norm Stewart was looking for a guard to round out his recruiting class.

Daly called Moss Point Coach Arthur Haynes and found out Booker was in the middle of a season in which he averaged 28.4 points.

Missouri was doing pretty well that season, too, rising to No. 1 in the polls. So Booker was immediately intrigued, but it wasn’t until he experienced the raucous atmosphere of the Hearnes Center during a showdown with Oklahoma that Booker’s mind was made up. He signed with the Tigers that April.

Criticizing AAU basketball is trendy. It’s easy to blame everything that’s wrong with the sport and all of the wasted talent on the grassroots culture, even if it’s inaccurate. And I’ll admit, there are parts of the events that I don’t like. The tournaments are run for profit, meaning that anyone with a large enough check can partake, even if their team has no business taking part. The events are located all over the country, and it costs a pretty penny to be able to get an entire team from the deep south to Milwaukee or Indianapolis or Las Vegas. The games are more competitive that people give them credit for, but with a different tournament every weekend and three games in a day, it’s tough to care too much about any given loss.

But what AAU has helped do is make the basketball world smaller. Players like Melvin Booker don’t slip through the cracks as often anymore, and while the downside of that is these kids are now being recruited when they are as young as 14 and 15 years old, the bottom-line is that AAU has helped create opportunities.

Devin Booker plays for Moss Point HS (MS).

Would he have three bluebloods and three hall of fame coaches knocking down his door if it wasn’t for the exposure he’s gotten throughout his high school career?

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

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