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?

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

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The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.