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Big Blue Nation concerned about renovating Rupp Arena

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Earlier this summer, rumors swirled that Rupp Arena may undergo a face-lift in the near future. This news came with some very mixed emotions to many, and that hasn’t changed in the subsequent months.

Change can be good, but not to all in Big Blue Nation who feel that renovating Rupp Arena and potentially changing the name of the arena — gasp — would cause a divide among the fan base. In the latest update of this saga, mayor Jim Gray said he welcomes all kinds of second-guessing when it comes to renovating Rupp, according to KentuckySports.com: “It’s been very informing to hear those voices, which illustrate just how much people care and the attachment they have to this shrine.”

A major part of the renovation would be to add luxury suites, loge boxes and a private lounge. Suites and other lavish amenities — who wouldn’t want this? On the surface it looks nice, but the primary issue is that ticket prices would almost assuredly increase, and that is reason for concern for much of Big Blue Nation. Fans whose wallets aren’t quite as thick as some others may be forced to give up their seats.

University of Kentucky trustee Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton summed up his thoughts on the possibility of fans losing their seats due to a rise in prices: “That’s not fair.”

Of course, all arenas need to undergo renovations at some point in time, but it’s the manner in which it’s conducted that has some of Big Blue Nation concerned. Gray has urged fans not to judge any modifications Rupp undergoes just yet. Renovations will include more than just including luxury suites, Gray explained: “The nature of video technology and engagement changes. How we incorporate all that into this project is a big part of the project.”

Much of Big Blue Nation could probably live with a new Rupp Arena, but what if it’s no longer called “Rupp Arena?” That would almost assuredly have the entire state of Kentucky and fans across the nation up in arms:
As for naming rights, Gray saw multiple possibilities: the Lexington Convention Center (Alltech and an undisclosed second firm have made bids), Rupp Arena, the entire entertainment district, an outdoor amphitheater and who knows what other elements. But he called adding a corporate name to Rupp Arena a “last resort.”
It certainly seems like upgrades are inevitable, but to what degree and at what cost will they occur? Gatton is willing to offset some of these costs:

Gatton also said he’d give “a few million” to Gray’s project if the city agreed to a scaled-down renovation: Only upgrade the restrooms, plus install a scoreboard over center court and electronic ribbon signage at the bottom of the upper arena. After noting that a scoreboard over center court would require a “substantial” strengthening of Rupp Arena’s roof, Gray showed little interest in a modest renovation. “To me, it’s worth doing only if it’s extraordinary and remarkable,” he said.

Would Kentucky basketball have it not be “extraordinary” or “remarkable?” That’s all they know.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.