The key to Syracuse’s back court: a consistent jump shooter?

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Syracuse will likely enter the 2013-2014 season somewhere around the top 10 of most preseason polls, which is a fair assessment.

Losing Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland hurts, but there is talent coming back — CJ Fair, the uber-promising Jerami Grant, the reportedly-in-shape DaJuan Coleman — and even more joining the program — Tyler Ennis, BJ Johnson, Ron Patterson, Tyler Roberson, Michael Gbinje.

Ennis, quite obviously, is the key to the team, as he just so happens to be the only point guard on the roster. Taking over as the sole point guard on a team accustomed to the likes of MCW, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf is not going to be an easy thing to do for a freshman.

One of the things that will make his job easier?

Shooters surrounding him on the perimeter.

One of the things that Ennis does well is penetrate, collapse the defense and find an open man; that’s what he did when I watched him last summer, and that’s essentially what his entire ESPN scouting report says. He also went for 42 points against China in the U-19s, so, you know, he’s pretty good.

We all know that Syracuse has the long and lanky athletes around the basket — I didn’t even mention Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita earlier, which should give you an idea of the number of front court players Jim Boeheim has at his disposal — but with Southerland gone, there is some question of where the perimeter shooting will come from. Fair shot 46.9% last season, but it was on a limited number of attempts. Grant shot 40%, but only took 15 threes.

Michael Gbinje, the former top 30 recruit and a transfer from Duke, should be able to help out in that area, but the key to this team could end up being Trevor Cooney, who might find himself playing the role that Andy Rautins once played for the Orange. Cooney entered college with the reputation of being a shooter, but struggled with his consistency as a freshman. He’s spent the summer working on that. From Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com:

No longer would the Syracuse University shooting guard busy himself with boosting his upper body. No longer would he worry that he had not accumulated the breadth of bulk necessary to compete at the highest levels of the college game.

Instead, Cooney would concentrate on conditioning his 6-foot-4, 195-pound body to withstand the rigors of tempo that he never fully anticipated. He dedicated the weeks and months after SU’s loss in the national semifinals to his legs.

[…]

All that legwork, Cooney believes, will translate into better shooting performances for his sophomore season.

“Being a good shooter is different for different people,” he said. “Like, I’m a legs guy. I step into my shot, use my legs, explode up. And if you’re going to be a good shooter that way, you have to be in good shape. Your legs have to be strong, you have to be able to run up and down the court. And I didn’t think I did a good enough job of that last year in being in great shape. I thought I did a better job this summer on it. And it’s helped me in these practices this far.”

If Cooney can find a way to be a consistent three-point threat this year, it will help create space for Ennis to penetrate.

That helps takes the pressure off of a freshman that will be starting at the point guard spot from day one.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.