Trip to Montreal good for Siena and first year head coach Jimmy Patsos

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There aren’t many mid-major schools in the country that have such a rabid following like Siena. How many 8-24 mid-majors out there — actually, how many 8-24 teams, period — can say they averaged over 6,000 fans per home game last season? Siena outdrew Miami (FL) by more than 400 fans per home game, and the Hurricanes had their best season in program history. The folks up in Albany like their basketball and come out in droves to the Times Union Center.

When Fran McCaffery left Siena to take the job at Iowa, he left some pretty big shoes to fill after leading the Saints to three straight NCAA Tournaments and two upset wins over Vanderbilt and Ohio State. Siena hired Mitch Buonaguro, who was an assistant under McCaffery, but he greatly struggled in his three seasons posting a record of 35-59 and was fired after last season.

Enter: Jimmy Patsos.

Patsos is one of the most animated and likable coaches in the game, and seems like a good fit for Siena. He is charismatic and should connect with the Siena fan-base well. Furthermore, Patsos is no stranger to turning programs around. When he first took the job at Loyola (Maryland), they were coming off a 1-27 under Scott Hicks. In his second year, Patsos had Loyola at 15-13 and in the middle of the MAAC.

The trip north of the border will be as much of a learning experience for Patsos to become more familiar with his players as it will a time to practice and get better as a team.

Patsos told the The Daily Gazette: “…I’m learning some good and some bad about guys. This is another learning opportunity.”

Rising junior Rob Poole is one of Siena’s top returning players, and he sees the trip to Montreal in a similar light: “After the season we had last year, it was a big disappointment, but this year, I know we’re not picked to be a favorite to do well, but this Montreal trip is real big because it’ll bring us together. We’ll get to see what we have to work with and start early.”

Fortunately for Siena, Patsos is familiar with the MAAC having coached Loyola in the conference for nine seasons. While he is still learning of the personnel at Siena, he is familiar with the players having coached against them. Coaching against a player is just a bit different than coaching a player, though:

I know we have three or four from returning. And I know a couple young guys can play just by virtue of what I’m seeing because of summer school, but I’m trying to figure out who the eight or nine guys are who can play this year, because we’re going to press and run this year. We can’t play six guys the way we’re going to play.

Even though Patsos is still going through the learning process figuring out how his player’s tick, he seems to have figured out his starting five already: “Marquis is the one, Hymes at the two, Poole at the three, Brett [Bisping] at the four, [Imoh] Silas at the five,” Patsos said.

It may take a year or two for the Siena program to get back on its feet where Fran McCaffery had them just a few years ago, but don’t be surprised if Jimmy Patsos has the Saints as a true mid-major power in the coming years. Siena fans will expect nothing less.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.