Last September former UConn head coach Jim Calhoun announced his decision to retire, handing over a program he built into one of the nation’s best over to Kevin Ollie. And starting point guard Shabazz Napier was none too thrilled with the move, as the man he regarded as a “father figure” would no longer be his coach.
With Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond in the NBA and Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith having transferred, would Napier be the next to go?
“When (Calhoun retired), I felt betrayed,” Napier said Thursday. “The way (the coaching staff) went about it, I felt it was wrong. It just seemed like a planned process. And that’s the reason I felt like it was kind of selfish in a way. That’s the reason I planned on transferring.”
Calhoun had arrived at the decision to retire roughly a week before he signed the papers. Napier, who learned the news online, spent the next week weighing the option of a transfer. He was upset that Calhoun, a “father figure,” allowed his retirement to go public without first informing his players. He was distraught, unsure of what would come next.
Ultimately Napier decided to remain in Storrs, and it’s a decision that has benefitted both the player and the program. The senior point guard was a guiding force on a team that managed to win 20 games last season despite dealing with a postseason ban and a lack of depth (especially in the front court). And with the postseason ban now gone, Napier’s expected to lead the way for a team expected to contend in the American Athletic Conference.
But there are still questions to be answered, despite the presence of sidekicks such as guards Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun and forward DeAndre Daniels. The front court once again has issues, with freshman Kentan Facey yet to be cleared by the NCAA and senior Tyler Olander suspended indefinitely following his arrest on a charge of driving under intoxication. Those issues currently leave the Huskies with Phil Nolan and freshman Amidah Brimah as true post players, and that lack of depth could get them in trouble against talented (and deep) conference foes Louisville and Memphis.
UConn dealt with similar issues last season due in large part to Napier’s leadership. And had he not decided to stay the course, who knows where the Huskies would be today.
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.
I want to thank God, my family & Coach Todd of X for helping me get to where I'm at now. I'm officially a Wildcat🔵⚪️ pic.twitter.com/ddsxSfxUZS
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 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.
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.
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.