NCAA Basketball Tournament -  UCONN v Iowa St

Jim Calhoun still has an ‘itch’ for the game

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Talk to former college athletes, and many will tell you that the biggest competitor on their team was not a player, but rather a coach — the head coach. The sport they coach and the kids they mentor are their profession and, ultimately, winning is how any coach will be judged.

It has been just over a year since Jim Calhoun announced his retirement, and the former Connecticut coach says he is content in his retirement from coaching. This past April, he spent some time at The Breakers in Palm Beach, FL with his family and grandchildren, something he wouldn’t have been able to do as a head coach.

He is happy, but like all competitors, he still has that itch that just won’t go away.

Calhoun told Dom Amore of The Hartford Courant:

It seems like I have to tap-dance for people to believe I’m happy But I’m happy. … I gave up the keys to the car for all the right reasons. I felt it was the right time. … But it’s hard to be swimming in a particular direction and then have to stand. You don’t know kind of what to do. You’ve done something for 40-something years, I’m used to waking up at five o’clock in the morning and solving problems, setting up my day mentally.

The holder of the keys is rising star in the coaching profession Kevin Ollie, who has did a remarkable job in his first year at the helm of Connecticut, considering that the Huskies were ineligible for postseason play. Calhoun has no qualms of Ollie as head coach — in fact, he heavily endorsed him to take over the program after he retired — but the longtime coach of Connecticut from 1986-2012 misses having basketball and his players in his life on a daily basis:

I truly believe the void of basketball is one I’m having a difficult time filling. I spent a few minutes out there this morning talking to [Shabazz Napier]; I spent some time with Tyler. I miss the game, the game itself, the way guys can improve…[T]here’s a little itch there, about basketball and the kids. I’ve talked to people, I don’t know how to scratch that itch. I will. I’ll find a way to scratch that itch.

Currently, Calhoun serves as a special adviser to athletic director Warde Manuel. In this way, he is still very much connected to the university and daily happenings, but it’s obviously not the same as roaming the sideline during practices and games as head coach.

Calhoun isn’t sure what the next step is for him. He has toyed with the idea of coaching a national team overseas, in discussions with satellite radio about having his own sports talk show, and spoken with TV networks about becoming a college hoops analyst. However he may be able to scratch the “itch” he currently has, “it would have to be the right situation,” he explained.

For the time being, Calhoun can enjoy the bit of quiet time he is receiving. But, make no mistake about it, he is a competitor in ever sense of the word, so don’t be surprised if he finagles his way back into the game in some capacity. Anything to rid himself of the “itch.”

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.