Marcus Smart on Andrew Wiggins: ‘I am not saying he can’t do it. But he has not done it yet’

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January 18th and March 1st.

Go ahead and circle those dates on your calendars right now, and, if you cannot find a way to get into Phog Allen Fieldhouse or Gallagher-Iba Arena, start prepping the popcorn and the nachos right now.

Those dates are the two regular season games to be played between Kansas and Oklahoma State, two top ten teams and, by far, the two favorites to compete for the Big 12 title this season.

There is already plenty of hype surrounding the season-long battle that will take place between those two programs. Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that these are two teams that will be in and around the top ten all season long, that they will be fighting for a conference title and will enter March with a shot to get to the Final Four. That, all by itself, is a reason to tune into the games.

Now toss in the fact that Oklahoma State was thought to be the favorite to end the Jayhawk’s run of nine straight league titles when Marcus Smart and Markel Brown decided to return to school, and the rivalry gets even more spicier. Why? Because Andrew Wiggins’ decision to attend Kansas means that a bunch of freshmen are all of a sudden sitting atop the Pokes in just about every preseason projection.

You better believe that ticked off a competitor like Marcus Smart, especially when one of those freshman enters the game with more hype than Smart got for returning after an all-american season and a chance to train with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team during the summer. From USA Today’s Eric Prisbell:

“They are saying he is the best college player there is and he has not even played a game yet,” Smart told USA TODAY Sports. “Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk. He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential. I am not saying he can’t do it. But he has not done it yet.”

[…]

At 6-foot-4, Smart wants nothing more than an opportunity to guard the sinewy 6-8 Wiggins.

“Definitely,” Smart says. “I am not going to back down from any challenge. Like I said, you are going to have to prove to me. I am a fighter; I will keep fighting and will never give up.”

[…]

“I want to earn it, I don’t want anything given to me,” Smart says. “It has not been [given] at all. I want to work for what I have. If feel if you work for what you have instead of it being just given to you, people respect you a lot more because you understand what it takes, you’ve been there and done it. No one can just say it was easy because you took it. You didn’t just get it. You took it. So all the power and credit to him [Wiggins]. Congratulations for the Sports Illustrated, all the hype, congratulations to him. But that’s definitely a lot of pressure on him.”

Yeah, these quotes are going to be everywhere by the end of the day.

And it will only serve to ratchet up the intensity of what could end up being the two most anticipated conference games of the season.

But you know what? I don’t think Smart said anything wrong here. Of course he’s going to be ticked off that a freshman is coming in an stealing all the spotlight that he should be getting. Of course he’s going to think that he’s just as good, if not better than Wiggins. Of course he’s going to want the chance to get out on the court and prove it by beating the Jayhawks and by locking up Wiggins himself.

In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I love that Smart came out and said this. He didn’t diss Wiggins, and was actually quite respectful of his talents. Smart’s smart. He knows how good Wiggins is. But he’s a competitor, one of the best in basketball at any level, and he’s not going to give some freshman an inch just because the kid could end up being a star one day down the road.

Seeing these two go head-to-head is one of the things that I am most excited about this season.

Anyone else hoping that they lock horns in the Big 12 tournament final?

Report: Pat Kelsey will not take the UMass job

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Moments before Pat Kelsey was set to be formally introduced as the new head coach at the University of Massachusetts, the school canceled the press conference citing, “unforeseen circumstances.”

According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN, the former Winthrop coach has decided not to accept the job.

Virginia’s Thompson to transfer

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Virginia lost another member of its team Thursday.

The Cavaliers announced Darius Thompson will transfer out of the program, a day after the news of Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter’s departures.

“Darius Thompson informed me he has decided to play his final season at another school following his graduation from Virginia,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “Although you never want to see young men transfer, I understand this is part of coaching. Darius, Marial, and Jarred feel it’s in their best interests to pursue other options for the remainder of their college careers.

“I will always appreciate the contributions they made to our program.”

Thompson, who would be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, began his career at Tennessee before transferring to Charlottesville, where he averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 assists over two seasons. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 44.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range last season.

Despite the three defections, Virginia returns a number of pieces that contributed to their 23-11 season.

As we look forward, we have a strong nucleus of players returning,” Bennett said, “and I’m excited for their continued development. As a staff, we are focused on finding student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and all the University of Virginia has to offer.”

Georgetown, John Thompson III part ways

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Georgetown has parted ways with head coach John Thompson III, sources confirmed to NBC Sports.

Thompson has been the head coach of the Hoyas for 13 seasons, going 278-151 during his tenure. He won three Big East regular season titles with the program, the last of which came in 2013, and he reached the 2007 Final Four, but in recent years the program has fallen on hard times.

Georgetown confirmed the news Thursday afternoon.

“For thirteen years, he has been one of the elite coaches in college basketball,” Georgetown president John J. DeGioia said in a statement released by the school. “His performance as a coach has been exceptional, and he has served our community with remarkable distinction and integrity, sustaining our commitment to the academic performance of our students and providing them with the very best preparation for their lives beyond the Hilltop.”

Georgetown is 29-36 over the course of the last two seasons and the Hoyas have missed the NCAA tournament in three of the last four years. They’ve failed to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since that Final Four, losing to five double-digit seeds in their last six NCAA tournament appearances.

Thompson is the son of John Thompson Jr., the Hall of Fame head coach that built the Hoyas into a national power in the 80s and 90s. The University just invested more than $60 million into a renovation of the team’s practice facility which is now named The Thompson Center.

“We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness,” DeGioia said. “We will work immediately to begin a national search for a new head men’s basketball coach.

“I remain deeply grateful to John for all that he has done on behalf of Georgetown University.”

The news was first reported by CasualHoya.com.

Jeter to transfer from Duke

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A former five-star recruit is hitting the transfer market.

Chase Jeter, a top-20 talent in the Class of 2015, will transfer from Duke, the school announced Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore could never really crack the rotation with the Blue Devils, playing less than 500 minutes total over two seasons. He averaged 14.9 minutes in 16 appearances this past season.

“Chase has been an outstanding young man in our program for the last two years,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement released by the school. “He has been one of our top academic performers since he arrived on campus. Unfortunately, he was held back this season due to injury. We wish nothing but the absolute best for Chase and his family.”

This past season Jeter dealt with a back injury, and he did not play after Jan. 14.

“I have loved my time at Duke, getting a world-class education and competing alongside my brothers every day,” Jeter said in a statement. “After careful consideration, I decided it would be best for me to transfer to a school closer to home. I’ve made long-lasting relationships here and I want to thank my teammates and coaches for the support they’ve given me over the last two years.”

Jeter, a Las Vegas native, chose Duke in the summer of 2014 over Arizona, UNLV and UCLA.

Feeling the love: Men’s hoops squad toast of South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Sindarius Thornwell knew South Carolina fans would be excited about the team’s Sweet 16 appearance. The response since he has been on campus, though, surprised even him.

As Thornwell walked to the student union after class, he couldn’t take more than a couple of steps without students swarming him for selfies or asking for some tidbit about the win against Duke on Sunday.

“We’re trying to embrace the moment,” Thornwell said Tuesday. “But that was wild.”

Everyone on campus, around Columbia and even the state seem to be savoring every minute. It’s understandable, the Gamecocks haven’t been in the Sweet 16 since 1973.

It’s been a wild ride for the Gamecocks (24-10), who some wondered if they’d even get invited to the NCAA Tournament let alone produce one of the signature moments so far with their 88-81 win over the second-seeded Blue Devi ls in the East Region.

Next up is third seeded Baylor (27-7) on Friday night at Madison Square Garden for the chance to advance.

Coach Frank Martin said he’s gotten more than 1,100 text messages about Sunday night’s win and two or three from people wondering, “So I guess you’re not going to respond?” he joked.

“That’s a good problem to have,” he said.

South Carolina is gaining the attention Gamecock fans have recently showered on the football, baseball or women’s basketball programs.

Steve Spurrier, featuring NFL standouts like defensive end Jadeveon Clowney , receiver Alshon Jeffrey and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, won the Southeastern Conference East Division in 2010 and had three straight 11-2 seasons from 2011-13.

Baseball won back-to-back College World Series under now athletic director Ray Tanner in 2010 and 2011. Thousands turned out for victory parades to the Statehouse when the team returned home.

Most recently, South Carolina’s women’s basketball team, led by new U.S. women’s national team coach Dawn Staley, has gained much of the attention with four straight SEC regular season titles. The Gamecocks have led the women’s game in attendance the past three seasons.

Now, men’s basketball is getting some love.

“We’re happy to be part of that,” sophomore point guard P.J. Dozier said.

There was a time when men’s basketball led the way at South Carolina when New York City native Frank McGuire turned a sleepy program into a national power with a pipeline of NYC kids like John Roche, Tom Owens, Bobby Cremins, Brian Winters and Mike Dunleavy Sr.

McGuire led the Gamecocks to the NCAA round of 16 three straight seasons from 1971-73 – there were just 25 schools involved – and his team was considered the cream of the crop in South Carolina athletic circles.

But McGuire’s touch ran out in the mid-1970s and the Gamecocks have struggled for an identity for more than 40 years.

South Carolina won its only Southeastern Conference crown in 1997, but lost in the NCAAs as a No. 2 seed. The Gamecocks returned to the tournament the next season, that time falling as a No. 3 seed.

The Gamecocks high-water mark until now may be the consecutive NIT crowns won by coach Dave Odom in 2005 and 2006.

Martin and these Gamecocks are out to add another level of success to the program.

The fifth-year coach said that being around Spurrier – “Steve calls me every day,” Martin said – Tanner and Staley make him a better leader and give him examples of building winning cultures.

“I’m a big believer in winning leads to winning,” he said.

An emotional Martin, overcome by his team’s Duke win, told the players in the locker room, “Let’s go win this thing.”

He said Tuesday he wanted his players to know that by beating Duke, they proved they’re good enough to play with anyone left in the field.

Thornwell heard that over and over from friends, family and hundreds of new acquaintances he’s made the past 48 hours.

“We’re just having fun,” he said, “enjoying the game, enjoying every moment.”