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Horizon favorite Wright State’s ‘surprising’ ’12-’13 season was no surprise to the Raiders

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Wright State was picked to finish last in the Horizon League before the 2012-13 season and nobody expected them to be 23-13 and within four minutes of playing in the NCAA Tournament as they were last March.

Except for maybe Raiders head coach Billy Donlon.

The 36-year-old Donlon — known for his quick wit and one-liners — knew Wright State would compete last season, and although he didn’t outwardly predict that the Raiders would hold a six-point lead at Valparaiso during the Horizon League Conference Tournament Championship game, he fully believed it was possible heading into last season.

“Name me a program in the Horizon League that’s won more than Wright State over the last seven years?” Donlon said at Horizon League Media Day in Chicago this fall. “We had one bad year; other people choose to pick us last. I didn’t choose to pick us last. The standard of our program didn’t go down because we had one bad season.”

The Raiders “surprise” season ended in heartbreak, however. Wright State led 50-44 with 5:35 to play in the championship game last season before losing to Valparaiso 62-54.

That was without senior and returning leading scorer Cole Darling, a 6-foot-8 forward who missed the final 11 games of the 2012-13 season with a shoulder injury.

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Horizon League Conference Preview)

Wright State was one of only five teams in the country to not start a senior while being the 11th youngest team in the country. They return 9 of their top 10 and add a valuable transfer in Butler junior guard Chrishawn Hopkins.

But while the Raiders return basically the same team from a year ago, Donlon has moved past the game last season.

“The 11th time I was watching the last five minutes on the bus ride home from Valpo, Scott Woods — he and I have worked together for seven years, he’s one of my assistants — he tapped me on the shoulder and he said, ‘Billy, it ain’t gonna change. Shut the computer off.’ And I did and I haven’t watched it since,” Donlon said.

Darling is focused on coming back and leading the team to the tournament. A first-team preseason all-Horizon selection after garnering second-team honors last season, Darling rehabbed and is ready for this season.

“It was rough, a lot of hours in the training room and everything,” Darling, who averaged 11.3 points and 4.6 rebounds before getting hurt, said. “At first, I healed up pretty quick and wanted to get out of the sling and start moving around. The hardest thing was the anticipation of not moving around in the sling for six weeks. After that, it was just range of motion.”

Players like Darling are the reason that last season the Raiders were one of the biggest surprises in college basketball. The mentality in the program never changed for Darling or the players despite preseason expectations.

“We win at Wright State,” Darling said. “That’s what we do. We have to get in that mindset of a 20-win season and everything that they’ve had in previous years. We have to get back to the tournament.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

Darling said that this year’s group is already off to a great start in practice and he likes the way they play.

“We’re definitely a lot more athletic this season. Everybody can change positions and play different spots and score the ball, so we’ve had a lot of spacing and a lot of equal scoring opportunities,” Darling said. “Also with our depth now, our pace of play doesn’t have to necessarily slow down when we change guys in and out. Which will help us out defensively and offensively.”

Dealing with injuries like Darling’s and also Matt Vest and AJ Packer has been difficult but something Wright State has dealt with thanks to their depth.

“Matt Vest is 50/50 on whether he’ll play or redshirt. AJ Packer had surgery on his foot and he’s doing better,” Donlon said.

“I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy the last eight months.”

Donlon believes that Wright State has always been one of the league’s top teams — with a target on its back — so last season and this season will both be competitive.

“Is there a target on our back? I don’t know, we started 5-1 to start the league. So the rest of the games — I would imagine — after starting 5-1 there was a heck of a target on our back,” Donlon said. “The target has been on our back since Brad Brownell was the coach and that won’t change.”

Report: CBE Hall of Fame Classic headliners set

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The headliners for the 2017 CBE Hall of Fame Classic have been set.

UCLA, Baylor, Wisconsin and Creighton will highlight the bill for the annual event in Kansas City, according to a report from CBS Sports.

The CBE Hall of Fame Classic historically has included on-campus games and a flagship four-team championship round at the Sprint Center. This year’s headliners include Kansas, Georgia, George Washington and UAB.

Certainly securing four high-majors is a significant get for the event, which will also likely coincide with the induction of the 2017 class of the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. The 2016 class is highlighted by Mark Aguirre, Doug Collins, Dominique Wilson, Jamal Wilkes and Mike Montgomery.

Coach Cal softball game raises $300K for La. flood relief

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John Calipari is known for his ability to amass talent. Over the weekend, that quality helped raise $300,000 for Louisiana flood relief.

The Coach Cal Celebrity Softball Classic brought Kentucky stars like Keith Bogans, Andrew Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns and the likes of former UK quarterback Tim Couch and NFL Hall of Famer Chris Carter to Lexington to help aid Louisiana in conjunction with the Red Cross after the area suffered major flooding earlier this month.

“I didn’t want to really do a softball game,” Calipari said according to his website, “but then we decided to do it and then Louisiana happens and now you have a cause. … It’s kind of neat. You have a cause, you have a why.”

Towns’ team was the 18-12 victor over Team Calipari on the day.

“This is amazing,” Towns said on CoachCal.com. “This is something that we get a chance to rarely do. We get to help the community out but at the same time have fun. There’s nothing better than doing something that we would do for free but for charity. This is something we’re going to have a lot of fun doing today.”

The softball game was played the same weekend as the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience which generated $1 million that will be shared with 14 charities.

‘Noles add legacy guard to 2017 class

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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Florida State has added another solid member to its 2017 recruiting class.

Anthony Polite, a 6-foot-6 guard from Florida, pledged to the Seminoles on Tuesday morning.

“Officially committed to Florida State University #Nole Nation,” Polite wrote on Twitter.

Polite chose Leonard Hamilton’s program out of a final top-five that also included Pitt, Memphis, Texas Tech and Miami. He also sported offers from TCU, Boston College, Kansas State and Utah, among others.

“It was a really tough decision,” Polite said according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Miami had a great coaching staff. I just thought FSU would be the best fit for me and I had more of an opportunity to talk to the players at Florida State.”

Polite, whose father played for the Seminoles during his college career, averaged 21.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists last year as a junior playing for St. Andrew’s in Boca Raton, Fla.

“Anthony Polite is a skilled wing who can handle the ball and distribute a bit,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “Florida State still needs to help Polite improve his perimeter jumper, but his commitment gives them another talented playmaker from the wing who can handle and attack the rim.”

Regarded as a three-star prospect, Polite join power forward RaiQuan Gray and fellow guard Bryan Trimble in the Seminoles’ 2017 class. It doesn’t have the star power of Hamilton’s group last year, which included five-star Jonathan Isaac and four-star Trent Forrest, but they can be important pieces for a Florida State team that has just one senior on the 2016-17 roster.

Kansas players make weight room gains – and losses – this summer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - JUNE 18: Udoka Azubuike #105 in red runs back for defense the NBPA Top 100 Camp on June 18, 2015 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images)
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Summer is the time to refine not only players’ skill sets, but also their bodies. Kansas’ highly-touted freshman duo of Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike have fulfilled the latter thanks to the Jayhawks’ strength and conditioning program.

Azubuike has dropped 27 pounds from his 7-foot frame while the wiry Jackson has added 17 pounds, according to the Kansas City Star.

“These guys have goals,” Adrea Hurdy, Kansas’ long-time assistant director for sports information, told The Star. “They come here in part because we have the resources to help them attain their goals.

“They want the challenge and want to become better people, better basketball players and better athletes.”

Only 16 years old, Azubuike arrived in Lawrence having been consistently listed as weighing around 270 pounds throughout his prep career. Getting leaner while still maintaining – and increasing – strength is a significant development for such a young player, who was a consensus top-50 player in the 2016 class.

Jackson, the country’s top rated incoming freshman, now weighs in at slightly over 200 pounds at 6-foot-8. Six-foot-10 forward Carlton Bragg,a sophomore, also got in on the body-changing as he’s put on 26 pounds to head into the fall at 247 pounds.

Kansas is a likely top-five preseason team with returners like Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, and having newcomers like Jackson and Azubuike along with sparsely-used but talented returnees like Bragg making gains in the weight room will only make them more formidable as they look to capture an astounding 13th-straight Big 12 title.

 

Texas bolsters 2017 frontcourt

Texas head coach Shaka Smart calls a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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Shaka Smart has added another four-star forward to his 2017 recruiting class.

Texas picked up a commitment Tuesday from 6-foot-8 Jericho Sims of Minnesota, according to multiple reports.

Sims, who visited Texas this past weekend, is ranked in the top-50 by Scout and in the top-75 by ESPN and 247Sports. He joins Royce Hamm, a top-100 forward from Houston, as members Smart’s second recruiting class at Texas.

“Jericho Sims is a late-blooming big man who has a lot of room to grow in terms of upside,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “A good athlete with a good frame to work with, Sims should help immediately on the glass and defensively but his offense will be a work in progress.

“Texas has a large recruiting class and targeted Sims later than many, so this is a nice commitment for the Longhorns.”

The commitment represents a significant get for the Longhorns, who beat out the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Ohio State, Connecticut and Sims’ hometown Gophers, whom his father played basketball for in the 1970s and his brother football more recently.

Sims and Hamm both are players that could help Smart and his staff transition more back to the Havoc style of play Smart employed at VCU as both have the length, speed and athleticism to help the Longhorns dial up the pressure and push tempo.