2013-2014 WCC Preview: Can anyone challenge Gonzaga?

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source: AP
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The 2012-13 season had the makings of a special one for the WCC entering the NCAA tournament, with Gonzaga sitting atop the national polls and the top seed in the West Region. But things didn’t work out as many hoped, with Wichita State knocking off the Bulldogs on their way to the Final Four. But that loss shouldn’t erase the fact that Mark Few’s program won 32 games, and overall the 2012-13 season was a good one for the WCC. Santa Clara won the CBI, and both BYU (NIT semifinals) and Saint Mary’s (NCAA Round of 32) played in the postseason as well.

In 2013-14 the conference looks for more postseason success, and with the number of quality guards in the WCC there’s a good chance of that happening. Gonzaga’s still the favorite thanks to their prolific backcourt, but the amount of talent in the conference makes another undefeated run through league play unlikely.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Pacific (Big West)
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The newest member is also the lone school with a new head coach: Pacific makes the move from the Big West to the WCC, and they’ll be doing so without longtime coach Bob Thomason. Thomason announced his retirement before last season, and that combined with it being their final season in the Big West made the Tigers’ run to the NCAA tournament all the more special. Now the job belongs to Ron Verlin, who has to replace three starters from last season’s team including point guard Lorenzo McCloud.

2. Gonzaga loses key contributors inside, but the Bulldogs are loaded on the perimeter: With Elias Harris out of eligibility and Kelly Olynyk now with the Boston Celtics head coach Mark Few has two large holes to fill in the front court. But he isn’t without experience thanks to the return of Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. Add in one of the nation’s best backcourts led by Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. (they also add Providence transfer Gerard Coleman) and the Bulldogs should once again be the favorite to win the WCC.

3. If healthy Loyola Marymount can be dangerous: Last season was absolutely brutal for the Lions, as Max Good’s squad managed to win just one WCC game during the regular season. But Anthony Ireland is back, and a talented recruiting class that includes high-scoring guard Nino Jackson has the potential to make the Lions a factor after struggling so mightily last season. Here’s the problem: health is already an issue this year. Ayodeji Egbeyemi (10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Godwin Okonji are out indefinitely following a car accident.

4. Year two (for him, at least) in the WCC has the potential to be very good for BYU’s Tyler Haws: After returning from his two-year LDS mission Haws didn’t miss a beat, averaging 21.7 points per contest and becoming the second player in school history to score 1,000 points or more in his first two seasons. The other: Jimmer Fredette. With Haws and Matt Carlino on the perimeter and a front court that includes veteran Nate Austin and freshmen Eric Mika and Luke Worthington, Dave Rose’s Cougars may be the biggest threat to Gonzaga.

(MORE: Read Raphielle Johnson’s story on Tyler Haws’ return to BYU)

5. Saint Mary’s won’t have a bare cupboard, but it’ll be tough to account for the intangibles provided by Matthew Dellavedova: The fact that the Gaels can lose a player of Dellavedova’s caliber and still be considered a contender in the WCC speaks to the program head coach Randy Bennett has built. With Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow back Saint Mary’s will once again be a factor, but who provides the boost supplied by Dellavedova for the last four years?

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PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws (BYU)

In 2012-2013, Haws didn’t look like a player that had just returned from a two-year LDS mission in the Philippines, leading BYU with an average of 21.7 points per game while also accounting for more than four rebounds per contest. With Brandon Davies (17.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) out of eligibility there will likely be even more opportunities for Haws in 2013-14.

THE REST OF THE WCC FIRST TEAM:

  • G Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga): One of the best shooters in the country, Pangos will lead the way for the WCC favorite.
  • G Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount): LMU should rebound from a disappointing 2012-13 with Ireland (20.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 apg) leading the way.
  • F Ryan Nicholas (Portland): An honorable mention All-WCC selection, Nicholas (13.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) will be asked to lead the way for the Pilots.
  • F Cole Dickerson (San Francisco): Dickerson (15.2, 9.8) led the WCC in rebounding in 2012-13, posting 13 double-doubles for the Dons.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • C Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)
  • G Johnny Dee (San Diego)
  • G Evan Rocquemore (Santa Clara)
  • G Cody Doolin (San Francisco)
  • G Stephen Holt (Saint Mary’s)

BREAKOUT STAR: F Stacy Davis (Pepperdine)

Davis proved to be the best freshman in the WCC last season, posting averages of 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. And with leading scorers Lorne Jackson (13.6 ppg) and Jordan Baker (11.4) gone, Davis will be needed to do even more as a sophomore. Look for Davis to be one of the WCC’s best front court players.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Eric Reveno (Portland)

After three straight seasons of 19 or more wins the Pilots have hit a rough patch, winning a total of 18 games over the last two seasons. But now the Pilots have some experience, with Ryan Nicholas and Kevin Bailey leading the way. And with underclassmen Alec Wintering and Bryce Pressley doing a solid job of running the show during their summer trip to Europe, Portland may be better equipped to deal with some of the better backcourts in the WCC. If this proves to be the case, Portland will be fine.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …: Once again multiple teams reach the NCAA tournament, but can any get to the second weekend?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: The number of high-level guards in the WCC.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • February 8, Gonzaga at Memphis
  • November 11, BYU at Stanford
  • November 30, San Diego at New Mexico
  • December 7, BYU vs. UMass (in Springfield, Mass.)
  • December 21, Gonzaga vs. Kansas State (in Wichita, Kan.)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Gonzaga: Losing Harris and Olynyk hurts, but the Zags have an outstanding backcourt. If Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower hold their own inside, the Bulldogs will repeat as WCC champs.
2. BYU: In Haws the Cougars have not only the best scorer in the WCC but one of the best scorers in the country. But the wild card is Matt Carlino. If he’s consistent BYU will be Gonzaga’s biggest threat.
3. Saint Mary’s: With Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow back the Gaels should’t slip much despite the graduation of Matthew Dellavedova. The question with Dellavedova gone is who supplies the intangibles he provided.
4. Loyola Marymount: Last season was a brutal one for the Lions, with injuries being a major factor. If fully healthy LMU can surprise some people, but that’s proven to be a big “if”; two key pieces are alread recovering from injuries in a car accident.
5. San Diego: The backcourt tandem of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee deserves more national attention. The question: how big of a leap can WCC All-Freshman Team selection Jito Kok make inside?
6. San Francisco: Rex Walters’ squad should be a factor in the midsection of the WCC thanks to the presence of seniors Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson. And WCC All-Freshman Team selection Tim Derksen will be a solid contributor as well.
7. Portland: The Pilots have one of the better front court players in the WCC in senior Ryan Nicholas. If guard Kevin Bailey can continue to make progress (11.4 ppg last season) Portland is capable of finishing higher.
8. Santa Clara: This prediction may turn out to be low, because even with the graduation of Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini the Broncos still have Evan Rocquemore. But those are two big losses the Broncos will have to address.
9. Pacific: New head coach Ron Verlin wasn’t left with a bare cupboard, but this may be the wrong year to enter the WCC for the Tigers. They’ll be formidable however, with seniors Tony Gill and Sama Taku leading the way.
10. Pepperdine: Forward Stacy Davis has the potential to be a first team All-WCC player this season, but the Waves lost a lot of experience on the perimeter. And given the caliber of guards in the WCC, this may be the wrong year to be young in the backcourt.

Potential top ten pick Robert Williams discusses decision to return to Texas A&M

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PHILADELPHIA — Robert Williams knew that his family could use the money that would come with being a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He also knew that he wasn’t ready — mentally, emotionally, skill-wise — to make the leap to the NBA, which is why all it took was one question from his mother, Tundra, to convince the 6-foot-9 19-year old to return to Texas A&M for his sophomore season.

“We haven’t been rich for 19 years,” Williams recalls Tundra, whom he describes as a “middle school cafeteria lady”, telling him. “What’s one more year?”

“That sealed the deal. If she’s good, I’m good,” Williams told NBC Sports as he nursed shin splints at the Under Armour All-American camp in Philadelphia last week. “My mom just wants to see me happy. I could quit basketball and go work at Burger King. If I’m happy, she’s happy.”


“Oil City made me, Vivian raised me.”


Williams may not be a household name the way that fellow members of his high school class — Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, etc. — were, but he was certainly a known quantity on basketball circles. Williams was a potential top 10 pick in last year’s draft, a 6-foot-9 big man with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and the kind of athleticism most of us can only dream about. He has elite physical tools, even by NBA standards, and his ability to protect the rim along with his versatility defensively and budding post-game makes him a tantalizing long-term project.

Casual college basketball fans aren’t going to be familiar with bigs averaging 11.9 points on a team that didn’t even get a trip to the NIT, but NBA front office personnel were well-versed in his ability.

Just a borderline top 50 prospect coming out of high school, Williams’ ranking had as much to do with where he’s from as what he can do. He was born in Oil City, Louisiana, a town of roughly a 1,000 people tucked in the Northwest corner of Louisiana, five miles from the Texas on the west side of town and 18 miles from Arkansas to the north. “There’s just really nothing there,” Williams said. Oil City was small enough that he had to move to Vivian, a town of 3,600 people nine miles away, in order to attend high school.

Glen Johnson, Texas A&M Athletics

He spent four years playing for North Caddo High, a 2A public school in Louisiana, which isn’t exactly the best high school basketball in the country, and his role on the Houston Hoops team he played with in the summer after his junior year was somewhat limited, to say the least; he was teammates with De’Aaron Fox, Jarred Vanderbilt (a top 15 player in the Class of 2017) and Carsen Edwards, who started at the point for Purdue as a freshman. Combine that with the 25 pounds of muscle that he added to his frame, and what you have is a player that went from being a pogo stick that got pushed around on a team full of studs to a grown man that did the pushing and proved himself capable of playing a role that has value in the NBA.

“I went to Nike Camp, but I wasn’t that high of a recruit,” Williams said. “I was like No. 60 I think. It’s weird because I’ve never had this much ‘fame’, I guess is the word.”

“People knew who I was [in Vivian], but just because I was a people person. I was also always bigger than everyone.”

There weren’t many that expected Williams to have the season that he had as a freshman, averaging 11.9 points, 8.2 boards and 2.6 blocks in just 25 minutes a night. Even fewer expected him to return to Texas A&M once he caught the eye of NBA scouts, but head coach Billy Kennedy wasn’t one of them.

“Only because he told us,” Kennedy said with a chuckle, as if he knew just how lucky he and his staff are to be getting a second season with a talent like this. “We felt that during the year. But you never know until the end. We wanted to see him go through the whole process, but the cool thing is the kid made a decision and he did what was best for him.”


“Mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t ready.”


For Williams, the decision to return was two-fold. He knew that he wasn’t yet the player that he wants to be, and getting drafted as a dunker, a shot-blocker and an athlete can get a player pigeon-holed. “In the NBA,” Williams reasoned, “once you get there, what you are is what you are. I don’t want to be stuck in that jumping, that dunking position. I’m not necessarily saying I want to be able to play the two or the three, but I want to expand and show that I can sometimes push it and make a jump shot.”

“Rebounding, jumping, dunking. That’s been my game. That’s gets you paid well. But I know I have more. I want to be able to knock down a corner three. I’m not saying that I need to be coming off of screens and pulling, but I want to be able to knock down that shot and prove I’m able to get a rebound and start a fast break.”

He knew that it would take a lot of hard work and time in the gym this offseason to get to that point, and that’s where the second part of this comes into the equation. Williams knew that he wasn’t ready to be a professional yet, that he wanted to be able to enjoy life and basketball as a college kid for another year.

“People don’t understand that once you get to that level, it’s a job. It’s a business,” Williams said. “It’s not high school, it’s not even college, you’re competing for your job every time you go play.”

“Mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t ready.”

Thomas Campbell, Texas A&M Athletics

That didn’t necessarily sit well with everyone in Williams’ circle — specifically, Williams says his father wanted him to go to the NBA — because they all know the risk. Blake Griffin, who went from being a projected top ten pick as a freshman to the No. 1 overall pick as a sophomore, is the outlier. The likes of Ivan Rabb, Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger tend to be the norm. When a player doesn’t take a step forward in his second season in college, the flaws are nitpicked instead of the potential being touted, and that’s to say nothing of the potential for devastating injury. For a player like Williams, who thrives on his athleticism, a torn ACL or a ruptured Achilles’ this season could be devastating to his earning power.

He knows all of that, and, Williams says, once he made his choice, the people closest to him rallied around him. There was some negativity, people calling his dumb for passing up on the guaranteed millions that come with being a first round pick, but for the most part, the feedback he heard was reassuring.

“You gotta grind now.”

“You made your decision, you made your bed, now you have to lay in it.”

“You know what you got to do.”

And that’s part of where being ready for the NBA comes into play.

Ask Williams what he needs to do to be successful at the next level, to prove that he can be more than just an athlete, and he’ll tell you that it’s developing his perimeter skills. Making corner threes and trail threes. Improving his handle and his footwork to the point that he is a threat as a face-up four. But if you ask Kennedy what the next step for Williams is, this is his answer: “Just getting to where he’s working out more, learning how to work at a higher level, and that’s something that he’s gotten better at.”

Williams didn’t need to work all that hard to dominate in high school, not with his physical gifts and not with the level of competition that he was facing. The same can mostly be said his his time as a freshman in the SEC. As Mike Schmitz, a scout working for Draft Express and ESPN, put it, Williams “is very much living off his elite physical tools.”

As the saying goes, you don’t know what hard work is until you see someone working harder than you, and there is no better role model for Williams than junior center Tyler Davis, who has streamlined what was once a 300 pound frame into a chiseled, 260-pound rock. He has “the best work ethic I’ve ever seen,” Williams says, and that’s rubbing off on him. Williams says he’s working out two or three times a day, doing conditioning with the team at 6 am before heading off to the gym at 8 am to work on his stroke — form-shooting, making 25 shots from each spot out to the foul line; step-in mid-range jumpers; trail threes — and closing the day with pickup or more skill-work in the afternoon.

The way he sees it, he can’t control injuries — although he has taken out an insurance policy on the off-chance he does something catastrophic — but he can control the work he puts in. Put another way, he is the one that will determine where he ends up. “My mindset,” Williams said, “is as long as you put in the work, results will come.”

And maybe those results will get him some notoriety on campus at a football school.

“Some people recognize me on campus, but it’s all football at A&M,” he said. “They say hi, ask for a picture, but people actually think I’m a mean guy. They don’t understand, I’m a people person! I like people!”

So say hi to Williams if you see him this year.

You won’t have a chance to do so much longer.

Texas A&M Athletics

VIDEO: Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval get in on #DriveByDunkChallenge

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Trevon Duval, the point guard that will finally replace Tyus Jones at Duke, and Grayson Allen added their flare on the #DriveByDunkChallenge, as Allen throws a picture perfect alley-oop through the sun-roof of the car Duval is driving:

This is solid work, but I still think Scott Cross has the best #DriveByDunkChallenge performance in the collegiate ranks. John Calipari’s effort is solid, but pretty awkward. He shouldn’t be running or jumping.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.

___

More AP College Basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

UT Arlington coach Scott Cross wins the #DriveByDunkChallenge by dunking over his son

(Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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UT Arlington head coach Scott Cross is the current leader in the #DriveByDunkChallenge, the latest social media craze that endorses dunking on random hoops while cruising through a neighborhood.

After Kentucky head coach John Calipari set the bar for college head coaches in the challenge with his dunk on late Friday night, Cross came in strong by putting on some Lil Jon and taking flight over his own son on a random hoop.

Between the soundtrack selection and using his own son as a prop in his dunk, Cross has set a strong standard among college coaches for this challenge.

(H/t: Mid-Major Madness)

Mississippi State stays hot with commitment from four-star 2018 guard D.J. Stewart

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Mississippi State stayed hot on the recruiting trail on Monday as they scored an in-state pledge from four-star shooting guard D.J. Stewart.

The 6-foot-5 Stewart is the second major commitment to the Bulldogs and head coach Ben Howland this July as five-star forward Reggie Perry announced his intentions to go to Mississippi State last week.

After not having a single Division I scholarship offer entering April, Stewart exploded on the national landscape with his play with Mississippi Express in the Nike EYBL.

Regarded now as the No. 106 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 rankings, Stewart has some upside as a wing scorer and defender at the college level.