Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson looks to go out in style

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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.

Prior to the start of the 2012-13 season Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek said on multiple occasions that his team would play faster. And many snickered, pointing out that the team’s adjusted tempo of 63.6 in 2011-12 was the highest (ranked 281st nationally) of any Sendek-coached team during his time in Tempe. And from a scoring standpoint, since the 2008-09 squad led by James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph (now Jeff Ayres) averaged 69.4 points per game no Arizona State squad in the three seasons that followed averaged more than 67 points per contest.

But while the cynics scoffed Arizona State knew they had a point guard in redshirt freshman Jahii Carson capable of changing the tempo at which the Sun Devils ran, and sure enough the Mesa native’s impact was felt immediately. With Carson leading the way Arizona State increased its scoring average by more than ten points per game (71.8 ppg after averaging 61.0 ppg in 2011-12) and more importantly the Sun Devils increased their win total by 12, going from ten wins to 22 and a trip to the Postseason NIT.

In regards to Carson’s (18.5 ppg, 5.1 apg) individual achievements, he became the first freshman to average at least 18 points and five assists per game since Mount St. Mary’s guard Chris McGuthrie (19.8, 5.1) did so back in 1992-93. With the combination of his individual skills and the way in which he helped transform the Arizona State program, Carson very well could have made the decision to enter the 2013 NBA Draft.

But he didn’t, deciding instead to return to Tempe with the goal of leading Arizona State to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

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“The most important information that we used to make the decision was Jahii’s own feelings about what he needed to do,” Sendek told NBC Sports. “Jahii has a very high basketball IQ, and he determined that this was really something that made sense for him.”

Carson wasn’t the first player to ultimately decide that returning to school was the best decision for him, and he certainly won’t be the last. But the concern in such situations is that instead of focusing on what the team needs, a player who returns to school does so with his focus being what the NBA scouts and executives want to see. And a failure to focus on the task at hand can result in a negative outcome for both the player and the program. However Sendek made it clear in early October that this would be the point guard’s final season in Tempe, and that move has removed most of the pressure Carson could have felt regarding the process.

“Many people, when they have the opportunity to go to the NBA, they try to play into what the NBA expects of them,” Carson told NBC Sports. “A lot of guys come back and say, ‘the NBA wants me to shoot better’ or ‘they want to see my ball-handling skills’ and they don’t necessarily play to win; they play to what the NBA scouts want to see.

“I’m the type of player who wants to win, because the more you win the better you’ll look to anybody,” Carson continued. “Everybody remembers a winner, so with my coach getting it out there and letting people know this will be my last season at Arizona State that takes the pressure off of me and allows me focus on making my teammates better and winning basketball games.”

If there’s one area that Carson needed to improve in during the offseason it was his perimeter shooting, as he made just 32% of his shots from beyond the arc in 2012-13. While the new rules limiting contact on the perimeter may benefit a jet-quick guard like Carson, there’s also the possibility of teams sagging off and essentially daring him to prove that he can consistently knock down perimeter shots. But to this point in the preseason, Carson’s perimeter shot has improved according to Sendek.

And while that’s certainly a skill Carson needed to improve upon with an eye towards the long-term goal (getting to the NBA and being productive there), more importantly it will help Arizona State in the short-term.

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“I think the two will go hand-in-hand,” noted Sendek. “The more he helps Arizona State, the better that will prepare him for the NBA and enhance his chances in that league.”

Arizona State lost two double-digit scorers from last season in Evan Gordon (10.1 ppg) and Carrick Felix (14.1, 8.6 rpg), with the latter also being a valuable team leader both on the court and in the locker room. But center Jordan Bachynski returns for his senior season after posting averages of 9.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and a Pac-12 best 3.4 blocked shots per game, and the experienced Jonathan Gilling (9.7, 6.1) returns as well. Add in seven newcomers and Arizona State expects to have the depth needed to play at an ever faster pace.

One of those newcomers is senior guard Jermaine Marshall, who averaged 16.3 points per game at Penn State last season. Marshall’s arrival should help relieve some of the nightly attention that Carson receives from opponents, but the sophomore point guard will still be asked to score. If anything, Marshall’s arrival is expected to help make Carson a more efficient player.

“I don’t think it’s going to decrease my scoring,” said Carson of Marshall’s possible impact. “I do think that it will increase my productivity. With me being a more mature player, I’m going to be able to hit three-pointers, make my free throws and be more efficient from the field than I was last year. ”

The graduation of Felix makes leadership all the more important, and that’s an area in which veterans such as Carson, Bachynski and Gilling will be asked to grab the reins. And with the Pac-12 being an improved conference with eight teams feeling that they’ve got the talent needed to reach the NCAA tournament, Arizona State’s climb won’t be an easy one. But having an elite point guard will definitely help matters, and for all the individual praise heaped upon Carson the goal for his final season in Tempe is to accomplish what he didn’t a year ago: play in the NCAA tournament.

“I wanted to get to the NCAA tournament and only a few people get to experience that in their lives, and I want to be one of those people,” said Carson. “I felt like I had unfinished business here, and I want to leave a legacy here at Arizona State. And by making the NCAA tournament, I feel that it would secure a legacy for me at Arizona State.”

2018 NCAA TOURNAMENT: Fans guess location of Sweet 16 schools

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People in Times Square were quizzed on the location of the schools in the Sweet 16 and some guesses were pretty entertaining.

Another offseason of NBA talk begins for stunned Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari will take a few days before having a series of offseason meetings with his young team about their futures after an earlier-than-expected exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Calipari said he isn’t sure whether many of his talented freshmen and sophomores might return next season, or declare for the NBA draft.

“Until I sit down with all the guys, talk and see where they are with things and where their families are, I have no idea,” Calipari said.

They’re conversations Calipari knew were upcoming, just not this soon.

The fifth-seeded Wildcats could not take advantage of a clearer path to the Final Four paved by early round upsets of the South Region’s top four seeds. Kentucky fell 61-58 to No. 9 seed Kansas State in a Thursday night regional semifinal in Atlanta.

The disappointing season-ending defeat in which the Wildcats struggled to make shots typified the season for Calipari’s youngest group since his 2009 arrival in Lexington.

Kentucky (26-11) began the season ranked fifth in the Top 25 before dropping and eventually falling out. An up-and-down final month included four consecutive losses, the longest skid in Calipari’s nine-year tenure with the Wildcats.

They responded by playing some of their best basketball, winning four of their final five regular season games and rolling to a fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference Tournament championship as the No. 4 seed.

Kentucky’s quick improvement stoked hopes of a deep NCAA Tournament run and perhaps playing for a ninth national championship next weekend in San Antonio, Texas. That expectation will remain as long as Calipari continues recruiting highly touted prospects.

Despite the early tournament exit Calipari said he took satisfaction in getting the Wildcats to play their best in the postseason.

“Individually and collectively, this was a rewarding year for me,” Calipari said. “I wish it could have ended in another week, but for me to see how individual players got better, for me to see how this team came together, for me to see (forward) Jarred (Vanderbilt) in, Jarred out, all the stuff that went on with injuries, they hung in there and played a bunch of freshmen. I thought they really performed.”

Calipari now moves on to offseason discussions to see which freshmen return and to what extent he must retool — again.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are projected as first-round NBA draft choices and possible lottery selections. Forward PJ Washington has also generated first-round consideration.

Hamidou Diallo — a redshirt freshman guard who nearly entered last year’s draft pool despite not playing at Kentucky — improved his prospects in the tournament and has been mentioned as a first-round possibility. Jarred Vanderbilt made his Kentucky debut in January after missing 17 games with a left foot injury and showed promise as a rebounder, only to sustain an ankle injury that sidelined him for the postseason.

Sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones improved but could return along with guard Quade Green and forward Nick Richards. Freshman guard Jemarl Baker recently began working out after having left knee surgery last fall. Sophomore forward Tai Wynyard played sporadically before being suspended for the second half of the season.

As he routinely does, Calipari will encourage his entire roster to work out with NBA clubs to explore their options. Then the coach will explore his options.

Dan Hurley calls coaching UConn a dream and destination job

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STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Dan Hurley says he has landed at his dream coaching destination.

Hurley was introduced Friday as the University of Connecticut’s 19th men’s basketball coach, replacing Kevin Ollie, who was fired earlier this month amid an NCAA investigation and after a second consecutive losing season.

The 45-year-old Hurley, who left Rhode Island after six years and two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, has agreed to a six-year incentive-laced deal. He will have a base salary of $400,000 but will make at least $2.75 million in his first season, with supplemental income from media fees, speaking appearances and other perks. He could make up to $3.5 million in the contract’s final year.

He also has a chance to earn up to another $1 million a year for reaching certain athletic and academic goals.

But Hurley said the decision to come to UConn was not about money. It was about the opportunity to take the helm of a “storied program” that has won four national championships over the past 20 years.

“It’s a place that I always hoped I’d have a chance to coach and it’s like a dream come true,” he said.

Hurley, who played against the Huskies at Seton Hall in the 1990s, regaled the media with stories of being schooled on the court by the likes of Ray Allen and Chris Smith. Hurley said he modeled his coaching style in large part after UConn’s former Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, and plans to bring back that hard-nosed “championship culture.”

“For me, that centers around being the hardest working, hardest playing team in the country,” he said. “That’s our goal from when you see us opening night in November. The product you see on the court, there’s not going to be a more connected team. There’s not going to be a harder playing team. There’s not going to be a team in the country that is more committed to winning.”

Hurley said he shared that vision earlier Friday in a meeting with UConn’s players. He said he hopes to have most of them back next season, telling them they can leave behind a much different legacy than they have now.

The Huskies went 14-18 this past season and 16-17 in 2016-17 after going 30 years without a losing season.

Junior guard Jalen Adams said he hasn’t made a final decision about his future, but was impressed with Hurley and happy with the hire.

“I know a lot of guys at URI and all of those guys rave about him, talk about how he’s a great guy and a great coach and he pushes you to the limits,” Adams said. “I think that will be great for me personally and I think it will be even better for our whole team. I think our team just needs to be pushed and needs someone who will demand them to be a champion.”

David Benedict, UConn’s athletic director, said there was never a question of whether the school would have the resources to hire a top head coach, and said it did not have to raise additional money from donors to fund Hurley’s contract.

He said there was a brief conversation with Hurley about the NCAA investigation, but it never became a roadblock to the hire. Hurley has the right, under the deal, to extend his contract by an additional year if the school receives sanctions such as a reduction of scholarships.

Benedict declined to discuss Ollie’s decision to appeal his firing “with cause,” which could impact whether UConn will have to pay more than $10 million left on the former coach’s contract.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t have done something that we didn’t feel was within our right to do,” Benedict said.

Former Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore, who was a longtime assistant of Calhoun’s at UConn and was on Hurley’s staff at Rhode Island is expected to join Hurley in Storrs. Kevin Freeman, UConn’s director of basketball administration, was the only member of Ollie’s staff to attend the news conference.

Hurley said he plans to fill out his staff with a diverse group of coaches who can help him recruit in the mid-Atlantic region.

Hurley is the son of Hall of Fame New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. and the brother of Arizona State coach Bob Hurley. He said his last name has always been a recruiting asset in the Northeast.

“Coaches, families trust us with their kids because of the legacy my father has left as a Hall of Famer, but also as a community person who stands for the right things,” Hurley said. “I think nationally with the brand and our name, we could do a lot of good things.”

LaSalle parts ways with longtime head coach Dr. John Giannini

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La Salle announced on Friday that they are parting ways with head coach John Giannini.

Giannini had been the head coach of the program for 14 seasons, amassing a record of 212-226. Before taking over at La Salle, he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Rowan and eight seasons coaching at Maine.

“Today Bill Bradshaw and I mutually agreed that La Salle University could benefit from a new voice in leading the program,” said Dr. Giannini. “It is difficult to admit this but I have given every effort possible for success and I have received nothing but support and encouragement from Bill and President Hanycz. Greater things may be accomplished for this storied program and great university with the approach of a new coach. I am forever grateful, especially to my loyal staff and dedicated student-athletes. I look forward to my next challenge and La Salle’s future success.”

Kentucky clarifies ‘false reports’ they did not shake Kansas State hands after loss

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After Kansas State knocked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16, the purple Wildcats alleged that the blue Wildcats did not shake their hands after the game.

“They didn’t shake our hands,” Kansas State junior guard Amaad Wainright told ESPN last night. “It’s sorry.”

“They know what they did.”

Kentucky bristled at the allegations.

“They were turned and celebrating, so I walked off,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “There was no disrespect for anything. It’s just that they were celebrating, and I was happy for them.”

“My team’s not like that. There’s no disrespect in any way. They beat us. They deserved to win the game.”