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Can Tubby Smith save Texas Tech?

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I couldn’t get anyone to say anything interesting about Tubby Smith. I thought this might hinder my efforts to write a feature about his first season at Texas Tech, until I realized something important..

Tubby Smith isn’t in the business of being interesting.

That’s part of what made him an ill fit at Kentucky, where the slowed-down style dubbed “Tubbyball” helped him win the 1998 national title that is still his calling card in coaching circles. It also got him on the bad side of Big Blue Nation, who howled with frustration watching prize recruit Rajon Rondo walking the ball up the court between 2005-2006. A couple of 12+ loss seasons put the writing on the wall, so Smith jumped to Minnesota before he could be pushed out.

Billy Gillispie followed Smith at Kentucky and preceded him at his current posting at Texas Tech. Gillispie’s antics in Lexington and Lubbock served very well to show fans that they could do worse than Orlando Smith… a lot worse.

Which begs the question: outside of Gillispiean context, is Tubby Smith a good coach? Is he what Texas Tech needs to survive the shark-infested Big 12?

I’m going to say yes, and I’m going to tell you why.

First of all, let’s look at the culture of Texas Tech over the past few years. The school has made national waves by hiring brilliant mavericks – Bobby Knight, Billy Gillispie and former football coach Mike Leach – and that’s been good and bad. Talented athletes have made their way to Lubbock and the school is a known quantity to recruits and fans. On the flipside, altercations between high-strung coaches and the players under their charge have added a powerful negative stigma to the headlines.

You’ve heard the saying “There’s no such thing as bad press,” but we might have to re-evaluate that statement from time to time. Tech’s reputation was damaged by those reports, which has affected the school’s ability to attract top talent of the coaching and athletic variety ever since.

From that vantage point, Tubby Smith looks like the safe choice. He wins, and he doesn’t cause controversy. He attracts positive attention. I mean, here I am writing about a program I tabbed to finish dead last in the Big 12 this season. That’s the Tubby effect.

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Tubby Smith will bring joy back to the Texas Tech sidelines. (Getty)

And Tubby Smith wins games. His career mark of 511 wins to 226 losses (a .693 winning percentage) is somewhat distorted by that single national title, representing a career achievement that somehow detracts from every subsequent season in which he fails to approach the same lofty heights. He won at Tulsa, he won at Georgia and he won at Minnesota. He’ll win at Texas Tech, though not right away by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, I don’t expect Tubby Smith to work miracles in Lubbock. I’ll be impressed if he gets the Red Raiders to play better than .500 ball in the rugged Big 12 by the 2016 season. But he’ll bring in good players, he’ll win a few games, and he’ll lend an invincible aura of even-handed, avuncular fairness to the proceedings. He’ll rehabilitate the Texas Tech name and prepare it to take the next step under an up-and-coming younger man; perhaps current Tech assistant coach Pooh Williamson, who played under Smith at Tulsa. Maybe someone else.

For now, however, Smith is the Texas Tech program’s physical therapist: He’ll supervise those first slow steps toward recovery, and make sure his team doesn’t face-plant. Soon, he’ll have the program walking and even running.

Tubby Smith represents a positive view of the near future in Lubbock. He can, and likely will, have the Red Raiders back in the Big Dance some day, and that’s a pretty good carrot for a program that hasn’t been there since 2007.

If he wears a suit and smiles like your granddad and nobody says anything interesting about him along the way, is that really such a bad thing?

Rick Pitino: ‘We’re going to press more than we’ve ever pressed’

Louisville coach Rick Pitino shouts instructions to his team during the first half of its NCAA college basketball game against Florida State, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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Rick Pitino hopped on the air with 93.9 in Louisville recently and discussed the stuff you expect to hear a coach discuss on the radio in July.

He talked about the players that are improving (Jaylen Johnson). He talked about how he’s worried about how his team is going to score next season. He talked about the glut of big men on his roster and how none of them have done much to separate themselves from the pack.

It was all fairly typical.

But this line did catch my eye:

“Defensively, we’re going to press more than we’ve ever pressed,” Pitino said. “We’ve pressed a lot in the past but this team is very long, very athletic. I’m very bullish on this basketball team.”

Pitino’s teams have always pressed but he hasn’t been mentioned with the likes of Shaka Smart (Havoc) or Bobby Huggins (Press Virginia) because it isn’t an all-out press. Typically, the Cards run a 2-2-1 zone press that drops back to a half-zone/half-man amalgam that’s designed, in part, to confuse opponents as much as it is to force turnovers.

Is that going to change this year?

It would make some sense. This team is as athletic, long and versatile as any that he’s coached in recent memory. Think about the kind of physical tools that Ray Spalding and Jaylen Johnson and Deng Adel have. Think about what Donovan Mitchell can do if he’s allowed to ball-hawk the way Peyton Siva and Russ Smith did in the past.

This group can cause a lot of problems if they’re allowed to fly around the floor, and it sounds like Pitino may let them do just that.

Malik Williams cuts his list to eight schools

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Yesterday, when we released our July Live Period Superlatives, we listed Malik Williams as being the biggest stock riser in the country.

He went from being a kid that wasn’t playing in a shoe-company affiliated league in the spring to a five-star lock that has a bright future and NBA potential.

And on Monday, he announced that he has trimmed his list to eight schools:

N.C. State, Georgetown, Louisville, UCLA, Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa and Indiana.

Former Southern Miss forward Jonathan Mills shot and killed

Southern Mississippi forward Jonathan Mills (24) reacts at the buzzer in Memphis' 60-58 win in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)
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In two seasons as a member of the Southern Miss basketball program from 2011-13, forward Jonathan Mills made an impression based on how hard he played the game. Monday afternoon it was reported that Mills was shot and killed in Chicago, not too far away from his alma mater of North Lawndale High School.

Before attending Eastern Utah CC and Southern Miss, Mills plied his trade at North Lawndale where he helped the school win a state title in 2008 and the Chicago Public League title as a senior in 2009. North Lawndale HS coach Lewis Thorpe told the Chicago Tribune that he and Mills had plans to work out at the school Monday afternoon, only for Thorpe to receive a phone call from his nephew informing him of Mills’ death.

Mills was going through workouts with his high school coach in preparation for a move overseas to play professionally.

The coach said he heard from witnesses at the scene that Mills had gone to a corner store with some friends and, when they came out, a car drove up and someone inside shot him.

“I’m so messed up. I am so shocked,” he said. “When I say he was well liked…everybody loved him.’’

Thorpe said Mills called him “Pops” when he coached him in high school.

After word of Mills’ death made the rounds many paid tribute to him via social media including Donnie Tyndall, who coached Mills at Southern Miss.

Richmond announces change to European trip itinerary

Chris Mooney - UR
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With the NCAA allowing college basketball programs to take one trip outside of the country every four years, some coaches look at it as an opportunity to get a head start on preparations for the upcoming season. Chris Mooney’s Richmond Spiders are one team taking a trip this summer, as they’re due to leave the United States for Europe on August 8 with three exhibitions scheduled for their 12-day tour.

The trip was originally scheduled to begin in France, with the Spiders spending their first week there before making stops in the Netherlands and Germany. Monday afternoon the program announced a change to the itinerary, with the Spiders now spending their first week in Ireland and not France.

“We continue to be excited about the opportunity to travel abroad this summer,” Mooney said in the release. “We were able to make some changes to our travel itinerary, and we believe that this new itinerary will give our team a great opportunity to grow together and see other parts of the world.”

It isn’t stated as the reason for the change in the release but this news comes just over a week after a man drove a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, claiming the lives of 84 people and leaving more than 200 others injured.

Richmond, which returns two of its top three scorers from a season ago in forward T.J. Cline and guard ShawnDre’ Jones, is schedule to return to the United States August 20. Per NCAA rules they’re also afforded the opportunity to practice for two weeks leading up to the trip, and heading to Europe can help the team build stronger connections in unfamiliar surroundings.

July Live Period Superlatives: Who impressed during the most important recruiting months?

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For much of the last three weeks, the nation’s best high school players have been jet-setting across the country — and the world — as they showcased what they can do in front of college coaches everywhere from North Augusta, S.C., to Las Vegas.

Here are the players that stood out the most:

MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER: Michael Porter Jr.

In a close call, I’m going with the future Washington Husky, Michael Porter Jr.

After an unstoppable Peach Jam in which he helped MoKan Elite win the event by completely dominating, Porter was one of the key players in helping the USA U18 team win the FIBA Americas as the team’s leading scorer.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Some have questioned Porter’s toughness, but he’s been a tenacious rebounder from the wing all spring and summer and he’s nearly impossible to contain off the bounce. When his perimeter jumper is going, Porter is an advanced three-level scorer who can make getting buckets look easy on some very difficult moves. In three bracket games at Peach Jam, Porter averaged 29.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting insane splits (68% FG, 93% FT, 56% 3PT).

BEST GUARD: Trae Young

Part of the reason that Porter was so good during Peach Jam is that he had Trae Young beside him on MoKan. A 6-foot-1 guard with deep shooting range on pull-ups, Young is underrated as a setup guy as his aggressive scoring capabilities open up a lot of offense for his teammates. Also a member of the USA U18 team that won gold with Porter, if Young shoots it that efficiently from three-point range in the future, he’ll be in the discussion among the best guards in the class.

They were good, too

  • Trevon Duval: The point guard with the most potential in 2017, Duval had a tough time finishing at the rim but still showed incredible athleticism and a warrior’s mentality.
  • Collin Sexton: After winning MVP of the FIBA U17 World Championships and a gold medal with USA Basketball, Sexton tore up the circuit and showed incredible intensity and scoring capabilities.

BEST WING: Gary Trent, Jr.

When Gary Trent Jr. takes the court, he wants to completely destroy you. No five-star player went as consistently hard as Trent did during the month of July and that is coming after Trent spent a month away from home winning gold with USA Basketball in Spain at the FIBA U17 World Championships. There were times in Vegas that opposing coaches and teams knew what moves were coming and Trent would still score on them. He’s a cold-blooded scorer who always brings intensity.

They were good, too

  • Hamidou Diallo: The high-flying guard can get a lot done on both ends of the floor and his upside might be among highest in the class.
  • Brian Bowen: Scoring the ball well and rebounding from the wing was the 6-foot-7 wing from Michigan, who looked unstoppable at times during July.

BEST BIG: DeAndre Ayton

If anyone beats Porter as the best player of July it is Ayton. The 7-footer was incredible during certain moments of Peach Jam in helping lead California Supreme to the final four as he beat Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter and Mitchell Robinson in consecutive games.

With soft touch, a workable jumper and the kind of quick hops that get rim easy dunks and rebounds, Ayton is the best long-term prospect in this class because of how well he moves for his size while also owning a good skill level. Ayton has a desire to play in college and hopefully he’ll get the chance because he has a shot to be one of the best big men college basketball has seen in the last decade.

They were good, too

  • Wendell Carter: The 6-foot-10 center was good at Peach Jam and closed out strong by helping Team CP3 win The Eight in Las Vegas.
  • Mitchell Robinson: This 7-footer changes directions and runs like a guard and is the best shot blocker in the country. I haven’t seen one guy block this many three-pointers since Anthony Davis.
Deandre Ayton, Jon Lopez/Nike
Deandre Ayton, Jon Lopez/Nike

BIGGEST STOCK RISER: Malik Williams

Indiana native Malik Williams is an interesting story because he was the only top 40 Class of 2017 player who didn’t play in a shoe-company league this spring. After a July in which the 6-foot-11 Williams made perimeter moves, blocked shots and rebounded his entire area, he looked like a five-star lock who should be in serious consideration for the All-American games. Williams is undoubtedly talented enough for those distinctions, but he also needs to prove himself more against the elite big men of the Class of 2017 before we know how good he can really be.

Some of the best college basketball programs in the country like Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State and Purdue — among many others — are making Williams a priority recruit.

They impressed, too

  • Chuma Okeke: Auburn just snagged this top-60 wing forward on Monday and he’s coming off a monster July. A versatile wing who can handle and score, Okeke can also rebound well from the wing.
  • Nick Weatherspoon: The younger brother of Mississippi State freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon is making a name for himself as a 6-foot-1 playmaking guard who can really score.

FOUR NON-ELITE NAMES WITH NBA POTENTIAL

  • Derek Culver: The 6-foot-10 native of Ohio is an intriguing talent because of his size, athleticism and passing ability.
  • Brandon Randolph: A smooth scorer with good size at 6-foot-6, Randolph hit 40 percent of his threes at Peach Jam and can fill it up from deep.
  • Chaundee Brown: One of the most efficient scorers at Peach Jam, the 6-foot-5 guard can also pull down rebounds with the best of them.
  • Jordan Goodwin: Undoubtedly one of the toughest dudes in the country, this Marcus Smart-type guard is improving his jumper but he’s a warrior with everything else.
Trae Young, Jon Lopez/Nike
Trae Young, Jon Lopez/Nike