Reuters

What does Spike Albrecht, Michigan’s almost-hero, do for an encore this season?

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Reuters

For one hour last March, Spike Albrecht was a sensation. He wasn’t just the biggest story in sports, he was the only story in sports that mattered.

The tiny freshman point guard put together arguably the most memorable half of basketball you’ll ever see, coming out of nowhere to score 17 first half points in the national title game. He buried four threes in the span of about 10 minutes of game time, the last of which came after he crossed up Russ Smith. Albrecht was trending on twitter worldwide. In a game that featured all-americans and future lottery picks, it was Albrecht that had celebrities and NBA all-stars tweeting about him despite the fact that he entered the game irrelevant enough that many media members covering the event couldn’t tell you a thing about him. “I was in the zone,” Albrecht said, “and I barely even remember what happened.”

He was the hero, the guy that saved the day for the Wolverines when Player of the Year Trey Burke was stuck on the bench, saddled with two fouls. Some of the best sportswriters in America were salivating thinking about the story they would be able to write.

But it was all for naught, less forgotten than overlooked, as Louisville’s Luke Hancock went all Albrecht on Michigan. He hit four threes in the span of two minutes, erasing Michigan’s 12 point lead, launching the comeback that would turn Spike the Hero into Spike the Footnote.

The single-greatest moment, to date, in Albrecht’s athletic career came in what could end up being the single-most disappointing loss. How do you reconcile that?

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Albrecht got lucky.

A decidedly mid-major prospect, Albrecht was nearing the end of his time at Northfield Mount Hermon, a prep school in Western Massachusetts, without only one real scholarship offer on the table: Appalachian State. A couple of other schools had started poking around, including Davidson, but reality was starting to stare Albrecht in the face. The dream of ending up playing in a power conference looked to be just that: a dream.

At the same time, the coaches at Michigan were starting to freak out. This was back during the 2011-2012 season, when Trey Burke was in the midst of his surprisingly successful freshman season. The Columbus, OH, native was looking more and more like a potential first round pick, and the chatter around Ann Arbor was making it seem more and more likely that Burke would be bolting for the NBA the first chance that he got. That put head coach John Beilein in a bind. He hadn’t planned for Burke to be leaving campus that early, and he needed some insurance. He needed a security blanket at the point, a back-up plan in case Burke did, in fact, head to the NBA.

“They came across me in the prep school world,”Albrecht told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last month, “and [assistant] coach Jeff Meyer flew up to one of my games and I happened to have a pretty good game. I was on campus a couple of weeks later and committed on the spot. It all happened really fast and I was kind of lucky.”

“I’m just fortunate that I ended up at Michigan.”

Albrecht knew that he was playing with house money. He knew that it was a blessing for him to don the maize and blue, that any chance he got last season was an opportunity to take advantage of. Did you know that in the five games leading up to the final, Albrecht was 5-5 from three, scoring 19 points, grabbing five boards and handing out four assists in just 49 minutes? Those aren’t great numbers, but they’re not bad for a freshman backup point guard playing in March.

One game — one half of one half, to be specific — is all it took for Albrecht to outperform all expectations, but that doesn’t mean that he has to be satisfied with it.

“The day after the national championship game, [assistant coach] LaVall Jordan came up to me and said, ‘Don’t let last night be the highlight of your career,'” Albrecht said. “I know a lot of people think I’m just Spike, the little white kid on Michigan, so it’s gotta be the most memorable. But that’s what motivates me to work hard every day. To prove people wrong.”

He’ll have the chance this season.

With Burke suiting up for the Utah Jazz, Beilein now has a gaping hole at the point guard spot and two options to fill it: Albrecht, and top 40 freshman Derrick Walton. The pair spent all fall battling for that starting point guard spot, and as of now, it’s unclear if anyone has actually been deemed the winner. Albrecht started the first exhibition game, playing 21 minutes against Concordia, while Walton started against Wayne State, logging 27 minutes to Albrecht’s 13.

“Derrick’s a really good player, and honestly, the coaching staff expects me to be a little bit more of a leader, a little bit more vocal,” Albrecht said. “I’m not worried about my minutes or starting, however much I play, I’ll play. I just want to go in there and do as much as I can to help my team.”

“I really don’t have personal goals.”

Albrecht is a competitor. He wants to play and he wants to contribute and he wants to see his highlights on Sportscenter, but he doesn’t want all of that to come at the expense of the team. More than anything, he wants to win.

“I would have rather not scored or played at all and won it all than scored 17 in the first half and lose,” he said. “Obviously, I would like to have a chance to continue to play.”

“But then again, I can’t complain if Derrick turns out to be an all-american and I’m in the same role for the next three years. If we’re winning games and playing in Final Fours and National Championships and the team’s doing well, that’s awesome. I couldn’t be happier. The chance to experience all that?”

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Albrecht’s performance on that Monday night in April wasn’t the only time he went viral.

The day after that performance, Albrecht sent a tweet to Michigan fan and superhot supermodel Kate Upton saying, “hey saw you at the game last night, thanks for coming out! Hope to see you again.” Within minutes, it had been retweeted thousands of times and had been posted on every sports blog on the internet.

Albrecht blames — credits? — Nik Stauskas for the idea, and while he says he’s embarrassed about the tweet and that he regrets posting it, seven months later, it still hasn’t been deleted.

“Everyone thought I was going to be sad she didn’t respond,” Albrecht said, “but I was like, ‘she’s a supermodel’.”

And he’s only Spike Albrecht.

But the fact that he’s only the “little white kid on Michigan” is the reason he can swing for the fences.

It doesn’t hurt when you lose house money.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky