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

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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.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”