Jaye Crockett, Lamar Patterson

Lamar Patterson’s improvement the biggest reason Pitt’s a legitimate ACC contender

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BROOKLYN — On Monday, after watching Pitt put a 23 point beatdown on Texas Tech, I wrote that the Panthers looked like they will be the team that takes advantage of some of the struggles the powers in the ACC have had this season.

On Tuesday, Jamie Dixon’s  club made me look smart. In their first real test of the season, the Panthers methodically took control against Stanford in the first half, leading 43-28 heading into halftime, before closing out an 88-67 win. Every time the Cardinal looked like they were on the verge of a run to get back into the game, Pitt had an answer, and more often than not, it was Lamar Patterson that provided that answer.

Patterson is a guy that you’ve probably heard of before. A fifth-year senior, Patterson is one of those guys that feels like he has been in college forever. But he’s always been a role player, a piece in the Panther machine. He’s been a glue guy, a skilled-but-inconsistent wing that has tantalized with his versatility just as much as he’s underwhelmed with his play at times.

But he’s the key to the Panthers this year.

This Pitt team lacks star power. Jamie Dixon has never been a guy that goes after players based on where they rank on top 100 lists, opting to instead pursue guys that are willing to wait for their time to shine while spending two or three, and sometimes four, years to get their chance. And while that’s worked for him, it creates a scenario where it’s tough to peg exactly where the production is going to come from.

Now we know. In two games in Brooklyn this week, Patterson averaged 23.5 points, 5.0 assists, 3.0 boards and 3.5 blocks. On the season, he’s now averaging 17.0 points, 5.3 assists, 4.3 boards and 1.5 steals while shooting 46.7% from three and 50.0% from the floor.

“He’s a big time player,” Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins said of Patterson. “I always look at big time players and what they do on big stages. Tonight, playing for a championship, he showed who he is. He wasn’t rattled, he played with poise all game. It just tells you who he is. He’s a winner.”

That’s who Patterson is. He’s not Andrew Wiggins and he’s not Jabari Parker. He’s got a well-rounded skill-set, but he’s not a guy that is going to be shooting up NBA draft boards because of his overwhelming physical tools or an supernatural ability to put the ball in the basket. He’s smart, he’s fundamentally sound, he knows the game and he knows his game.

Most importantly, he knows what his role is on this team. He’s waited his turn, and now it’s his time to lead.

According to Dixon, one of the biggest reasons that Patterson is playing so well is that he put in the work this summer to get himself into better shape.

“He always ahd skills, he could pass and shoot, but he’s a better athlete. He’s in better shape right now,” Dixon said. “That comes from physical maturity and also mental maturity. He’s taken that challenge. We set a goal for him, and he reached it. It’s been a battle, but he got to it. That’s why he’s quicker, stronger, jumps better.”

“Now we call him an athlete, it’s been our running joke.”

Pitt wasn’t thought of as a contender for the ACC title in the preseason, and while they’ve been arguably the most impressive team in the conference through the season’s first three weeks, the Panthers are still playing with a chip on their shoulder. They still consider themselves the underdog, and they won’t be quick to forget all the people that had them in the bottom half of the league prior to the start of the season.

“A lot of people have written us off. We see those things,” Patterson said. “I’d be ignorant if I said we didn’t [pay attention to preseason rankings]. It’s obvious. It’s out there. Coach talks about it in the locker room. It’s extra motivation.”

“We just want to go out there and show people what we can do.”

It’s only six games into the season, but those people have taken notice of Pitt.

And of Lamar Patterson.

South Dakota State gets two commits

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Tuesday was a busy and productive one for South Dakota State on the recruiting trail.

The Jackrabbits secured two 2017 commitments from the state of Wisconsin in Ryan Krueger and Alex Arians, a source tells NBCSports.com.

Krueger is a 6-foot-5 wing player from New London, Wisc. while Arians is a 6-foot-4 guard from Madison, Wisc., who also held an offer from Wright State, which is coached by former SDSU coach Scott Nagy. Both players spend their summers playing for the Wisconsin Swing grassroots program.

The pair make it a trio of commits for the Jackrabbits in 2017 with another Wisconsinite, Alou Dillon, pledging to first-year Jackrabbits coach T.J. Otzelberger, himself a Wisconsin native, earlier this summer.

South Dakota State went 26-8 last year and the bulk of the team that made the NCAA tournament last year, including sophomore Mike Daum, who led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman.

Incoming Gator freshman ineligible for upcoming season

Mike White
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Florida will need to wait a year before seeing 6-foot-11 recruit Gorjok Gak playing games for the Gators.

The NCAA ruled that the incoming freshman will be able to enroll at Florida this year and practice with the team, but will be ineligible for games this season, the school announced Tuesday.

Should he meet all his progress marks during his freshman year, he’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2017-18.

Gak’s eligibility issue centered on his playing games during his postgraduate year at Victory Rock Prep, according to his coach there.

“Following his graduate year from Australia, he was supposed to play from December to December,” Loren Jackson told the Gainesville Sun, “but instead played from December until the following May.”

Gak originally signed with Oklahoma State, but de-committed following Travis Ford’s firing in Stillwater this past spring. Gak averaged 13.8 points and 9.3 rebounds last season at Victory Rock in Bradenton, Fla.

Florida went 21-15 last season under first-year coach Mike White.

Video: Coach K talks Team USA with Dan Patrick

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Team USA has blown through its competition in its first two exhibition games ahead of next month’s Olympics in Rio De Janeiro with wins over Argentina and China by a combined a combined 96 points.

Tonight, they’ll have a rematch against China, which they defeated 106-57 on Sunday, but it will also serve as the unofficial debut of Kevin Durant in front of his new hometown fans with the game taking place at the home of the Golden State Warriors, Oracle Arena, in Oakland.

“Excited for Kevin tonight to make his debut in front of the Golden State fans,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday on the Dan Patrick Show. “He got a great reception (Monday) at a function. He was, as he should be, warmly welcomed.”

The team has been together since July 18 in the run-up to its first Olympic contest on Aug. 6 against China. For Krzyzewski, a couple of players have made an impression already.

“You see these guys on TV,” the Duke coach said, “but I don’t get a chance to see them in person. (Clipper) DeAndre Jordan is such a good player. A great athlete, a great guy. To see him run, defend, holy mackerel. He’ s really good.

“I haven’t seen Paul George in two years when he had that horrific (leg) injury in Las Vegas at one of our camps, and he’s so darn good. On defense, tremendous.”

It’s on the defensive side of the floor that Coach K believes his team can really make its mark even with the incredible collection of offensive talent the roster has.

“We’re very athletic so defensively we could be a very good defensive team,” he said. “We’ve shown a willingness to want to do that in the first two games.”

As usual, Team USA is the prohibitive favorite to bring back gold for the third consecutive Olympics, which will be Coach K’s last at the helm after taking over after the 2004 bronze medal debacle.

“I’m excited about the team,” he said. “It’s a short time. to see our guys working so hard and they get along so well, I’m excited about the team we might be in Rio. We’ll use tonight to get a little bit better.

“I kind of have the blinders on. You only have a short time. It’s a little over a month, and we want to win the gold medal in Rio.”

Rose’s transfer to BYU becomes official

Ge'Lawn Guyn, L.J. Rose
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His commitment came more than a month ago, but L.J. Rose’s transfer to BYU became official Tuesday.

The former Houston guard was officially announced as an immediately-eligible graduate transfer by BYU on Tuesday. He’ll bring much needed help to a Cougars backcourt that lost Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer to graduation and Jordan Chatman and Jack Toolson to transfers.

“L.J. will add great experience and talent to our guard line,” BYU coach Dave Rose said in a statement released by BYU. “We’re excited about the leadership he will bring on the court and in the locker room. He will make us a deeper and more versatile team.”

As a junior, L.J. Rose averaged 9.8 points and 5.3 assists, but a foot injury limited him to just two games last season and allowed him to receive a medical redshirt and the opportunity to be a graduate transfer for his final collegiate season. He’ll be a big part of BYU’s attempt to build on last year’s 26-11 season as a former top-100 recruit, who began his career at Baylor, on a team in need of an infusion of talent after absorbing the losses from last year’s roster.

His father, Lynden, Sr., was a teammate of BYU coach Dave Rose at Houston during the program’s Phi Slama Jama era.

UCLA loses key forward to professional ranks

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 02:  Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks steals the ball from Jonah Bolden #43 of the UCLA Bruins during a 76-68 Ducks win at Pauley Pavilion on March 2, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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UCLA announced on Tuesday afternoon that Jonah Bolden will be forgoing his college eligibility to turn professional.

“Jonah Bolden has informed the coaching staff that he has opted to play professionally this season,” the release said.

Bolden is a versatile, 6-foot-10 forward with some NBA potential. In his only season playing with the Bruins, he averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 boards while starting 11 games. His ability on the defensive end of the floor was something the UCLA staff was counting on this season.

A sophomore this past season, Bolden was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA as a freshman, meaning that he was allowed to be on scholarship and in class but could not play during the 2014-15 season.

He had two seasons of eligibility remaining. Without Bolden, T.J Leaf will likely be counted on to play more minutes at the four.