Arizona’s Aaron Gordon belongs in the conversation with the best freshmen despite what box score says

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — The headlines this season have been dominated by talk of ‘The Big Three’.

Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. Which freshmen is the best player in the country? Who do you take No. 1 in the draft? Who will be the best player five years down the road? Is Wiggins T-Mac or Scottie Pippen? Is Parker Paul Pierce or Carmelo? Is Randle Chris Webber or Zach Randolph? Who wins a game of horse? If locked in a room for three hours with nothing but an X-Box 1 and FIFA 14, who leaves that room with the best record?

OK, those last two may not be real, but you get my point. The coverage that those three have received over the first three weeks of the season has been exhaustive, to the point that the average fan may not realize that those three are far from the only potentially great players in college basketball this season, let alone the only great freshmen.

On Friday night in Madison Square Garden, No. 4 Arizona’s freshman phenom got his first chance to showcase his ability on national television, as the Wildcats took on No. 6 Duke in the finals of the Preseason NIT on national television. Arizona won, 72-66, and a quick glance at the box score will make it seem as if Gordon blew his chance.

10 points on 4-for-6 shooting to go along with seven boards?

(MORE: Duke’s lack of size should not an excuse any longer)

That’s good. It’s certainly not head-turning. He may get his name put on Sportscenter’s graphic at the end of the highlights. He may not. “We as a group have to find ways to use his offensive talent even more,” head coach Sean Miller said.

But that stat-line doesn’t do his performance on Friday justice, because Gordon was arguably the most important player on the floor for Arizona.

Think about it like this: Jabari Parker has been the best scorer in the country this season. He entered the game averaging 23.6 points and shooting 60.9% from three in games. Those comparisons to Melo and Pierce? Well, they’re valid, at least in they’re ability to score the ball. He can overpower a smaller opponent in the post and make a bigger defender look silly on the perimeter. I’m not sure there is a better all-around offensive talent that’s not currently getting an NBA paycheck.

And Gordon locked him down. For the first time this season, Parker didn’t score 20 points. He did finish with 19, but he was 7-for-21 from the field and 0-for-5 from three. The most important stat? Gordon picked up his second foul with 6:58 left in the first half and didn’t get off the bench afterwards. In that time, Parker was 4-for-6 from the floor and scored of those 19 points. With Gordon on the floor, Parker was 3-for-15 from the field.

Gordon has the potential to be a game-changer on the defensive end of the floor because of his athleticism and versatility. There aren’t many players out there that he can’t guard.

But that’s not the only place he effects the game for the Wildcats.

“Aaron Gordon isn’t going to score 30,” Miller said. “He’s not a volume shooter. He’s a basketball player. He guarded Hood and Parker. He finished with seven boards. He made a couple of the best passes on offense. He made a big three point shot.”

Most importantly, Gordon in unselfish. He doesn’t care if he doesn’t score 30 points. He doesn’t force offense. It seems, at least from my view court side, that Gordon is solely concerned with one stat: the final score. “He’s a great teammate and everything flows better when he’s out there,” Miller said. It’s worth noting here that Gordon also added four assists and two blocks.

What become evident on Wednesday night was that Arizona is an elite defensive team. They have size inside, they have guards than can really hawk the ball on the perimeter and they have two of the most versatile players in the country in Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It’s incredible, when you think about it. The Wildcats were able to matchup with Duke when they played five perimeter players, but they can also matchup with Baylor’s biggest lineup.

There aren’t many teams in the country that are capable of doing that.

Arizona is, and Gordon is the biggest reason why.

So he may not put up the same numbers as the likes of Parker, Randle or Wiggins and his ability may not be readily apparent in a box score, but rest assured, his value to this Arizona team cannot be under-stated.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.