The Secondary Break: Friday’s Links

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Arizona claims top spot after North Carolina bounces another top five team (Sports Illustrated)
In the latest installment of Luke Winn’s power rankings, Arizona moves into the top spot after Michigan State fell at home on Wednesday night. Three Big Ten teams are in the Top 5, with one being a Wisconsin team that’s already put together a solid resume that should benefit them going forward.

Les wants more defense out of UC Davis (Sacramento Bee)
UC Davis is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, which they will attempt to end against Nevada on Saturday night. The biggest reason for the struggles: defense, and it’s important that the Aggies improve in this area with the prolific Deonte Burton running the show for the visiting Wolf Pack.

Cauley-Stein’s shot-blocking helps No. 3 Kentucky (Associated Press)
Kentucky’s freshmen have received a lot of attention thus far, but one of the big reasons why the Wildcats have played so well has been the presence of sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein. Averaging 9.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game on the season, Cauley-Stein has blocked 20 shots in the last three games. The Wildcats take on No. 20 Baylor tonight.

Weekend homework: Colorado’s chance (ESPN)
Since losing to Baylor in the season opener Colorado’s won eight straight games, but that streak will be put to the test on Saturday afternoon when No. 6 Kansas visits the Coors Events Center. The Jayhawks blew CU out of the water in last season’s meeting, which should serve as motivation, but the game also offers Colorado a chance at the signature win currently missing fro their resume.

Isaiah Austin: “Kentucky is not better than us in any way, shape or form” (Dallas Morning News)
Sophomore forward Isaiah Austin is a key player for Baylor, and he’ll need to have a big game if the Bears are to have a shot at knocking off No. 3 Kentucky tonight in Arlington, Texas. And while the focus should be on what the game means to both teams there’s also the fact that there will be plenty of NBA scouts in attendance, with many wanting to see what progress Austin’s made from a skill standpoint.

Rebels prepping for big challenge in renewed series at No. 2 Arizona (Las Vegas Sun)
UNLV’s endured its share of struggles thus far, and a good showing at No. 2 Arizona on Saturday would go a long way towards helping Dave Rice’s team turn things around ahead of the start of Mountain West play. And there is some history between the two programs, as they staged some incredible games during the 1980s and 1990s.

SDSU-USD series becoming a rarity (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Last night No. 24 San Diego State held off city rival San Diego 65-64 at Jenny Craig Pavilion. The two teams have met in each of the last 15 seasons, alternating home courts every year. And while SDSU sees the value in such series, that can’t be said for other power programs across the country who tend to avoid taking on such road tests in non-conference play.

Cowboys spend week learning from loss to Memphis (The Oklahoman)
No. 9 Oklahoma State’s loss to Memphis in the title game of the Old Spice Classic on Sunday wouldn’t be described as a stunning result, as the Tigers are a talented team that was motivated by what happened in Stillwater two weeks prior. The result, and how it occurred, provided Travis Ford’s team with some needed teaching points as they look to make a run at the Big 12 crown.

Robbins’ role takes a jump (Corvallis Gazette Times)
As a freshman, Oregon State guard Victor Robbins didn’t see too much playing time as he averaged just five minutes per game. But as a sophomore Robbins has moved into the starting lineup and he’s taken advantage of the increased opportunities, posting averages of 8.4 points and three rebounds per game.

Forward leaving Kansas program

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Kansas’ already thin frontline took a hit Wednesday night when it came to light that Jack Whitman will not suit up for the Jayhawks.

Whitman, a transfer from William & Mary, will leave the Kansas program, according to multiple reports.

The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season for the Tribe before deciding to graduate transfer, committing to the Jayhawks in May.

“I know I can play with these guys, contribute and help us win games this year,” Whitman told the Kansas City Star last month.

Instead, the Jayhawks will have to make due with a frontcourt that will be lacking much depth. Udoka Azubuike is back after missing most of last year with an injury while Billy Preston and Mitch Lightfoot will also be expected to be contributors. Whitman wasn’t expected to put up huge numbers for the Jayhawks, but his departure does leave them vulnerable should injury or foul trouble find the Kansas big men at some point.

As the KC Star points out, though, Kansas is in contention to land top recruit Marvin Bagley, who is considering classifying to 2017, a class in which Kansas now has an open scholarship that could conceivably go to the 6-foot-10 five-star prospect.

 

Duke’s Grayson Allen underwent offseason ankle surgery

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Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went on a podcast with ESPN’s Seth Greenberg this week and casually mentioned that Grayson Allen, who was banged up for most of last season after entering the year as the Preseason National Player of the Year, underwent a procedure on his ankle.

“We had him away from basketball for about three months,” Krzyzewski said of Allen. “He had a minor operation on his ankle. He’s now fully recovered, so his athleticism is back. He’s happy, he’s in shape and he’s sharing that.”

Allen struggled with his confidence and his emotions last season, and that ankle issue never quite went away, bothering him from the start of the year throughout the season. Time away from basketball — and from the limelight, after a third tripping incident — was good for Allen, according to Krzyzewski.

“I’m really happy where Grayson is at emotionally, physically and he’s really excited about leading these guys.”

“Gary Trent, talking with him after a workout yesterday, I said, ‘What do you think?'” Coach K’s story continued. “He said, ‘Coach, I didn’t know G was that good.’ Well, he’s healthy. ‘You didn’t think he could shoot that well, did you?'”

Minnesota lands in-state 2018 forward

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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Minnesota is building its frontcourt of the future in its 2018 class without even leaving the Twin Cities.

Jarvis Thomas, a four-star forward, committed to the Gophers on Tuesday evening, becoming the second in-state frontcourt player in Richard Pitino’s newest class.

The 6-foot-7 forward hails from the Minneapolis suburbs and joins another local product, four-star center Daniel Oturo, to forge a potentially formidable future frontcourt for Pitino and Co., who are coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance in four seasons at Minnesota. Both Thomas and Oturo play for the Howard Pulley program.

I’m headed to Minnesota & I picked them because it’s home. I have a good relationship with the staff. I’m just comfortable,” Thomas said, according to Ryan James of Gopher Illustrated. “I made a decision for myself, but Daniel was a plus to it. Me & Daniel room every tournament we play.We are always together.”

Landing two high-profile in-state recruits is a major development for Pitino after the Gophers went 0-for in the 2017 class despite offering numerous Minnesota prospects. In fact, Thomas’ commitment, presumably, sent Pitino to Twitter to celebrate with a Gopher GIF from ‘Caddyshack.’

While this is a strong tweet from a sitting head coach, the response it generated from Xavier assistant Luke Murray, son of ‘Caddyshack’ star Bill Murray, might have been just as good.

Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun assists cast in play about recruiting

AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb
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WATERFORD, Conn. (AP) — Actor Sam Kebede went to rehearsal hoping to get some insights about what it’s like to be recruited by a big-time college basketball coach. Hall-of-Famer Jim Calhoun was happy to assist.

The coach who led UConn to three national championships before retiring in 2012 is serving as a technical adviser on the production of a new play, “Exposure,” which is being put on this weekend at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford.

Kebede portrays a player experiencing the world of AAU basketball and the dark side of recruiting.

Playwright Steve DiUbaldo played Division I basketball at Winthrop under Gregg Marshall, now the coach at Wichita State. Director Wendy Goldberg grew up in Michigan and watched her friend, retired NBA star Chris Webber, deal with choosing a college before he wound up at Michigan.

But both sat in rapt fascination with the cast and crew for well over an hour prior to rehearsal Tuesday as Calhoun answered their questions and regaled them with stories, drawing on more than a half-century of experience in basketball. He offered insights and opinions on the NCAA, the recruiting process, shoe companies, players, parents, other coaches and even fans (“They love you, win or win,” he joked).

“It made it all a lot more real,” said Kebede. “He just put me in those shoes. He gave me a fuller idea of what it means to be a recruit.”

Calhoun talked about forming personal relationships with recruits and their families, showing them the formula he used to help players like Ray Allen and Kemba Walker fulfill their dreams. But he also addressed the games flaws.

Calhoun talked about the struggles the NCAA has governing institutions as diverse as Harvard and Alabama. He told the ensemble about coaches who thought they were doing things the right way by only giving players “used cars” and teenagers who feel entitled to fame and riches because they’ve “worked hard all their lives for it.”

“All your life? You’re 18,” he said.

“Have I ever been offered, ‘You give us this, and we’ll give you that?’ Yeah,” Calhoun told them. “I always said, ‘I’m never going to own a kid, but a kid is never going to own me. It was never worth it, ethically, morally or otherwise to do those things.”

Calhoun said he tried to get across that basketball can’t be portrayed in black-and-white terms — good guys and bad guys. It’s about human beings, relationships, mistakes and trying to do what’s right for the players and doing it the right way, he said. And, he said, there is a lot of gray area.

The vast majority of college basketball, he said, is great, “but in the midst of millions and millions of dollars, things happen.”

“Something that I found enlightening was how much he loved his kids and how much the game is at the base of basketball,” said DiUbaldo. “And amidst all this stuff that will make us cynical with the recruiting process and other things, at the end of the day we love the game and we love the kids that play it.”

DiUbaldo said he hopes all of that comes across in his play.

Calhoun, who sits on the board at the O’Neill Theater, said being involved in the production is exciting for him as a long-time fan of the performing arts. He said he marvels at the athleticism of dancers and the discipline it takes for actors to learn how to portray a character.

He also sees a lot of parallels to basketball — the ensemble feeling, the work ethic and the joy that comes from pulling off a great performance.

“I’ll come Saturday and Sunday nights to see it,” he said. “I want to see how they handle it.”

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Follow Pat Eaton-Robb on Twitter @peatonrobb

Former Kentucky player Jerry Bird dies

Adolph Rupp, Bird's college coach; AP photo
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CORBIN, Ky. (AP) — Former Kentucky basketball player Jerry Bird, who was a member of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame and had his No. 22 jersey retired to the Rupp Arena rafters, has died.

An obituary posted by O’Neil-Lawson Funeral Home says Bird died Sunday at a hospital in Corbin. He was 83.

Media report Bird played for Kentucky from 1954 to 1956 and helped the school attain two Southeastern Conference titles in 1954 and 1955. He was part of the 1954 team crowned national champions by the Helms Athletic Foundation after a 25-0 season.

Bird scored 713 career points and had 589 career rebounds under coach Adolph Rupp.

“Jerry Bird was Kentucky through and through,” UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement by the school. “He was proud to be a Wildcat and is an important part of Kentucky basketball history.

Bird played one season with the New York Knicks before returning to his hometown of Corbin to work at American Greetings.

His is survived by a son, two grandchildren, a brother and a sister. Visitation and services are scheduled for Saturday at Central Baptist Church in Corbin.