Maurice Creek, George Washington proving to be a match made in heaven

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Maurice Creek’s college basketball career was destined to be short-lived.

11 games into his freshman season at Indiana, the 6-foot-4 guard from Oxon Hill, MD, was averaging 17.6 points and shooting 45.3% from three, the star of Tom Crean’s first recruiting class at Indiana that also included Jordy Hulls and Christian Watford.

He was getting noticed by the national media and NCAA scouts alike. Putting up 31 points on Kentucky will do that to you. But that all changed four years ago this month when Creek landed awkwardly on his left leg after getting fouled on a layup attempt in an otherwise-irrelevant blowout win over Bryant. He had fractured his kneecap, the first of a series of three devastating injuries Creek would suffer while in Bloomington.

That college career that was on the fast-track to the NBA had become a four-year battle with his health, as Creek endured three major surgeries that limited him to appearances in just 54 games as a Hoosier.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Creek said. “I don’t even want to look back to what I’ve been through.”

And that is why Creek is one of the best stories of the college basketball season.

Given a fifth-year of eligibility by the NBA and a chance to continue his collegiate career by George Washington as a graduate transfer, Creek, who is finally healthy, has taken full advantage. Entering Sunday’s game with Maryland in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center in DC, Creek was averaging 15.3 points and shooting 45.7% from three. A much needed dose of perimeter scoring pop, he’s been one of the major reasons that the Colonials were 7-1 on the season with wins over Creighton, Miami and Rutgers.

On Sunday, Creek hit the biggest shot of the season for GW.

After blowing a 14-point lead over the course of the last seven minutes of the game, the Colonials (miraculously) were able to break Maryland’s press and call a timeout at half court with 8.1 seconds left. The game was tied at 75, and after watching his team turn the ball over eight times in the final 4:11, there was no way that Creek was allowing anyone else to get the final shot.

“I just told coach I wanted the ball in my hands,” Creek told NBCSports.com. “He said, ‘Go get the ball.'”

Creek made his coach look like a genius, hitting a step-back 20-footer with 0.6 seconds left to give the Colonials the win, finishing with 25 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field.

And with that, you saw why Mike Lonergan went out of his way to bring Creek into the program.

George Washington has athletes. They have talented, defensive-minded perimeter players. They have big men that can run the floor, that can rebound, that can block shots. What they were missing last season was a guy that could stretch a defense with his ability to shoot the ball. That’s what Creek does best. He also just so happens to be a kid that was once an all-Big Ten caliber player, a veteran that’s been to the Sweet 16 and that has the, ahem, intestinal fortitude to take and make a big shot in a big moment.

Creek was the missing piece, and his addition has been more than GW could have asked for.

“I came to great university, but they wanted me because they needed me,” Creek said.

But it works both ways.

Creek needed GW just as badly as GW needed him.

He needed a chance to play again, a chance to work his way to the top of a rotation and to see the court. Winning is great, and riding the coattails of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to Big Ten titles certainly has its benefits, but when you’ve experienced being a star, sliding into a role as a deep reserve on the bench in a tough pill to swallow. That’s what made the Buff and Blue a perfect fit. They needed a leader, they needed a star, and Creek needed a place to land.

With the first month of the season now over, it’s safe to say that the union has been a dream come true.

GW is now 8-1 on the year, the latest team to look like they’ll be willing and able to give VCU and UMass a run for their money at the Atlantic 10 title.

Whether or not that ends up happening will play out over the course of the next four months, but the bottom-line is that GW will have a puncher’s chance. They have the ability and they’ll have the opportunity, and for an athlete, is there anything else you can ask for?

“Everybody knows I worked hard to get to this spot,” Creek said. “To go through all that and now have this? Everything’s just clicking together.”

It’s about damn time.

Preaching patience, new Pitt AD says hoops program “a complete rebuild”

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Things did not go particularly well for Kevin Stallings in his first year at Pitt. The program, which essentially pushed Jamie Dixon out the door for being consistently good but not often enough great, struggled, going 16-17 overall and 4-14 in the ACC, just two games out of the cellar.

On top of that, six players prematurely left the program this spring.

Not great, especially when you’ve got a new boss that didn’t hire you, as is the case for Stallings with new Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, who came aboard in March. In her first meeting with Stallings, Lyke asked a rather blunt question.

“Do you want to be here?” according to the Beaver County Times.

Stallings answered that he did, and his new athletic director would appear to be willing to give her predecessor’s hire time to reclaim and rebuild the program.

“It’s a steep climb, if you will,” Lyke said. “It’s not something that’s going to come easy and it takes an incredible amount of work.”

Stallings’ personal reputation took a significant amount of damage this spring when he attempted to block Cameron Johnson from an intra-ACC transfer to North Carolina. NBC Sports’ Scott Phillips called him a “town-deaf clown” in his attempt to keep Johnson from being a Tar Heel, a position he later relinquished, allowing Johnson to head to Chapel Hill.

Losing Johnson certainly won’t help Stallings and the Panthers recover from the difficult first season. Pitt didn’t hit any grand-slams in recruiting but is adding four-star guard Marcus Carr in its 2017 class.

The immediate outlook doesn’t look particularly bright, but Pitt appears to be positioning itself to exhibit some patience.

“If you look at the team, it is a complete rebuild,” Lyke said. “So I do think that (Stallings) is going to need a little time to develop it.

“But, we’ve got to be headed in the right direction. There’s some things that have got to get better and noticeable improvements. I’ve already seen those things start to happen.”

 

Miller Time: Indiana coach cashes in with $24 million deal

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — New Indiana coach Archie Miller will make $24 million under his seven-year deal — and potentially even more in bonuses.

Miller accepted the job in March, but the athletic department didn’t announce details of the contract until Tuesday.

He will receive a base salary of $550,000 per year and $1 million in deferred income each season. Miller also will receive an additional $1.85 million in outside marketing and promotional income — and will get a $50,000 per year raise each year through March 2024.

Miller can earn a $250,000 bonus for winning a national championship. He can earn an additional $125,000 for a Big Ten regular-season title, reaching the Final Four and producing multiyear Academic Progress Rate scores over 950.

Utah, BYU rivalry back on after one-year hiatus

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The BYU-Utah annual rivalry series will be back on this season after taking a one-year hiatus last year.

For just the second time since 1909, the Utes and the Cougars did not play in 2016-17 after Utah head coach Larry Kyrstkowiak asked for a one-year cooling off period stemming from an intense and emotional game against BYU in 2015-16. In that game, then-freshman Nick Emery was ejected as a result of this punch that he threw:

The last time those two teams did not play was due to World War II.

The game will be played at BYU on Dec. 16th.

Utah will also play Utah State this season, the first time that they have played the Aggies since 2011.

 

California bans state-funded travel to eight states; does it affect college hoops?

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A new California law could end up causing a headache for the sports teams for public universities in the state.

Because of recently-added laws that are perceived as discriminatory against the LGBT community, California has now banned travel to eight states: Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota join a list that already includes Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The law states that contracts that were signed before Jan. 1st, 2017, are exempted and can be fulfilled, but there’s not guarantee that will be the case in the future.

“Moving forward, the athletic department will not schedule future games in states that fail to meet the standards established by the new law,” a UCLA spokesman told the Sacramento Bee. That said, the university does not use state funding for travel sports teams as it currently stands, and the goal of the law to avoid “spending taxpayer dollars in states that discriminate,” according to California’s Attorney General.

On the college basketball side of things, the biggest question mark here is whether or not this law will prevent teams from playing in the NCAA tournament if they are sent to a site in one of those eight states. Next season alone, there are first weekend sites in Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee, not to mention the Final Four taking place in San Antonio. The location for many of those events were determined prior to January 1st.

“We are generally not going to deny student-athletes the opportunity to compete in the postseason,” a UCLA spokesman told NBC Sports.

The next question then becomes whether or not regular season travel will be allowed. Earlier this year, Cal dropped out of talks with Kansas about a potential home-and-home series due to this law, and if regular season travel is not allowed, it would mean that Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville and Wichita State, along with Kansas, are not allowed to be visited by California public schools that need state funding to travel. A request for a clarification on the legality of college sports teams traveling to those states has been filed with the Attorney General by Fresno State, whose football team is headed to Alabama for a game this year.

Travel for recruiting is also a question that needs to be answered, but at the highest level of the sport, that is typically funded by boosters.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.