Maurice Creek, Varun Ram

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.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.