Casey Prather’s star turn a boon for Florida

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NEW YORK — Billy Donovan said that this season, for his Gators, has been exhausting.

Between the injuries and the suspensions and the academic issues, the status of Florida’s roster has been a bigger story to date than their performance against teams like Wisconsin or UConn or Kansas.

“I almost keep looking around to see who is going to be walking through the door that I don’t know about,” the Florida head coach quipped after his No. 15 Gators held off No. 16 Memphis 77-75 in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. “It’s been a real drain on our team emotionally.”

I can imagine. Scottie Wilbekin was suspended for five games, leaving Florida with a freshman, Kasey Hill, starting at the point. Hill sprained his ankle before Wilbekin returned, and when Wilbekin finally did make it back to the court, he sprained his ankle in a game at UConn that Hill was unable to suit up. Michael Frazier had mono. Dorian Finney-Smith was hurt. Eli Carter is redshirting. Chris Walker is just now getting back to practice, something that may never happen with Damontre Harris.

Did I miss anything? Probably.

The irony of it all? All of those off-the-floor issues and all of that time in the training room may have actually been the best thing that could have happened to the Gators this season. You see, while Donovan was busy trying to figure out who will run the point or what his front court rotation will look like or how the heck he is going to be able to scrimmage 5-on-5 in practice, senior Casey Prather has quietly turned into one of the nation’s best scorers.

“I am just trying to do what needs to be done for the team,” said Prather, a former top 50 recruit that’s humble enough to perfect every press conference cliché you can think of.

Prather entered the season having spent the past three seasons filling a role for the Gators (8-2). He was a defensive stopper. He was a finisher in transition. He was glue-guy, a blue-collar scrapper that picked up more floor-burns than he did buckets. As a junior, he averaged career-highs of 6.2 points and 17.1 minutes. He was an afterthought. In previews of Florida’s team, he was the guy that was mentioned in passing at the end, with a note about how he’ll add to Florida’s versatility and depth.

No one saw him becoming a leading candidate for SEC Player of the Year as we head towards the holidays.

Entering Tuesday night, Prather was averaging 18.2 points, 6.1 boards and 2.3 assists while shooting 61.3% from the floor and getting to the charity stripe 7.6 times per game. Against Memphis, Prather finished with 22 points and four boards, hitting 8-of-13 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the charity stripe. He scored the last eight points for the Gators, twice having plays run for him in the half court while knocking down four straight free throws in the final 80 seconds.

Again, no one saw this coming.

And I’m not sure it actually would have happened had the Gators been at full strength entering the season. Florida had a void to begin the year, and Prather simply stepped up and played his part. “I took it upon myself to be a leader,” he said, “to hold myself accountable for my mistakes and for my actions that helps us win.” The missing players “freed him up to evolve into this position,” Donovan said.

The difference in Prather isn’t that he has become a totally different player this season. He didn’t magically transform into Paul George during the offseason. He isn’t the second-coming of Kobe Bryant. No NBA scouts are going to be confusing Prather with Andrew Wiggins or Marcus Smart. It’s actually quite the opposite. Prather has learned to trust his ability, to embrace his strengths and take advantage of what he does best.

“Sometimes guys, when they get in there and want to have an opportunity to play at the next level and they’re 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6, people say, ‘he’s got to shoot the ball better,'” Donovan said. “When he was a freshman and sophomore, he was so consumed with his jumpshot. That’s all he wanted to do. It was probably seven or eight things he did better than shoot the basketball. He’s not a high-volume three-point shooter. He slashes to the basket. He offensive rebounds. He gets on the break. He can go off the dribble. He can play off the bounce. He’s playing to his strengths instead of trying to prove he can overcome his weaknesses.”

“It’s the first time I feel like he’s playing with a clear head and a clear mind. ‘Ok, here’s who I am as a player. Here’s how I can take advantage of it.'”

According to Synergy, Prather had taken just seven jump shots on the season entering Tuesday night, with the rest of his field goals either coming at the rim, on post-ups, runners or in transition. I’d call that playing to his strengths.

And it came at a time where the Gators needed him the most.

Prather didn’t remake himself in the offseason. He simply took advantage of an opportunity, and Florida is currently reaping the benefits.

Because with Prather playing this way, the Gators are a legitimate title contender.

Five-star Brandon McCoy commits to UNLV

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After the season that UNLV, the Runnin’ Rebels desperately needed some good news, and this certainly qualifies: On Tuesday night, five-star center Brandon McCoy announced that he had committed to head coach Marvin Menzies.

McCoy is a five-star prospect and a top 15 recruit that hails from San Diego. He picked the Rebels over Arizona, Oregon and Michigan State, among others.

UNLV went 11-21 a season ago as Menzies took over a program that was a shambles after the majority of the roster transferred out following Dave Rices dismissal.

2017 NBA Draft official early entry list

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On Tuesday, the NBA announced the early entries for the 2017 NBA Draft. More than 130 student-athletes have filed early-entry paperwork to enter the upcoming draft. That doesn’t include the dozens of international prospects who will also be eligible for the upcoming draft.

Players wishing to maintain their NCAA eligibility must withdraw from the draft by May 24.  The 2017 NBA Draft will take place on June 22.

Here is the current list of early entrants:

Shaqquan Aaron, USC Soph.
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure Jr.
Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky Fresh.
Deng Adel, Louisville Soph.
Jashaun Agosto,LIU Fresh.
Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s Jr.
Rawle Alkin, Arizona Fresh.
Jarrett Allen, Texas Fresh.
Mark Alstork, Wright State  Jr.
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA Fresh.
OG Anunoby, Indiana Soph.
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State Soph.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA Fresh.
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas Jr.
Jordan Bell, Oregon Jr.
Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont Jr.
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana Jr.
Antonio Blakeney, LSU Soph.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Jr.
Bennie Boatwright, USC Soph.
Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech Jr.
Tony Bradley, North Carolina Fresh.
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky Soph.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon Jr.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana Soph.
Rodney Bullock, Providence Jr.
Jevon Carter, West Virginia Jr.
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA) Jr.
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham Soph.
Donte’ Clark, Massachusetts Jr.
Chris Clemons, Campbell  Soph.
David Collette, Utah Jr.
John Collins, Wake Forest Soph.
Zach Collins, Gonzaga Fresh.
Chance Comanche, Arizona  Soph.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall Jr.
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky Fresh.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon  Soph.
PJ Dozier, South Carolina Soph.
Vince Edwards, Purdue Jr.
John Egbunu, Florida Jr.
Jon Elmore, Marshall Jr.
Obi Enechionyia, Temple Jr.
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State Soph.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State Soph.
Tacko Fall, Central Florida Soph.
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX) Soph.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Fresh.
Markelle Fultz, Washington Fresh.
Harry Giles, Duke Fresh.
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU Jr.
Donte Grantham, Clemson Jr.
Isaac Haas, Purdue Jr.
Aaron Holiday, UCLA Soph.
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky Soph.
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State Jr.
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State Fresh.
Frank Jackson, Duke Fresh.
Josh Jackson, Kansas Fresh.
Justin Jackson, Maryland Fresh.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina Jr.
Alize Johnson, Missouri State Jr.
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge Jr.
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville Jr.
Robert Johnson, Indiana Jr.
Andrew Jones, Texas Fresh.
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State Fresh.
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan Jr.
Luke Kennard , Duke Soph.
Braxton Key, Alabama Fresh.
George King, Colorado Jr.
Kyle Kuzma, Utah Jr.
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma Jr.
TJ Leaf, UCLA Fresh.
William Lee, UAB Jr.
Zach Lofton, Texas Southern Jr.
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse Soph.
Daryl Macon, Arkansas Jr.
Marin Maric, Northern Illinois Jr.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Fresh.
Yante Maten, Georgia Jr.
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State Soph.
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State Jr.
Eric Mika, BYU Soph.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville Soph.
Malik Monk, Kentucky Fresh.
Matthew Morgan, Cornell Soph.
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State Jr.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor Jr.
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas Jr.
Divine Myles, Stetson Jr.
Derick Newton, Stetson Soph.
Austin Nichols, Virginia Jr.
Semi Ojeleye, SMU Jr.
Cameron Oliver, Nevada Soph.
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah Jr.
Justin Patton, Creighton Fresh.
L.J. Peak, Georgetown Jr.
Theo Pinson | North Carolina Jr.
Ivan Rabb, California Soph.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State Jr.
Devin Robinson, Florida Jr.
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay Jr.
Martavius Robinson, Lewis & Clark CC (Illinois) Soph.
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State Soph.
Corey Sanders, Rutgers Soph.
Victor Sanders, Idaho Jr.
Kobi Simmons, Arizona Fresh.
Fred Sims Jr., Chicago State Soph.
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State Fresh.
Zach Smith, Texas Tech Jr.
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State Soph.
Edmond Sumner, Xavier Soph.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue Soph.
Jayson Tatum, Duke Fresh.
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State Jr.
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan Soph.
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State Soph.
Trevor Thompson,  Ohio State Jr.
Melo Trimble, Maryland Jr.
Craig Victor II, LSU Jr.
Moritz Wagner, Michigan Soph.
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso Jr.
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA) Soph.
Thomas Welsh, UCLA  Jr.
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan Jr.
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan Jr.
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga Jr.
Kam Williams, Ohio State Jr.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga| Jr.
Christian Wilson, Texas-San Antonio Jr.
D.J. Wilson, Michigan Jr.
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State Fresh.

CBT Podcast: Breaking down the NBA Draft early entry list

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On the podcast today, I am joined by Sam Vecenie to break down all of the NBA Draft early entry decisions. Who are the key returnees? Who are the most important names still testing the waters?

Joel Berry to return to North Carolina for senior season

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A little more than a day after North Carolina Joel Berry II — along with Tony Bradley and All-American Justin Jackson — announced they would enter the 2017 NBA Draft, Berry reversed course decided to forgo the draft process and will return to Chapel Hill for his senior season.

“After speaking to my family I have decided to withdraw from the 2017 Draft and will return to Carolina next season,” Berry said in a statement released by the university on Tuesday evening. “I know I can continue to improve my game and be better prepared for the NBA after another year playing against the best college competition in the country. There’s no reason to rush leaving school. I love being a Tar Heel and love playing for Carolina and Coach Williams.

Berry, the Most Outstanding Player from this season’s Final Four, averaged 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 rebounds per game as a junior.

The 6-foot floor general will likely open next season as not only a preseason All-American but perhaps a favorite for national player of the year. Berry will join Theo Pinson as the returning starter for the Tar Heels. North Carolina was pegged as a top-5 team in an early preseason poll by NBC Sports. While Berry’s anticipated return is a big reason why, that ranking also hinges on the decision of Bradley, a 6-foot-10 forward who will be projected as a breakout player if he chooses to return for his sophomore season.

Prospects have until May 24 to withdraw from the NBA Draft.

2017 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who is staying and who is going?

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RETURNING TO SCHOOL

Jalen Adams, UConn
Grayson Allen, Duke (story)
Tyus Battle, Syracuse
Joel Berry II, North Carolina (story)
Marques Bolden, Duke
Mikal Bridges (story)
Miles Bridges, Michigan State (story)
Bruce Brown, Miami
Jalen Brunson (story)
Jeffery Carroll, Oklahoma State (story)
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas (story)
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Shake Milton, SMU
Chimezie Metu, USC
Elijah Stewart, USC
Allonzo Trier, Arizona (story)
Robert Williams, Texas A&M (story)

DECLARING, SIGNING WITH AN AGENT

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky (story)
Jarrett Allen, Texas (story)
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA (story)
O.G. Anunoby, Indiana (story)
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State (story)
Lonzo Ball, UCLA (story)
Jordan Bell, Oregon (story)
Antonio Blakeney, LSU (story)
John Collins, Wake Forest
Zach Collins, Gonzaga (story)
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon (story)
P.J. Dozier, South Carolina (story)
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (story)
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (story)
Markelle Fultz, Washington (story)
Harry Giles III, Duke (story)
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky (story)
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State (story)
Justin Jackson, North Carolina (story)
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville
Luke Kennard, Duke (story)
T.J. Leaf, UCLA (story)
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse (story)
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona (story)
Malik Monk, Kentucky (story)
Austin Nichols, Virginia
Justin Patton, Creighton (story)
L.J. Peak, Georgetown
Ivan Rabb, California (story)
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
Devin Robinson, Florida
Kobi Simmons, Arizona (story)
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State (story)
Edmond Sumner, Xavier (story)
Jayson Tatum, Duke (story)
Melo Trimble, Maryland (story)
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga (story)

DECLARING WITHOUT AN AGENT

Shaqquan Aaron, USC
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure
Deng Adel, Louisville
Jashaun Agosto, LIU-Brooklyn
Rawle Alkins, Arizona
Mark Alstork, Wright State
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
James Blackmon, Indiana
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Tony Bradley, North Carolina
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Thomas Bryant, Indiana (story)
Rodney Bullock, Providence
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Jevon Carter, West Virginia (story)
Jason Chartouny, Fordham
Donte Clark, UMass (story)
Chance Comanche, Arizona
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky (story)
Vince Edwards, Purdue
John Egbunu, Florida
Jon Elmore, Marshall
Obi Enechionyia, Temple
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State
Tacko Fall, UCF
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Aaron Holiday, UCLA
Chandler Hutchinson, Boise State
Frank Jackson, Duke (story)
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
Darin Johnson, CSUN
Robert Johnson, Indiana
Andrew Jones, Texas
Kerem Kanter, Green Bay
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan
Braxton Key, Alabama
Kyle Kuzma, Utah
William Lee, UAB
Daryl Macon, Arkansas
Yante Maten, Georgia
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Eric Mika, BYU
Johnathan Motley, Baylor (story)
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas (story)
Semi Ojeleye, SMU
Cam Oliver, Nevada
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah
Theo Pinson, North Carolina
Maverick Rowan, N.C. State
Corey Sanders, Rutgers
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio
Jaren Sina, George Washington
Zach Smith, Texas Tech
Elijah Stewart, USC
Caleb Swanigan (story)
Stevie Thompson, Oregon State
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
Mo Wagner, Michigan
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso
Thomas Welsh, UCLA
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan
Johnathan Williams III, Gonzaga
D.J. Wilson, Michigan
Omer Yurtseven, N.C. State
Craig Victor, LSU
Donte Grantham, Clemson

YET TO DECIDE

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Jacob Evans, Cincinnati
Matthew Fisher-Davis, Vanderbilt
Jessie Govan, Georgetown
Donta Hall, Alabama
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M
Justin Jackson, Maryland
V.J. King, Louisville
Dedric Lawson, Memphis
Anas Mahmoud, Louisville
De’Anthony Melton, USC
Jerome Robinson, Boston College
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Khadeem Latin, Oklahoma
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State
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