Xavier Alabama Basketball

30-second timeout with Vin Parise: Five questions with Chris Mack

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Vin Parise of College Basketball Talk caught up with Xavier head coach Chris Mack as the Musketeers get ready for the start of Big East play:

CBT: You guys have won 5 in a row, including the Cincinnati win, at Alabama and Wake Forest. What is going right with Xavier basketball right now?

Mack: To be honest, I was concerned about our confidence after we got back from the Bahamas earlier in the season. We could have won the Iowa game, but we were not a confident group after that trip because of our close losses. We then regrouped and won some games; but the Cincinnati win is what really changed things. Since then, our guys have felt like they can beat anyone, and it’s carried over.

CBT: You’ve just completed the 4th year of the 10 year contract between Wake Forest and Xavier. How has it been to play every season and to honor the life of Skip Prosser?

Mack: It’s been really special. Coach Prosser has had the biggest influence on my life both in basketball and my personal life. He was a great coach but also taught you how to be a great husband and father as well. He’s the most genuine person I’ve ever known. He’s touched a lot of hearts.

CBT: What is like to coach Semaj Christon every day?

Mack: I know it sounds like a cliché, but he is as coachable as he is a great player. As talented as he is, his desire to improve daily is unbelievable. And his immense desire to improve defensively has been one of the biggest keys to our season so far. He truly plays both ends of the floor.

CBT: Let’s talk about the first year of this new Big East that you and St. John’s are kicking off on New Year’s Eve.

Mack: This league is much better than people are talking about right now. Several signature wins as a group may not have been there the first two months, but there are great coaches in the league and the talent is strong. By the time March rolls around, I think people will see that from the Big East. But at the end of the day, I’m worried about us. We remember that we were picked 7th and we won’t forget it.

CBT: What are your thoughts about the matchup with Steve Lavin’s team?

Mack: We have our hands full with St. John’s. They’re probably the most talented team in the league. What concerns me is that all of their rebounders have the ability to then handle it and push the ball in transition. And they are terrific offensive rebounders if you do not box out. If our defensive transition is strong and we limit their offensive rebounding, I think we’ll have a shot on Tuesday. It should be a lot of fun.

Follow Vin on Twitter: @VinParise

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how CBSSports.com summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.