Maurice Creek, Varun Ram

The transfers get attention, but win over VCU solidified Mike Lonergan’s foundation at George Washington

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — George Washington has been the face of all that is good — and bad — when it comes to transfers in college basketball. They lost two rising seniors as graduate transfers during the offseason, bringing in Indiana castoff Maurice Creek to join former Villanova Wildcat Isaiah Armwood as the face of a team hoping to draw some of the city’s attention down in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

It worked.

Isaiah Armwood’s photo is plastered on the walls of the metro stop on campus. Creek entered Tuesday night averaging a team-high 14.8 points, which included a 25-point performance and a game-winning shot as the Colonials knocked off Maryland at the Verizon Center — the home of the Washington Wizards — back in December.

But on Tuesday night, when the Smith Center hosted its most important Atlantic 10 game in recent memory, it wasn’t head coach Mike Lonergan’s pair of senior transfers that played the role of hero. It was Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino, two sophomores that Lonergan recruited from Denmark and Argentina, respectively, that shined the brightest. Larsen scored 17 of his career-high 22 points in the first half while Garino finished with 25 points, seven boards and three steals off the bench as the Colonials knocked off Atlantic 10 favorite VCU, 76-66.

VCU’s known for their pressure defensively, and the Colonials won despite turning the ball over 21 times. That’s what happens when you score 1.41 PPP when you actually get a shot off.

“I told them before the game, some coaching friends of mine always say, ‘Next play, next play,'” Lonergan said. “I’m not really good at that. I told them they’re going to have to block me out. I’ll be going crazy that they turned the ball over and they’re going to have to just move on.”

It was the second straight game that Larsen dominated on the block, as he set a career-high against Rhode Island with 17 points on Saturday, but it’s the emergence of Garino that could end up being the difference-maker for GW this season. An athletic, 6-foot-6 wing, Garino was changed the game in the second half, scoring 18 points and notching all three of his steals in the final 20 minutes. He was able to get behind VCU’s press for a number of easy buckets, helping take the pressure off of a GW back court that got dangerously close to being overwhelmed by VCU’s ‘Havoc’ defense.

As good as he was in the open floor, Garino’s bigger impact came on the defensive end. “He was an absolute sparkplug,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said after the game, and that term could not encapsulate his effect on the game any better. GW likes to switch defenses, and one of the tricks that Lonergan keeps in his back pocket is a 1-3-1 zone where he plays Garino at the top. His length and athleticism was so disruptive for VCU as he created a handful of turnovers and bad possessions simply by being a presence on the floor.

“He’s great defensively,” Lonergan said, but Garino seemed to have a sense of the moment on Tuesday night. When GW needed a play made, he made it. When they needed points, he found a way to score. Timing doesn’t show up in a box score, but Garino had plenty of it on Tuesday. “He’s a good shooter we’re trying to make a great shooter,” Lonergan said. “He broke his finger and has had some setbacks, so it was really special to see him hit some threes when we needed threes.”

“I’ve always felt that when he gets that jumper going, he can be a pro.”

Perhaps what is most impressive about GW’s 14-3 record this season is that Garino has been in and out of the lineup as he dealt with the finger injury, one that was aggravated during a practice on the team’s trip to California for the Wooden Legacy. It was a blessing in disguise, however, as it allowed Kethan Savage a chance to emerge into the player that he is today. If we’re talking about GW’s sophomore class, he may the most important name to mention.

Savage has emerged as GW’s second-leading scorer this season, averaging 13.8 points in 26.8 minutes a season after averaging just 3.1 points in a limited role off the bench. Garino’s absence hurt the Colonials in the short term, but it may have actually been a blessing in disguise.

“Kethan has been able to play through a lot of mistakes,” Lonergan said. “He worked hard in the offseaosn, improved his game. He’s playing to his strengths, and his strengths are slashing and getting to the rim. He’s really difficult to guard.”

This is what Mike Lonergan envisioned when he made the decision to take over a struggling George Washington program back in the spring of 2011.

The Smith Center packed with 4,874 fans with a national television audience tuning in to watch the Colonials knock off a league power and a national name in convincing fashion.

GW still has plenty of work to do — like, for example, winning a game on the road — but with neutral court wins over Creighton and Maryland already on their resume, GW has played their way into contention for an at-large bid.

Lonergan isn’t looking that far ahead, however.

“We’re trying to earn respect,” he said.

Well, they got it.

Illinois PG expected to be ready for practice

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Illinois point guards and injuries have been an unfortunate trend over the past two seasons with Tracy Abrams, who missed the past two seasons with a torn ACL followed by a torn Achilles the next year.

On Sunday, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported some good news for an incoming Fighting Illini floor general. Te’Jon Lucas, a three-star prospect from the Class of 2016, will be fully cleared for the start of practice, according to Rothstein. In February, Lucas had broke his fibula in his right leg in two places during a game.

Lucas had committed to Illinois the previous September.

Abrams received a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in June, and he decided to remain in Champaign for his final season. If healthy, he’ll be the starter. Jaylon Tate is also back for another season. But they are both seniors, which makes Sunday’s report important for John Groce’s program. Lucas will be on the floor Day 1 of practice, being molded for the future by two experienced guards.

The 5-foot-11 Lucas is the only true freshman on the roster.

Illinois begins the 2016-17 season on November 11, hosting Southeast Missouri State.

Xavier adds to class with three-star center

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Xavier added a fourth piece to its 2017 recruiting class on Sunday morning.

Kentravious Jones, a 6-foot-11, three-star recruit, committed to the Musketeers. He announced the decision via Twitter.

Chris Mack’s current recruiting class is headlined by four-star swingman Naji Marshall. The incoming quartet also includes guard Elias Harden and forward Jared Ridder. But Jones’ commitment fits an area that needs to be addressed for the Musketeers moving forward. Xavier isn’t particularly deep when it comes to big men. That frontcourt only gets thinner once RaShid Gaston, a graduate transfer from Norfolk State, exhausts his eligibility after this season.

Jones, along with current freshman forward Tyrique Jones, gives Xavier a young foundation for the future. Jones is an old-school, big-bodied center. He’s got a nice back-to-the-basket game, and had his best stretch of the summer during the UAA Finals. In three games with the Atlanta Xpress, he averaged 15.3 points, shot 59 percent from the field, and grabbed nine boards per game.

Conditioning will be the emphasis for him over the course of the next year. However, we have seen Xavier work well with a big, skilled centers in the past (see: Stainbrook, Matt). According to Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Jones has dropped 30 pounds.

Sunday morning’s news may not even be Xavier’s last score on the recruiting trail. The Musketeers have one scholarship remaining (two, or three if Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett enter the NBA Draft this spring), and are in play for several coveted prospects like point guards Paul Scruggs, Quade Green and Matt Coleman, as well as forward Kris Wilkes.

Minnesota center to miss a month

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 7: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Illinois State Redbirds and Fred VanVleet #23 of the Wichita State Shockers fight for control of a loose ball during the MVC Basketball Tournament Semifinals at the Scottrade Center on March 7, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Minnesota’s projected starting center is sidelined, but is expected to be ready for the season opener.

Reggie Lynch, the Illinois State transfer, had surgery on his left knee, the program announced on Friday night. According to Marcus R. Fuller of the Star-Tribune, the Golden Gophers are anticipating that Lynch is available for the season opener on Nov. 11 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The 6-foot-10 Lynch has been in the news this offseason prior to his impending debut with Minnesota. In May, he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. On August 1, the Hennepin County attorney’s office was announced he would not face charges, citing insufficient evidence.

Lynch spent two seasons at Illinois State, averaging 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Redbirds as a sophomore. He sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Minnesota is coming off a second-to-last place finish in the Big Ten with an 8-23 (2-16 Big Ten) record.

Women’s hoops coaches boycotting recruiting events

DENVER, CO - MARCH 31:  Head coach Muffet McGraw of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish directs her team during practice prior to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Final Four at Pepsi Center on March 31, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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For some high-major women’s basketball programs, the final evaluation period of 2016 is being used as a vacation from the recruiting trail.

According to a report from Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated, are not attending events during this weekend’s recruiting period for a host of reasons.

First, many are fed up with the price of tournament packets, booklets of rosters that college coaches receive upon paying their entry fee. Packets are supposed to be chock-full of contact information for the prospects, but sometimes aren’t accurate or up-to-date. (This has become a well-documented issue on the men’s side of college hoops. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish wrote on it this summer.) Furthermore, there are so many events now that college coaches are often forced to pay obscene amounts of money to watch just one player at a single event, and play recruiting hopscotch around the country, criss-crossing the nation to see so many events and spend thousands of dollars. One Power Five coach said her staff crunched the numbers, and found that in just two years, they’ve spent more than $4,000 more than they did in 2014 on packets alone. Another coach told a story of sending an assistant across the country for one day, to one event, to watch one team. When the assistant arrived, the team had left early for its next event. No refund was available for the college that had paid what turned out to be a useless entry fee. The head coach called it “exasperating.”

Jeff Borzello of ESPN, who spoke to Notre Dame head coach and eventual Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw for his report, estimated that the cost for one of the coaches packets — the ones that include player contact information, rosters, etc. — can cost each school an average of $600 per event.

This era of grassroots basketball has taken off in recent years with Nike, Under Armour and adidas all creating their own sponsored leagues. All three run exceptional events from the staff to the facilities, all the way to the three, free meals a day for coaches. Organizers of these events will argue that there’s a cost to running such high-end events. These packets, some of which are so in-depth they include players’ GPAs, help fund these tournaments (events, paying a staff, etc.).

Coaches, mostly mid to low-major coaches, will argue that these packets aren’t worth the cost, considering that every coach (head and assistant) must purchase them in order to gain entrance. And you will find packets where the information inside is either inaccurate, or missing or both. For elite programs, this isn’t an issue. You show up, you’re seen, you leave, you go to the next event, repeat. For mid to low-major coaches, this really puts a dent in their budget, especially when they have to travel to multiple events (buying packets at each one) because you have to land that “steal,” you have to find that player who is overlooked.

This protest, or boycott (or whatever you want to call it) will hurt those these events are intended to help the most: the players. If coaches continue to avoid these tournaments, that late-bloomer may miss out on a scholarship, or that player with mid-major offers won’t get the chance to play in front of high-major coaches.

According to Schnell, there is a proposal, voted on in April, to eliminate a live recruiting period in April and September. But many coaches in women’s basketball have made it clear this weekend how they feel about the issue.

USC lands commitment from three-star center

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USC added to its 2017 recruiting class with a commitment from a 7-foot big man.

Andy Enfield and the Trojans beat out Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee for the services of Calvary Christian Academy (Florida) center Victor Uyaelunmo. He announced his college decision on Friday afternoon.

“It was the best fit for me academically and athletically,” Uyaelunmo said according to David Furones of the Sun Sentinel. “The basketball coaches really wanted me to come, and I thought it was the best place for me.

“They told me how they were going to use me, and they have a couple of guys leaving this year, so I just fit in right.”

Uyaelunmo is regarded as a three-star prospect by Rivals, however, ESPN rates him a four-star recruit. He joins a two-man class which includes four-star forward Jordan Usher.

The departure of Nikola Jovanovic, the Trojans’ leading rebounder during the 2015-16, was a surprising one, and one that left USC with a hole in the middle. While Uyaelunmo still has one more year before arriving on the Los Angeles campus, the Trojans have a promising piece in the paint for the future; a long, athletic big man who has the potential, in time, to become one of the nation’s top shot blockers.

Uyaelunmo played for Nike South Beach in the EYBL this spring and summer. In 12 appearances, he averaged 5.0 points. 5.9 rebounds and 1.0 block in 17.6 minutes per game.