The Secondary Break: Wednesday’s Links

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Bond of T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson goes beyond Arizona basketball court (USA Today)
Two of the players prominently involved in No. 1 Arizona’s hot start are point guard T.J. McConnell and shooting guard Nick Johnson, and it’s a connection that has been a couple years in the making. Johnson hosted McConnell while the latter was making the decision of where to transfer two after playing two seasons at Duquesne, and the friendship that began at that point can be seen as a turning point of sorts for the Arizona program as a whole.

Kobe Bryant is right and wrong about college basketball (CBS Sports)
Last week Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant grabbed some attention with his statement that college basketball wasn’t exactly training players for the professional ranks. Was he right? Wrong? Or, maybe he was both right and wrong in his comments.

Martin, Gamecocks face long losing streak (The State)
With eight newcomers on board, South Carolina was expected to take its lumps in SEC play this season. And that’s exactly how things have played out for the Gamecocks, who are looking to avoid losing their first seven conference games for the first time ever as an SEC member.

Broncos tight end was a basketball player first (Philadelphia Inquirer)
With the Super Bowl just a few days away, one of the stories that is sure to grab some headlines is that of Julius Thomas, who played basketball at Portland State before landing in the NFL and breaking out as one of the Peyton Manning’s key targets in his third NFL season.

Arik Armstead leaves Oregon basketball team to focus on football (The Oregonian)
Oregon lost a member of its basketball program on Tuesday, as it was announced that burly forward Arik Armstead has left to focus on football. Armstead, who could be a high NFL draft pick after his junior season (2014), was one of northern California’s best basketball players while in high school.

Basketball balancing act (Austin Statesman)
For young players the grassroots slate can be just as important as their high school games, resulting in basketball becoming a year-round sport. That makes it important for players to properly balance playing games with making the developmental steps needed to land a college scholarship.

Roberto Nelson is a reliable Carte Blanche cardholder (The Oregonian)
Through three-plus seasons at Oregon State, senior guard Roberto Nelson has not only been one of the Pac-12’s best scorers but he’s also managed to do so while improving from an efficiency standpoint. That’s earned him a “green light” of sorts, and it’s a distinction head coach Craig Robinson doesn’t hesitate to give Nelson given the fact that his star doesn’t abuse the privilege.

Louisville’s Russ Smith learns to pass on shots – and to teammates (Sports Illustrated)
Louisville senior guard Russ Smith had some adjustments to make once he decided to return for his senior season, with the desire to show NBA scouts that he’s a capable lead guard being one of the objectives. In order to do that Smith had to become wiser in his shot selection, and he had to become better at getting his teammates good looks.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averagedย 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and Iโ€™m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment โ€“ both by our university and by Chris โ€“ allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.