Winston Shepard III’s growth key for No. 5 San Diego State

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Picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West’s preseason poll, No. 5 San Diego State has proven to be one of the nation’s biggest surprises of the 2013-14 season. Steve Fisher’s Aztecs, who are 18-1 on the season with their lone defeat coming against current No. 1 Arizona, own wins over Creighton and No. 6 Kansas and have won 17 in a row.

Obviously point guard Xavier Thames, who at this point is the favorite to win Mountain West Player of the Year, has been the biggest factor with the fifth-year senior leading San Diego State to an overtime win at Utah State last Saturday with 31 points (ten in overtime). But he isn’t the lone contributor, with Tulane transfer Josh Davis and returnees J.J. O’Brien, Winston Shepard III and Skylar Spencer among the valuable pieces in Fisher’s rotation.

Shepard’s development has been especially key, with the player who joined the program as the highest-rated recruit in SDSU history making strides not only statistically speaking but maturity-wise as well. After averaging 5.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest as a freshman Shepard’s up to 12.9 points and 5.2 rebounds while also dishing out 2.3 assists per game.

And in a story written by Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Shepard admitted that he had some growing up to do after experiencing a freshman campaign that didn’t go as he’d planned.

“It’s hard, you know?” Shepard says, sitting in Viejas Arena after practice earlier this week, reflecting on the freshman season that wasn’t. “When you go to the high school that I went to, play with the players that I played with, always in the spotlight, always on Court 1 at AAU tournaments, it’s a downfall if you don’t have the right mindset. And I don’t know if I had the right mindset last year.

“One thing this game will do if you don’t have the right mindset, it will make you have the right mindset. Or, you’ll have to quit. You learn quickly: Nobody owes you anything.”

In conference play Shepard’s been slightly more productive for San Diego State, averaging 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and his presence makes the Aztecs a difficult team for opponents to defend. Shepard’s one of the players intent on attacking the paint offensively, and that kind of pressure doesn’t receive the attention that it deserves.

With their athleticism and versatility San Diego State can command the paint on both ends of the floor, and it’s something they’ve been able to do during this 17-game win streak. As for Shepard he’s made good use of the lessons learned last season, with both he and the SDSU program as a whole reaping the rewards.

VIDEO: Jay-Z’s nephew posterizes nation’s No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley III

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Nahziah Carter is an unsigned 6-foot-6 wing in the Class of 2017.

He’s also Jay-Z’s nephew, and he just so happened to posterize Marvin Bagley III — the clearcut No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018 — while Hova was in the stands watching him.

NCAA denies extra-year request by NC State guard Henderson

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The NCAA has denied North Carolina State guard Terry Henderson’s request for another year of eligibility.

Henderson announced the decision Friday in a statement issued by the school.

The Raleigh native played two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to N.C. State and redshirting in 2014-15. He played for only 7 minutes of the following season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

As a redshirt senior in 2016-17, he was the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and made a team-best 78 3-pointers.

Henderson called it “an honor and privilege” to play in his hometown.

SMU gets transfer in Georgetown’s Akoy Agau

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SMU pulled in a frontcourt player in Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Agau is immediately eligible for next season as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau started his career at Louisville before transferring to Georgetown after one season. Spending two seasons with the Hoyas, Agau was limited to 11 minutes in his first season due to injuries. He averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.

Coming out of high school, Agau was a four-star prospect but he’s never lived up to that billing in-part because of injuries. Now, Agau gets one more chance to make a difference as he’s hoping to help replace some departed pieces like Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye.

South Carolina loses big man Sedee Keita to transfer

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South Carolina big man Sedee Keita will transfer from the program, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 Keita was once regarded as a top-100 national prospect in the Class of 2016, but he never found consistent minutes with the Gamecocks for last season’s Final Four team.

Keita appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 27 percent from the field.

A native of Philadelphia, Keita will have to sit out next season before getting three more seasons of eligibility.

Although Keita failed to make an impact during his only season at South Carolina, he’ll be a coveted transfer thanks to his size and upside.

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.