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.

Florida Gulf Coast’s Demetris Morant out 3-4 months

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Florida Gulf Coast redshirt junior forward Demetris Morant is expected to miss the next 3-4 months after undergoing surgery last week to repair a stress fracture in his right shin, the school announced on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 4.5 points, 4.4 blocks and 1.3 blocks per game in 33 appearances (18 starts) for the Eagles during the 2014-15 season.

“This is obviously an unfortunate setback for Demetris, but it was a procedure that needed to be done,” Florida Gulf Coast head coach Dooley said in a statement. “We decided it would be best to have it completed now to hopefully get him back for A-Sun play. It’s an opportunity now for other guys to step up in his absence, and I have confidence they’ll get the job done.”

The Eagles have the top frontline in the Atlantic Sun, one that returns Marc-Eddy Norelia and Filip Cvjeticanin, a 3-point shooter who missed all of last season recovering from back surgery. VCU transfer Antravious Simmons becomes eligible in the second semester.

Florida Gulf Coast begins the 2015-16 season on Nov. 14 against Ohio.

Bill Self on Cheick Diallo: ‘It may be a couple of more weeks’

2015 McDonald's All American Game
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Cheick Diallo is currently practicing with Kansas, but his eligibility still remains in question.

On Monday, Kansas head coach Bill Self appeared on “The Border Patrol” on WHB-AM 810 and was asked to update the status of his freshman big man.

“He’s been cleared to practice,” Self told hosts Steven St. John and Nate Bukaty. “(His status) is depending on what they find throughout from the information we submit to them whenever we get it all together.

“A lot of people think, ‘Well, why wouldn’t it all be together?’ Well there’s a lot of reasons why. It’s because they told us recently some things that they just wanted. Instead of just throwing it to them piece by piece, they requested we to just submit it all together, so it may be a couple of more weeks before we’re able to submit everything when you’re talking about getting information from schools in Mali and everything like that.

“But we hope in two weeks, maybe three weeks, before we have a definite answer. But right now, Cheick is like everybody else. He’s practicing.”

Diallo, a 6-foot-9 forward from Mali is allowed to practice with the Jayhawks, but has been waiting to be cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center despite enrolling in classes over the summer and earning six credits. Self anticipated this would be a long process, but has remained confident Diallo, the top-5 recruit in Class of 2015, will eventually be cleared to play this season.

For three years, Diallo attended Our Savior New American School in Centereach, New York, which is currently under NCAA review. In September, Pitt freshman Damon Wilson, Diallo’s teammate at OSNA, was cleared to play.

Kansas opens the season on Nov. 13 against Northern Colorado.