Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo weigh in on Marcus Smart situation

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The roar of Saturday’s Marcus Smart, fan-shoving controversy from Oklahoma State’s loss at Texas Tech is finally starting to die down a bit, but on Monday, college basketball head coaches gave their take on fan-player interactions and Smart as a player.

One of the more interesting takes came from Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Izzo was a guest on Mike & Mike in the Morning on Monday and had some really unique takes on the fan and player dynamic and the Marcus Smart scenario. The full excerpt comes from 247Sports/Coaching Search 

“It doesn’t matter what you tweet. It’s what you read,” Izzo said on Mike & Mike on Monday. “That’s what I keep telling my guys. We can control what they tweet, to a certain extent. They’re going to get frustrated sometimes and probably say something stupid. But it’s what they read. If somebody’s writing stuff about your daughter when she’s in high school, I’ll bet you look at it a little differently. I’ve had grown men (my players) in my office in tears because of what’s being written. That’s what brings the frustration level.

“Marcus Smart is one heck of a guy. I love the kid. I spent three hours with him, and he’s every bit what they say. But you know what? We all get frustrated, and I think he’s getting grilled on that. We have no way of getting away from it. When you’re in the gym, two hours, they’re yelling at you, you get away, go back to your dorm and life becomes normal. Not anymore. Those same people at that arena are now yelling at you on Twitter. You can say, ‘Don’t read it,’ but I don’t think it’s the way our kids are brought up.”

Izzo makes some great points in regards to Twitter and the attacks that players may face after a game. Online attacks can come at any time from any place and it sure seems as though some in the college basketball world are feeling that heat a little bit too much.

Smart’s former coach with Team USA, Florida head coach Billy Donovan, also weighted in on the matter and Donovan drew an interesting parallel between Smart’s return to college basketball this season and Joakim Noah’s return to college basketball after his first national title at Florida. Like Smart, Noah was seen as a sure-fire lottery pick that came back to face intense scrutiny during his final season in Gainesville.

Donovan spoke with David Jones of USA Today Sports:

“I never saw anything like that, ever, coaching him,” Donovan said of Smart. “But I will say this, and I saw this happen with Joakim Noah (center on the Gators’ 2006 and 2007 national title teams). You go from a guy that makes the decision to come back and he gets an enormous amount of publicity, he gets an enormous amount of exposure. . . . I don’t know why (Smart) came back or why he didn’t go or what the decision making process but I had him during the draft was going on and I think for Marcus — and this is my opinion I don’t know this to be true this is just my feeling — is because he was a top five pick a year ago, you feel like you have to play like a top five pick, whatever that looks like in his mind, what happens is you can never reach that level. Whether he thinks he has to score 30 points or have 10 assists, five steals, it’s not gonna happen but you feel this unbelievable pressure and I saw it with Noah.”

“When Noah came back after his sophomore year, the pressure he felt to perform every game was totally out of control,” Donovan said. “Him, he made it out of control. And I told Joakim this: ‘You cannot allow people to rob you of your happiness playing the game’ and I think in some ways Marcus has allowed some happiness to be robbed from him a little bit in this whole process of coming back, not going, maybe not playing like they want to. Obviously they’ve had some tough losses, they play a tough schedule. He’s the guy and now all of a sudden he goes from four months ago being this unbelievable kid coming back for college basketball to now he’s in a situation where he’s looked upon in a very negative light.

“And I saw it with Joakim. Joakim hit the NCAA tournament as a sophomore like a lightning rod, we were unranked everybody loved the kid, and then once the next year started, he was like completely a complete dope, chest pumping and all that stuff, but he did that since he was a freshman. What happens is that gets very confusing for young guys, and Marcus is a young kid and he’s a competitor, and he wants to win and I think he’s one of those guys that just kind of keep on grinding and there’s no question his emotions got the better of him.”

The comparisons to Joakim Noah and losing the joy of playing college basketball appears to be a very realistic feeling for Marcus Smart right now, as Smart has struggled in Big 12 play and the Cowboys are free-falling in the conference standings.

Personally, I’m tired of hearing about this saga and will be very happy when Marcus Smart returns to the floor after his three-game suspension. Hopefully, the suspension will give Smart time to clear his head so that he can return to playing an an All-American level as we get closer to March.

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 averaged 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 I’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 – both by our university and by Chris – 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.