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Thon Maker, mixtapes and the unrealistic expectations mixtapes can produce

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If you weren’t swallowed up by the Marcus Smart fan-shoving incident over the weekend, you probably saw social media buzzing about the latest big high school basketball mixtape of 7-foot high school sophomore Thon Maker.

The mixtape, produced by Ty Kish of CityLeagueHoopsTV, shows the 7-foot Maker of Carlise High School in Martinsville, Va., displaying the jaw-dropping length, athleticism and skill that has vaulted Maker into the consensus top-five discussion for basketball prospects in the 2016 class. Some services have even put Maker at No. 1 and it isn’t hard to see why based on some of the highlights seen in Maker’s latest mixtape.

But when media outlets begin to pick up on these high school mixtapes and start attaching NBA names to the equation — as happened with alarming regularity with the Maker mixtape over the weekend — that is when things start to get dicey. Websites such as Deadspin and The Big Lead mentioned Kevin Durant after watching Maker’s mixtape and that is when things start to get dangerous. One news organization even gave Maker the outrageous distinction of having the potential to be a hybrid of Kevin Durant and Chris Paul.

If you were to take the time to see Maker play — as I have in multiple events last spring and summer — or look at his stats on the grassroots circuit in the Nike EYBL, you’d see those Kevin Durant comparisons aren’t really all that close. Thon Maker played two grade levels up for prestigious AAU program Boo Williams and led the very difficult EYBL in blocked shots and blocked shots per game last spring. Maker also shot 40 percent from the field and 3-for-17 from the three-point line during EYBL play last season and averaged 8.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in 18 games for Boo Williams.

These numbers are impressive — especially for a sophomore playing guys two years older than him, in many cases — but how can you compare an elite shot blocker and questionable perimeter shooter to Kevin Durant, one of the top two players in the world?

And off of a two-to-three minute video of hand-picked highlight plays?

How is fair to 16-year-old Thon Maker, a high school sophomore, to get compared to Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett or any other NBA legend like what happened this weekend?

Many of these websites use these comparisons for high school players to current NBA superstars as a way to drive up page views. What it ends up doing much of the time is placing unrealistic expectations on a young kid that is just trying to get better at basketball. People see a 16-year-old kid making highlights that an athlete like LeBron James or Kevin Durant are capable of doing, see that the writer posting the video makes a careless comparison and suddenly expectations for a 16-year-old basketball prospect are completely unrealistic to deal with.

High school basketball mixtapes are a normal byproduct of the current basketball landscape in America. Mixtape producers will often record every game of a top prospect and compile highlight reels based on months of footage and pair the highlights to catchy music to accompany it. Mixtapes are fun to watch to pass the time and the market for these highlight reels has blown up over the last few years as companies like Ball is Life, Hoopmixtape, City League Hoops and Iowa Elites — to name a small few — have all worked to corner the market on videos of the next big-name high school hoops prospect that is making jaw-dropping plays.

What you don’t see in mixtapes is kids making bad decisions or bad basketball plays. You don’t get turnovers and blown defensive assignments on a mixtape. Want to see a mixtape of a kid curling around a screen and putting himself in position for a great catch-and-shoot jumper? Good luck. Where is the mixtape footage of Thon Maker trying to assert himself physically on the interior and being manhandled inside of 10 feet as happened in multiple games last spring and summer?

This isn’t a knock on Maker, who, again, is a top-5 prospect in the sophomore class. But you have to paint a complete picture with a high school player when making a comparison model to NBA All-Stars and not just carelessly throwing names out there to bump up page views.

Highlight reels are fun to watch, but they don’t show the full and complete portrait of how a basketball player truly functions on the court. Many of these high school mixtapes get filmed at the grassroots basketball tournaments and camps that dominate the spring and summer. There’s no game-planning to stop elite-level guys and sometimes guys play on teams with other players they’ve never met before. It leads to a lot of run-and-gun basketball and some fun highlights, but it’s also some of the worst basketball you can stomach for prolonged periods of time.

The responsibility comes from media members that pick up on these mixtapes and lazily throw a NBA player’s name into the mix to generate interest and page views.

Don’t think that is harmful?

Ask Demetrius Walker what it was like to be called the next LeBron as a high school kid. He was kicked off of the Grand Canyon basketball team earlier this season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.