Moving home has helped Ryan Harrow improve on, and off, the court

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Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter only has two rules, two requirements, for the kids that play on his basketball teams to stay on the court.

Assuming they get their grades, don’t cause a ruckus on campus and generally carry themselves as decent human beings on a day-to-day basis off the court, all he asks is that: A) they work hard, and B) they have fun. It’s not a crazy philosophy. The guys on his roster are on his roster for a reason, and as long as they’re playing hard for themselves and their teammates, and as long as they’re truly enjoying the opportunity to play basketball at this level, Hunter will be happy.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to make mistakes,” Hunter told NBCSports.com this week, “but you have to play hard for me and you have to enjoy it.”

And while it took a little effort to teach a guy as talented as Ryan Harrow what ‘playing hard’ actually meant, the real issue that Hunter initially had with his former McDonald’s All-American point guard was getting him to have fun, to enjoy the fact that he was still a basketball player by trade.

“I don’t think I saw him smile until right before the Vanderbilt game [on November 12th],” Hunter said of Harrow, who arrived on campus in June. “He had a huge smile on his face. We used to bring him in and say, ‘man, it’s just basketball’. Then all of a sudden, in December, even when we lost a couple games in a row, he’s walking in, patting me on the back, ‘What’s up, Coach?’. I mean he’s a completely different kid than he was when he walked in. It’s almost like two different people.”

Harrow’s story has been well-publicized at this point.

He began his collegiate career at N.C. State, leaving after one season to enroll at Kentucky, where he redshirted during the team’s run to the national title and took over the point guard role for Marquis Teague when he left for the NBA. What happened in Lexington that season was, for lack of a better word, a disaster. The Wildcats personnel just didn’t fit, the team struggled to gain any momentum in the SEC despite the conference being down and Harrow took the brunt of the criticism for the team’s trip to the NIT.

What wasn’t discussed publicly, however, was that Harrow’s father, Mark, had suffered a stroke back in Atlanta during the summer of 2012. He had trouble getting up by himself or dressing himself, making the simplicities of living day-to-day strenuous tasks. “When I saw his dad on the first day,” Hunter said, “he came into practice and he looked awful. I was like, ‘I don’t think he can make it through the season.'”

That weighed on Ryan, and when coupled when the stress of struggling inside the bubble that is Lexington and Big Blue Nation, and the embarrassment of a McDonald’s All-American returning to his hometown to play for a team in the Sun Belt Conference, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that it was hard for Harrow to enjoy basketball.

Being at home helped him, but more importantly, it has also helped Ryan’s father. Mark is now able to watch his son play ball on a daily basis. “Coach lets him in [to practice] … sometimes,” Ryan said, chuckling. “He’ll come by and just watch. He’s definitely at all the games, even the away games he tries to make.” And it’s more than just basketball. Ryan lives on campus, but his father’s house is just a 15 minute drive away. A quick phone call, and the two can be breaking bread for lunch, watching a movie or settling in on the couch for a night of hoops.

“It makes me a lot happier. I don’t have to worry as much. I’m right here,” Ryan said. “I know seeing me play basketball makes him happy, so I’m glad that I’m doing well and he’s able to see all this.”

That’s the key, here.

Ryan is doing really well. He’s playing his best basketball since he was a high school senior, and Georgia State is having more success than anyone in the program thought they could entering the season. Harrow is second on the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points and 4.6 assists, while the Panthers shook off a 1-6 start against Division I opponents to run out to win their first 10 Sun Belt games. They currently sit at 13-1 in league play, and a win at Texas-Arlington on Thursday night would clinch at least a share of league’s regular season title.

And here’s the irony: the turning point of the season came when Hunter made the decision to play Ryan out of position. After an overtime loss to Southern Miss dropped the Panthers to 1-6 against Division I teams, Hunter turned the reins over to Devonta White. Previously, White and Harrow had been splitting time at the point guard spot. Hunter moved Harrow off the ball, a role that the redshirt junior hadn’t played since his high school days.

It worked. Georgia State is winning, in large part due to the fact that Harrow has accepted his role on this team. He’s embraced his teammates, trusting them more than he did at the beginning of the season. The example Hunter used came in Saturday’s thrilling, last-second win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Back in a loss to FIU in November, on the final possession of a one-point game, Hunter drew up a play to get the ball in Harrow’s hands.

“Three guys ran at him, we ran the play and he shot it and missed and we were devastated,” Hunter said. “On Saturday, [we ran the] same exact play and he makes the pass to Manny Atkins for a three.” And to Hunter, that change encapsulates the changes Ryan has made, the strides he’s taken to become a better player.

And, frankly, it’s really not hard to make the connection here.

The son comes home to help the ailing father. The father gets better being closer to the son. Stress rolls off the son’s shoulders seeing the father get better, allowing him to thrive. Seeing his son succeed brings life back to the father. We see it from a distant. For Hunter, whose son, R.J., is Georgia State’s leading scorer, it’s been special to see it happen up close.

“When I saw his dad on Saturday, his dad looked terrific,” Hunter said. “Walking, smiling, he looks healthy now. It’s just amazing what happened with the two of them being back home together. For dad to be able to see Ryan play and practice, and more importantly for a father to see his kid happy, I think it’s been tremendous [for Ryan].”

“The weight of the world is off him now.”

“Basketball’s becoming a lot more fun,” Harrow said. “I just saw what I went through and how I was previously, and I just try to keep myself in good spirits and always try to laugh because I don’t want to go back to that place that I was at before I got here.”

“It’s just my mindset. I’m not really worried about the spotlight or the individual achievements. I’m happy that we’re winning, obviously, but just the way I think now is different. I don’t let too much get to me after all that I’ve been through.”

Angel Delgado’s return to Seton Hall makes Pirates Big East contender

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Seton Hall got huge news on Monday when Angel Delgado announced that he would be returning to school for his senior season.

“I am coming back to school for my senior year,” Delgado said in a statement on Monday. “It’s very important to my family and me that I finish what I started. This was a difficult decision that took time and patience. Coming back feels just right.”

Delgado, a 6-foot-10 forward from the Dominican Republic, averaged 15.1 points and 13.2 boards last season for the Pirates. He was one of the best big men in the country over the last six weeks of the season.

And his return should bring about one of the best years that Seton Hall basketball has had in a long time.

The Pirates are loaded with talent, tough and, most importantly, old players, from Delgado to Khadeen Carrington to Ishmael Sanogo to Desi Rodriguez. They are going to be a nightmare to run offense against, and they may just be the best team in the Big East not named Villanova. Delgado should end up being a preseason all-american.

Seton Hall is currently ranked No. 17 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Texas to return Andrew Jones for sophomore season

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Texas got another boost on Monday as former five-star recruit Andrew Jones announced that he will be returning to school for his sophomore season.

“I’ve matured and learned a lot through this process,” Jones said in a statement released on twitter. “I enjoyed the experience and opportunity that I had to be able to participate in the combine and team workouts.

“Time to go work out with my teammates. Hungry and Humble.”

This comes on the heels of Texas landing a commitment from a top five prospect in Mo Bamba. With all those pieces in the fold, including a recruiting class that features four more top 100 prospects, the Longhorns look like they are on track to be a borderline preseason top 25 team and heading back to the NCAA tournament.

This could end up being a narrative-changing year for Texas.

West Virginia returns potential Big 12 Player of the Year in Jevon Carter

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West Virginia got some great news on Monday as Jevon Carter announced that he will be returning to the Mountaineers for his senior year.

“I’m excited about coming back to West Virginia and playing with my teammates for my senior season,” he said. “The entire NBA process was a great experience for me and to gain valuable feedback that I can use to prepare for the future.”

This is massive for the Mountaineers. Not only is Carter the team’s leading scorer at 13.5 points, but he is a three-time all-Big 12 Defensive Team member and led West Virginia in minutes played last season. He’ll be a favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year, with Devonte’ Graham of Kansas.

Arizona adds five-star Emmanuel Akot to Class of 2017

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Emmanuel Akot, a five-star wing that has been committed to Arizona for months, announced on Monday that he will be reclassifying to the Class of 2017 and enrolling at Arizona this offseason.

“My family and I have decided to join the 2017 class and become a member of the Arizona Basketball family,” Akot said.

Akot was considered a top 15 prospect in the Class of 2018, a class that many believe to be significantly weaker than the Class of 2017. At 6-foot-7, he’s a versatile defender with quite a bit of potential that can step out and knock down threes, but he’s also far from a finish product and will likely need time to acclimate to the college level.

That said, he should be able to fill a role on the wing nicely, providing a nice bit of defensive reliance alongside more offensive-minded weapons like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins.

Akot joins a five-man recruiting class headlined by top four prospect Deandre Ayton and four-star recruits Brandon Randolph and Ira Lee.

The eight most important NBA Draft Early Entry decisions remaining

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The deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft is on Wednesday, May 24th, meaning that the players that have not signed with an agent have roughly 48 hours left to determine their basketball future.

Here are the ten most important decisions left to be made:

1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

  • Projected: Late first round or early second round
  • If he stays in: It will be a massive blow for Purdue, although one that the program should not be surprised about. Swanigan had an argument to be the National Player of the Year last season with the year that he had, and frankly, I’m not sure what else there is for him to prove at the college level. We know what he is offensively, and I don’t think that his flaws as a player are necessarily fixable. How much can he improve his body? How much different can he be as a defender? At this point he is what he is as a player.
  • If he returns: The Boilermakers will be returning a guy that will be a lock to be the Preseason National Player of the Year. Without him, Purdue still has a shot to be a top 25 team and a threat to finish near the top of the Big Ten. With him? Matt Painter will have a chance to repeat as the Big Ten regular season champ, even with Michigan State looking like the best team in college basketball.
  • CBT says: He should, and probably will, remain in the draft.

2. Tony Bradley, North Carolina

  • Projected: Early second-round
  • If he stays in: It would be a significant loss for the Tar Heels, but not a fatal one with Joel Berry set to return as a potential National Player of the Year candidate along with Theo Pinson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams also in the starting lineup. What’s missing would be that experienced presence in the middle.
  • If he returns: North Carolina would be without a doubt one of the top national title contenders. With Bradley in the lineup, the Tar Heels simply won’t have a huge weakness in the lineup that teams can immediately exploit. It won’t make them the clear-cut title frontrunner, but it’ll put them in the top tier.
  • CBT says: With a first-round selection no guarantee, Bradley has a lot to gain returning to one of college basketball’s best teams.

3. Mo Wagner and D.J. Wilson, Michigan

  • Projected: Wilson is a potential first round pick, but Wagner may end up going undrafted
  • If they stay in: The biggest loss for Michigan is going to be point guard Derrick Walton, who was on another level at the end of last season. John Beilein’s teams are at their very best when they have a great ball-screen point guard, and their season is going to depend, in the end, on how Ohio transfer Jaaron Simmons adjusts to a higher level. But Beilein also runs an offense based on spacing the floor, and there’s no better way to space the floor than having a pair of big men that can step out on the perimeter and make threes.
  • If they return: Suddenly, Michigan goes from being a team that could end up making the NCAA tournament to one that has a ceiling of being a top 15 team. Wilson probably has the most to gain by coming back for another year. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his career, and his defensively versatility and perimeter skill make him him a more likely first round pick if he can prove he’s more than just a one year wonder. Wagner may actually have a higher ceiling, but he needs to get tougher and show he can defend and rebound.
  • CBT says: The safe bet is that Michigan loses Wilson and gets Wagner back, but I wouldn’t be shocked if both returned to school.

4. Justin Jackson, Maryland

  • Projected: Mid-second round with first round potential
  • If he stays in: It’s a massive blow for a Maryland team that will be looking to replace Melo Trimble, the man who is as responsible for turning around the Terp program as Mark Turgeon is. But Jackson has some NBA potential. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he can defend multiple positions and he shot 44 percent from three. He’s built in the combo-forward mold that NBA teams love these days. There’s a real chance he leaves as a one-and-done player, and while the Terps have some other young, talented pieces, this loss could cost them the NCAA tournament.
  • If he returns: Maryland should once again be a fringe top 25 team. Jackson has the chance to develop into an all-Big Ten kind of player next season as he takes on a bigger role of the offense. The freshmen trio of Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter should have Maryland fans excited.
  • CBT says: All it takes is for one team to fall in love with Jackson’s potential to get him picked in the back end of the first round. How he performs at the combine may determine that.

5. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky

  • Projected: Late first round, early second round
  • If he stays in: Kentucky has a ridiculous amount of talent joining the program next season, enough that John Calipari will likely have the pieces to make another push for an SEC title and a trip to the Final Four without him. At this point, he is really the only five-star off-guard on the roster, and losing him means the Wildcats may take a hit on the defensive end, but that would also allow some better shooters to get on the floor, so it may end up being a wash.
  • If he returns: Kentucky suddenly looks like a team that is going to be as good as anyone on the defensive end. Between Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards and, potentially, Mo Bamba, there is as much length and athleticism on that roster as Coach Cal has ever had. Where their points come from will be the question, and this may be what gets Diallo to stay in the draft. He may be the most explosive athlete in the draft, but he’s also very raw. He’s not a shooter and he doesn’t have a great feel for the game. There’s a line of thinking that, if he returns to a team that doesn’t have myriad options offensively, he could end up being exposed on that end of the floor.
  • CBT says: I think it would be in Diallo’s best interest to return — remember, he redshirted the second semester of last season after enrolling in January — but I would not be shocked to see him remain in the draft.

6. Thomas Welsh, UCLA

  • Projected: Undrafted
  • If he stays in: The Bruins will still have quite a bit of talent and will be a preseason top-25 team, but losing a player like Welsh would seriously lower their ceiling. Take a big step back is certainly something Steve Alford will look to avoid after a breakthrough season last year that started with him under some pressure.
  • If he returns: The Bruins won’t be the toast of the Pac-12, that distinction will stay with Arizona, but UCLA asserts itself as a top-15(ish) team that has enough firepower, especially with a major 7-foot contributor, to at least push the Wildcats in the league.
  • CBT says: Welsh has a lot of tools, but probably even more questions that make his stock pretty low right now.

7. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

  • Projected: Second round to undrafted
  • If he stays in: The Musketeers are suddenly one of the younger teams in the Big East with a roster that has just three players — J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and Kaiser Gates — that have spent more than one year on the Xavier campus. I still think Xavier would be able to get back into the NCAA tournament, as they will have some young talent on the roster and Chris Mack at the helm, but their upside will be significantly diminished.
  • If he returns: Xavier will have a preseason all-american on their roster, a potential Big East Player of the Year and a guy that could end up averaging 20 points as a senior. He, along with J.P. Macura, will anchor a Musketeer roster that, beyond them, will be very young but promisingly talented. They’re probably a tournament team either way, but with Bluiett in the fold, they might have a chance to get back to the Elite 8 again.
  • CBT says: Return to school

8. Deng Adel, Louisville

  • Projected: Second round to undrafted
  • If he stays in: Louisville will have lost their two most dangerous perimeter scoring options — Donovan Mitchell looks like he is going to sneak into the back-end of the lottery — from a team that really struggled to score from the perimeter. That would be a crushing blow for a Cardinal team that was the Preseason No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Top 25 when it looked like both would be returning to school.
  • If he returns: Louisville has their go-to scorer on the wing and Adel will have a chance to prove that he can play that role full-time. He really came on down the stretch of the 2016-17 season, and with an offense more or less built around him as the leading man, he’ll have every opportunity to prove himself an NBA-caliber wing scorer.
  • CBT says: He returns to school.