For the first time all season, Kentucky lived up to their potential. Can it last?

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ST. LOUIS — Kentucky has been under a national microscope for John Calipari’s entire five-year tenure as head coach of the Wildcats, but this season’s team might have been the most critiqued group of them all.

With seven McDonald’s All-Americans — six of them freshmen — many college basketball analysts considered the 2013-14 version of Kentucky to be the greatest collection of talent the college game had ever seen. The Wildcats had pros backing up pros and the preseason No. 1 team in the country carried so much hype that some people insanely wondered if they could go 40-0.

Growing pains and a number of tough matchups gave Kentucky a 24-10 regular season record, though, as it quickly became apparent that so many ball-dominant players with dominant personalities was having a tough time gelling and playing together.

RELATED: The most anticipated game of the year lived up to the hype

There were the eye rolls and bad body language and the camera shots of Calipari yelling at players that were staring into the distance. Many wondered if this team would ever live up to its vast potential.

None of that matters for now, however, as the Wildcats knocked off undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16 to face Louisville. Kentucky played its best game of the season and there’s a sense of relief among some of the players as they head into next weekend’s Midwest Regional matchup with the rival and defending champion Cardinals.

“It feels like five million pounds off your shoulders when the buzzer went off,” sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “It was just a good feeling. Everyone was yelling and super hype and it was just a good win.”

Freshmen have been the talk of college basketball this season, but as elite freshman like Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins had disappointing early-tournament exits, Kentucky saw its own hyped freshmen take turns carrying the game against Wichita State.

Twin brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison took turns hitting shots early in the game and forward Julius Randle played his most complete all-around game of the season, as he finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Down the stretch, wing James Young hit two critical shots and grabbed a big defensive rebound in traffic. Dakari Johnson made a key offensive rebound off of a missed free throw that kept an important second-half possession alive that Calipari cited as, “the most important play of the game.”

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

When Kentucky needed plays, its freshmen took turns making them and after the win over Wichita State they shared a lot of laughs during the postgame press conference. The eye rolls and dropping heads seemed like a thing of the past.

“I know I have great teammates and they have my back out there,” Randle said. “(Our) coaches always say, ‘don’t worry about winning or losing, just go out there and play.'”

Kentucky finally played up to their tremendous capabilities on Sunday and they have the look of a team that could contend for the title. The abundance of talent was always present for the Wildcats, but they’ve come together and gotten through a lot of adversity and they’re finally defending and sharing the ball as a team.

“Early in the season, when we’d get down, we’d get down on ourselves and hang our heads. I don’t think anyone sees that anymore,” senior guard Jarrod Polson said. “We’re just focused. Whether the game is going good or going bad we just stay together and that’s the biggest thing.”

Polson has an interesting perspective. As the elder statesman on Kentucky this year, he’s played with plenty of talented teams that have come through Lexington with high expectations to perform in March. The senior sees this team as coming together at the right time.

“Pretty much every team besides last year, we’ve really come together and it’s been at different times (of the season),” Polson said. “This year, it might have been the latest we’ve ever come together but I think that we really have, especially on the defensive end. We really have each other’s backs and we’re just fighting together and it’s great to see.”

Kentucky might have been criticized by any basketball fan with a pulse at some point during the season, but Calipari has remained patient with this group and it might finally be paying off.

“This team and what people said about this team, all we have done all year is continue to get better,” Calipari said. “We hit some shots, we missed some. Like every team, you hit a hole (where) you don’t play well. But they believed in themselves.”

Kentucky might have aspirations for bigger and better things than a Round of 32 victory over the Shockers, but now its young team can at least sleep a little bit better tonight as they prepare for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

Earlier this season, Kentucky was seeing red, but now the only red they’ll see this week is the Friday night clash against Louisville in Indianapolis. Kentucky has the potential to still win a title as long as they continue to play together and on Sunday they showed they’re a major threat in the Midwest Regional next weekend.

Clemson basketball returns home after Barcelona van attack

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson’s basketball team arrived back on campus, a day after a deadly van attack in Barcelona that occurred just outside their hotel.

The Tigers were preparing to play their fourth and final game of a summer tour of Spain when a van drove up on a sidewalk and crashed into scores of people in Las Ramblas promenade, killing 13. Clemson canceled the final game and flew back home as scheduled Friday.

Teams from Arizona and Oregon State were also staying at the hotel. A fourth team, Tulane, was in Barcelona at a different hotel. All of the schools said their parties were unharmed.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell tweeted Friday the team had landed in Atlanta and was “excited to be back in this great country.”

Tulane’s new court design brings back ‘Angry Wave’

(Photo courtesy of Tulane Athletics' Twitter account)
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Tulane’s court design is a throwback.

On Friday night, the school revealed the new look inside Devlin Fieldhouse, with the old “Angry Wave’ logo taking its place at center court.

A little over a year ago, Tulane University announced that the old ‘Angry Wave’ logo would be reincorporated into the athletics department as a secondary logo.

Over half a century ago, the “Angry Wave” was born and became one of the most visible marks of Tulane Athletics.  Together for the first time with the “T-Wave” the Green Wave now boasts one of the most unique sets of logos in collegiate athletics.

The Green Wave finished the 2016-17 season with a 6-25 (3-15 AAC) record. The program is currently on a foreign tour in Barcelona.

Five-star big man names final two schools

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There are only two schools in contention for the services of five-star big man Nazreon Reid.

On Friday night, the 6-foot-10 New Jersey native named Arizona and LSU as the two finalists. Before the start of the July live evaluation period, Reid had trimmed his list to seven programs. Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Seton Hall, and UCLA did not make the latest cut.

The Roselle Catholic High School center has ties to commits from both programs. Jahvon Quinerly, who picked Arizona over Villanova earlier this month, played with Reid, winning championships in 2015 and 2016 with Sports U in the Under Armour Association. According to Andrew Lopez of NOLA.com, Reid has developed a friendship with LSU pledge Javonte Smart through USA basketball and the grassroots circuit.

Reid’s commitment will bolster an already star-studded recruiting class for Sean Miller, as Quinerly is accompanied by five-star recruit Shareef O’Neal and four-star guard Brandon Williams. With Dusan Ristic exhausting his eligibility and DeAndre Ayton destined to be a top-10 pick in next summer’s NBA Draft, Reid would play a key role down low for the Wildcats during the 2018-19 season.

For LSU, this would add additional momentum for new head coach Will Wade. Since taking over the program in March, Wade has landed commitments from Smart and Tremont Waters.

Reid is listed as No. 13 overall player in the Class of 2018, according to Rivals.

Duke recruit Bagley hoping to play in the 2017-18 season

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Marvin Bagley III, widely considered the top recruit in the class of 2018, reclassified this week and could be eligible to play for Duke in the upcoming season.

His decision immediately thrusts the Blue Devils toward the front of the national-title conversation for the 2017-18 season.

But what exactly does it mean to reclassify and how does the process work?

According to the NCAA, all incoming student-athletes must complete 16 core courses from a list that includes English, math, natural or physical science, social science, foreign language, comparative religion or philosophy. Classes such as physical education, health and music do not count as core courses, nor do remedial classes or classes completed through credit-by-exam.

The student-athlete must also show proof of graduation from high school and have an ACT/SAT test score that corresponds to his or her core course GPA on a sliding scale; the higher the GPA, the lower the standardized test score needs to be.

The NCAA eligibility center’s amateurism team then determines whether to certify a student-athlete. The process and requirements are the same for every sport.

Bagley is scheduled to graduate from Southern California’s Sierra Canyon High School later this month, completing his course work a year ahead of schedule. His transcripts may be a little more complicated because he attended three different high schools and the NCAA will review his final transcript following his graduation to determine if he is eligible to play Division I basketball.

Bagley’s move is not unprecedented.

Through the years, five-star prospects who want to get a jump on their college careers — and potentially professional careers — have gone through the same process, though usually not right before the fall semester begins as Bagley did.

Mike Gminski is considered the leave-high-school-early originator, graduating a year early so he could play at Duke in 1976. He went on to become an All-American and played 17 NBA seasons.

In recent years, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr., Duke’s Derryck Thornton and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns were among the student-athletes who graduated early to play college basketball sooner. Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo graduated a semester early and joined the Wildcats in January last season, but did not play. He declared for the NBA draft before deciding to return to Lexington.

Jontay Porter reclassified this year so he could play a year early with his brother, top recruit Michael, at Missouri. Canadian guard R.J. Barrett, considered the top recruit in 2019, has reclassified so he can graduate in 2018.

“With AAU and year-round competition basically, a lot of the players are ready for college-level play at an earlier age,” Gminski told WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2015. “And most of these guys have been around a lot. They do a lot of traveling. They tend to mature pretty fast.”

Early graduation in football became popular in the early 2000s, though they typically only do it a semester early to enroll in college for the spring semester and participate in spring practices.

Baseball player Bryce Harper left his Las Vegas high school after his sophomore season and earned his GED so he could start playing professional baseball sooner. He played one season for the College of Southern Nevada and was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft by the Washington Nationals.

An opposite trend has started playing out in recent years, with parents holding their kids back a year so they can become bigger, stronger and more polished — some as early as middle school. Many top-tier recruits hold off going to college for a year, instead playing for elite prep schools after graduation for more seasoning and exposure.

Bagley opted for the get-to-college-early route, changing the landscape in college basketball in the process

Did Nike plagiarize JellyFam, Minnesota freshman Isaiah Washington to sell kid shoes?

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The JellyFam movement started as nothing more than a way for a little New York City point guard to add some flair to his game, a way to stunt on an opponent when you can’t dunk on that opponent, and has grown into something no one, not even Isaiah Washington, could have imagined.

Washington is that little point guard, and a few years ago, he and a couple of his hooping buddies coined the jelly, which, at its root, is essentially nothing more than a finger roll. Where the magic happens is when that finger comes after weaving around an opponent or finishing the layup despite the presence of a shot-blocker at the rim, with a sprinkle of NYC Point God showmanship. Think Kyrie Irving’s layup package if they happened at Rucker Park with an And1 Mixtape crew filming the game:

What JellyFam has turned into is a full-blown, grassroots movement powered by social media.

And while Washington is the face of the movement, it’s not just him. A half-dozen other talented New York hoopers are members of JellyFam, but Washington is the star. He’s a celebrity on the city’s hoops scene, drawing massive crowds wherever he goes and garnering more than 335,000 followers on Instagram despite having just 27 posts on the site. It’s not as if Washington is a sure-fire NBA All-Star, either. He’s a 6-foot-1, 160 pound point guard that doesn’t crack the top 50 on any of the major recruiting services and is headed to Minnesota to play his college ball.

His popularity is tied directly to the movement that he created.

It’s a shame, however, that he cannot profit off of it, not if he wants to remain an amateur that is eligible to play college basketball.

That doesn’t stop corporations from profiting off of what he has created.

Today, Nike released a new colorway for the kid size PG1s, Paul George’s signature shoe, that has been dubbed the ‘JellyFam PG1’. It’s being sold for $90 on their website right now. This is what it looks like:

What you’ll notice, in addition to purple and turquoise colors that are a staple in the JellyFam gear that Washington wears, is the straps. On the right foot, it says “score in bunches”. On the left foot, you’ll see a design that looks like basketballs on a grapevine … or the grape emoji, with basketballs instead of grapes.

Washington and the rest of the members of JellyFam have adopted the grape emoji as their own when posting on social media.

According to a Nike spokesperson, these shoes were “inspired by Paul George’s love for fresh grapes.”

What Nike is doing here is wrong.

They are trying to capitalize on a movement created by athletes that are not allowed to monetize something they built simply because of the NCAA’s amateurism rules. They are stealing the work created by these young men simply because they can. At worst, this is plagiarism.

Washington did not respond to messages from NBC Sports, but on Friday morning he tweeted, “It’s crazy bro they know I can’t so they just take advantage.” That tweet has since been deleted.

If you read this space, you know my feelings on the NCAA and amateurism. It’s wrong and it needs to be changed, but that’s another column for another day that’s been written thousands of times.

This column is much simpler: An international, multibillion-dollar company like Nike is already profiting off of the unpaid labor of amateur athletes.

Stealing their art, their work, their movement to try and sell sneakers to kids for $90 is despicable.

And I’m not sure there’s anything else to add.