Traevon Jackson’s growth a factor in Wisconsin’s Final Four run

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In order to enjoy success in March a team needs solid guard play, especially at the point guard position where so many of the decisions on both ends of the floor are made. And this weekend’s Final Four is certainly an example of that, with Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin and UConn’s Shabazz Napier being two of the best at the position and Andrew Harrison’s improved play one of the keys for Kentucky over the last month or so.

The same can also be said for Wisconsin junior Traevon Jackson, who spent his freshman season learning from Jordan Taylor and began his sophomore campaign as part of a two-man “platoon” of sorts with George Marshall. For some players the prospect of not getting handed the keys to their team in short order results in sulking as opposed to learning and working harder to be prepared when their number is called. That wasn’t the case for Jackson, and the rewards have been reaped by Wisconsin this season.

“I remember coming in freshman year just seeing Josh [Gasser], and Jordan especially when he was here, and Josh being a guy that, no matter what it was, that he always was just rock solid,” Jackson said during the team’s media availability earlier this week. “A lot of that had to do with his maturity and just learning from him, and I think that’s just a blessing just being able to go through a couple years here and just embracing the moment, embracing the opportunity that has been given.

“Just trying to learn from the mistakes I made in the past or the past failures and stuff and just capitalize on [the opportunity]. I’ve been given a special role on this team as a point guard, and it’s important to embrace that.”

Before the start of Big Ten play in Jackson’s sophomore season, he played 25-plus minutes in just four games. However as conference play progressed he strengthened his grip on the point guard role, playing no fewer than 25 minutes in any of the Badgers’ last 20 games of the 2012-13 campaign as a result. Jackson finished the season with averages of 6.9 points and 2.8 assists per game, and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.4 was solid if not spectacular.

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Traevon made strides as the season progressed, which was noted by his father Jim, who was a great player at Ohio State and is currently an analyst for the Big Ten Network.

“One, his mental growth in how to run a team at this level,” Jackson told NBC Sports. “In high school he played the point but he also played the two, so it wasn’t a full-time ‘job.’ He had to get comfortable in that role, and you have to add to that the fact that Bo Ryan is extremely hard on his point guards. [Traevon] understands that the point guard is the captain of the ship and the one to make things go.”

Fully entrenched as the starting point guard when the 2013-14 season began, Jackson continued to make progress throughout his junior campaign. There’s been a greater understanding of what’s expected of him at the point, and the growth has been noticeable in both the numbers and the areas that aren’t seen in the box score. Traevon’s scoring (10.7 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg) averages have improved, as has the assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9).

A confident and fearless player Jackson’s the one who has the ball in his hands in the game’s most important moments, and as seen in the Badgers’ win over Michigan State earlier this season he’s certainly capable of making the winning play. And according to Ryan, it’s the confidence where Traevon has exhibited the greatest amount of growth.

“A very strong‑willed young man. He feels he’s got it, okay,” Ryan said earlier this week. “That means a player in baseball, wants that last ball hit to him so he can throw the guy out, that guy that wants the last shot. There are some people who talk about it, and there’s some people that can do it and get it done.

“His confidence level and his ability to believe that he’s got everything under control, even though none of us ever do totally have that. But he at least believes that, and therefore his confidence level has been able to get some things done for us in tight situations.”

The confidence in part comes from preparation, as hard work has placed Jackson in position to not only take over the starting point guard role for Wisconsin but flourish. According to the elder Jackson, Traevon also played with the likes of Russell Westbrook and Andre Miller in pickup games before he even had a chance to earn the starting role with Jordan Taylor still in Madison. The combination of those experiences, be it the pickup games or going up against Taylor every day in practice, have led to Traevon being the point guard Wisconsin needs.

Clearly this Wisconsin team doesn’t lack for leaders, with Gasser and Ben Brust both being fourth-year players (Gasser’s a redshirt junior) and four of the five starters are upperclassmen with sophomore Sam Dekker being the exception. But it can be argued that the Badgers don’t reach this point without the growth exhibited by Traevon Jackson, and he’s one reason why they arrive in the Metroplex capable of winning the program’s second national title.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”