Dorian Finney-Smith

For Florida’s senior class, the season ends in shocking disappointment

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 team in the country. They were the No. 1 overall seed, and carried a 30-game winning streak into the Final Four. They were the best team in the country. They probably still are the best team in the country, and Saturday night’s Final Four matchup was looked upon as nothing more than a formality.

Show up, beat UConn, play for a national title.

Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and the rest of the Huskies had other ideas, however.

UConn overcame a horrid start, put a 27-6 run on the Gators to erase a 16-4 deficit, and shot 63.6% from the floor in the second half while making 11 of their last 12 shots from the field against the nation’s No. 1 defense. They would go on to win 63-53.

And like that, it was over.

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For Florida’s four-man senior class — Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather — it meant the end of a long and illustrious college basketball career. They reached three Elite 8s before getting to North Texas this season. They won four SEC titles, three of which were the regular season variety. Prior to their arrival on campus, Florida hadn’t reached the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament since the 2007 team that won a national title.

“I think, for the first time in my life, I was a part of a group of guys that were really willing to bleed for one another,” Young said. “Guys that were really willing to just do whatever it took to go outside of themselves, to commit to the greater goal. Looking at the year, going into it, we didn’t know what was going to happen with the suspension and the injuries and all that stuff. But we stuck together through it.”

And that is why the job that Billy Donovan did coaching this team was one of the best of his long, illustrious career.

Think about where this team was in November. They didn’t know if they were going to get Chris Walker cleared. The had two players — Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith — suspended at the start of the season. For Wilbekin, it was his second suspension in the span of eight months. Eli Carter never got healthy enough to play and was eventually shut down. Damontre Harris was booted from the team.

The team that was on the floor on Saturday night, the one that made Florida the best team in the country, wasn’t the one that Donovan expected to have at the beginning of the season.

“I saw how dysfunctional we were in September,” Donovan said. “Didn’t even know what we would look like.”

It would be one thing if Florida was like Kentucky, a team stocked with lottery-ready talent. But they’re not. It’s not a stretch to say that the only player that will end up having a significant career in the NBA is Walker, who basically didn’t have a role this season.

That’s what made the season so rewarding.

“I got a chance to experience a lot of personal victories along the way off the court,” he said. “Their body of work on the court, people will evaluate of judge themselves, but for me personally, where they were as individuals and where they were as a team, it was one of the most special experiences I’ve had being around a group of guys away from the court maybe since I’ve been in coaching.”

The good news for Billy Donovan is that he’s got plenty of talent in the pipeline. Florida is always going to get players, and that’s once again the case in the Class of 2014. Devin Robinson is a five-star wing that has the length and athleticism to have an immediate impact in college. Chris Chiozza might spend a year or two apprenticing under Kasey Hill, but his future is bright, as is that of Brandone Francis. Add in Duke transfer Alex Murphy, who will be eligible in December, to returnees Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter, and the framework for an SEC contender is there.

The key is going to be Chris Walker. He’s a freak athlete, a potential lottery pick that was a top ten recruit in 2013. But NBA front office types know that as well, and just because he couldn’t crack Florida’s rotation after he missed the first 21 games of the season doesn’t mean that his NBA career is in jeopardy. If he returns, Florida should very good once again. If he leaves, the Gators will be in major trouble along their front line. That’s one of the reasons they haven’t completely cut ties with Harris.

But the folks in the Gator program will worry about that later.

For now, they’re just upset about the fact that this team will not be ending their careers with a win.

“One thing I can take from this team,” Young said, “is just when you can truly love a group of guys or people like this, you bring the best out of them and you bring the best out of yourself.”

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.