NCAA Men's Final Four - Championship

For UConn, life after Shabazz is going to depend on some draft decisions

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Shabazz Napier solidified himself as one of, if not the most popular UConn Husky in the history of the program that Jim Calhoun built.

Not that he wasn’t before this weekend began, but when you cap a four-year career by earning tournament Most Outstanding Player honors while leading a No. 7 seed to a national title, becoming the first player — along with Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey — to win two rings for the program, you’re bound to be fairly well-liked.

In other words, somewhere around the year 2032, there are going to be a lot of kids named Shabazz graduating from Connecticut high schools.

“Hell of a player,” is how junior guard Ryan Boatright described Napier. “Great Player. Pro.  Great teammate. Great leader.”

All accurate, and all completely irrelevant for the Huskies moving forward as Napier is graduating and on his way to the first round of the NBA Draft. What will matter, however, is which Huskies end up joining him in the draft this season.

DeAndre Daniels has always had the kind of talent, physical tools and potential to be a lottery pick, but until this tournament, he had been utterly incapable of playing with the kind of consistency that made him more than a tease. But over the course of the last month of the season, particularly during UConn’s run to the title, Daniels was fantastic. He didn’t have his best game in the title game — Julius Randle will do that to you — but he was the best player on the floor for the Huskies in their wins over Iowa State in the Sweet 16 and Florida in the Final Four.

RELATED: Kentucky’s outlook for next season is strong

He’s a long and athletic small forward with three-point range and the ability to put the ball on the floor and beat defenders off dribble. He’s got the tools to be a good defender at the NBA level, and he even showed off a bit of a back to the basket game down the stretch. His strong play in the tournament could vault him — or vault his perception of himself — into the first round this season. Draft Express currently has Daniels projected as the No. 29 pick in the 2015 draft.

He’s not the only player with a draft decision to make.

Boatright was asked about it after the game, shrugging off the question by saying that he will “worry about that later” and that he just wants to “enjoy the moment right now”. Whether or not that means that he is actually considering leaving is unclear, but going pro right now doesn’t seem like an ideal option. Right now he’s a scoring guard that stands around 5-foot-11 and doesn’t shoot it all that well. He spent three weeks playing tenacious defense, but it’s hard to shake the memories of all the questionable decisions Boatright made in his three years before that.

Striking while the iron is hot wouldn’t be the worst idea, but coming back to school and trying to tap into that Kemba Walker-Shabazz Napier pipeline certainly isn’t, either.

The bottom line is this: UConn will have a chance to make the tournament next season. N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis will be eligible after sitting out this season. Terrence Samuel and Amida Brimah look like they have very bright futures ahead of them in UConn jerseys. Omar Calhoun can’t possibly be as bad as he played down the stretch of the season. They’ll add Sam Cassell Jr. and currently hold a commitment from top 20 recruit Daniel Hamilton, although there is quite a bit of speculation he’ll end up joining his brother at UCLA.

If Hamilton doesn’t end up in Storrs and if Daniels and Boatright both leave, the Huskies are probably looking at having to scrape their way into the NCAA tournament. Get all three back, and they could end up back in the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)

POSTERIZED: Class of 2016 forward Chris Seeley has a massive dunk on defender

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The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.

At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.

The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.

 

 

 

Five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt cuts list to nine

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.

The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.

“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.

Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.

Report: Michigan State and Penn State will play at the Palestra

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Head coach Patrick Chambers of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.

According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.

Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.

With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.

The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.

Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.