Top five grassroots storylines of 2014

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To prepare for the latest grassroots basketball season College Basketball Talk polled a dozen people within the national basketball scene at the high school and college level to give some of their thoughts to the big storylines entering this spring and summer.

1. Can Malik Newman hold off a really good group of big men for No. 1 in 2015?

Newman, a high-scoring 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Mississippi is the Rivals.com No. 1 player in 2015 at the moment and he’s being trailed by a talented group of big men behind him. When polled, the group consensus was that Newman would have to really fight to maintain the No. 1 spot in the rankings — if he hasn’t been passed already.

Quote: “Not sure who would move into the top spot, but at some point this summer one of the elite bigs (Rabb, Zimmerman, Stone or Simmons) will occupy that spot in the rankings.”

2. Who among the big men in 2015 separates themselves and how does it stack up to a strong group of big men in 2014?

The 2015 class of seniors-to-be has a lot of talented big men. Ivan Rabb, a 6-foot-9 center from Oakland, 6-foot-10 center Diamond Stone of Milwaukee, 7-foot Stephen Zimmerman from Las Vegas and LSU commit and Australian-native Ben Simmons have all gotten some chatter for No. 1 in the class ahead of current No. 1 Malik Newman.

Rabb seems to get the most love among the people I polled, with Ben Simmons getting some attention as well for his recent strong play with Montverde Academy. The Australian native will play his first spring and summer on the grassroots circuit this year and the LSU commit will have a chance to prove himself.

The group also believed that 2014’s group of big men were overall a stronger group with many citing Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Karl Towns as better than the 2015 players.

Quote: “I think Rabb is the best of the bunch. He has the best combination of size, skill, athleticism, and toughness. This group is not the 2014 class, or honestly even close, but there are some very talented bigs in this class.

3. Who emerges as the best overall guard besides Newman in 2015? Who is the best point guard and can some new points guards emerge in a dry year for lead guards?

Tyler Dorsey, already committed to Arizona, is a 6-foot-4 guard that can man a bit of both guard spots and really score when he needs to. He teamed with UConn commit Daniel Hamilton to form a really good backcourt at St. John Bosco and the California native got the nod as the best guard besides Newman.

Among point guards, Stevenson High School point guard Jalen Brunson — son of former NBA veteran guard Rick Brunson — from Lincolnshire, a suburb of Chicago, is getting a lot of talk for the top point guard while west coast standout Justin Simon is a 6-foot-4 lead guard generating buzz as well.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of positive thoughts about the point guards in 2015, in general.

Quote: “It’s pretty clear to me that Jalen Brunson should be the top point guard, especially after his 56-point explosion (in the Illinois Class 4A semifinals). Not many kids can do that. He’s every bit as good as Ulis and arguably Tyus Jones. I think a strong summer will make that clear.”

4. Who emerges as the No. 1 prospect in 2016 in the pool of really talented players in the top five?

The 2016 class is already headlined by a really intriguing group of players. Rivals.com No. 1 prospect Josh Jackson, a 6-foot-6 wing from Detroit, is a dynamic scorer and overall player and 6-foot-10 forward Harry Giles and 7-foot center Thon Maker are both right there trailing Jackson. St. Louis wing Jayson Tatum is a 6-foot-7 wing generating significant buzz already and of course there is 6-foot-1 mega athlete Seventh Woods at point guard.

Many among the group polled had a lot of positive things to say for Jackson, who has played well for over a year now. Giles earned cautious optimism from the group after returning from an ACL tear in June and Maker has a lot of fans as well.

Quote: “(Josh Jackson) was playing up in 17U and you could see how mature his understanding was. Had a good demeanor about him, and was able to do a lot of things with his size and athleticism. Like in the Rivals 2016 rankings, I see no reason why he shouldn’t remain in the top spot.”

5. Is the current model system of shoe companies forming their own leagues (EYBL, UAA, adidas Gauntlet) beneficial or harmful for youth basketball and good for college basketball?

The current model of grassroots basketball has been flipped on its head in recent years as the three major shoe companies of American grassroots basketball — adidas, Nike and Under Armour — formed their own leagues and took over grassroots basketball. The leagues are now the dominant format of the current American system with some adding shot clocks and college referees into the events to improve the overall quality.

The group polled seemed to be very much in favor of the shoe company model, as it made things far more organized and put elite groups of players together in a competitive setting. The EYBL is still the top league, in-part because it is the most established,

Quote: “I think the EYBL is the best thing to happen to high-level grassroots basketball. Strengthens the competition, limits just how many games these guys play, makes games in April meaningful, more consistency with the rosters. I like that UA and Adidas are following the same model, but they just don’t have the same kind of depth of talent.”

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 at the Hoopseen Best of the South at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.

Appalachian State freshman shooter to transfer

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A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.

Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”

“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”

Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will  be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.

If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Iowa State adds graduate transfer Zoran Talley

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Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.

Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.

“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”

Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.

He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.

Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.