Harry Giles

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.”

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.