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.”

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson

 

Hayes returning to Wisconsin for senior season

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes celebrates with fans after an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won 67-59. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Wisconsin has cemented itself as one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season.

Forward Nigel Hayes, the Badgers’ leading scorer and assist man, is withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration to return to Madison for his senior season, he told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday evening.

Hayes declared for the draft last month, but did not hire an agent, taking advantage of new NCAA legislation that allowed him to attend the NBA Draft combine and workout for pro franchises. He was largely regarded as a fringe first-round prospect by draft observers.

His decision is a major boon for Greg Gard, who may have the Big Ten’s best team in his first full season at the helm after taking over for Bo Ryan in the middle of last season. Wisconsin had a major turnaround under Gard, which ultimately resulted in him moving from interim to full time. The Badgers were 7-5 when Ryan stepped down, but recovered by going 13-4 to end the season and make the Sweet 16. 

Now, the entirety of that team, headlined by Hayes, is returning for another year and almost assuredly will be a top-15 (or better) preseason pick. Michigan State will welcome in a dynamite recruiting class that features five-stars Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston, and Indiana should remain strong, but the Badgers, with some players having the experience of  playing in two Final Fours, could very well have the best roster on paper with its blend of talent and experience. Whichever team is pegged as the favorite, the top of the Big Ten is shaping up to be a fantastic race.