Seven Takeaways from Pittsburgh Jam Fest

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PITTBURGH, Pa. — There was only one live period in the spring this year, making last weekend all the more important for college coaches and the recruits that want to play for them. Here are seven takeaways from a weekend at the Hoop Group’s Pittsburgh Jam Fest:

1. Athleticism gets you noticed, but it only gets you so far: Seventh Woods (No. 5 in Rivals’ Class of 2016) and Derrick Jones (No. 25 in Rivals’ Class of 2015) are two of the most explosive athletes that you’ll ever see at the high school level. Jones’ exploits in layup lines drew bigger crowds than any game this weekend. And Woods? Well, he’s this guy.

The problem comes when a player relies strictly on his athletic ability to get by. That works at a younger age against lesser competition, but as the competition gets better, simply running past or jumping over defenders isn’t as simple. That’s part of what frustrated people watching Woods and Jones this weekend. Woods is naturally a scoring guard. He’s at his best when he’s trying to beat people off the dribble, attacking the rim, drawing fouls. He needs to be aggressive to be effective, and he spent much of the weekend trying to prove that he’s a point guard by … playing passive? He settled for jumpers and opted to distribute the ball around the perimeter instead of trying to break down defenses, which wouldn’t have been a terrible thing if he didn’t turn the ball over so much or struggle with his perimeter shot.

I get it. He’s just a sophomore. It’s a learning process, and he’s still learning how to play a different role. He’s still got a ways to go.

As far as Jones is concerned, he’s a defensive playmaker and a threat on the offensive glass that hasn’t gotten much better offensively. He still needs to improve his handle. He still needs to add weight and strength. He’s still a liability as a jump shooter. His ceiling will land him at a marquee program, but he’s got a long way to go before he’s an impact player at the high-major level.

2. MJ Walker was the best prospect at Pitt Jam Fest: Want to know what kind of physical specimen Walker is? He’s still a freshman in high school (Class of 2017) and hasn’t played football since 2011, yet when word spread that he would be suiting up with his Jonesboro HS (Ga.) team next season, Clemson and Miami offered him scholarships sight unseen.

That’s not all. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard led his high school basketball team to the Georgia 4A state title this past season. His strength and athleticism are despite his age, and his game is more well-rounded that you would expect from a player that only completed his freshman season. He can handle the ball, he can attack the basket, he’s got range on his jumper, he’s willing to get after it defensively. And high majors are only now starting to take notice. Auburn is the only school that’s offered him, but Ohio State and Iowa State are starting to show serious interest.

Walker told his goal for the summer is to get an invite to the U-16 Team USA event this summer.

3. New Heights’ Mike Nzei and Dupree McBrayer were the two best Class of 2014 players at the event: McBrayer was lights out over the course of the first two days. The 6-foot-3 lefty combo-guard showed off a knack for being able to get into the paint and knocked down perimeter jumpers more consistently than he has in the past, but he’s primarily a scorer that can spend too much time dominating the ball and strongly favors going left. McBrayer holds a number of low- to mid-major offers in the Class of 2014, but he told that he’s going to prep school. He wants to go high-major, and even claimed an offer from Seton Hall.

“What I need to do is put on some strength and strength my right hand,” he said.

Nzei is an interesting prospect in that he’s an active and athletic 6-foot-8 forward that showed off a nice perimeter touch this weekend. He holds offers from Iowa and St. Joseph’s, among others.

4. Pitt is doing everything they can to keep Moustapha Heron’s commitment: Heron was arguably the MVP of the New Heights team that won the 17u title, which certainly made Pitt fans that were in attendance giddy. Heron, the No. 19 player in the Class of 2016, committed to the Panthers last fall. But there’s a catch: Heron was recruited by Barry ‘Slice’ Rohrssen, and Slice has since taken a job at Kentucky. Pitt had an assistant tailing him all weekend and came full staff on Sunday. “Family-wise, we had a real close tie to [Slice],” Heron told “Right now, we’re just working on building a good relationship with Coach Dixon.”

Heron is a powerful, 6-foot-5 guard that butters his bread attacking the rim off the dribble. He’ll need to develop his handle and his perimeter stroke for the next level.

5. Dewan Huell or Juwan Durham?: Team Breakdown’s 16s has the best kind of problem: two top 50 recruits in their front court. Juwan Durham is the more highly-regarded of the pair — he’s a bit taller and longer and more athletic — but Huell’s more physical and more aggressive around the rim. He outplayed another top 25 forward, Justin Jackson of Findlay Prep, on Sunday morning.

6. Keep an eye on Danjel Puriefoy: Tevin Mack was the best scorer in Pittsburgh this weekend — we wrote about him here — but Puriefoy might have been the best wing at the event. He’s 6-foot-7, powerful and athletic, making him tough to keep out of the paint, but he’s got a knack for being able to create offense for his teammates. He needs to add some range on his shot, but he reminded me a bit of Pitt’s Lamar Patterson, the senior season version.

7. Mike Watkins will be a player for Penn State: Watkins is still learning how to be a basketball player and not just an athlete, but his athleticism and effort level on the glass and the defensive end will make him a capable Big Ten post presence for four years. He’s currently ranked 123rd in the Class of 2015.

Purdue’s Isaac Haas unlikely to play on Friday

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BOSTON — Isaac Haas has become the biggest story in the East Regional, as he, with the help of a group of mechanical engineering grad students at Purdue, tries to find a way to play through the broken elbow that he suffered in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

And head coach Matt Painter threw a glass of cold water on those dreams on Thursday.

“He didn’t practice the last two days,” Painter said, “and when you don’t practice, you don’t play.”

“I don’t see him playing until he can practice and show me he can shoot a right-handed free throw and get a rebound with two hands,” he added. “I would think he’s done. To me, it’s the eye test. It’s going out and watching him. He can go practice today if he wants, and I can evaluate him. But if he doesn’t practice, nothing changes, right? No matter what I say or you say or he says especially, he fractured his elbow. You know what I mean? So if you fractured your elbow and you can’t shoot a free throw, I don’t know how it changes in two days.”

No. 2-seed Purdue plays No. 3-seed Texas Tech in the East Regional semifinals on Friday night.

That hasn’t stopped Haas from lobbying his head coach to let him on the floor if the officials clear the brace that was rigged for him. The brace was not cleared on Saturday for Purdue’s second round game against Butler.

“I told him multiple times, that hey, even if it’s one minute, it’s worth it to me,” Haas said. “I’ll just keep trying and giving my best effort to be out there. I don’t care if I’m out there or not, you do what you need to do, but if I’m an option, call me up.”

Haas’ ability to shoot isn’t the only concern. If he falls, he could do more damage to injury, requiring more extensive surgery after the season. He said that the injury should keep him out for 2-to-3 months, but those Purdue engineers, they’ve been trying to find a way to get him on the floor.

“My email’s been blowing up with people saying here’s some stuff you can do, here’s some stuff that we have,” Haas said. “It’s funny because they’re all saying this stuff and or trainer and doctors have all that stuff already. I reply, ‘thank you for your consideration. Means a lot, but we have those same machines here.'”

Crash survivor Austin Hatch back in LA with Michigan hoops

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Austin Hatch finished high school less than two miles from Staples Center, playing basketball at Loyola High and golfing throughout the warm California winter four years ago.

But he mostly spent his one year in Los Angeles simply learning how to live again after surviving the second tragic plane crash of his young life, a crash that killed his father and stepmother.

When Michigan’s run to the Sweet Sixteen brought Hatch back to downtown LA this week, he was grateful for the chance to see his uncle, his extended family and his Loyola coach, Jamal Adams. They all plan to be in the stands Thursday when Michigan faces Texas A&M, with Hatch helping the Wolverines from his spot on the bench.

“It was only a year of my life, but it was a big year of my life,” Hatch said Wednesday before going through a workout with his teammates. “It was the year that prepared me for Michigan. Great people out here. I was very, very blessed to be a part of it.”

Hatch scored one point in his Michigan playing career, which ended in 2015. He is a student assistant coach now, watching the Wolverines in a suit and tie — except on Senior Day last month, when he suited up and received a stirring ovation at Crisler Center.

With the Wolverines needing only two wins in LA to reach the Final Four, Hatch is grateful to play any small role in their success.

“Obviously what I contribute to the team doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” Hatch said. “But the fact that I’ve been able to add something has given me a sense of fulfillment, if you will. I couldn’t control what happened to me, but I knew I could control how I responded to it. And I think that given the circumstances, I’ve done my best to make the most of it. I know all my teammates appreciate that.”

Hatch’s impact has been immeasurable on the Michigan program and coach John Beilein, who lived up to his scholarship commitment to the promising prospect from Fort Wayne, Indiana, after the June 2011 crash that left him in a coma for weeks. Hatch had already survived a 2003 crash in which his mother, brother and sister died.

Given the traumatic circumstances in which he arrived on the West Coast, his return is a reminder of his resilience. Hatch healed during his year in Los Angeles — and he relished the chance to hit the links in January while Michigan was buried under snow.

“In hindsight, I’m really glad I was here,” Hatch said. “It broadened my horizons a little bit. I’m from the Midwest. I’m from Fort Wayne, a small town. Now I’m in Ann Arbor, which is relatively small in comparison to LA. It was good to come out here and experience a different way of life.”

While his time with the Wolverines will end soon, Hatch isn’t slowing down. He is getting married to former Michigan volleyball player Abby Cole in the summer, and he’ll explore a career in business while deciding what he wants to do next.

But first, he’s hoping for two more weeks of hoops ending in a national title.

“My chapter at Michigan has been incredible,” Hatch said. “I wouldn’t change anything about it. I have no regrets. There’s nothing I wish I would have done. Everyone here has invested so much in me, and I’ve really done my best to show my appreciation by working hard.”

CBT Podcast: 2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview, Picks and Predictions

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Sam Vecenie of the Athletic and the Game Theory podcast stopped by to chat with Rob Dauster about the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. The two went through each of the eight Sweet 16 matchups, detailing how each one of those eight games projects to play out and going over which lines — spread and over-unders — they like.

Dan Hurley will accept UConn head coaching position

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Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley will be the next head coach at UConn, replacing the 2014 national title winner, Kevin Ollie.

Hurley will be signing a six-year deal, according to multiple reports, that could be valued as much as $18 million. Hurley picked UConn over Pitt, who had also offered him a similar amount of money.

Hurley turned the Rhode Island program around during his six-year tenure, capped off with a pair of seasons where the Rams won a game in the NCAA tournament. UConn, which is one of the best jobs but has not been one of the best teams in the AAC in recent years, should be a place where he can continue to recruit talent. Under Ollie, the Huskies have been able to get players. The issue has been the performance and development of those players once they get to campus.

The Huskies finished 14-18 this past season.

Dan Hurley is the son of New Jersey high school coaching legend Bob Hurley and the brother of former Duke guard and current Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley.

VIDEOS: Villanova team bus stuck on icy roads trying to leave campus

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Villanova’s road to the Sweet 16 hit its roughest patch yet on Wednesday as the team attempted to leave campus for the team’s flight to Boston.

Since the Philadelphia area has been slammed with a snowstorm, the Wildcat team bus had issues leaving to get to the team’s chartered flight.

A struggle between team bus and ice ensued. The bus was delayed by 30 minutes before finally being able to leave.

Villanova continues its NCAA tournament journey on Friday when the No. 1 seed Wildcats play No. 5 seed West Virginia in Boston.