Ben Simmons, Dennis Smith, Chase Jeter stand out at NBPA Top 100 Camp

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Kelly Kline, Under Armor

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The debate over who is the best player in the Class of 2015 will rage on throughout July’s live recruiting period, but what isn’t up for debate is who the best player was on the first day of the NBPA Top 100 Camp.

That was Ben Simmons.

And it wasn’t all that close.

The 6-foot-8 combo-forward finished the day as the camp’s leading scorer, going for 18 points in both games. He was active around the rim, finishing anything and everything he got his hands on despite doing up against talented big men like Chase Jeter and Doral Moore. He made plays in transition and finished above the rim, throwing down a couple of impressive dunks in the process.

Simmons, who is ranked No. 5 in the Class of 2015 by Rivals.com, is considered by some to be the best prospect in the 2015 class. The native of Australia burst onto the scene last spring when he attended the Pangos All-American camp and has since enrolled at Monteverde Academy (FL) and committed to LSU, where his Godfather, David Patrick, is an assistant coach.

The question with Simmons is what position he eventually grows into. At his current size, he’s probably ideally a wing player, especially if he makes it to the NBA. And while he’s skilled for this level, he’ll have to improve on his foot speed and perimeter skill-set to make a full transition to the wing. But if he ends up growing another inch or two, he could end up being a face-up four, which is probably the best natural fit.

That’s still a ways away, however.

For now, Simmons will have to settle for simply being good enough to dominate the competition at this level.

Who else was good?:

  • While he struggled in his first game, Syracuse-commit Malachi Richardson went off in the nightcap, finishing with 27 points and, at one point, hitting threes on three straight possessions. His ability off-the-dribble needs to get better to keep defenses honest, but Richardson knows what his bread and butter is. His size (6-foot-5) and athleticism, combined with that shooting stroke, is what made Jim Boeheim and company willing to accept a commitment during his sophomore season.
  • We never got a chance to talk with him, as he was whisked away on an early morning flight to head back to Colorado Springs and play for Team USA in the U18 nationals, but Chase Jeter went bucket for bucket with Simmons in the nightcap. He finished with 18 points, six boards and a pair of blocks, showing off a couple nice low-post moves and athleticism and energy around the basket. Jeter is ranked 17th in the Class of 2015 by Rivals.com.
  • Wednesday was my first glimpse as Dennis Smith Jr., a point guard in the Class of 2016 that had one of the best spring seasons of anyone in the class. The 6-foot-2 native of North Carolina was able to get into the paint and create for himself and his teammates and even knocked down a couple of threes as well.
  • Samir Sehic is not a name that is going to show up on a top 100 list, but the 6-foot-7 power forward always produces when he plays. He finished the day averaging 14.5 points and a camp-high 9.0 boards in two games despite matching up with more talented, more athletic, bigger and higher-profile players on every possession.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.