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Five-star 2016 recruit M.J. Cage is emerging from his dad’s shadow

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Michael Cage is one of the most recognizable players in NBA history, and it’s not because he was a superstar. That’s not to say that Cage was bad — he was a second-team all-american for San Diego State in 1984, he led the NBA in rebounding in 1988, played in the league until he was 38 and averaged a double-double three times in his 15 pro seasons — but he’s a long way from the kind of generational talent whose name will still reverberate even though he was in the NBA just one season this century.

No, it wasn’t Cage’s play that made him memorable.

It was his hair, the illustrious jheri curl that he sported when he first entered the NBA, just 11 picks after Michael Jordan.

But it may not be all that long before Cage is known for something else: simply being M.J.’s dad.

M.J. Cage has emerged as one of the best front court prospects on the west coast. A top 25 recruit in the Class of 2016, according to Rivals.com, Cage is the latest in a long line of stars that have come out of Mater Dei HS (CA), a program that routinely churns out high-major prospects, most recently incoming Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson.

source:  At 6-foot-10, Cage has a terrific build — broad shoulders, long arms — and great hands, snagging anything and everything within his reach. He’s got a good feel for the game, he can pass out of the post and he’s got a soft touch around the rim. At this point in his development, he’s a bit more of a finesse player despite his size, which is ironic given that his dad had a reputation for being one of the NBA’s premiere tough guys.

“Training with my dad has gotten me a lot better,” the younger Cage said at the NBPA Top 100 Camp last week, emphasizing a point that his dad has been trying to drive home. “Keep working hard, because you can always outwork someone even if they’re better than you.”

And while his dad is — rightfully — trying to bring out the mean streak is his soft-spoken, mild-mannered son, M.J.’s goal this summer is to expand his offensive repertoire.

“Work on my jump shot and my dribbling, so I can be able to bring the ball up and take people off the dribble instead of just posting up all the time,” he said. “I’m trying to be a stretch four, maybe even a three.”

Cage lists offers from a number of the most high-profile programs across the country, but as of right now, he’s focusing on just three schools: Kentucky, Arizona and San Diego State, as Cage boasts strong ties to all three.

Cage’s father played his college ball at SDSU. “I go up there because my dad went there,” Cage said. “I like their crowd.” He’s also quick to point out that his father hasn’t started pushing him in the direction of the Aztecs … yet. “He probably secretly wants me to go there,” he said with a smirk, “but he just doesn’t tell me.”

As far as Kentucky is concerned, Cage said he loves the history of the program and how they are able to send players off to the NBA, and it doesn’t hurt that head coach John Calipari coached the elder Cage for a year when they were both with the New Jersey Nets, and the younger Cage called him a “family friend”. Cage was actually one of the first players in the Class of 2016 that Calipari offered, as he extended a scholarship prior to the start of this past high school season while at a Mater Dei practice. Kentucky was a finalist for the services of Johnson.

Cage was born in Arizona, as if the connection of having a former high school teammate on the roster wasn’t enough.

But while those three schools are currently front runners, Cage says what’s most important to him is a program that will allow post players to shine.

“A school that will pass the ball to the bigs,” he said, “and isn’t just run by the guards where all the guards are shooting every shot.”

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.