UTEP’s Matt Willms works to return to full strength after playing last season with a torn labrum

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After redshirting in 2012-13, UTEP center Matt Willms entered the 2013-14 campaign hoping to have an impact for the Miners in his first season on the floor. Willms proved to be a solid contributor for head coach Tim Floyd, starting the last 17 games of the year and posting averages of 5.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game on a team that won 23 games and a share of the Conference USA regular season title.

However Willms’ impact wasn’t as great as he’s hoped, with health being the reason why. Willms played the 2013-14 season with a torn labrum in his left (shooting) shoulder, suffering the injury in September before practices began. Willms played through the pain, undergoing surgery in early April.

Now rehabbing the shoulder, Willms hopes to improve on his numbers of a season ago. And in a story written by Bill Knight of the El Paso TimesFloyd touched on Willms’ importance to a team that should have the pieces needed to once again contend in Conference USA. And the 7-footer is hoping to be cleared by doctors upon his return to campus after he spends some time in his native Canada.

Floyd said, “Matt is such a big part of where we want to go. He’s got to get stronger and he’s got to continue to get stronger down in the low block. He has more God-given ability at his size than any player I’ve ever coached in terms of being able to run, jump, catch, pass, touch. Now it’s up to him. Now it’s a matter of dedication.”

Willlms said, “Right now I can do individual work. No contact; light weights. They told me everything is going great. By the time I get back from Canada, I should be cleared to do everything. I’ll do my physical therapy, the light weights, the individual work while I’m home. I’ve been fortunate … never had a major injury before this.”

UTEP returns guard C.J. Cooper (9.6 ppg, 3.0 apg) and forwards Julian Washburn (13.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg), Vince Hunter (12.3, 6.5) and Cedric Lang (6.5, 5.4) from last year’s team, in addition to the recuperating Willms. But Willms’ development is important due in large part to the fact that John Bohannon (11.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg) is out of eligibility.

Bohannon led the Miners in rebounding and blocked shots last season, earning third team All-Conference USA honors as a result. That’s an important loss to address, especially when considering the fact that the Miners ranked 14th in Conference USA in defensive rebounding percentage (66.8%) with Bohannon.

For this reason, Willms’ health and development will be something to keep an eye on as the season approaches for UTEP.

Gonzaga’s Mark Few named AP Coach of the Year

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Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has added to his program’s banner season with an individual award, being named AP Coach of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

Few led the Bulldogs to their first Final Four. The Zags enter the national semifinal with a 36-1 record. Up until Feb. 25, they were flirting with a perfect season. A loss to BYU is currently the only blemish on their season.

Few also won his 500th career game during the course of the 2016-17 season. Since 2014, two coaches from outside the major conferences have earned his honor. Gregg Marshall was named AP Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading the Shockers to a perfect regular season.

This was a very competitive race this season. Sean Miller lost two players expected to be key pieces this season — and had Allonzo Trier miss 19 games — but guided Arizona to the Pac-12 Tournament championship. Jay Wright led Villanova to another Big East title despite two cornerstone pieces — Ryan Arcidiancono and Daniel Ochefu — gone from last season’s national championship team. For a while, Baylor’s Scott Drew seemed to be the favorite. The Bears didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason top-25 poll but went on to earn a No. 1 ranking.

Few’s season continues on Saturday against South Carolina.

Frank Mason is named AP Player of the Year

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Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was named the AP Player of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

The senior floor general for the Jayhawks headlined the AP All-American team, which included UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Villanova Swingman Josh Hart, Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan and North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson.

Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and shot 49 percent from behind the 3-point line during the 2016-17 season. He helped guide Kansas to its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

He becomes the fourth senior in a row to win the award, preceded by Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminksy and Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

He had previously been named player of the year by NBC Sports.

TJ Leaf declares for the 2017 NBA Draft

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UCLA freshman forward TJ Leaf announced he is declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday afternoon.

The 6-foot-10 Leaf averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. His shooting numbers were also impressive, connecting on 62 percent of his field goals, including 27-of-58 from beyond the 3-point arc.

This news comes six days after Lonzo Ball officially announced he had played his last game at UCLA. Neither move is shocking, with Ball in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and Leaf also pegged as a first round selection.

The Bruins will have quite a bit of turnover next season with guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton exhausting their eligibility. UCLA head coach Steve Alford has a six-man recruiting class set to come in to help replenish the roster. It’s led by versatile forward Kris Wilkes, point guard Jaylen Hands, and big men Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.

CBT Fancast: Catching up with famous Final Four fans: Adam Morrison, Marcus Paige, Neil Everett

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For today’s episode, I spoke with the famous fans of the programs in the Final Four, from the greatest player in Gonzaga history to the almost-star of last year’s Final Four to the most famous dual Gonzaga and Oregon fan in the world.

Sindarius Thornwell misses practice on Thursday

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Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.

A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.

Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game, but South Carolina head coach Frank Martin doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I’ve got a bug myself. Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin said. “He had a little body temperature last night when we landed. And he was a little better this morning. But I kind of told our trainer, just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now. He’s our most intelligent player. And I don’t mean to say that demeaning the other guys. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn’t need to be on the practice court to understand what we’re doing.”