Five-star 2015 forward Henry Ellenson working to become a more versatile player

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LAS VEGAS — One of the best individual matchups of the first day of action at the LeBron James Skills Academy was the one consisting of five-star 2015 prospects Henry Ellenson and Ivan Rabb. While both performed very well in the first half of the contest, the fact of the matter is that neither was on the court at the same time. That changed in the second half, as they were faced with the challenge of defending each other.

With the resistance having increased, both had to work harder for their offensive opportunities. But that’s what the point of camps such as these should be, with the saying of “iron sharpens iron” being the one that applies. For Ellenson, the opportunity to compete with and against his peers is something he can use to his benefit as he works to improve his skill set.

“I’m just trying to take in everything that these coaches are teaching us,” Ellenson told NBCSports.com. “I worked with the bigs yesterday and tried to take some lessons from that, and I worked with the wings today. Just trying to soak it all in.”

The 6-foot-10 forward has been the object of attention for many high-major programs, and he’s part of a family that doesn’t lack for athleticism. Henry’s the third of four children, with two (Wally, who recently transferred to Marquette, and Ellwood) having already landed college scholarships. The tallest of the bunch, Henry’s next in line due to his wide array of skills.

While there’s been the need to go into the post to battle with some of the bigger prospects at the LeBron camp, Henry’s also shown off the ability to step out onto the perimeter and get things done offensively. And on the defensive end he’s performed well, both in the paint and defending in the pick and roll games that tend to dominate such camps. The goal for Ellenson is to be able to help a college program in a variety of ways, as opposed to being pigeonholed into a particular position.

“Being a ‘mismatch’ guy who can take a big man out on the wing and go by him, or take a smaller guy into the post. A guy who just really picks his spots on offense,” Ellenson said.

As a junior at Rice Lake (Wisconsin) High School, Ellenson posted averages of 27.5 points and 13.1 rebounds per game and was a unanimous first team Division 2 all-state selection as a result. And with that ability on full display, programs such as Duke, Marquette, UCLA and Michigan State were among those mentioned by Ellenson as being the most active in his recruitment at present time.

“I’ve taken visits to Marquette, Northwestern, Duke, Michigan State, UCLA, Iowa State and Michigan are some of the other schools that have contacted me,” noted Ellenson.

Of course, with the presence of Marquette the question of how much his older brother’s decision to join Steve Wojciechowski’s program will impact Henry’s decision comes up. And while it is something Henry has considered, according to him that won’t be the biggest factor when he decides on which school to attend.

“It’s a bonus, but overall I’m going to make the decision that’s best for me,” Ellenson said. “[Wally’s transferring to Marquette] is just another positive for that school.”

Among the factors Ellenson mentioned when asked what he’s looking for in a school were his relationship with the coaching staff, the style of play and the program’s ability to develop its players into pro prospects.

Taking the style of play into consideration, the goal of avoiding being placed into one particular “box” is something that’s important to Ellenson. But it’s clear that he also understands the need to work hard enough at his skill set to make sure the positional options remain available. Because without the skill needed to handle multiple responsibilities on the court, it becomes tougher for the coach to place the player in a position where versatility is required.

“I’m looking to improve everything,” said Ellenson. “A lot of ball-handling, because I do want to be able to play all over the court and ball-handling is a huge part of that. Also, I’m working on developing strength and quickness.”

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: