Sam Dekker, Deonte Burton, Jamil Wilson

LeBron James Skills Academy Day 1 Recap: College players shine, LeBron joins high school campers

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LAS VEGAS — It goes without saying that the namesake of the LeBron James Skills Academy is the center of attention in the basketball world these days. With James being a free agent, the question of where he’ll play his basketball next season has dominated conversation with some seeing his decision as the first major domino to fall in NBA free agency.

While some would use that status as a reason to remain sequestered away from the public that hasn’t been the case for James, who was present at both sessions of his camp on Wednesday. And for the high school players in attendance, that meant the opportunity to play either with or against James during the evening session. With four games being played concurrently James hopped from one court to the next, taking the opportunity to also help the prospects with some of the finer points of the game.

One of the players who had the opportunity to defend James was 2015 guard Malik Beasley, who sought out the challenge of defending the four-time NBA MVP. And while becoming even better equipped to deal with a player of that level of physicality is something Beasley is looking to do this summer, it isn’t his only focus.

Derryck Thornton stands out at Reebok Breakout Camp

“It is, because I want to get ready for the next level,” Beasley told NBCSports.com. “Also ball-handling, so I can play some point guard [in addition to] the two.”

When asked which schools have been recruiting him the hardest the 6-foot-4 guard played things close to the vest, noting that while he knows the answers it’s something he’ll talk about more towards the end of July. But with the skill set it’s easy to see while many high major programs, including Georgia, Cincinnati, Maryland and Auburn have offered the versatile guard. Beasley was one of the better performers of the first day when it came to the high school players, as he was able to score in a variety of ways while also defending well.

Ivan Rabb, Henry Ellenson lead front court prospects: Two of the best prospects in the Class of 2015 faced off during the night session, but it didn’t come to fruition until the second half. Rabb controlled the paint on both ends of the floor in the first half, blocking shots around the basket on one end and scoring consistently on the other. And while Ellenson didn’t block as many shots at Rabb in the first half, he proved to be the best big man on the court during his time on the floor.

That ultimately led to the two five-star prospects being pitted against each other in the second half, and they played to a virtual standstill. This all occurred on a court being observed by coaches from Duke, Georgetown, Marquette, North Carolina and UCLA (each head coach was in attendance) among many high-major programs.

Sam Dekker, Kelly Oubre among college standouts: One aspect of the camp that proves beneficial is the presence of college players, with those who have performed well at other Nike skills camps receiving an invite to Las Vegas. Like the high school players there was an adjustment period as the players became better acquainted with each other. But the length of time needed to make that adjustment was understandably shorter for the college players.

Two college players who performed well were Wisconsin rising junior Sam Dekker and Kansas incoming freshman Kelly Oubre. Dekker’s coming off of a very good sophomore campaign for the Badgers, and the interesting thing about him is that he’s grown. Listed at 6-foot-7 by Wisconsin, Dekker is listed as being 6-foot-9 this week. Skill-wise he knocked down perimeter shots at a consistent rate while also getting to the basket off the dribble. As for Oubre, the left-hander was aggressive offensively and he was a proficient jump shooter as well.

Other players who performed well Wednesday were guards Anthony Brown (Stanford), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Terry Rozier (Louisville) and Delon Wright (Utah), with forwards Vincent Hunter (UTEP), Jordan Mickey (LSU) and Aaron White (Iowa) among the front court standouts. And VCU’s Treveon Graham deserves mention as well, as he made the plays required of being a good teammate while also displaying the shooting ability that has made him one of the Atlantic 10’s best players.

25-pound weight loss helps Georges Niang expand his game: Earlier this summer it was reported that Iowa State rising junior forward Georges Niang, whose season ended due to a broken foot suffered in the Cyclones’ NCAA tournament win over North Carolina Central, dropped some 25 pounds since the end of the season. The result: a more versatile player who’s better equipped to play on the perimeter on both ends of the floor. And being at a camp that features more perimeter players than prototypical big men has helped Niang as he works to become an even better player in 2014-15.

“I feel that [now I can] guard smaller guys and keep them in front of me,” Niang said. “I noticed I couldn’t do that last year when I was heavier, so [the weight loss] helps. Also, getting up and down the court is a lot easier. I rarely feel tired now, so I feel like where my stamina is I can keep going and pushing guys to another level.”

Roy Williams: ‘There’s no question’ more ACC games equal no Kentucky in non-conference

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Back in June, when the ACC officially announced that they would be expanding the league schedule to 20 games in 2019, I tried to warn you that it was going to put a dent into the non-conference schedule and the amount of quality, on-campus games that we’ll get prior to January.

Roy Williams essentially confirmed this as fact this week.

The North Carolina head coach hopped on a podcast with ESPN and more or less said that the bigger league schedule is going to lead to an end of some of UNC’s marquee home-and-home series.

“My feeling right now, and it could change by ’19, heck I could be fired by ’19, but my feeling right now is to play our conference schedule, play one exempt event where you have really good teams, and other than that play home games to help out your revenue and help out your budget,” Williams said. “We have the ACC/Big Ten and that’s not going to go away. So it’s 21 games already scheduled.”

When asked specifically if this would put an end to UNC’s series with Kentucky, Williams said, “Oh yeah, there’s no question. Why would I need to do that?”

There’s two reasons this makes sense. On the one hand, North Carolina needs to fill their home arena a certain number of times to help with the bottom line of the athletic department. They make enough off of ticket sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and food and beverage that they can afford to pay out more than $50,000 to bring a smaller opponent into their arena. More than that, playing a series of weaklings early in the year allows players to gain confidence, it allows Williams to figure out what his rotation will be and who can handle playing at this level, and it gives newcomers a chance to assimilate into his team against players that just aren’t that good.

And when a larger ACC schedule severely limits the number of non-conference games that UNC will be able to play, what’s going to get cut are the contracts that require the Tar Heels to play on the road when they don’t have to.

So buh-bye, Kentucky, it is.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.

Derek Willis won’t be suspended for offseason citiation

Kentucky's Derek Willis (35) hits an uncontested three point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 80-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
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John Calipari gave a press conference on Thursday morning and, for the first time since his arrest in June, the Kentucky head coach spoke about Derek Willis.

Willis, if you’ve forgotten, was found passed out in the street outside the open driver’s side door of his car at 4:30 a.m. You can see video of the arrest here. Willis is very lucky he wasn’t killed, and that he didn’t kill anyone else trying to drive in that condition.

Cal said that Willis will not be suspended for any games, but “Derek knows he’s under a different eye now than he was.” He did not elaborate on what kind of punishment Willis will receive beyond that, saying that “I don’t throw people under the bus.”

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Willis won’t be forced to miss any games, but if we’re being frank, sitting out an exhibition and Kentucky’s opener sounds much more appealing than the kind of, ahem, ‘conditioning drills’ that Willis has likely spent the summer doing.

PODCAST: Boeheim’s non-controversy and the coaches we don’t want to fight

Jim Boeheim
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In today’s podcast, I’m joined by Travis Hines to discuss stuff that has been in the news over the course of the last two weeks, specifically Jim Boeheim’s comments about Carmelo Anthony and why it is a total non-controversy.

We also dive into why Boeheim’s comments are forced to be taken out of context as well as Monte’ Morris, ‘Pancake’ Thomas and which college basketball coaches we would least like to fight.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.