LeBron James Skills Academy Day 2 Recap: Huntington Prep tandem enjoys productive Thursday

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LAS VEGAS — While the first day of the LeBron James Skills Academy featured just one round of games for the high school players, Thursday’s schedule called for two rounds to be played during the afternoon. And while there were a couple players who had to miss out on the action due to injury issues, including Malik Newman and Isaiah Briscoe, there wasn’t a lack for enticing individual matchups on the second day.

It can be argued that the biggest matchup was the one between elite 2015 front court prospects Ben Simmons and Ivan Rabb. Both put forth quality performances on the first day of the camp and that would remain the case Thursday night, with it being argued by some that the LSU commit (Simmons) held the upper hand in the first half of their game with Rabb coming back in strong fashion in the second.

While Rabb remains the focus of many of the nation’s top programs, it’s been clear through two days that LSU has itself an outstanding future Tiger in Simmons due to his ability to attack defenses in transition as well as in the paint with a solid variety of moves. However Rabb and Simmons weren’t the only two big men to put forth impressive displays Thursday night, with the Huntington Prep tandem of Thomas Bryant and Ted Kapita working well together in their team’s victory.

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Bryant, a five-star 2015 prospect, and Kapita (also 2015) ran the floor well and played aggressively on both ends of the floor in their matchup with 2015 seven-footers Doral Moore and Stephen Zimmerman. The energy Bryant and Kapita played with boosted their entire team, which bounced back from a sluggish start (trailing 9-2) to win a game they led by as many as 24 points.

While Kapita, who wants to study sports management in college, didn’t divulge much when asked which schools are currently the most active in his recruitment, Bryant mentioned three programs.

“The schools that have been most active are Syracuse, Ohio State and Kansas,” Bryant told NBCSports.com.

When asked what he’s looking for in the school that he’ll ultimately choose, Bryant noted his desire to be in a program that will help him expand his game. To that point, Bryant’s working this summer to become an even more effective player in the post.

“I’m just trying to improve my post game,” Bryant noted. “Also, staying in control and not going too fast when I get the ball in the post. Those are the big things I’ve been working on, as well as becoming more consistent with my shot.”

Jayson Taytum, Troy Brown among non-2015 standouts: While the crop of rising seniors tends to receive more attention during the spring/summer months, this is also an important time for the players who won’t be seniors next year. And two who have performed well in Las Vegas are 2016 forward Jayson Tatum and 2017 guard Troy Brown.

Tatum’s considered to be one of the best (if not the best) players in his class, and with his smooth game it’s easy to see why that’s the case. Tatum has displayed the ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor, and among the head coaches watching the game in which he played Thursday night were Jim Crews (Saint Louis), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) and Bill Self (Kansas).

As for Brown, he’s a 2017 prospect from Las Vegas who has already received an offer from Arizona. There’s clearly still plenty of time for Brown to hone his skills, but many have already walked away impressed by what he’s shown himself capable of doing. Brown’s knocked down perimeter shots while also getting to the basket in an efficient manner, not wasting dribbles in the process.

Stanley Johnson, Sam Dekker continue to impress: One day after the high school players had their opportunity to play on the same floor as LeBron James, it was the college players who scrimmaged with the two-time NBA champion. And two of the players who stood out were Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, with both taking on the challenge of defending James on one end and attacking him on the other.

Johnson has the ability to not only get to the basket but also finish through contact once there, a trait that will fit in well with his college team this winter. As for Dekker he’s been even more aggressive offensively, and one of his goals this summer has been to work towards become a more consistent perimeter shooter.

“I see myself as a good shooter but I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted to,” Dekker said. “I was streaky. I’d go five or six games shooting really well, and then three or four when I couldn’t hit an outside shot consistently. So I want to [improve my] shooting and get stronger so I can bang inside on offense and defense, get boards and finish around the rim.

“The more complete player I can become, the more it will help us out.”

Perry Ellis, Michael Qualls perform well on Thursday: Two other players who played well during the college workouts are Kansas forward Perry Ellis and Arkansas guard Michael Qualls, and both will be key figures for their respective teams in 2014-15. Ellis, who posted averages of 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season, has shown the ability to score around the basket while also knocking down mid-range jumpers during the first two days of the camp.

With the Jayhawks having to account for the loss of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid (there were other personnel losses as well), there’s room for Ellis to take another step forward as a junior. And he’s shown the skills needed to make sure that happens in Las Vegas.

As for Qualls, the athleticism he’s shown this week comes as no surprise. He’s attacked the basket during the camp scrimmages, at times doing so with bad intentions. The question for Qualls is whether or not he can take another step forward as a perimeter shooter.

After making just six of his 27 three-point attempts as a freshman, Qualls shot 35 percent (42-for-120) from three last season. However according to hoop-math.com Qualls shot just 29.6% on two-point jumpers, so that’s an area where strides can be made ahead of the 2014-15 season.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.