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Senior guard Delon Wright, Utah aim to end NCAA tournament drought

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LAS VEGAS — After reaching the Pac-12 tournament semifinals in 2012-13, Utah felt better about its chances of competing within the conference in 2013-14 for a variety of reasons. While the improved maturity of players such as Dallin Bachynski, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor was certainly a factor, the addition of junior college transfer Delon Wright was another.

Lauded for his versatility, the 6-foot-6 Wright more than lived up to the expectations in his debut season as he posted averages of 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Wright’s play was one reason why the Utes improved their win total by six games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT the program made its first postseason appearance since 2009.

Head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s program is in a good spot these days, and with the returnees being joined by a solid recruiting class there’s been an increase in both fan excitement and expectations as the Utes prepare for the 2014-15 season. And the goals for Wright and his teammates are clear-cut: to not only reach the NCAA tournament but to also contend in a conference that has multiple teams looking to threaten early favorite Arizona.

“Everyone’s coming back,” Wright told NBCSports.com at the LeBron James Skills Academy. “We played Arizona three times last year and two of the games were close, so we feel like we can compete with them.”

One of the keys for Utah this season will be Wright’s progression, because even with the vast array of skills he displayed there was a glaring weakness on the offensive end. That weakness: perimeter shooting. Wright finished the 2013-14 season shooting 56.1% from the field, but he made just 22.2% of his shots from beyond the arc. Given teams’ ability to sag off of Wright and dare him to shoot the perimeter shot, the overall field goal percentage displays his ability to not settle for what’s being given to him.

With his ability to remain under control, Wright can get to just about any spot on the floor and that was the case in Las Vegas at the LeBron camp. But for Wright to take the next step individually, thus helping Utah in the process, he knows that the work he puts in to improve his perimeter shot will be key.

“That’s the main thing I need to work on,” Wright noted. “I’ve been shooting a lot of shots in the gym, and I’m trying to work on my form, release and confidence [in taking those shots]. A lot of teams packed the lane against me because they knew I like to drive to the basket.

“They gave me the outside shot and I wasn’t comfortable with it. So I feel that if I can knock those shots down, it will open up my game and open up the game for the entire team.”

As a team Utah finished second in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage, making nearly 49 percent of their shots from the field one season after ranking seventh in that particular category (43.9%). The Utes were also a more efficient offensive team, and given the fact that their top six scorers from last season all return to Salt Lake City there should be optimism surrounding the program. However in order to truly factor into the Pac-12 race, Utah will need to perform better down the stretch in tight games.

Last season in games decided by six points or less the Utes amassed a record of three wins and eight losses, which includes a four-point home loss to Arizona and tight road defeats at the hands of Arizona State (79-75), Colorado (79-75) and Stanford (61-60). So while much was made of the Utes’ non-conference strength of schedule (and rightfully so) when their name wasn’t called on Selection Sunday, those close defeats were just as much of a culprit.

The hope for Wright and his teammates is that with an added year of experience they can change that fortune, and better yet the Utes will be expected to do so. And that represents a step forward for the program, which until that run in the 2013 Pac-12 tournament took more than its fair share of beatings. With this being the case, Utah has the opportunity to move closer to being the program that is currently ranked 15th on the NCAA’s all-time wins list (1,685 wins; .643 win percentage).

“Walking around campus, people aren’t asking us if we’re going to be good,” said Wright. “They’re asking if we’re going to make it to the tournament.”

Making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009 is a realistic expectation for Utah, but it should also be noted that Wright and his teammates aren’t limiting themselves to simply making the field of 68. And with there being a number of hopeful contenders in the Pac-12 with major questions to answer this offseason, that’s a good approach to take.

Richmond promoted on Mullin’s staff

SPRINGFIELD, MA - AUGUST 8: Mitch Richmond, inductee, speaks with presenter Chris Mullin by his side speaks during the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on August 8, 2014 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Mitch Richmond has been promoted on the staff of fellow Naismith Hall of Famer Chris Mullin at St. John’s.

Richmond’s move from special assistant to assistant coach Thursday comes just before the start of Mullin’s second season at his alma mater. Richmond, a five-time All-NBA selection, played three seasons alongside Mullin with Golden State and won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002.

The Red Storm promoted former graduate assistant Luca Virgilio to assistant to the head coach and Chris Huey has joined the St. John’s staff as a graduate assistant.

Richmond replaces Barry Rohrssen who the school announced was no longer with the program on Sept. 7. Rohrssen, considered one of the top recruiters in college basketball, was with the program for one season.

Arizona State four-star freshman ruled academic redshirt

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A late addition to the Arizona State will have to wait to make his debut until the fall of 2017.

On Thursday, it was reported that Romello White, a four-star power forward, will sit out the 2016-17 season as an academic redshirt after failing to meet NCAA requirements, according to Doug Haller of azcentral.com.

White, ranked as the No. 87 overall player in the Class of 2016, had previously verbally committed to Tennessee and had signed with Georgia Tech before becoming a Sun Devil in mid-May after the Yellow Jackets had parted ways with Brian Gregory.

“Just having (White) in the program, as disappointing as this feels, his upside and future here are very strong,” Hurley told azcentral sports. “We’re going to have to be a little different (without him), a little unique. With this news, we’re going to be obviously driven through our guard play.”

White was set to be one of several freshmen to see immediate time on an inexperienced frontline. The Sun Devils had graduated Willie Atwood and had lost Savon Goodman to transfer. The 6-foot-8 White, along with fellow newcomer Jethro Tshisumpa, was expected to help the team’s top returning rebounder Obinna Oleka.

This news puts even more of an emphasis on the backcourt, one that returns leading scorer Tra Holder and adds Shannon Evans, a double-digit scorer for Hurley at Buffalo, who sat out this past year due to NCAA transfer rules.

Arizona State began the Bobby Hurley era with a 15-17 (5-13) record. The Sun Devils begin the 2016-17 campaign on Nov. 11 against Portland State.

Virginia basketball joins kneeling protest

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On the latest CBT Podcast, Rob Dauster, Scott Phillips and Travis Hines, wonder whether a college basketball player will kneel for the national anthem, a nationwide protest — from the professional level to the high school level — that was sparked by San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those questions were quickly answered on Thursday night, as Virginia freshman guard Ty Jerome tweeted out the above picture of the entire Cavalier team kneeling at halfcourt with a caption, “Kneel for injustice. Kneel for inequality.”

It’s hard to imagine this protest, which began during the NFL Preseason when Kaepernick was photographed sitting during the national anthem, simmers by the time the college basketball season starts. For starters, it’s still very much apart of the daily sports and political conversation in this country. You also have to imagine that next month, when the NBA season starts, several players will join in on the protest.

This time last year, a video — counter to this current protest — went viral. It was of Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams teaching his players, only 150 miles away from where Virginia’s protest picture was taken, the importance of the national anthem.

It remains to be seen if Virginia — or any other college basketball player/team — kneels for the national anthem during games this season, but one thing is clear: this protest will continue.

CBT Podcast: We talk players kneeling for anthem; Coaches as debate moderators

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins questions a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 10, 2016. } West Virginia defeated TCU 86-66. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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On the latest CBT Podcast, the guys discuss the new head coach at George Washington, a search that was completed several weeks after firing Mike Lonergan. The group also wonders if any college basketball player follows Colin Kaepernick’s lead and kneels for the national anthem.

Given this week’s first presidential debate, Rob Dauster, Scott Phillips and Travis Hines, each choose a college coach they want to see moderate the next debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

(Side note: the podcast begins with the trio discussing how difficult it is for Scott being a fan of the Bears, Bulls and White Sox. I wish I had the chance to talk about how awesome it is to be a Patriots fan. Seriously, how can you like football if you aren’t? It’s awful.)

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Audioboom or anywhere else that podcasts are given away for free.

If you enjoy what you hear on this podcast, please rate and review the podcast, as it will help us reach more listeners.

Thanks for listening!

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

NC State waiting on NCAA answer on Yurtseven’s eligibility

TREVISO, ITALY - JUNE 07:  Omer Yurtseven in action during the adidas Eurocamp at La Ghirada sports center on June 7, 2015 in Treviso, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) For now, all North Carolina State freshman Omer Yurtseven can do is work on his game and be patient.

With all the attention on possible one-and-done freshman Dennis Smith Jr., the Turkish 7-footer gives the Wolfpack a second five-star prospect on an overhauled and potential-filled roster. But he’s still waiting for the NCAA to clear him as eligible to play as an amateur.

Practice starts Friday and the opener is six weeks away.

“I can’t control it so I’m trying not to think about it,” Yurtseven said Thursday during the team’s preseason media day. “Just think about education and basketball, to control as I said what you can. Because that’s not in your hands, so if you think about it more, all It’s going to get you is frustration. And I don’t want that.”

Yurtseven, a native of Istanbul, had a professional contract offer with a European club team, but opted to play college basketball and committed to the Wolfpack in May. The 18-year-old also has international experience, is considered a potential one-and-done talent himself and even had a 91-point game in a Turkish Under-18 game this spring.

“He played overseas and he grew up playing the game the right way,” junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said, “so he’s very skilled and has a super high IQ.”

Smith’s debut at the point guard after enrolling in January to rehab a serious knee injury has caused the biggest buzz for the Wolfpack. And sixth-year coach Mark Gottfried isn’t shying away from fueling the hype about Smith, calling him Thursday “the best guard in the country” even while saying he will have a learning curve as he transitions to the college level.

But Yurtseven’s commitment was a big deal, too, and a key reason why the Wolfpack ranks No. 6 nationally in Scout.com’s recruiting rankings.

Gottfried said Thursday that “nothing has happened in a negative way” during the NCAA’s review process of Yurtseven’s amateur status, saying there is plenty of discussion but no timetable for a decision.

“It’s not frustrating because quite honestly for us, there’s really not a whole lot we can do about that,” Gottfried said. “He’s participated in every workout. He’s integrating himself with our team in a really positive way.

“We’re approaching it with the hope he won’t have to miss any games and move right in and play. If he does (have to sit out games), we’ll deal with that, too.”

Yurtseven said he understands the evaluation process takes time.

“You’ve just got to hope for the best,” he said. “I think that they should let me get cleared because I don’t think I have done something wrong. But you know, they’re trying to do their part, so I can’t do nothing but respect them. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While N.C. State has plenty of backcourt options, the Wolfpack sure could use Yurtseven up front. Abu (12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds) and 6-9 senior BeeJay Anya are back after offseason flirtations with the NBA draft, but Gottfried is leaning toward redshirting 6-9 senior Lennard Freeman to let him fully heal after an injury-plagued season following surgery to repair a fracture in his lower right leg in summer 2015.

The opportunity is there, assuming Yurtseven suits up as planned.

“It’s a new experience and it’s fun,” he said. “I’m in a place that I’ve never been in, a situation that I don’t know if I’ll live (through) ever again, a different situation than this. I’m just trying to have fun, enjoy and hope for the best.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org