The allure of staying home exists for 2016 forward Jayson Tatum

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LAS VEGAS — Recruiting during the month of July tends to focus on players approaching their senior year of high school and with good reason, as there is just one year separating them from the college level. Obviously this doesn’t mean that non-seniors are ignored, as it’s just as important for college program to get started on “who’s next” as it is to keep tabs on the rising seniors.

And while it isn’t a lock that the schools who invest the most time over a two or three-year span (or longer) will land the player they desire, for some recruits such devotion sticks out as they evaluate their options.

With this in mind many of the nation’s top programs are following around 2016 forward Jayson Tatum, a 6-foot-8 phenom from St. Louis who some consider to be the best player in his class. With his athleticism and ability to score from anywhere on the court, Tatum will undoubtedly be a player to watch not only this summer but throughout the 2014-15 high school season as well.

This spring and summer has essentially been a continuation of a fantastic sophomore year for Tatum, who won Gatorade Missouri Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors at Chaminade College Prep. Tatum posted averages of 26 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots per game as he helped lead his team to a 24-3 record and a spot in the Missouri Class 5 district final.

Yet even with many already praising Tatum for his smooth offensive game, that’s an area where he’s looking to continue his growth this summer.

“Just being able to score from a variety of areas on the court,” Tatum told NBCSports.com at the LeBron James Skills Academy last week when asked what he’s working on. “Being able to attack from all positions and being versatile.”

Many analysts believe that Tatum will be able to help a college program immediately in 2016, and having the chance to do so is something Tatum mentioned when asked the question of what he’ll be looking for when the time comes to pick a school.

“I want to be able to help the team out as early as possible as a freshman,” Tatum said. “And if I do decide to leave my hometown or home state to play college basketball, I want to feel very comfortable with the coaching staff.”

There it is. “Hometown or home state.” And for fans of Missouri and Saint Louis, the recruitment of top in-state players has been a topic of conversation in recent years. Back in May, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a column discussing the fact that a number of elite in-state players have left Missouri in recent years, with Mizzou and SLU having to do a better job when it comes to making the effort needed to keep that from occurring in the future.

And in the case of Tatum, the connections to SLU go much deeper than the fact that he’s a native of the city.

Jayson’s father Justin, who is now the head coach at Christian Brothers College High School, played his college basketball at SLU and so did godfather Larry Hughes (like Justin, Larry is also a CBC alum). They stayed home, joining a program that would make two NCAA tournament appearances in 1998 and 2000. Those NCAA appearances would be the last for the SLU program until 2012, when the late Rick Majerus led the Billikens to the first of three consecutive appearances.

With those connections it’s understandable that the allure of remaining home would be there for Jayson, despite the fact that programs such as Arizona, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky have all offered the elite forward. And in discussing the possibility of staying home, Jayson touched on not only the opportunity to play in front of family and friends but to also serve as an influence on other young players in the area.

“It’s a pretty big factor because I have a lot of family and close friends who would love to see me play there if I do decide to go to SLU,” Tatum said. “I think it would be great for the city if I were to stay. Younger guys coming up would look to me, and maybe that would help them make the decision to stay home as well.”

As a 2016 prospect Jayson has plenty of time left before he makes a decision, meaning that he’ll hear numerous pitches from programs across the country along the way. Many recruits over the years have gone through the process of considering whether or not to play for their hometown school, and the exterior pressure that comes with this can be tough for some youngsters to deal with.

Will that be the case for Jayson as he approaches a decision? Only he and those closest to him can truly provide that answer. But if his skill level and on-court achievements (to this point) are any indication, Jayson Tatum’s capable of navigating this with the same manner in which he plays: smoothly.

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.