The D1Circuit

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.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.