(Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

UAA Finals Recap: Diamond Stone has a solid night, Josh Jackson struggles, Team Breakdown is loaded

Leave a comment

SUWANEE, GEORGIA — The Under Armour Association’s “The Finals” tipped off in the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee Wednesday night and over 300 college coaches were in attendance for a loaded opening night of showcase games.

While the Peach Jam focused on a single 17U play-in game and 16U games, The Finals had four time slots of loaded showcase match-ups that coaches and media took full advantage of. Among the top games included Diamond Stone and the Young Legends squaring off with Doral Moore and Atlanta Xpress and a 2016 battle between Pitt commit Mustapha Heron and the 2016’s No. 1 player, Josh Jackson.

Diamond shines in opener: Diamond Stone is a consensus top-10 player in the 2015 class, with some recruiting analysts even believing he’s the top dog in the class. On Wednesday night, Stone had a solid start to the second week of July with a matchup against Doral Moore and Atlanta Xpress. Stone finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in the loss as he scored on a variety of mid-range jumpers and post touches.

If Stone struggled, it was because he was settling for too many jumpers and also dealing with length on the interior. The 6-foot-9 Stone had trouble finishing over the length of 7-footer Doral Moore, who registered five blocks on the night, including blocking Stone twice on one possession. But there’s still a lot to like about Stone. He owns a superior set of hands, he’s skilled on the block and also showed good touch on his jumper. He’s also an underrated passer, both in the half-court setting and as an outlet passer.

Moore had a nice bounce-back game from what many said was an average performance at LeBron. The 7-footer is all upside, displaying an incredibly soft touch and great timing as a shot blocker while using his massive seven-foot frame and wingspan. Moore only finished with eight points and one rebound, but didn’t back down from Stone and his teammates didn’t exactly do a good job of getting him touches sometimes. The big question with Moore is, does he love basketball? He’s in really bad shape, becoming winded almost immediately after checking into the game and he shows minimal desire at times. Moore is still a tremendous talent if he ever puts it all together.

Josh Jackson starts The Finals by jacking shots: The No. 1 player in the 2016 class, Josh Jackson, got off to a slow start on Wednesday night in 1 Nation’s matchup with New Heights, mostly because Jackson made terrible decisions with his shot selection.

Instead of aggressively attacking the basket and trying to get to the rim, the 6-foot-6 Jackson forced a number of contested three-pointers and deep twos that missed the mark as he was clearly frustrated with his lack of shot-making at times. When the No. 1 player in the country is on the bench with four minutes left in a one-point game, it says something.

Jackson played a bit better in the second half, but he has to perform more consistently and take better shots if he wants to hold off Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum for No. 1 in 2016.

After the game, Jackson’s mother, Apples Jones, confirmed that Josh is going to California for high school next season, but would not give NBCSports.com a school. Jones also told NBCSports.com that the rumors of Jackson going to the 2015 class were not true and he was planning on staying in the 2016 class.

For his part, Heron didn’t show a tremendous amount of skill, but he’s a hard-nosed guard that will really get up and defend and he attacks the basket hard. A Pitt commit, Heron has a strong frame already and isn’t afraid to use it to help him get to the rim. If the 6-foot-4 power lefty wing can get a more consistent jumper he’ll be tough to stop in the ACC.

Team Breakdown shows out in front of major head coaches: With the Brandon Ingram/Derrick Jones matchup never materializing because Ingram was with his high school team, I took that session to watch the highly-touted 2016 members of Team Breakdown.

Playing up against 17U competition, despite fielding nearly an entire team of younger kids, this group has a scary collection of talent.

Juwan Durham and Dewan Huell both stand around 6-foot-9 and rank in Rivals top 30 for the 2016 class and the duo can both run the floor incredibly well while also blocking shots and finishing at the rim.

Eric Hester is another talented 2016 member who, at 6-foot-3, can really get out and defend on the perimeter and also score in transition.

And 6-foot-8, Troy Baxter is a freak athlete on the wing and he uses the baseline well to finish at, or well above, the rim.

Head coaches from Alabama, Florida State, Georgetown, Miami, Missouri, South Carolina, South Florida and Wake Forest all watched Team Breakdown play on Wednesday while other SEC programs like Florida and Mississippi State sent assistants. It’ll be fun to track those four top-100 talents for the next year.

Illinois PG expected to be ready for practice

Leave a comment

Illinois point guards and injuries have been an unfortunate trend over the past two seasons with Tracy Abrams, who missed the past two seasons with a torn ACL followed by a torn Achilles the next year.

On Sunday, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported some good news for an incoming Fighting Illini floor general. Te’Jon Lucas, a three-star prospect from the Class of 2016, will be fully cleared for the start of practice, according to Rothstein. In February, Lucas had broke his fibula in his right leg in two places during a game.

Lucas had committed to Illinois the previous September.

Abrams received a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA in June, and he decided to remain in Champaign for his final season. If healthy, he’ll be the starter. Jaylon Tate is also back for another season. But they are both seniors, which makes Sunday’s report important for John Groce’s program. Lucas will be on the floor Day 1 of practice, being molded for the future by two experienced guards.

The 5-foot-11 Lucas is the only true freshman on the roster.

Illinois begins the 2016-17 season on November 11, hosting Southeast Missouri State.

Xavier adds to class with three-star center

Leave a comment

Xavier added a fourth piece to its 2017 recruiting class on Sunday morning.

Kentravious Jones, a 6-foot-11, three-star recruit, committed to the Musketeers. He announced the decision via Twitter.

Chris Mack’s current recruiting class is headlined by four-star swingman Naji Marshall. The incoming quartet also includes guard Elias Harden and forward Jared Ridder. But Jones’ commitment fits an area that needs to be addressed for the Musketeers moving forward. Xavier isn’t particularly deep when it comes to big men. That frontcourt only gets thinner once RaShid Gaston, a graduate transfer from Norfolk State, exhausts his eligibility after this season.

Jones, along with current freshman forward Tyrique Jones, gives Xavier a young foundation for the future. Jones is an old-school, big-bodied center. He’s got a nice back-to-the-basket game, and had his best stretch of the summer during the UAA Finals. In three games with the Atlanta Xpress, he averaged 15.3 points, shot 59 percent from the field, and grabbed nine boards per game.

Conditioning will be the emphasis for him over the course of the next year. However, we have seen Xavier work well with a big, skilled centers in the past (see: Stainbrook, Matt). According to Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Jones has dropped 30 pounds.

Sunday morning’s news may not even be Xavier’s last score on the recruiting trail. The Musketeers have one scholarship remaining (two, or three if Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett enter the NBA Draft this spring), and are in play for several coveted prospects like point guards Paul Scruggs, Quade Green and Matt Coleman, as well as forward Kris Wilkes.

Minnesota center to miss a month

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 7: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Illinois State Redbirds and Fred VanVleet #23 of the Wichita State Shockers fight for control of a loose ball during the MVC Basketball Tournament Semifinals at the Scottrade Center on March 7, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Minnesota’s projected starting center is sidelined, but is expected to be ready for the season opener.

Reggie Lynch, the Illinois State transfer, had surgery on his left knee, the program announced on Friday night. According to Marcus R. Fuller of the Star-Tribune, the Golden Gophers are anticipating that Lynch is available for the season opener on Nov. 11 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The 6-foot-10 Lynch has been in the news this offseason prior to his impending debut with Minnesota. In May, he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. On August 1, the Hennepin County attorney’s office was announced he would not face charges, citing insufficient evidence.

Lynch spent two seasons at Illinois State, averaging 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Redbirds as a sophomore. He sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Minnesota is coming off a second-to-last place finish in the Big Ten with an 8-23 (2-16 Big Ten) record.

Women’s hoops coaches boycotting recruiting events

DENVER, CO - MARCH 31:  Head coach Muffet McGraw of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish directs her team during practice prior to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Final Four at Pepsi Center on March 31, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

For some high-major women’s basketball programs, the final evaluation period of 2016 is being used as a vacation from the recruiting trail.

According to a report from Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated, are not attending events during this weekend’s recruiting period for a host of reasons.

First, many are fed up with the price of tournament packets, booklets of rosters that college coaches receive upon paying their entry fee. Packets are supposed to be chock-full of contact information for the prospects, but sometimes aren’t accurate or up-to-date. (This has become a well-documented issue on the men’s side of college hoops. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish wrote on it this summer.) Furthermore, there are so many events now that college coaches are often forced to pay obscene amounts of money to watch just one player at a single event, and play recruiting hopscotch around the country, criss-crossing the nation to see so many events and spend thousands of dollars. One Power Five coach said her staff crunched the numbers, and found that in just two years, they’ve spent more than $4,000 more than they did in 2014 on packets alone. Another coach told a story of sending an assistant across the country for one day, to one event, to watch one team. When the assistant arrived, the team had left early for its next event. No refund was available for the college that had paid what turned out to be a useless entry fee. The head coach called it “exasperating.”

Jeff Borzello of ESPN, who spoke to Notre Dame head coach and eventual Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw for his report, estimated that the cost for one of the coaches packets — the ones that include player contact information, rosters, etc. — can cost each school an average of $600 per event.

This era of grassroots basketball has taken off in recent years with Nike, Under Armour and adidas all creating their own sponsored leagues. All three run exceptional events from the staff to the facilities, all the way to the three, free meals a day for coaches. Organizers of these events will argue that there’s a cost to running such high-end events. These packets, some of which are so in-depth they include players’ GPAs, help fund these tournaments (events, paying a staff, etc.).

Coaches, mostly mid to low-major coaches, will argue that these packets aren’t worth the cost, considering that every coach (head and assistant) must purchase them in order to gain entrance. And you will find packets where the information inside is either inaccurate, or missing or both. For elite programs, this isn’t an issue. You show up, you’re seen, you leave, you go to the next event, repeat. For mid to low-major coaches, this really puts a dent in their budget, especially when they have to travel to multiple events (buying packets at each one) because you have to land that “steal,” you have to find that player who is overlooked.

This protest, or boycott (or whatever you want to call it) will hurt those these events are intended to help the most: the players. If coaches continue to avoid these tournaments, that late-bloomer may miss out on a scholarship, or that player with mid-major offers won’t get the chance to play in front of high-major coaches.

According to Schnell, there is a proposal, voted on in April, to eliminate a live recruiting period in April and September. But many coaches in women’s basketball have made it clear this weekend how they feel about the issue.

USC lands commitment from three-star center

Leave a comment

USC added to its 2017 recruiting class with a commitment from a 7-foot big man.

Andy Enfield and the Trojans beat out Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee for the services of Calvary Christian Academy (Florida) center Victor Uyaelunmo. He announced his college decision on Friday afternoon.

“It was the best fit for me academically and athletically,” Uyaelunmo said according to David Furones of the Sun Sentinel. “The basketball coaches really wanted me to come, and I thought it was the best place for me.

“They told me how they were going to use me, and they have a couple of guys leaving this year, so I just fit in right.”

Uyaelunmo is regarded as a three-star prospect by Rivals, however, ESPN rates him a four-star recruit. He joins a two-man class which includes four-star forward Jordan Usher.

The departure of Nikola Jovanovic, the Trojans’ leading rebounder during the 2015-16, was a surprising one, and one that left USC with a hole in the middle. While Uyaelunmo still has one more year before arriving on the Los Angeles campus, the Trojans have a promising piece in the paint for the future; a long, athletic big man who has the potential, in time, to become one of the nation’s top shot blockers.

Uyaelunmo played for Nike South Beach in the EYBL this spring and summer. In 12 appearances, he averaged 5.0 points. 5.9 rebounds and 1.0 block in 17.6 minutes per game.