Buddy Hield

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield confident Sooners can once again exceed expectations

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LAS VEGAS — Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, the Oklahoma Sooners were expected to be a team firmly entrenched in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. While head coach Lon Kruger did return key players such as Cameron Clark and Buddy Hield from a group that won 20 games and reached the NCAA tournament in 2012-13, the fact of the matter was that the Sooners had to account for the loss of their top three scorers from that team. Whether or not the Sooners would meet or exceed those preseason expectations depended upon what their returnees were able to do, and even with their NCAA tournament loss to North Dakota State, 2013-14 represented a successful season for the Sooners.

Oklahoma finished the season with a 23-10 overall record, going 12-6 in Big 12 play to finish in sole possession of second place. And after losing three double-digit scorers at the end of the 2012-13 season, the Sooners finished the year with four players averaging at least 10.3 points per game. Leading the way was Hield, who emerged as one of the nation’s most improved players and earned second team All-Big 12 honors.

Hield averaged a team-best 16.5 points to go along with 4.4 rebounds per contest, shooting 44.5% from the field and 38.6% from beyond the arc. With his ability to find looks anywhere on the court, Hield developed into not only a better shot-maker but a more efficient offensive threat as well in 2013-14.

“My expectations [last year] were to be more aggressive and be a better scorer for my team, especially with Ro [Romero Osby] and the other seniors gone,” Hield said at the LeBron James Skills Academy. “I had to pick up the slack and I’m a guy who’s capable of doing that. I spent a lot of time in the gym working on my game [last summer].

“Nobody thought we were going to be as good as we were but we had a lot of confidence, and Coach Kruger did a really good job of getting us ready for games and making sure we stuck to our game plan.”

With Osby and Amath M’Baye gone, Oklahoma wasn’t going to be the interior-dominant team it was in 2012-13. As a result they were a more perimeter-oriented group in 2013-14, with Isaiah Cousins (11.0 ppg) and Jordan Woodard (10.6 ppg) joining Hield as guards scoring in double figures and Clark being an effective scorer in the mid-range area while also making 43.5% of his shots from beyond the arc.

One season after ranking ninth in the Big 12 in three-point field goal point percentage, scoring just over 21 percent of their points from beyond the arc (per statsheet.com), the Sooners scored a league-best 31.6% of its points from three. Personnel changes forced Oklahoma to adapt, and Kruger’s Sooners proved themselves to be capable of doing so. Now with Clark having graduated, Oklahoma will once again have to adapt, and it’s something Hield and his teammates are working hard to do this summer.

“He gave us leadership and scoring. He was our ‘four-man’,” Hield said. “He was the one who exploited mismatches and made things happen for us. He was our leader.”

Also pushing Oklahoma is the feeling of disappointment felt in the aftermath of its overtime loss to North Dakota State, something that’s affecting not only the returnees but the incoming freshmen as well according to Hield.

“Everybody’s been working hard in the gym, even the freshmen,” Hield noted. “They see the older guys, the determination and the chip on our shoulders, and we just get after it. I still think about [the North Dakota State loss]. Every time someone talks about it, it just makes me sick.”

Those newcomers will be important for Oklahoma, especially considering their lack of interior depth last season and the fact that Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas will most likely have to sit out the 2014-15 season per NCAA transfer rules. Ryan Spangler, who battled night in and night out against the best big men in the Big 12, will have help in the form of freshmen Dante Buford, Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNease. With the opportunity to earn playing time being there for those additions, the hope for Oklahoma is that interior depth won’t be as much of an issue this time around.

Those front court additions and Oklahoma’s depth and experience on the perimeter will lead to expectations higher than the ones held for the Sooners prior to last season. And while Kansas has won at least a share of the last 10 Big 12 regular season titles, multiple teams entered the summer confident in their chances of winning the conference this winter. And that includes Oklahoma, with its confident junior shooting guard looking forward to taking on the challenge of making a run at a conference title.

“We’re going to win the Big 12. I’m saying it now, we’re going to win the Big 12,” Hield said last week, with his words grabbing the attention of another Big 12 representative at the camp. “I have confidence in my team and the guys coming back. Ryan, Isaiah, Jordan … we have a good, veteran team coming back and I feel that we’re going to take it to the next level.”

Arizona’s Talbott Denny injures knee, out for season

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona senior forward Talbott Denny will miss the season after tearing the ACL and medial meniscus in his left knee.

The school said Wednesday that the 6-foot-5 graduate transfer from Lipscomb will have surgery.

Denny, from Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic High School, missed all of last season at Lipscomb because of a shoulder injury.

Roy Williams: ‘There’s no question’ more ACC games equal no Kentucky in non-conference

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Back in June, when the ACC officially announced that they would be expanding the league schedule to 20 games in 2019, I tried to warn you that it was going to put a dent into the non-conference schedule and the amount of quality, on-campus games that we’ll get prior to January.

Roy Williams essentially confirmed this as fact this week.

The North Carolina head coach hopped on a podcast with ESPN and more or less said that the bigger league schedule is going to lead to an end of some of UNC’s marquee home-and-home series.

“My feeling right now, and it could change by ’19, heck I could be fired by ’19, but my feeling right now is to play our conference schedule, play one exempt event where you have really good teams, and other than that play home games to help out your revenue and help out your budget,” Williams said. “We have the ACC/Big Ten and that’s not going to go away. So it’s 21 games already scheduled.”

When asked specifically if this would put an end to UNC’s series with Kentucky, Williams said, “Oh yeah, there’s no question. Why would I need to do that?”

There’s two reasons this makes sense. On the one hand, North Carolina needs to fill their home arena a certain number of times to help with the bottom line of the athletic department. They make enough off of ticket sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and food and beverage that they can afford to pay out more than $50,000 to bring a smaller opponent into their arena. More than that, playing a series of weaklings early in the year allows players to gain confidence, it allows Williams to figure out what his rotation will be and who can handle playing at this level, and it gives newcomers a chance to assimilate into his team against players that just aren’t that good.

And when a larger ACC schedule severely limits the number of non-conference games that UNC will be able to play, what’s going to get cut are the contracts that require the Tar Heels to play on the road when they don’t have to.

So buh-bye, Kentucky, it is.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.

Derek Willis won’t be suspended for offseason citiation

Kentucky's Derek Willis (35) hits an uncontested three point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 80-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
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John Calipari gave a press conference on Thursday morning and, for the first time since his arrest in June, the Kentucky head coach spoke about Derek Willis.

Willis, if you’ve forgotten, was found passed out in the street outside the open driver’s side door of his car at 4:30 a.m. You can see video of the arrest here. Willis is very lucky he wasn’t killed, and that he didn’t kill anyone else trying to drive in that condition.

Cal said that Willis will not be suspended for any games, but “Derek knows he’s under a different eye now than he was.” He did not elaborate on what kind of punishment Willis will receive beyond that, saying that “I don’t throw people under the bus.”

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Willis won’t be forced to miss any games, but if we’re being frank, sitting out an exhibition and Kentucky’s opener sounds much more appealing than the kind of, ahem, ‘conditioning drills’ that Willis has likely spent the summer doing.