Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown

Stanford guard Anthony Brown looks to take another step forward in 2014-15

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source: AP
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LAS VEGAS — Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, one of the questions to be asked of the Stanford Cardinal was what they could expect from 6-foot-7 guard Anthony Brown. After putting together two solid seasons, the Los Angeles native played in just four games in 2012-13, missing the majority of the season due to a hip injury that required surgery. Would Brown be the player who averaged 8.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore? Or could he possibly give Johnny Dawkins even more in a season billed as an important one for a head coach who had yet to lead the Cardinal to the NCAA tournament.

Not only did Brown meet those numbers, he exceeded them, accounting 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, as he also developed into one of the Pac-12’s best shooters. Brown, who hovered around the “180” mark (50 percent or better from the field, 40 percent or better from three and 90 percent of better from the foul line) for most of the season, finished the 2013-14 campaign shooting 47.5% from the field, 45.3% from three and 78.5% from the foul line with all three marks representing career bests.

Brown began the season well, reaching double figures in each of Stanford’s first nine games, and by the end of the year he was the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player as the Cardinal had earned its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008.

“[Confidence] was the big thing,” Brown told NBCSports.com at the LeBron James Skills Academy. “I started off the season hot. Going into last year I was coming back [from the injury] and my main focus was to come in and be a shooter, space the floor for my teammates. We had great big guys last year, and that’s something I pride myself on. Once things got rolling, I just used [my shooting ability] as a weapon.”

While it was frustrating to be unable to play, Brown was able to pick up some valuable lessons during the 2012-13 season. As a result the game slowed down for him, as Brown picked up on the subtleties of the game while sidelined. That wasn’t the case for Brown during his first two seasons, and not only did that help with Brown’s individual skill set, but it also helped with his understanding of his teammates’ games.

Another change that impacted Brown last season was the loss of Aaron Bright, who played in seven games before missing the remainder of the season due to a dislocated right shoulder. It had already been decided by Coach Dawkins that Chasson Randle, who finished the season as a first team All Pac-12 selection, would handle the primary ball-handler responsibilities. But the loss of Bright meant even more opportunities for Brown to operate with the basketball in his hands, serving as a secondary option, capable of creating for himself as well as his teammates (a career-best 2.0 assists per game).

The next task for Brown and his teammates is to account for the loss of forwards Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell, with the former being a member of the Pac-12 All-Defensive team and the latter being a first team all-conference selection. The Cardinal won’t lack for experience, but those are two important personnel losses to address in the coming months.

“It has to be a team effort,” Brown noted when discussing how Stanford will account for the loss of those two starters. “Dwight and Josh probably pulled down close to 15 rebounds per game and both could block shots (Huestis averaged 1.9 bpg), so it has to be a team effort. And we have to bring the freshmen along as quickly as possible.

“Me and Chasson have to get in there a little bit more; we’ll probably have to pressure the ball a little bit more and not get guys get behind us,” Brown continued. “And we have to gang rebound. Last year we relied on, ‘Josh go get that [rebound], Dwight go get that’. This year all five of us have to rebound.”

The Pac-12 race will be an interesting one, because while there’s a team considered to be the prohibitive favorite in Arizona there are a lot of questions to be answered with no clear-cut challenger to the defending regular season champions. Stanford fashions itself as one of the possible options, and the progression of their freshmen will be something to consider.

Of the four arriving on campus two, Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis, are talented front court options, who will look to compete for minutes alongside returning starter Stefan Nastic. If Humphrey and Travis prove capable of contributing immediately, Stanford could have the front court help it needs to go along with its productive perimeter options. And that would place Brown and his teammates right in the mix amongst the many teams looking to contend in 2014-15.

“Our goal is to win the Pac-12,” Brown stated. “We want to be in that hunt. If we’re in the top two or three, we’re giving ourselves a chance [to win the conference].”

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky