Top 15 recruit Antonio Blakeney has made the ‘jump’ — literally — to elite status

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RELATED: Peach Jam Takeaways Part IPart II | UAA Finals takeaways

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Antonio Blakeney has been a star in the state of Florida for a couple of years now, having averaged 24.8 points as a sophomore that earned first-team all-state honors. He’s been a relevant name on the recruiting trail for quite some time as well, having latched on with the Amare Stoudamire-backed Each 1 Teach 1 AAU program.

During the summer after his sophomore season, Blakeney made enough of a name for himself during the summer that he was listed as a four-star recruit by Rivals, and although he was unable to crack their top 50 at the time, he was still getting recruiting attention from a number of high-profile programs from around the southeast.

Blakeney found himself slowly creeping up the rankings throughout his junior season, but it wasn’t until May that he went from being another really good basketball player to the kind of prospect that everyone needs to pay attention. And it was one moment, captured on video, that made the statement for him:

MORE: Live Period Superlatives Week one | Week two

I’ll be honest: saying that one dunk during one game at an event in Georgia that wasn’t even during a live period changed the course of a players recruitment is ridiculous, and that’s not the point that I’m trying to make here. Blakeney plays on the same AAU team as Ben Simmons, the No. 1 player in the country, as well as Ohio State-bound Daniel Giddens, top 150 recruit Alex Owens and 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall. He was going to be seen this summer. Those offers were going to roll in.

The reason that dunk was significant is that it was a definitive statement that Blakeney’s game was changing.

It’s never been a secret that Blakeney, a 6-foot-3 scoring guard, is able to get buckets with the best of them. He’s always been a natural scorer, a kid that can light it up from beyond the arc and that can break down a defender one-on-one. “I’ve always been able to score the ball,” Blakeney told NBCSports at the Peach Jam last week, but he hasn’t always been able to jump like that. He’s turned into the kind of next-level athlete that has a chance to play at the next level and beyond, and I’m not the only one that has noticed.

Louisville has long considered Blakeney a top priority, as he spent quite a bit of time playing in front of head coach Rick Pitino this July and has already had an unofficial visit to the campus. He’d be a nice fit in Louisville’s back court, but he’s far from a lock to wind up there as programs like Florida, Kansas and North Carolina, among many others are also in contention.

Two weeks ago, however, Blakeney got the biggest of the big fish on his trail, as John Calipari offered him a scholarship to Kentucky.

“They don’t offer everybody,” Blakeney said. “They’ve only offered a couple other people. I don’t really think about it at all, [but] Kentucky only recruits pros, so if they offer me, it means they think I’m a pro.”

The next step for Blakeney is to continue to improve his efficiency with the ball in his hands. As he put it, “to score with less shots.” Playing on a team that included quite a bit of talent, Blakeney finished fifth at the Peach Jam in scoring, averaging 20.8 points, but he had a tendency to settle for some tough shots. He shot just 9-for-38 from beyond the arc in his six games in North Augusta, but he did show off a much-improved mid-range game. He made floaters and pull-ups, even drilling a few step-back jumpers.

“I think it was just a tightening my game change,” said of his recent improvement. “My game got better, my handles got tighter, my shot got better. I just got better. The shots I’m taking are going in.”

The good news for the teams recruiting him is that Blakeney hasn’t reached his ceiling yet. His development over the last year is evidence that he’s been in the gym, working on his game, and with the strides he can still make in terms of shot selection and three-point consistency, it’s no wonder the top programs in the country are on his trail.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.