Marcus Foster still hasn’t forgotten, or forgiven, those pulled scholarships

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UNION, N.J. — Marcus Foster was one of the great stories of the 2013-2014 college basketball season.

In a season that was dubbed the Year of the Freshmen before Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker even stepped foot on the floor of the United Center in Chicago for the Champions Classic, one of the Class of 2013’s biggest stars was an afterthought entering Kansas State.

Foster was a borderline top 150 recruit throughout his high school career, but after a dismal July live period after his junior season in high school, Foster ended up on the wrong side of the cut line. The 6-foot-2 guard put on a few extra pounds, was forced to play center for his high school team in Wichita Falls, Texas, and watched as everyone other than Kansas State and Creighton yanked those scholarship offers that they had thrown at him just months earlier.

Foster said schools like Cal and Marquette were among those that pulled their offers, but what hurt more was seeing Texas and Baylor decide that he wasn’t good enough to play for them. Those were the in-state programs, and don’t think for a second he’s forgot about that. Foster struggled in his first game against Texas, but he went for a career-high 34 points on 13-for-16 shooting the second time Kansas State played the Longhorns. In two games against Baylor, Foster finished with 29 points and 18 points and 10 assists, respectively.

“I was definitely trying to get them back,” Foster told NBCSports at the Point Guard Skills Academy in Union, N.J., last month. “I definitely remembered that.”

Foster finished his freshman season as one of the nation’s biggest surprises, averaging 15.5 points, 3.2 boards and 2.5 assists while shooting 39.5 percent from three and doing things like this on the regular:

Perhaps what’s more impressive is that Foster became the guy that Kansas State relied on offensively to carry them through an extremely tough Big 12 conference. Think about it like this: Kansas State lost three of their first five games this past season — Northern Colorado at home, Charlotte and to Georgetown by 27 — and still managed to make the NCAA tournament and finish fifth in a Big 12 that sent seven of the 10 teams in the league dancing.

Foster was the catalyst, yet he was barely good enough to get named second-team All-Big 12.

Don’t think, for a second, that he didn’t notice that.

“I feel like I’m still a little bit under the radar,” Foster said, driving home the point that the chip on his shoulder from being overlooked and under-recruited as a high school player is still weighing heavily on him. “Every time I get on the court I’m trying to prove something to somebody, leave somebody knowing me by the end of the night.”

Heading into next season, Foster is looking at a situation where he could end up being the Big 12 Player of the Year. Kansas and Texas will both have quite a bit of talent on their roster, and the likes of West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, Iowa State’s Georges Niang and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield are still in school. But between the amount of Kansas State’s offense that Foster is going to be counted on to carry and the improvements that he has made this offseason, he should have the opportunity to put himself squarely in the middle of that conversation.

Foster has made strides this offseason. Not only has he kept himself in excellent shape — part of the reason he fell in the recruiting rankings was that he put on a bunch of weight, and he even lost 10 pounds during his freshman season — while looking even more explosive, Foster has spent this offseason working on becoming a more well-rounded guard.

“My coach always tells me that if I want to go to the next level I’m going to have to be a point because I’m only 6-foot-2,” Foster said. “It’s something that I have to do. Being a point guard is kind of new to me, but I picked up some point guard things.”

Like what?

“Pick-and-roll stuff, ball-handling stuff, getting the ball up the court [without dribbling], how to split traps, stuff like that.”

I’ll be frank: playing Foster at the point would not be ideal for the Wildcats. Regardless of how much he’s worked this offseason, he’s at his best at the college level when he’s playing as a scoring guard. He’s a lethal three-point shooter when he gets into a rhythm and he’s got the strength and explosiveness to overpower defenders when he’s attacking the rim. Regardless of what position he projects as at the next level, Foster is a terrific scoring guard in college.

But with Will Spradling graduating and a pair of unproven point guards — sophomores Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas — it’s not a bad thing if Foster becomes an improved playmaker, particularly when you consider that Kansas State has brought in a trio of promising transfers (Justin Edwards, Stephen Hurtt and Brandon Bolden) and returns sophomore wing Wesley Iwundu, who is expected to have a big sophomore season.

It’s enough to get Foster’s confidence bubbling.

“I think we can win the Big 12, honestly,” he said. “We have the team, we have the scorers, we have more versatility than we did last year,” and in speaking with him, it’s easy to believe that he believes that statement to be very true.

It’s also easy to believe that the attention that Kansas and Texas will undoubtedly get during the preseason is only going to make that chip on Foster’s shoulder grow bigger.

“Definitely,” he said, which is not a good thing for league foes. “I use that every time I step out on the court.”

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.