Las Vegas Friday Recap: Jaylen Brown, Kobi Simmons among standouts

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LAS VEGAS — Over the last year or so guard Jaylen Brown has gone from merely being a talented member of the 2015 class to becoming one of its best players. With a maturity that’s rarely seen in most teenagers, Brown has managed to balance his high-level athleticism with a good understanding of the game and what his team needs him to do at any point in time. Brown’s full skill set was on display Saturday, as he was able to not only get the basket at will but also knock down perimeter shots when open. And according to Brown, there are a number of things he’s working to improve upon this summer.

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“There’s a long list of things I have to improve upon,” Brown said. “Making sure my jump shot is consistent, and I have to improve on by ball-handling. Defensively I have to be more active, [and I have to] get myself to a high level of conditioning so I can play at a high level for a long time.”

Another important factor for Brown has been the hard work he’s put in to transform his body, which is obviously the case when considering his stated goal to become an even better-conditioned athlete. And that effort has resulted in Brown becoming a dominant perimeter presence.

“Definitely the weight room and conditioning,” Brown said when asked where he’s made the greatest strides over the last year. “The weight room really helped.” According to Brown he weighed 200 pounds last summer, and now he’s up to around 220. The added weight (good weight, mind you) has helped him become a more explosive threat on the wing, and once in the lane Brown has no problem finishing above the rim with authority.

As for his recruitment, Brown stated that he’ll take an unofficial visit to UCLA after participating in adidas Nations next weekend in Long Beach, California. Among the reasons for his considering UCLA was the presence of Georgia natives on the roster, with Tony Parker entering his junior year and Jordan Adams putting together two highly successful seasons before being picked in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft (Memphis Grizzlies).

Other schools that have been most active in his recruitment according to Brown are Kentucky, Ohio State, Kansas, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida and Texas A&M.

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Kobi Simmons continues to improve: The Celtics don’t lack for talent, and one of the standouts in Las Vegas has been 2016 point guard Kobi Simmons. Simmons has run the show for the Celtics, and his importance was on full display in their win over Team Rose during Friday’s afternoon session. When Simmons was the one initiating the offense the Celtics ran like a well-oiled machine, but they struggled when he wasn’t the one being asked to make a play. Simmons displayed the ability to finish at the rim with either hand, and for the most part he remained under control in running the show.

Simmons described himself as a “scoring guard” following the game, but he also has the ability to set up his teammates for quality looks. Among the schools Simmons mentioned when asked who all is recruiting him are “Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Ohio State [offered about two weeks ago], Missouri, Memphis and Texas.”

Vanderbilt goes four deep for local prospect Braxton Blackwell: Playing alongside Simmons was 6-foot-8 forward Braxton Blackwell, who like Simmons is a member of the Class of 2016. And based upon who all attended from the Vanderbilt coaching staff it’s clear that the Nashville native is of high priority. Head coach Kevin Stallings was there with all three assistants (one left during the second half to get to another game), and the reasons why they hold Blackwell in such high regard were easy to see. Blackwell rarely gets rushed on the offensive end of the floor, and defensively he had no issue with doing the little things a team needs in order to be successful.

“Just being versatile,” Simmons said when asked what he believes his strengths to be. “I can get a rebound and go, [and play] kind of a point forward position right now.”

When asked what areas he’s looking to improve upon this summer, Blackwell mentioned perimeter shooting and being a more aggressive player on the offensive end. Vanderbilt wasn’t the only school mentioned by Blackwell when asked about his recruitment, either. “Providence, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Memphis, Vanderbilt and a lot of other schools,” Blackwell noted. Blackwell also stated that last year he took unofficial visits to Indiana, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Auburn, and he’ll look to take more unofficial trips in August.

A possible fourth visit for Bennie Boatwright: The 6-foot-9 forward is more of a perimeter threat, an attribute that meshes well with Dream Vision teammate Chase Jeter, who has emerged as one of the best big men in the Class of 2015. Boatwright has a good perimeter stroke, and with his tendency to be out on the wing the areas Boatwright mentioned when asked what areas of his game he’s working to improve upon (being more efficient and strengthening his ball-handling), fit in well with what he’ll need to do in order to be successful.

As for his recruitment, it’s been known for quite some time that three schools that will definitely host Boatwright on official visits are Arizona State, Gonzaga and Washington. Head coaches Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Mark Few (Gonzaga) were among the coaches in attendance, with Washington having an assistant keeping tabs on their target. And in speaking with Boatwright following the game, there’s also a possible candidate for one of his other two available official visits.

“I might go to UConn’s ‘Midnight Madness,'” Boatwright told NBCSports.com. Obviously the key word there is “might,” and Boatwright also noted that he was unsure as to whether or not he’ll use all five official visits.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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