LOUISVILLE — AAU Nationals entered tournament play at the Super Showcase finished up on Saturday as plenty of talented players still played well in one of the final days of the July live evaluation period. Although many guys are tired or shutting it down due to injury, there are still a lot of players going hard and trying to impress at the Kentucky Expo Center, including a local fan favorite.
Louisville commit Raymond Spalding impresses local crowd — When Class of 2015 Louisville commit Raymond Spalding plays at AAU Nationals this week, there’s just a different atmosphere at the Kentucky Expo Center. The 6-foot-9 wing forward pledged to the Cardinals last week, and as the local star heading to the local college basketball program, there are a lot of red shirts in the stands when Spalding and The Ville — his grassroots team — takes the floor.
Spalding impressed with his effort in a tournament win during Nationals on Saturday as the tall and lanky wing with an ideal basketball frame showed a tremendous feel for the game and a developing skill set. With a smoothness to his game, Spalding rebounded, made plays in the post, made passes as a high-low passer and on outlets — including an incredible dart of a baseball pass that landed perfectly in a teammate’s hands for a fast break — and just played a good overall floor game.
The knock on Spalding from many recruiting analysts and scouts has been that he’s inconsistent and takes games off, but Spalding was engaged on both ends of the floor on Saturday. Rivals currently has him at No. 69 in the 2015 class and Spalding is certain to see himself rise in post-July rankings. In a class that lacks a lot of players with exciting upside, Spalding has som of the best upside in the class.
Rick Pitino is off to a great start in 2015 with Deng Adel and Raymond Spalding.
Trent Forrest impresses as a playmaking guard — Among Saturday’s standouts included Alabama Challenge guard Trent Forrest. A Class of 2016 guard hailing from Chipley, Florida, Forrest has long arms, huge hands and can touch the paint on pretty much any possession. A 6-foot-3 guard, Forrest doesn’t have a consistent and reliable jumper, yet, but does a nice job on shot fakes and also has a workable floater and runner.
Forrest told NBCSports.com that he would play either guard position in college — something he did on Saturday — and he claims scholarship offers from Central Florida, Florida State, Murray State, Tennessee, Wake Forest and Wichita State while Alabama and Georgia are both showing a lot of interest.
Gary Trent, Jr. establishes himself as a prospect to watch — The Class of 2017 isn’t a major priority for college coaches and scouts at this time, but when you see a player like Gary Trent, Jr. play up a grade level on 16U and play well, you begin to take notice.
The son of former Ohio standout and NBA veteran Gary Trent — aka, the “Shaq of the MAC” — Trent, Jr. is a 6-foot-3 shooting guard with a really good feel off of ball screens both as a scorer and as a passer.
Even while playing up, Trent Jr. looked like the best player on the floor for Howard Pulley’s 16U team and he played with a lot of poise and confidence in a big win. The young guard is already armed with a good mid-range pull-up and he also showed confidence with his perimeter jumper while also doing a good job of moving without the ball.
Trent Jr. told NBCSports.com that Minnesota and Texas Tech have offered him scholarships and others are likely to follow during the Apple Valley, Minnesota native’s three more years of high school basketball.
John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.
10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?
What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.
To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:
“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”
One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.
North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.
A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.
Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.
Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.
VCU landed their third commitment in the Class of 2017 over the weekend, as 6-foot-8 forward Sean Mobley announced that he will play his college ball for the Rams.
A three-star prospect, Mobley is a nice program piece for the Rams. He’s not an overpowering athlete or a menace on the low block, but he is good rebounder, a guy that can space the floor with his jump shot and a smart player that should be able to find and fit into a role.
Mobley picked VCU over Dayton and West Virginia, joining top 75 point guard and big man Marcus Santos-Silva in Will Wade’s recruiting class.
Beginning in September and running up until November 11th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Non-conference scheduling has rightfully been much maligned in recent years with many programs opting to keep their non-league slates as a tune-up rather than a challenge, but there are still plenty of gems out there in the season’s first two months. Neutral-site event games again provide some of the strongest matchups, but there are plenty of on-campus contests that will be among the year’s best as well.
THE TOP 15
1. Kansas vs. Duke – Champions Classic (New York) – Nov. 15 (9 p.m.): The Champions Classic has easily become the most anticipated non-conference event most years (until the PK80 next year), and this year’s matchup between the Jayhawks and Blue Devils is the premier non-conference game of the season. Both teams return a ton from last year’s successful seasons and also add stellar recruiting classes. It’s not hard to envision this as a Final Four or national title preview, and there’s a very real chance that it could end up being a matchup between No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Kansas.
2. Michigan State at Duke – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 29 (9:30 p.m.): This game gets the nod over similarly interesting matchups because it’s going to be played on campus in Durham at Cameron Indoor. It pits two Hall of Fame coaches operating near the height of their powers with teams expected to contend for a national championship. It’s sure to be an electric evening.
3. Kentucky at Louisville – Dec. 21 (7 p.m.): John Calipari has another powerhouse on his hands while Rick Pitino’s squad is expected to continue its upward progression and be a potential top-10 team. This in-state rivalry game will have all the gravitas it normally has along with the national implications that come when two potential No. 1 seeds meet in the non-conference.
4. Kansas at Kentucky – Jan. 28 (6 p.m.): The SEC/Big 12 Challenge is largely irrelevant this season because the Big 12 is down and the SEC looks like a mid-major conference outside of Kentucky. But the Wildcats, who nearly beat Kansas in overtime in Phog Allen last season, and the Jayhawks are both preseason top five teams loaded with NBA talent and positioned to make a run towards another national title.
5. Michigan State vs. Kentucky – Champions Classic (New York) – Nov. 15 (7 p.m.): The other half of the Champions Classic, the Spartans and Wildcats will provide nearly just as much entertainment. The matchup between Michigan State’s super-recruit Miles Bridges and Kentucky’s squadron of them could be the highlight of the night.
6. Virginia at Villanova – Jan. 28 – (1 p.m.): Virginia deserves credit as one of the elite programs that’s unafraid to challenge themselves with home-and-home series, but I can’t imagine that, when Tony Bennett signed up for this, he knew he’d be taking his team on the road, in the middle of ACC play, to square off with the reigning national champs. It will be an intriguing matchup of styles, both in terms of basketball and the suits worn by the opposing head coaches.
7. UCLA at Kentucky – Dec. 3 (12:30 p.m.): Two of the most storied programs in the sport, the Bruins and Wildcats both figure to have interesting seasons as Steve Alford looks to satiate uneasy UCLA fans and Calipari looks to add another national championship to his resume. UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball facing off against Kentucky’s backcourt in Rupp Arena will garner a lot of headlines. And we shouldn’t forget that the Bruins picks off Kentucky in LA last December.
8. North Carolina vs. Kentucky – Las Vegas – Dec. 17 (5:45 p.m.): UNC is coming off a season where they finished as the national runners-up. Losing Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson will hurt, no doubt, but there is still some talent on the roster. Kentucky, as we’ve mentioned, is once again loaded. Both teams will likely be ranked in the top-10 when they meet in Sin City in yet another clash of the sport’s heavyweights.
9. Michigan State vs. Arizona – Armed Forces Classic (Honolulu) – Nov. 11 (7 p.m.): Not a bad way to tip off the season with the Spartans and Wildcats squaring off in Hawaii on opening night. The game was originally to be played at Pearl Harbor, but was moved to the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii. Arizona may have lost Terrence Ferguson to the pros, but it’ll have plenty of firepower to match up against Michigan State with Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Atkins.
10. Louisville vs. Indiana – Indianapolis – Dec. 31 (12:30 p.m.): This border battle game will be played off-campus at the home of the Pacers, but with Indy’s close proximity to both schools and a pair of fervent fanbases, this one should have that big-time collegiate feel with two top-15 teams.
11. Kansas vs. Indiana – Armed Forces Classic (Honolulu) – Nov. 11 (9 p.m.): The nightcap of the Armed Forces Classic is another incredibly strong game that will pit the two midwestern powers against each other. Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby will provide quite the test for Kansas’ revamped frontcourt while the Hoosiers will have to contend with one of the country’s strongest backcourts in Kansas’ Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham.
12. Wisconsin at Creighton – Gavitt Games – Nov. 15 (8:30 p.m.): The country knows how strong the Badgers will be this year after the transition to coach Greg Gard propelled them into the Sweet 16, but Creighton is flying a bit under the radar despite having some top-level talent in Mo Watson and Marcus Foster. The Blue Jays also have one of the more underrated home crowds in the game. This one will be a treat in the season’s opening week.
13. Arizona vs. Gonzaga – Naismith Memorial HOF Game (Los Angeles) – Dec. 3 (6:30 p.m.): Two West Coast powers face off in L.A. a month into the season with perhaps a seed line at stake. Gonzaga will likely open the season in the top-15 on the strength of getting senior center Przmek Karnowski back and the Nigel Williams-Goss eligible after transferring from Washington.
t-14. North Carolina at Indiana – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 30 (9 p.m.)
t-14. Syracuse at Wisconsin – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 29 (9 p.m.): The ACC/Big Ten Challenge provides two more top games with the Tar Heels visiting Bloomington and the Badgers hosting the Orange. The Bryant-Kennedy Meeks matchup will be one to watch, while NBA scouts and draftniks will be tuning in to this one to see how Tyler Lydon and Nigel Hayes matchup. The game itself will provide college hoops fans plenty with the Badgers being a Big Ten favorite and Syracuse bolstering its ranks with Nebraska graduate transfer Andrew White.
15. Washington at Gonzaga – Dec. 7 (11 p.m.): The Huskies aren’t a lock to make the NCAA tournament this year, but this game will still be a must-watch thanks to Gonzaga’s strength, Markelle Fultz’s talent and it being an in-state rivalry game played on campus. Don’t underestimate how much these two fanbases dislike each other.
16. UConn vs. Syracuse – New York City – Dec. 5 (7 p.m.): Madison Square Garden will play host to this former Big East rivalry game. This is the loudest you’ll hear the Garden all season long, and that includes the games that the Knicks play. 17. Valparaiso at Oregon – Nov. 17 (9 p.m.): Valpo might be the best mid-major in the country and has a potential All-American in Alec Peters. The Ducks may not have Dillon Brooks for this one, but will still likely be ranked in the top-10. 18. Indiana vs Butler – Crossroads Classic – Dec. 17 (5 p.m.): A Hoosier State rivalry game that’s sure to be closely contested. 19. Villanova vs. Notre Dame – Never Forget Games (Newark, N.J.) – 12 p.m.: The defending champs take on one of the ACC’s best. 20. Purdue at Louisville – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 30: Another strong game courtesy of the cross-conference challenge. 21. Villanova at Purdue – Nov. 14 (7 p.m.): This game got more difficult for the ‘Cats without Omari Spellman to combat Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. 22. Northern Iowa vs. Xavier – Nov. 16 (12 p.m.): A sneaky-strong game with Xavier being a team that figures to push Villanova in the Big East and the Panthers featuring potential MVC player of the year Jeremy Morgan. 23. Oregon at Baylor – Nov. 15 (3:30 p.m.): This will be the Ducks’ only true road game in the non-conference. Baylor’s Johnathan Motley figures to be a tough guard for the Pac-12 favorites. 24. Arizona vs. Texas A&M – Dec 17 (1 p.m.): The Aggies lost quite a bit from last year’s team, but will still be a top-25 contender. 25. Florida State at Florida – Dec. 11 (4 p.m.): The Seminoles will bring quite a bit of talent with them to Gainesville in Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac for this intrastate rivalry game.