Seven takeaways from AAU Nationals and Super Showcase

Leave a comment
source:
Deng Adel (adidas)

LOUISVILLE — The last week of the July live evaluation period ended on Sunday as the Amateur Athletic Union hosted its 10th and 11th grade Division I national championships to go along with a Super Showcase for each grade, as well.

With 18 courts under one roof at the Kentucky Expo Center, it was an ideal setup for college coaches and media to see a lot of basketball action in one week.

RELATED: AAU National Recaps: Friday | Saturday

1. The Amateur Athletic Union and Kentucky Expo Center is ripping people off: Between the $600-plus entry fee for teams to play in AAU Nationals and the $450-plus Division I college coaches had to spend on coaches’ packets — among the highest prices in July for both — the Amateur Athletic Union was ripping off a lot of people. And that doesn’t include the Kentucky Expo Center charging an $8 (no re-entry) daily parking pass that everyone had to pay each day, the outrageous wi-fi prices and the marked up food prices in the Kentucky Expo Center. Multiple food stands in the expo center had their prices taped over and marked up as people were forced to stay in the building with steep parking prices and a no return policy and pay $3.50 for a 20-ounce soda or $5-plus for a slice of pizza. College coaches, AAU coaches, media and fans all complained about the high prices for an extremely disorganized and poorly run event.

2. “In-home visits” were rampant at Nationals: Generally when a college coach illegally meets with parents or AAU coaches during the July evaluation period — in the gym or at places like restaurants or hotels — it is jokingly referred to by many in the recruiting industry as an “in-home visit.” This kind of face-to-face contact is not permitted during July between college coaches and parents and AAU coaches but with AAU Nationals being so poorly organized, fans were allowed to sit and stand near college coaches with little-to-no action being done by tournament officials. NBCSports.com saw at least a dozen instances of illegal contact between parents and college coaches inside the Kentucky Expo Center, sometimes in upwards of 30 minutes, as the NCAA couldn’t police 18 courts going on at the same time with boundaries being so poorly set. This sort of thing happens at other events, such as Rivals‘ recruiting analyst Eric Bossi mentioning the Las Vegas airport, but this sort of cheating has never been this obvious at the gym the event was taking place at.

RELATEDAll content from the 2014 July Live Period

3. The talent is way down at AAU Nationals: While USA Basketball had a hand in taking away some of the best players from the AAU events in Louisville, the event also didn’t pack a lot of punch in terms of overall quality of teams. The Las Vegas events have clearly dominated the scene in the final week for a long time now, but it seems like there were very few teams west of the Mississippi River that choose to make the trip to Louisville. And two Nike EYBL teams that didn’t even make it to Peach Jam, Expressions Elite and Alabama Challenge, found themselves in the final four of the more loaded field of the 17U AAU Super Showcase. There was still plenty of Division I talent in attendance, but the lack of high-major talent — and high-major coaches — was noticeable.

source:
(Scott Phillips/NBC Sports)

4. The Louisville Cardinals are winners of the July evaluation period: With July commitments coming from wing guard Deng Adel and wing forward Raymond Spalding, Louisville and head coach Rick Pitino are the clear winners of the July live evaluation period. Other programs will see the benefits of July recruiting and evaluating down the line, but the Cardinals were able to lock up two top-50 talents during the three-week evaluation period in the 6-foot-7 Adel and 6-foot-9 Spalding. Both of them appear to be on the underrated side based on their July play when looking at Rivals‘ rankings and Pitino has two more long and athletic wings that have upside and can really move.

5. Notre Dame is another winner this July: The Cardinals weren’t the only ACC program to get two commitments during July. That honor also went to Notre Dame and head coach Mike Brey, as they locked up Albany City Rocks teammates Matt Ryan and Elijah Burns in the 2015 class. Ryan and Burns don’t have the national reputation that the Louisville duo has earned, but both of them should be nice system fits for Brey’s offense and both have their best basketball ahead of them. The 6-foot-5 Ryan is finally getting healthy after two hip surgeries and the 6-foot-8 Burns has a lot of upside as multiple college coaches told NBCSports.com that they believed Burns was a solid get for the Irish after a good week in Louisville.

MORE: Las Vegas Recaps: Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday

6. 2016’s guard play is superior to 2015: It’s been mentioned before by me and others at CBT that the 2016 class looks better than the 2015 class, but this becomes abundantly clear when looking at the guards of both classes. While 2015 has a lot of elite big men in the top 50, it is sorely lacking on guards, specifically point guards. The more and more I saw 2016 guards in the last three weeks, the more it became clear that this group was way better than 2015. Four-star guard Bruce Brown had another good week for BABC and another four-star 2016 guard, Trent Forrest, was very good in multiple outings for the Alabama Challenge. When you consider those guys are currently in the 40-60 range in most rankings for their class, it seems the guards in ’16 are significantly better as a whole than ’15.

7. The 2017 class has some emerging wing talent: Two of the more fun-to-watch players in Louisville were Howard Pulley guard Gary Trent, Jr. and KC Run GMC southpaw wing Mitchell Ballock. Both players already have a bit of a national reputation and both players shined in certain moments playing up on the 16U level at the AAU events. Trent, Jr. has good bloodlines as the son of former MAC star Gary Trent and the 6-foot-3 guard is confident with the ball in his hands as a scorer or passer. The 6-foot-4 Ballock has a smooth-looking lefty shot on the perimeter and also is a very good leaper in transition. Obviously a long way to go in this class, but they were two guys to watch.

Like his career, Frank Martin has built South Carolina from the ground up

Leave a comment

NEW YORK — It was after he finished watching South Carolina cut down the Madison Square Garden nets, after he had spent the better part of 30 minutes giving interviews on the court, after he was spotted by the CBS cameras, with a fist raised and tears pooling under his eyes, that the enormity of what he had just witnessed hit Darius Rucker.

“Gosh,” he said to everyone and no one in particular as he left the arena floor and made his way through the bowels of the Garden, “I can’t believe that just happened.”

The ‘that’ that Rucker, South Carolina’s most famous and, quite possibly, biggest fan, was referring to was a 77-70, come-from behind win over No. 4 seed Florida that jettisoned the seventh-seeded Gamecocks through the Elite 8 and into the Final Four. Prior to this season, the Gamecocks hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 13 years. They had been to four NCAA tournaments in the previous 43 seasons, and they had never won back-to-back tournament game.

As in not ever.

“We’re in the Garden, watching the Gamecocks play to go to the Final Four,” Rucker said. “If you’d have told me that ten years ago I’d have told you that you were on crack.”

That’s the program that Frank Martin inherited in 2012, when he left Kansas State following a falling out with his athletic director, John Currie. Like South Carolina, Kansas State was hardly considered a destination job when Martin was at the helm, but he was able to build off of a foundation created by Bob Huggins. Martin had been to four NCAA tournaments in five years with Kansas State when he made the decision to leave. Nothing is more important to Martin than loyalty. “He’s always had a core group of people that he’s counted on,” his agent, Bret Just, said, and Currie was not one of those people.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came during the 2012 NCAA tournament. Kansas State was a No. 8 seed, squaring off with No. 1 seed Syracuse when Martin was informed by Currie that Jamar Samuels, one of his best players, would not be allowed to suit up. The school had stumbled upon information that Samuels had received a wire transfer for $200 from his AAU coach, and he was going to be suspended.

And that was that.

Martin was off to South Carolina.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“It was a situation where we had to go,” associate head coach Matt Figger, who has been with Martin for the last decade, said, and it wasn’t exactly the easiest or smartest decision to leave. Most understood why Martin had to make the change that he made — he was offered a hefty raise and he had the chance to leave a place of employment where he did not get along with his boss — but it wasn’t as if Martin was climbing the ladder. If anything, South Carolina was a step backwards, as Martin took over a program with less pedigree and with a significant building job in front of them.

“I didn’t really know until I got into it. It was a much different deal. It looked easier on the surface than what it really was,” Figger said. “The best players transferred. Bruce Ellington, he’s with the 49ers now, he was the one guy that we could trust and he played football half the year. Couple of the guys that were the holdovers, I don’t think they believed in what our vision was. After a year, some of them left.”

“We had to start this from scratch.”

The process was slow in the early stages. Martin replaced Darrin Horn, who had won just 10 games and finished dead last in the SEC in his final season on campus, and didn’t post a .500 record until his third season in Columbia. Even then, that team went just 17-16. He won 15 SEC games in his first three years combined. After a late season swoon cost South Carolina a shot at the 2016 NCAA tournament, there was speculation that another year without a trip to the Big Dance could spell the end of Martin’s time with the Gamecocks.

“It was hard!” Martin’s wife, Anya, said. “You see he’s losing his hair. It’s all turning white. It was tough in the beginning. I had to ask him a couple of times, ‘Why here?’”

The easy answer is that it wasn’t Kansas State, but the truth is more complicated than that.

Martin is not a man that is afraid of a challenge. He’s not intimidated by a job that isn’t easy to do, not when you come from where he’s come from, when you’ve coached on the path that he has coached.

Martin got his first job when he was 12 years old, working at a Dairy Queen to help his mom pay the bills when his dad walked out on them. His coaching career started a year after he graduated high school, when he was just 19 years old.

“I tore my ACL the year before,” Martin said, “and my high school coach asked me to come help him, because the kids in the neighborhood respected me so much.”

He was nothing more than an assistant with the team at Miami Senior High School, helping out when and where he could, when the head coach of the JV team didn’t show up for work one day. Shakey Rodriguez, a legend in the Miami High School basketball community, told Martin he would be coaching that day, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“By his second season,” Martin’s mother, Lourdes, beaming as she held back tears of joy, said, “he was 22-0.”

Even as Martin was coaching, he was still working on the side, most famously as a bouncer in Miami’s nightclub scene. He needed a degree, so he took night classes at Miami-Dade College before enrolling part-time at FIU. His future was capped if he didn’t graduate.

“He made it out,” she added, holding on to her grandson to steady herself as the moment washed over her. “He had many, many jobs, and then God was up there and blessed him.”

Martin would go from the high school ranks to Northeastern, taking a paycut just to get his foot in the door. He spent four years as an assistant and met his wife — “My wife turned me down seven times to go out on a date,” he said. “Seven. Seven. And the day she made the mistake of going out on a date with me, I never let her go.” — before moving on to Cincinnati, where he joined forces with Bob Huggins, spending two seasons with the Bearcats before following Huggins to Kansas State. He replaced Huggins as Kansas State’s head coach a year after joining the program and just seven years after he joined the collegiate coaching ranks. He would take the Wildcats to more NCAA tournaments in his five seasons at the helm than they had been to in the previous two decades combined.

“Frank’s never steered away from a challenge as long as I’ve known him,” Anya said. “He’s overcome any obstacle in his way, just ‘I’m going to make it work.'”

“He’s a builder,” Just said.

And he’s done just that at South Carolina.

“I’m happy as any mom could be,” Lourdes said. “Speechless, but not all the way. I have to talk to him about my air ticket.”

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Martin spoke many times about the dream of leading this team to this moment, but he didn’t always believe that the dream of taking the Gamecocks to the Final Four was a realistic possibility.

“When we beat Duke, Frank said ‘Why not us?’” Figgers said, a motto that had become something of a rallying cry for the Gamecocks during the East Regional. “That’s the first time we really talked about [winning a title].”

The team and the coaching staff weren’t the only ones that never really gave this possibility much thought. College basketball at large — the fans, the media, opposing coaches — all had the same thought: “South Carolina in the Final Four? The same team that put up 86 points in four overtimes against Alabama? Lulz.”

They showed us.

Over and over again.

South Carolina’s star guard Sindarius Thornwell, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the East Region, mentioned in every press conference this weekend that no one paid attention to or respected the program prior to this run. Martin ranted earlier this year about the lack of local media coverage his team gets, particularly when they play on the road.

At this point in the season, most players get burned out of the media attention they get, answering the same questions over and over and over again.

I don’t blame them.

On Sunday evening, after spending 25 minutes up on the dais for a postgame press conference, Thornwell was finally en route back to the locker room to celebrate with his team when he was pulled aside by a television reporter that needed just a couple more minutes of his time.

Thornwell, decked out in a East Regional Champs shirt and hat with the remnants of a net dangling around his neck, didn’t mind.

“You gotta talk a lot,” Thornwell said, “when you win.”

Drake hires Furman’s Niko Medved to be new head coach

Drake Athletics
Leave a comment

Drake has hired Furman head coach Niko Medved to the same position, the school announced on Sunday.

The 43-year-old Medved has led the Paladins to back-to-back CIT appearances as he’s been the head coach there for four seasons. Also an assistant coach at Minnesota and Colorado State, Medved is a noted recruiter.

“I am ecstatic about the opportunity to be the next men’s basketball coach at Drake University,” Medved said in the release. “Drake University’s tremendous reputation partnered with its strong leadership and the thriving Des Moines community make this a special place.  I was born and raised in the Midwest and have so many strong roots in this part of the country.  My family and I can’t wait to get started.”

Medved was named the Southern Conference’s 2017 Coach of the Year for helping lead Furman to the regular-season title in the league.

The Bulldogs are coming off a last-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference as former head coach Ray Giacoletti was relieved of his duties in January. Drake only has one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1971 (coming in 2008) as the Bulldogs have struggled to remain relevant in a tough league.

VIDEO: North Carolina and Roy Williams dance in locker room after advancing to Final Four

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Watching Roy Williams dance never gets old.

The North Carolina head coach is taking his team back to the Final Four next weekend after the Tar Heels outlasted Kentucky in a thrilling South Regional final.

North Carolina is making its 20th appearance in the Final Four as they are going for the second consecutive season.

2017 NCAA Tournament Final Four schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
1 Comment

National Semifinals– Saturday, April 1

6:09 p.m. EST, CBS, Glendale
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Approximately 40 minutes after conclusion of first game, CBS, Glendale
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

VIDEO: The insane final 10 seconds of North Carolina’s win over Kentucky

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
1 Comment

North Carolina and Kentucky ended in legendary fashion on Sunday.

After freshman Malik Monk buried a heavily-contested three-pointer to tie the game at 73-all for Kentucky with under 10 seconds left the Tar Heels didn’t use a timeout as Theo Pinson found forward Luke Maye for the game-winning jumper.

These 10 seconds will go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA Tournament history.