Junior college prospect Andre Spight working to improve point guard skills

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LAS VEGAS — While the paths taken to Las Vegas by the players who participated in the JucoRecruiting.com All-American Showcase are different, with Division I transfers playing alongside junior college products entering their second year and unsigned high school grads hoping to earn the opportunity to play somewhere, the ultimate goal tends to be the same: to earn a scholarship to play at a Division I school.

In order to get there, these players have to not only prove their worth on the court but also in the classroom, with that particular issue being the reason why some prospects had to take an alternate route to a Division I school.

That was the case for guard Andre Spight, who after attending summer school at UTEP in 2013 found out in mid-July of that year that he had not qualified academically. For some that would have been the opportunity needed to feel sorry for themselves as opposed to looking in the mirror and addressing the issue directly. That wasn’t the case for Spight, who moved on to South Plains College in Levelland, Texas with a valuable lesson in tow.

“I just have to get my grades straight and my priorities straight,” Spight told NBCSports.com. “After that the sky’s the limit. You can’t let anything stop you, especially academically.”

Spight’s first season at South Plains was a good one, as he posted averages of 16.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on a team that finished the year with a 29-6 record and reached the quarterfinals of the Division I NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. Spight’s primary role was to provide scoring off the ball, with Sekou Harris (4.9 apg, 1.8 A/T ratio) serving as the team’s primary ball-handler. Now with Harris having moved on to South Dakota, Spight’s responsibilities will change some as he’ll be asked to spend more time at the point.

As a result Spight will need to improve the skills needed to run the show, while also maintaining the skills that have made him a highly regarded prospect in the eyes of some Division I coaches.

“He has the playmaking [ability] and the handle; he has all the skills to play point guard,” South Plains assistant coach Hank Plona said at the showcase. “He just needs to develop the mindset [needed to play the point]. He came in with a scoring mindset, so we had to get him to thinking about ‘making the right play.'”

An event where players are asked to adjust on the fly to teammates they aren’t used to playing with can help in this area, and that was the case for Spight during his time on the floor. While it’s still a work in progress, the environment made Spight more attentive to the details that come with playing the point. That’s one of the positives Spight can take out of the experience, and it’s something that will help him as he prepares for his sophomore season.

“It helps a lot because I’m not sure what anyone’s going to do or what their next move will be,” Spight said. “So it’s up to me to figure that out, and it’s helping me.”

When asked which schools have been the most active in his recruitment, Spight mentioned Arizona State, Creighton, Penn State, Oregon and Tennessee. Head coaches Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Pat Chambers (Penn State) were in attendance Saturday, with the Sun Devils upping the ante by having their entire coaching staff in the gym during Spight’s first game. The presence of a coach (or coaches) obviously has an impact on recruits, because that’s the best way to gauge a program’s interest regardless of what’s said through text messages or phone calls.

However the most important thing is to take advantage of the opportunity by playing well, something Spight understands.

“I just go play, but when they tell me they’re going to be here I obviously know,” Spight noted. “I just go out there and try to play my game and not try to do too much.”

The task for Spight entering 2014-15 is easy to identify: strengthen his abilities as a point guard while also maintaining the ability to score, as he’ll be asked to spend time at both guard positions at South Plains this season. If Spight proves capable, both team (another trip to Hutch) and individual (a scholarship to a major Division I school) will be well within his reach.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 at the Hoopseen Best of the South at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.

Appalachian State freshman shooter to transfer

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A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.

Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”

“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”

Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will  be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.

If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Iowa State adds graduate transfer Zoran Talley

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Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.

Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.

“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”

Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.

He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.

Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.