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Recruitment starting to pick up for top 30 point forward Braxton Blackwell

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LAS VEGAS — For high school players the summer months aren’t solely about making a name for one’s self. Those times are also about improving upon their individual skill sets and building on a (hopefully) successful high school season. That was the case for versatile 6-foot-8 forward Braxton Blackwell, who was coming off of a highly successful sophomore season at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Last season Blackwell posted averages of 19.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on a team that finished with a 34-3 record and reached the semifinals of Tennessee’s Division I Class II state tournament.

For his efforts Blackwell was named Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball, extending an impressive streak for the CPA program to three consecutive Mr. Basketball selections. With his ability to affect games in a variety of ways, Blackwell has been on the receiving end of some of the nation’s top college programs. Being a “point forward” capable of initiating the offense tends to have that kind of effect on a player’s recruitment.

“Being versatile,” Blackwell said at the adidas Super 64 last week when asked about his strengths. “I can get a rebound and go, [playing] kind of a point forward position, passing the basketball and defending well.”

As a sophomore Blackwell also averaged more than two blocks and two steals per game, and in Las Vegas his ability to be in the right place at the right time defensively was another asset on display. Playing on a team that featured fellow 2016 prospect Kobi Simmons, it was just as likely that Blackwell was the player with the basketball in his hands looking to make a play for his teammates. That freed up Simmons, a point guard more likely to score at this stage in his development, to do more scoring for the Atlanta Celtics, and Blackwell’s understanding of the game is something that can benefit future teammates at the college level as well.

When asked what he’s looking to improve upon this summer, Blackwell’s answer was direct and to the point.

“Shooting and being more aggressive offensively,” Blackwell stated, and for the role he hopes to have at the college level those are obviously important tools to strengthen. Having a consistent jump shot can open things up from a spacing standpoint for a player serving as his team’s point forward. And there’s also the need to properly balance finding looks for oneself and making sure teammates are getting looks in the areas where they’ll be most successful as well.

Among the schools mentioned by Blackwell when asked about his recruitment were “Providence, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Memphis, Vanderbilt and a lot of other programs.” And being from Nashville, Blackwell’s bound to attract a lot of attention from Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. How much attention? During one of Blackwell’s games in Las Vegas, the entire Vanderbilt coaching staff was in attendance, taking in the action from the front row of the coaches section. And as is the case with many recruits, that kind of effort doesn’t go unnoticed.

“That just shows that I’m probably one of the priorities in their class,” Blackwell said. “It’s pretty cool to see all four coaches there.”

As Blackwell continues to sharpen the tools that have made him one of the better recruits in the Class of 2016, programs will intensify their pursuit of his signature on a National Letter of Intent. And for the versatile Blackwell, who spoke of studying journalism in college, his ability to do a variety of things on the basketball court has resulted in his having multiple options when it comes to picking a school.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.