(Scott Phillips/NBC Sports)

Louisville commit Raymond Spalding doesn’t feel pressure as the hometown kid

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LOUISVILLE — One of the most intriguing stories during the July live evaluation period was the rise of 2015 forward Raymond Spalding and his commitment to Louisville.

The 6-foot-9 Spalding doesn’t play on a shoe company team, so he didn’t get as much attention as the average top 100 high school player did in July, but make no mistake about it, the Louisville native is a good grab with some upside for head coach Rick Pitino. Spalding currently checks in as the No. 69 player in Rivals’ 2015 class, but he will probably rise in the rankings after a strong month of July.

“I’m very excited. I feel like I’ve proved a lot and I also feel like I’ve improved a lot in July,” Spalding said to NBCSports.com last week in Louisville.

One longtime high school basketball scout compared Spalding favorably to former Florida wing and NBA veteran Corey Brewer, and with Raymond’s size, ability to pass and good overall floor game, it’s easy to see why. Although Spalding said he prefers to model his game after Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant — “I just like how smooth they play and I try to play like them,” he said — his upside is certainly intriguing as he enters his senior season of high school.

MORE: Quotables Part I | Part II | Part III | All content from the 2014 July Live Period

But some interesting pressure faces Spalding at the next level. Not only does Spalding have to deal with a rabid Louisville fan base when he enters college, but he also has to handle the pressure of being the hometown kid that committed to play for the Cardinals.

Each of Spalding’s games with his grassroots team, The Ville, was crowded with red gear at AAU Nationals and most of his games during his senior season at Trinity High will probably feel the same way this winter. Spalding takes the local attention — and pressure — in stride and it doesn’t seem to be a major concern for him at this point.

“There’s no pressure for me. I’m just focused on getting better and making my family proud,” Spalding said. “[My family] was pumped. They were really excited for me. They love that I’m able to stay home and spend more time with them.

“Being a local kid, I mean, that’s huge. Hometown star, that means being able to see your family and your friends each and every day while still being able to stay on campus. It’s just great, it’s a blessing to be able to do that.”

It’s hard to say how Spalding’s senior season will play out in front of Louisville fans during the high school season, but he’s just focused on improving before he gets to the ACC.

“The only thing that motivates me is to get better as a basketball player each and every day,” Spalding said. “[I’m trying] to get better in practice and individual workouts and just keep improving.”

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.