adidas Nations Monday Recap

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LONG BEACH, California — adidas Nations closed out play on Monday night with a televised doubleheader at Long Beach City College. The third-place and championship games showed the country, once again, that the Class of 2016 will be superior to 2015 and it also was a good proving ground for a number of prospects that will be back on the circuit next year. CBT’s Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips were there once again to take in the action.

– Dennis Smith, Jr. has the best week of anyone

Ultra-talented 2016 point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. has always had the talent to dominate, but after a somewhat wild spring, the 6-foot-2 point guard is finally putting efficient performances together with the ball in his hands. adidas Nations was a perfect example of this. Smith dominated play on both ends of the floor at times, as going into the championship game on Monday night with Team Lillard, he was shooting 21-for-29 from the field while dishing out 20 assists to only five turnovers. Over a four-game stretch against mostly older competition — in which he also added two-plus steals a game — that’s incredibly impressive. The point guard race is tight in 2016 with Derryck Thornton, UCLA commit Lonzo Ball, Kobi Simmons and DeAaron Fox — if you view Fox as a point guard, which I think he can be down the line — but Smith appears to be the leader of the pack right now. He’s a bonafide top-five prospect in this 2016 class and deserves more discussion for a higher spot with continued excellence. (SP)

Spring/summer give 2017 F Billy Preston much-needed reps

Given the talent that many of the players at high-level camps possess, it can be easy to forget that these are kids who can be overwhelmed by the moment on occasion. That was the case for 2017 forward Billy Preston, who in the championship game was playing on national television for the first time in his life. Things didn’t go well for neither he nor his Team Wall teammates, as they were soundly defeated by Team Lillard with players such as Dennis Smith, Thon Maker and Eron Gordon proving to be too much to handle. However just as big of a factor for Preston as the talent in front of him were the nerves, and it’s something he can learn from moving forward.

“I thought I had a good camp until the last game,” Preston told NBCSports.com following the defeat. “I came out a little nervous, and I didn’t play that [well]. It’s an honor to be invited to a camp like this, and I’m [in the Class of 2017] so I learned a lot from the older guys, the college guys and the pros who played. It was a good experience.”

As for Preston’s recruitment, he’s a very interesting prospect given the fact that he didn’t play much high school basketball as a freshman. Preston played in a handful of games at St. John Bosco in southern California before transferring to Redondo Union in mid-January, where he was unable to play per California state transfer rules. So having the opportunity to play with and against talented players all spring and summer has proven to be invaluable for a player who’s already receiving attention from many Pac-12 schools and recently received offers from UCLA and UConn. (RJ)

– DeAaron Fox plays well at both guard spots

Another impressive guard performance this week came from Texas native and 6-foor-3 guard DeAaron Fox. Fox played alongside Smith for the title-winning Team Lillard and the duo proved to be nearly unguardable together. Fox played both guard spots, although he told NBCSports.com that he would like to be a point guard in college he is comfortable in either guard role, and thrived wherever he played on the floor. Fox made plays for other players, hunted buckets by attacking the rim and also knocked down some shots. Overall, it was a really solid week for Fox and it looks like he’s solidifying his spot as a five-star guard. (SP)

– Eron Gordon caps good week with another solid performance.

With five players finishing the title game in double figures, Team Lillard didn’t lack for contributors in their 106-78 win over Team Wall. One of those five was 2016 guard Eron Gordon,who scored 16 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go along with four rebounds. Gordon shot the ball well from mid-range and was also able to get to the basket on a couple occasions as well, finding looks for himself without forcing the action. Gordon spent the majority of his time at the camp playing off the ball with Dennis Smith Jr. running the show for a team that went undefeated, and he performed well in that role as he shot 50 percent or better from the field in every game other than the opener (nine points on 3-for-10 shooting). (RJ)

– Late phone call provides Dominic Green with a great opportunity.

Due to a number of injuries at adidas Nations throughout the week, some players were called in to help with the depth of certain teams. One player fortunate enough to receive a call was 2015 forward Dominic Green, who looked to do his best to simply fit in with his teammates upon his arrival Saturday afternoon. One of Green’s best attributes is his length, something the aimed to make good use of on the defensive end of the floor.

“My coach called me and asked, ‘do I want to play with the best players in the nation?'” Green told NBCSports.com. “And I said [I would]. I just tried to defend and not allow my man to score, and try not to turn over the ball on offense.”

The call to join a team that included Duke commit Chase Jeter and five-star wing Jaylen Brown capped a solid month for Green, whose improved play in July has led to increased interest on the recruiting trail. Holding offers from Montana and UTEP, Green has heard from programs such as Arizona State, Washington State, Gonzaga, USC, Saint Mary’s and Oregon State among others. And according to Green, the reason why he’s receiving more attention now than he did during the high school season is a simple one.

“During the high school season I wasn’t giving my best effort, and in July I was giving 100% effort,” Green noted. “That allowed me to play better.” (RJ)

– Rawle Alkins’ old-school game continues to impress

After a strong showing at adidas Uprising early in July, New York native and 6-foot-4 guard Rawle Alkins continued to play well at adidas Nations throughout the week. With a strong frame and an attack mentality, Alkins loves touching the paint and making plays by being a creative scorer around the basket. While the jumper is still a work-in-progress, it’s really fun to watch Alkins operate within 15 feet of the basket. He finishes creatively with his off-hand and isn’t afraid to use the glass, Alkins will post up smaller guards and he also has a hook shot in his arsenal for those moments as well. Even after seeing Alkins play about eight times or so this summer he was throwing out new ways to score around the basket and it was fun to watch. (SP)

VIDEO: Presbyterian’s Toss for Tots night earns technical foul for charity

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Presbyterian College held an cool and unique fundraiser this week.

In a game against Toccoa Falls, the Blue Hose held what will now be an annual Toss for Tots event. It was simple: after the first basket of their game on Thursday night, fans in attendance were asked to throw a stuffed animal onto the court, with every stuffed animal earmarked for a local elementary school.

Presbyterian ate the technical foul for the cause:

In total, 108 stuffed animals were “donated”.

The program had partnered with Bailey Elementary School, where there are 103 students. On Friday, the team delivered every student at the school one of the stuffed animals for Christmas. Head coach Dustin Kerns told NBC Sports that the team spent some times with the kids today as well, reading to the team and putting a smile on their face.

“Proud of our team,” Kerns, who is in his first year with the program, said. The win against Toccoa Falls was the fifth in a row for the Blue Hose, the first time the program has accomplished that since going to the Division I level. They are not 6-5 on the season after winning five games a year ago. “It was fun seeing out program give back.”

Presbyterian Sports Information Dept
Presbyterian Sports Information Dept

Rape charges will not be filed after last year’s incident in Kansas basketball dorm

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The Douglas County District Attorney’s office will not file sexual assault charges stemming from a report that a 16-year old girl was raped nearly a year ago in the Kansas basketball dorm.

“After an exhaustive review of all available reports, evidence and testimony, our office has determined there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a sexual assault occurred,” District Attorney Charles Branson told the Lawrence Journal-World. “Unless additional evidence or reports come to light there is insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed.”

What’s more, a suspect in the investigation was never actually identified, the paper reported. All five witnesses in the rape report were members of the men’s basketball team. The incident allegedly occurred in McCarthy Hall, which is a dorm where 40 Kansas students live, including all members of the men’s basketball team.

No. 8 Kentucky maturing, more challenges ahead for freshmen

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t hidden his frustration about the learning curve of his latest group of talented freshmen.

And while the No. 8 Wildcats are starting play better, they’re bracing for more challenges ahead.

Kentucky has struggled to put away opponents such as Utah Valley, Vermont, Troy and Harvard, efforts that players and Calipari acknowledge have contributed to a perceived lack of national respect. On the other hand, their lone loss — a 65-61 setback to Kansas — showed their ability to compete with college basketball’s heavyweights.

“It was one of the big games they got to see,” sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “The feeling and high intensity of the game, people watching, the fight in a big game like that, it really started to hit. Some players really started to get rolling off of that.

“We’re starting to get better as a team, individuals are getting better and we’re trending upward and trying to stay on that path.”

Kentucky (8-1) has begun running away from opponents, a promising trend it hopes to continue against upcoming Power Five conference foes.

Saturday’s home game against Virginia Tech (9-1) opens a daunting year-ending stretch for the Wildcats that includes next weekend’s matchup against UCLA in New Orleans; their annual in-state rivalry showdown against Louisville on Dec. 29; and their Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

Though Calipari still hopes February will reveal Kentucky’s true strengths, he’s eager to see how the Wildcats stack up against the Atlantic Coast Conference Hokies, who lead the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game and rank second in 3-point shooting at 47 percent.

“They have three or four guys that can absolutely make 3s,” Calipari said Friday while listing other Tech strengths. “They’re looking for layups and kicking it out for 3s and they’re getting to the line because of it.

“They’re not afraid. They go on the road in big games. Their home games are craziness. This is plugged into our schedule at a time where we need to learn about us, and we will.”

After a busy November without much practice time, Kentucky has welcomed a lighter December schedule that has allowed the Wildcats more time for workouts and to build chemistry.

The Wildcats have a long way to go, but games such as last week’s 93-76 win over Monmouth are encouraging for Kentucky fans.

Besides continuing their solid shooting — the Wildcats rank 22nd at nearly 51 percent — redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo (23 points) and forward PJ Washington (20) posted career scoring highs against Monmouth. Kentucky also succeeded with a smaller lineup and has been effective playing a zone defense, which Calipari disdains but has used because of his team’s length.

“They’re as long as anybody in the country,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of Kentucky. “We’ll have to work really hard to get the same shots we’ve been getting.”

Kentucky remains short-handed with freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and guard Jemarl Baker (knee) sidelined by injuries. But the Wildcats appear to be developing depth.

They faced Monmouth without sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (sprained ankle) before starting guard Quade Green left in the second half after being poked in the eye. Both will be available against the Hokies and return knowing that the bench can fill the void after it combined for a season-high 27 points.

Granted, Monmouth is not a barometer for success against the likes of Tech, UCLA or Louisville. But considering Kentucky’s early struggles, any growth is welcome.

“We think highly of ourselves as a team,” Gabriel added. “I think we deserve more credit than we’re getting, so we’re going to go out there and try to earn it.”

Arizona State rising fast beyond the desert

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has taken college basketball by devilish hurricane, running and gunning its way into the national consciousness while igniting an often-blase local fan base.

Even the Sun Devils’ rivals down south have taken notice.

“Bobby Hurley, he’s en route right now to be one of the coaches talked about for national coach of the year because of what he’s done with their program,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the coach of his biggest rival. “He’s played a tough nonconference schedule. It shows some guts to play who they play. Their results speak really clearly. They might be underrated where they’re at right now.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, at least not yet.

The Sun Devils were expected to be better in Hurley’s third season in the desert. They returned three senior guards and finally got them some front-court help with the addition of Romello White and De’Quon Lake.

Kodi Justice, ASU’s 6-foot-5 guard, would no longer have to guard 7-footers. Arizona State would be better defensively and on the glass. The guards would not have to carry the entire load.

Even so, the Sun Devils were projected to be at the middle of the Pac-12, picked to finish sixth.

The big jump was supposed to be next season, when a trio of transfers will be eligible and could possibly lead the Sun Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

This breakneck band of Devils spun the narrative forward a year early.

Playing with a confidence bordering on cocky and with an offensive freedom afforded them by their coach, the Sun Devils have pushed their way into the national spotlight.

They made a blip by beating Xavier, No. 15 at the time but now No. 10 in the AP Top 25 . Blew the Musketeers away, actually, turning a 15-point first-half deficit into a 102-86 rout with an onslaught of fast breaks and 3-pointers.

Arizona State next moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008-09, coming in at No. 20 after the win over Xavier. The Sun Devils climbed four spots the next week.

The catapult launched last Sunday: Arizona State 95, No. 2 Kansas 85. At Allen Fieldhouse.

One of the biggest wins in program history led to another bit of history: A No. 5 ranking this week, ASU’s highest since reaching No. 3 in 1980-81. The Sun Devils even garnered the first No. 1 votes as a program. Five of ’em, actually.

Now Arizona State is 9-0 and being mentioned as a possible national-title contender. Yeah, really.

“I knew the success was going to be better, but you don’t expect necessarily when you look at a schedule to run the table up to this point, and beat the type of teams we’ve beaten,” Hurley said. “So you just appreciate it and then you kind of move on and get ready for the next battle.”

Arizona State’s success starts with its quartet of fearless guards, turning Arizona State into “Guard U.”

With carte blanche from Hurley to shoot from anywhere at almost any time, they’ve gone from carrying the load last season to ferrying the Sun Devils closer to college basketball’s upper echelon.

Tra Holder has transformed himself from steady freshman to unquestioned, sometimes nasty senior floor leader. He scored 40 points against Xavier and leads Arizona State with 21.2 points per game. He also grabs 5.6 rebounds, dishes out 5.2 assists and won consecutive Pac-12 player of the week honors, a first by a Sun Devil since James Harden in 2008.

Shannon Evans II followed Hurley from Buffalo, had to sit out a season as a transfer and was solid as a junior, averaging 15 points per game. The 6-1 guard had become go-to guy 1-A this season, second on the team with 19 points while matching Holder in assists. Big shots? He’s go those, too, including a clutch 3 to kill a Kansas rally in one of the loudest atmospheres in the game.

Justice plays with Pete Maravichian flair, has a range that seems to extend to the opposing team’s free-throw line.

Then there’s Remy Martin. The freshman guard is more spiced rum than cognac, playing with a confidence and intensity well beyond his years.

Martin treats irritation by the opposing team’s point guard as the highest honor, often nodding his bouncy hair in approval when he officially finds his way under their skin. He was the spark off the bench against Kansas, finishing with 21 points and five steals.

“They are now freed up to be who they are more,” Hurley said. “I think they would have shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

That help is here and the Sun Devils are running and gunning with it.

Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap

Oklahoma State dismisses two players

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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State has dismissed junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson from the team for failing to meet unspecified standards set by the program.

Coach Mike Boynton says he could not “make compromises in our core values when it comes to individual players.” Dillard and Dawson were suspended before the season for reasons the school has not disclosed. Dawson missed one game and Dillard missed the first five.

Oklahoma State (7-2) faces No. 19 Florida State (9-0) in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday.