Nebraska v Ohio State

Five college basketball players to participate in FIBA Basketball World Cup

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With the first FIBA Basketball World Cup (formerly the FIBA World Championships) set to tip off next weekend in Spain, most of the attention has been focused on the many professional players who will be participating. And rightfully so, when considering the fact that the rosters of favorites such as the United States, Spain and Argentina are loaded with NBA players.

But the event will also feature five college basketball players who will be on campuses in 2014-15, with New Zealand’s roster having two of those five players. One of those two, Nebraska sophomore guard Tai Webster, even played a key role in New Zealand’s surprising 102-96 win over Serbia on Sunday, as he scored 21 points. Professional veterans Kirk Penney (you may remember him being on Wisconsin’s 2000 Final Four team) and Mike Vukona led the way offensively, scoring 29 and 22 points respectively.

The experience of playing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup is an incredibly valuable one for the college players, as they get to sharpen their skills and compete against the best players in the world ahead of the upcoming season. And for Webster, who averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 assists per game as a freshman at Nebraska, a good tournament would provide the springboard needed to put together a solid sophomore campaign.

Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields return to lead the way for Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers, but they’re going to need more from players such as Webster if they’re to make a second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Joining Webster on the New Zealand national team is forward Isaac Fotu, who in his two seasons at Hawaii has emerged as one of the best front court players in the Big West. Fotu averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year, earning first team All-Big West honors as a result. And with leading scorer and rebounder Christian Standhardinger out of eligibility, Fotu stands to receive even more attention from opponents in 2014-15.

The other three current collegians participating in the FIBA Basketball World Cup are SMU senior forward Yanick Moreira (Angola; 6.0, 3.9), Kansas freshman guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) and Ohio senior forward Maurice Ndour (Senegal; 14.1, 6.9). As a junior at Ohio, Ndour earned second team All-MAC honors.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”