Keene may be college basketball’s highest scorer in 20 years

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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) Marcus Keene attracts a crowd on the court and in the stands.

Central Michigan’s scoring machine, one of college basketball’s most prolific scorers in 20 years, slashes to the basket at will, leaving one defender and drawing one or two who usually make contact. He also overcomes attention on the perimeter, where his array of moves and ability to go either way off the dribble set him up to hoist shots from NBA 3-point range .

The league is taking notice.

Despite being listed as a 5-foot-9 point guard, scouts have been showing up to watch Keene play, especially on the road to avoid a trek to Mount Pleasant, Michigan, in the middle of the state. The Youngstown State transfer, who was born in Germany and raised by his parents in San Antonio, is averaging 29.4 points going into Central Michigan’s final regular season game Friday night at Western Michigan. Keene is averaging five-plus more points per game than the nation’s second-leading scorer, South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, who is a foot taller.

Since Charles Jones averaged 30-plus points a game at Long Island University during the 1996-97 season, Keene has come closest to matching the feat. A 50-point game , the first in Division I hoops since 2013, along with becoming the first with six 40-point games in more than a decade boosted his average enough to put him in select company. Keene, Stephen Curry and Jimmer Fredette are the only players who have averaged at least 28.5 points per game over the last 15 seasons in Division I basketball.

Isaiah Thomas, who like Keene may be shorter than 5-9 in socks, has proven with the Boston Celtics that the shortest player on the court can still be one of the best.

Looking for possibly the next diminutive great, three NBA teams dispatched representatives to evaluate Keene last week at Toledo. Twenty seconds after the tip, he picked up a foul. He went to the bench with 8:13 left in the first half with three fouls, five turnovers and no points in 9 minutes.

It may not have been a big deal for 4,463 fans, but a few scouts let out a collective sigh because the person they came to see was stuck on the bench.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” one scout said, shaking his head.

Next to him, another scout had a suggestion.

“It should be like summer league,” he said, referring to the NBA’s rule that allow for 10 fouls.

Even in a foul-plagued game, Keene showed a knack for scoring in bunches and finished with 27 points in a lopsided loss.

Keene has been in the spotlight during his spectacular season, becoming a story transcendent enough that even “CBS Evening News,” visited him on campus. Keene, though, hasn’t been able to rejoice in it because Central Michigan (16-14, 6-11 Mid-American Conference) has allowed a potentially promising season slip away with six straight losses going into Friday’s matchup with the rival Broncos (14-15, 10-7) on the road.

“I don’t like it at all,” he said. “Of course, the attention is helping me for later on after college basketball. But I want to win games and this is frustrating that we can’t find a way to win.”

The Chippewas will open the MAC Tournament on an opponents’ home court Monday, hoping to advance to the quarterfinals in Cleveland to keep Keene’s dream alive of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“If we play our game, we can beat everybody ,” he told The Associated Press. “I still feel confident in myself and in my team that we can win.”

Confidence, or the lack of it, has never been a problem for Keene. That was true even when Youngstown State was the only Division I program that really wanted him out of Warren High School in San Antonio , where he was teammates with Atlanta Hawks rookie Taurean Prince.

“Everyone thinks you have to be 6-3 to be a guard in college,” his father, Ivan Keene, said. “He just got overlooked because of his size, but I remember telling him, `It only takes one school to take you, because you can’t play for them all.’ I prayed to God that one school would take a chance on him and one did and we’ll always be thankful for that.”

After averaging 6.5 points as a college freshman, his mother recalled him coming home in the summer with index cards full of tips from his coaches. Instead of going out with his friends at night, he got his rest for busy days that started early.

“We put an alarm system in our bedroom because we had four teenagers in high school at the same time so we could know when someone was going in or out of the door and it would go off at 5:45 a.m. when Marcus would go out and run,” Alberttina Keene-Jones said. “Then he would come back, eat, and go out some more. Then he would take a nap before leaving again to work on his game some more.”

Keene’s hard work paid off as a sophomore when he averaged a team-high 15.6 points a game and scored a then-career high 24 points on Nov. 18, 2014, in a loss to the free-wheeling Chippewas. When Central Michigan coach Keno Davis saw on social media after the season that Keene wanted to transfer and confirmed with Youngstown State’s compliance department, assistant coach Jeff Smith called Keene and was thrilled to find out he was interested in reuniting with a fellow 5-9 Texan, Braylon Rayson. Keene sat out last season as a redshirt, starring for the scout team.

Davis gives Keene the green light to shoot whenever and wherever he wants, helping him break MAC and school season scoring records set by former NBA players Ron Harper at Miami and Dan Majerle at Central Michigan. Davis acknowledged he may coach the once-in-a-generation scorer for only one season.

“He’s going to have opportunities to play at another level,” Davis said. “Your job as a coach is to make sure a student-athlete in his position has all the information he can have to make the best decision. If the thought is to come back, great. If the decision is to leave and play professionally, you support that decision as well.”

Keene insisted he doesn’t know yet if he will stay in college or enter the NBA draft this year.

“There’s a chance I’ll go because what I’m doing probably won’t be done again,” he said in an AP interview. “I just have to see what people say after the season and see how it plays out.”

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

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Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.