No. 1 Villanova defeated Creighton, 74-60, in the Big East Tournament title game behind 29 points from Josh Hart. It’s the second time in the past three years that the Wildcats are dual-Big East champs. The reigning national champions Villanova has the best chance to repeat since Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford won back-to-back at Florida a decade ago. So, why has that storyline flown under the radar all year. CBT’s Rob Dauster was at the Garden to offer up his thoughts on ‘Nova.
Sure, No. 23 Iowa State didn’t have to face Kansas or Baylor in the conference’s postseason tournament, but there’s no denying that the Cyclones are arguably the nation’s hottest teams. Iowa State have won nine of 10, and avenged that only loss in that span by defeating No. 11 West Virginia, 80-74, in the Big 12 Tournament championship game in Kansas City on Saturday night. The Cyclones scored 80 points, off 54 percent shooting, against Press Virginia.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: The speedster scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half to fend off a good fight from Alabama. Malik Monk also shook off a two-point effort the previous day with a 20-point performance.
Josh Hart, Villanova: This week in New York City, Hart made a late case for the nation’s player of the year. In a championship game win, the senior wing went for 29 points and grabbed six rebounds. He becomes only the third player in the Big East history — joining Patrick Ewing and Peyton Siva — to win multiple Big East Tournament MVP honors.
Myles Stephens, Princeton: The first-ever Ivy League Tournament game was a thriller. Undefeated Princeton, playing essentially a road game against Penn in The Palestra, sent the game to overtime and kept the Tigers’ tournament hopes alive with a tip-in with 5.3 seconds remaining in regulation. Stephens had 21 points and 10 boards in the overtime victory.
Jaylin Walker, Kent State: The sophomore had himself a week in Cleveland. A day after hitting the game-winner in the semifinals against Ohio, Walker set a career-high with 30 points (18 coming after halftime) in a win over top-seeded Akron.
Derrick Walton, Michigan: The senior point guard has led he Wolverines to the Big Ten Tournament title game behind his 29 points, nine assists (one turnover), five rebounds and two steals in a semifinal win over Minnesota.
REST OF THE TOP 25
No. 7 Arizona made its case for the No. 1 seed in the West Region with an 83-80 victory over No. 5 Oregon. The Wildcats led by as many as 14 in the second half before the Ducks rallied. Allonzo Trier, who ended with 23 points, helped secure the win from the free throw line.
No. 12 SMU went on a 14-3 second-half run to cruise to its 15th straight victory, advancing to the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship game with a 70-59 win over Central Florida.
The Mustangs will meet No. 15 Cincinnati, who held off a comeback from UConn, after leading by 12 at halftime. After several threats from the Huskies, the Bearcats finally put the game away at the line en route to an 81-71 semifinal victory.
Playing its third game in as many days may have done Northwestern in, as No. 24 Wisconsin rolled past the Wildcats, 76-48, and into the Big Ten Tournament title game. Nigel Hayes had 18 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Ethan Happ with 16.
Princeton and Yale will meet in the first Ivy League Tournament championship game at The Palestra.
Texas State defeated UT-Arlington by 20 to advance to the Sun Belt Conference title game. UT-Arlington was the top-seed and had a double-digit win over Saint Mary’s in Moraga. Many thought the Mavericks could be a Cinderella this March.
Bubble teams across the country are happy VCU knocked off Richmond in overtime of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament semifinal.
However, the A-10 could still get three bids in the NCAA Tournament, if Rhode Island wins on Sunday against VCU. The Rams entered the day as one of the “First Four Out.” Perhaps a win over Davidson sealed the deal.
Moses Kingsley recorded a double-double 12 points and 13 rebounds in Arkansas‘ 76-62 SEC Tournament semifinal win over Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks have looked good in Nashville this week.
A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.
Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.
“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”
“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”
Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.
If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.
Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.
“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”
Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.
He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.
Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.
Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.
After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.
“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.
Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.
“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”
Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Those plans quickly went awry.
Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.
That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.
Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.
“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”
Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.
Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.
“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”
Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.
“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.
Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.
They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.
“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”
All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.
He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”
“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.
From the Top of the World to the Edge of a Dream: Kamaka Hepa’s journey from Alaska to Division I hoops
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Kamaka Hepa’s pursuit of becoming the first Inupiaq (Eskimo) to play in the NBA took him to Nike’s Peach Invitational last week, where he stepped on the court as a top 50 prospect being pursued by Shaka Smart, Mark Few and a dozen other coaches 3,700 miles from his hometown of Barrow, Alaska.
A town located 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle, the northernmost community in the United States, made up primarily of Inupiat.
A town that Hepa didn’t leave until tragedy struck.
Barrow, Alaska, is as unique as it is isolated.
Only accessible by plane, Barrow is as far North as you can get while remaining within the boundaries of the United States. When the thermostat cracks 50 degrees during the summer, it’s a scorcher. The temperatures during the winter months hover around -20 degrees and can drop as low as -50. The sun never sets in June and early July and residents go more than a month, from Thanksgiving through early February, without seeing the sun rise above the horizon.
One of eight villages that make up the North Slope region of Alaska, Barrow is steeped in the traditions of the native population. “The Inupiat people lived there for thousands of years,” said Roland Hepa, Kamaka’s father who is of Hawaiian and Filipino descent. “It’s their land.”
And the Inupiat live off of it.
It’s not easy, or cheap, to ship the processed food found at every grocery store in the Lower 48 states up to Barrow, meaning much of the population relies on subsistence hunting. It’s a means to survival in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.
“People attack our subsistence lifestyle because we kill animals,” Kamaka said. “It’s not something we do for game or just because. It’s how we survive.”
One of the animals that the Inupiat hunt is Bowhead Whales, a species that was nearly driven to extinction by intense commercial whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whale hunts are local tradition, a cultural norm that is inextricably woven into the fabric of the community.
“It’s a really long process, like two or three weeks,” Kamaka explained. “There’s different crews, and a whole bunch of people that will go out onto the Arctic Ocean while it’s frozen and set up camp where the ice meets the water. They’ll set up camp there for however long they have to until they get a whale.”
“It can feed a whole community. Whenever there’s a whale caught, the crew that caught it will put a flag on top of their house and the whole community will come and get their share of the whale. Everybody can come and get some. It kind of goes quick, but because there are multiple crews, multiple whales are caught. It continues for a whole process. They’ll save some and have a big gathering, called Nalukataq. It’s basically where the whole community will gather in one area, and we’ll do different cultural things, like dancing and games, and different crews will serve on different days, the elders and their families. It will continue for a weekend. I miss it.”
Basketball in Barrow is unique as well. When the warmest summer temperatures still require jackets, kids aren’t exactly clamoring to play baseball or football. Basketball, however, is hugely popular, because, as Roland put it, “the kids would rather stay in the gym and play basketball.” Only about 225 kids attend Barrow High School, the only high school in the area, which makes traveling to games a logistical nightmare. The Whalers have to fly to every game in every sport, and they fly in opponents that play in Barrow, including the other three high schools in their conference — Nome, Bethel and Kotzebue.
To ease the burden of travel costs, whenever the Whalers would play games in their league, they would play on back-to-back nights, flying in on Thursday, playing on Friday and Saturday and returning to Barrow on Sunday. They also played in quite a few tournaments in bigger cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks during the season in order to fill out their schedule. The relative scarcity of home games and the fervor with which the community supports basketball creates a raucous environment whenever a team did make the trip up to Barrow.
“The games are crazy,” Kamaka said. “The whole community is there, supporting. It makes it easy for us to feel passionate about the game.”
That community support is part of the reason it took Kamaka so long to make the decision to pursue the sport at a higher level.
Alaskan high school basketball is better than you realize, but even then, Kamaka had likely outgrown it by the time he reached his sophomore season in high school. A 6-foot-9 stretch-four that needs to develop toughness, strength and the ability to finish through contact and over length is only going to get so far playing at that level. Kamaka began attending exposure events as early as sixth grade, and according to his father, offers to play in the Lower 48 were rolling in before he had even reached high school.
Everyone — Kamaka, his family, his community — knew that, eventually, he would leave. The family often talked about when the right time to move south would be, but actually making the decision to move away from the only place you’ve ever called home is not easy for anyone, let alone a 15-year old.
“Our high school boys basketball team had never won a state championship, but when him and his classmates became freshmen, they had a couple of really good players,” Roland said. “Our community expected us to win a state championship. Our whole town was counting on us. So we weren’t going to make him move his freshman year.”
“Our community would have probably disowned us,” he added with a laugh.
So Kamaka stayed.
He won a state title as a freshman.
And the discussions began anew.
“There were options out there,” Roland said, but Kamaka wasn’t yet ready to leave.
Then came November 23rd, 2015, when Kawika Hepa, Kamaka’s oldest brother, died unexpectedly in Anchorage. He was just 29-years old. The family did not want to discuss Kawika’s death, but the tragedy shook Kamaka. He was a teenager, invincible on the court and a hero in his community. He never realized how fleeting life can be.
“Before he passed away, my brother wanted me to get out of Alaska,” Kamaka said. “The competition’s not terrible, but we thought there was more out there for me. He was always a big factor in that. He wanted me to play against the best players I could and get my game as good as I can. He thought that by moving, I would be able to do that.”
“When he passed away, I just had to do that for him.”
Kawika died a few days before the start of Kamaka’s sophomore season. In early December, he received a call from Reggie Walker, the director of Portland Basketball Club, a Nike-affiliated team that plays on the EYBL circuit. In February, Kamaka visited a few high schools in Portland, and a week after winning his second straight state title in Alaska, Kamaka was en route to Oregon with his family.
It’s been nearly 16 months since the Hepa family made the move, and Kamaka is thriving. From a personal standpoint, the adjustment that comes with moving to a city from a village of less than 5,000 people in the Arctic has been relatively easy for him. Basketball has allowed him to travel constantly throughout his younger days, and he would often visit his father’s family in Hawai’i. The family has, for the most part, remained together — Kamaka’s two older sisters are both living on their own, and his mother commutes between Portland and Barrow — knowing that the sacrifice they are making is what is best for their son.
“The only thing we miss is the family. When [my wife]’s home alone, you start missing each other,” Roland said. “We have a lot of family up there as well. Growing up in a family atmosphere, all of a sudden we move to a city where you make new friends, which is fine, we can make new friends, but that’s just not the same when you have family. That’s the only area where we feel the sacrifice.”
“My oldest son, he went to a private school and when [Kamaka] was ready to travel, we decided it’s probably best that we move with them.”
From a basketball perspective, things are going even better. Kamaka’s played on the most competitive circuit in high school basketball, the EYBL, in the spring and summer the past two years. He enrolled at Jefferson High School in Portland and won the 2017 state championship, his third ring in three years. He’s been working out two and three times a day since moving south and has slowly been climbing up the recruiting rankings; 247 Sports currently has him as the No. 50 player in the composite Class of 2018 rankings.
Best I can tell,* he is on track to become the first Inupiaq to play Division I basketball and the first Native Alaskan to play since former Oral Roberts forward Damen Bell-Holter graduated in 2013-14. Bell-Holter spent some time with the Celtics after he graduated, but was waived before the season began. Kamaka, who has the talent to one day do so, would be the first of his people to reach the NBA, and to my knowledge, Bell-Holter is the only Native Alaskan to spend time on an NBA roster.
*(I cannot find anyone else in my research. If you know of anyone I am missing, please email or tweet me.)