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New LSU coach Wade unveils plan to awaken a ‘sleeping giant’

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Newly named LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade left little doubt about his intention to wear his players out.

It also sounded like the fresh-faced 34-year-old, who has known only winning in his four seasons as a head coach at Chattanooga and at VCU, knew better than to make immediate promises about turning the Tigers into champions before he’d truly discovered what he’s gotten himself into down on the bayou.

“You may beat us, but you’re going to know you’re in for a fight,” Wade asserted as he spoke of going “all out, all the time,” and defending “every floor board for 94 feet.”

“That’s going to be our identity,” Wade said.

At LSU, basketball has long been a sport that lags behind football and even baseball in popularity. The program’s history is one of inconsistent results and wavering fan support – despite considerable resources spent on upgrading practice and training facilities in recent years.

There are larger than life bronze statues of Hall-of-Famers Bob Pettit and Shaquille O’Neal in front of the basketball practice gym, and the Tigers’ home stadium is named for the legendary Pete Maravich. But LSU has been to a total of four Final Fours in program history. Its last Final Four in 2006 is the only one in the past three decades.

The top overall NBA draft choice in 2016 – Ben Simmons – played at LSU two seasons ago, but the team he led failed to make the NCAA Tournament. One season later, the man who recruited Simmons, Johnny Jones, found himself at the helm of a team mired in a school-record 15-game losing streak.

Now Jones, criticized by fans for allowing Simmons to put his personal goals before those of the team, is out after five seasons, and Wade has taken on the task of trying to turn things around.

Wade said he sees LSU, which went 10-21 this season, as a “sleeping giant.” He plans to wake it up with a high-energy approach and a focus recruiting the type of players who care about the way they represent LSU.

“We’re going to have unwavering commitment to put the team first,” Wade said. “This is a privilege to be here. This is not a right to be here.”

Wade also spoke of making sure his players are not only in class, but sitting in the first few rows. (Simmons was disqualified in college from receiving the Wooden Award, which takes academic performance into consideration).

“It’s all about culture from the start,” Wade said. “You’ve got to establish the way you’re going to do things and be absolutely uncompromising in those. … We’re not going to have shortcuts.”

Wade took his first head coaching job at Chattanooga following a stint as Shaka Smart’s assistant at VCU. Chattanooga was coming off consecutive losing seasons when Wade arrived and made them winners in his first season. Chattanooga won more than 20 games in Year 2 under Wade, who then took over at VCU when Smart left for Texas. Wade guided the Rams to a 51-20 record in two seasons and is now 91-45 overall as a head coach.

Wade acknowledged that the program he took over at VCU was “humming.” He was also at a school where basketball is king, and in a region known for college basketball.

But Wade said LSU offered something that some more traditionally successful programs could not – a chance to build something that represents his own vision of what a bigtime program should be.

“I really looked at this as an opportunity to try to put my stamp on something … and build it in the vision of how I would like it built,” Wade said.

After Wade’s ceremonial introduction at LSU’s student union near the center of campus, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was pretty specific about his expectations for the Tigers’ new coach.

“We should be one of the top teams in the SEC and go to postseason play on a regular basis,” Alleva said before dismissing the notion that it is somehow basketball’s lack of popularity at LSU that has made it hard for the Tigers to win consistently.

“Our fans are great, and if we win, they’ll come,” he said.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.