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NCAA tournament breakout star Jordan Bell will be remembered for costly missed boxouts

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jordan Bell has been perhaps the most productive and consistent player in the 2017 NCAA tournament. The Oregon junior center emerged as a breakout star in March when regular starter Chris Boucher went down with a torn ACL right before the tournament started.

Many people wrote off Oregon’s chances at making a deep tournament run when Boucher was lost with his season-ending injury. Bell quickly made people forget about the injury with double-doubles in four of five tourney games while helping carry the Ducks to the Final Four.

But for as good as Bell has been over the past few weeks, he’ll forever be associated with the final six seconds of North Carolina’s 77-76 win over Oregon in the second national semifinal on Saturday night.

With Tar Heels big man Kennedy Meeks shooting free throws with a one-point lead, the Ducks just needed a couple of misses and a big defensive rebound to get one more chance to tie or win the game. Meeks did his part by missing both free throws, but the second miss was back-tapped by North Carolina’s Theo Pinson, as he out-jumped Bell for the rebound. Tar Heel point guard Joel Berry II ended up with the ball and was fouled with four seconds left.

Once again, Berry did everything he could to help Oregon stay in the game by missing both free throws but Bell was again outrebounded after missing a boxout — this time by Meeks.

Bell was so emotional after the loss that he buried his head in his hands in the corner of the court for a good 20 seconds as the magnitude of everything that had happened finally hit. With tears in his eyes and his voice barely reaching a whisper, Bell recounted his version of the final six seconds as cameras and reporters surrounded his locker.

“The first one, he just out-jumped me,” Bell said of Pinson’s back-tap. “He wanted it more. I guess…”

“I thought I had the second one, then [Meeks] just took it from me.”

“If I had just boxed out… I had two opportunities. People can tell me whatever they want, but I lost the game for us.”

Bell’s blunders on the defensive glass are going to be remembered by many as one of the primary reasons that Oregon was eliminated from the Final Four. It should also be noted that Bell had another productive night, finishing with 13 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, when other key players Oregon like Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey couldn’t get much going offensively. Brooks and Dorsey combined to go 5-for-22 from the field on Saturday as Oregon was 7-for-26 from three-point range.

The other Ducks were quick to come to Bell’s defense when asked about the missed defensive rebounds.

“They told me it wasn’t my fault and that it didn’t come down to one play,” Bell said.

“He’s been playing great for us. He’s been snatching those boards. We felt that we should have boxed out and gotten one of those rebounds,” Dorsey said. “But without him, we wouldn’t be in this position. So, you can’t look at that and say it was the key to the game because it wasn’t. There were other opportunities before that. We just didn’t capitalize. But it hurts him a lot that he didn’t get that rebound because he’s been doing that this whole tournament.”

People will likely forget that Bell had a key offensive putback off of an Oregon missed free throw late in the Sweet 16 win over Michigan. Or that Bell was the most dominant player on the floor against No. 1 seed Kansas in the Elite Eight when he had 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks.

Bell might have blamed himself for the loss but it’s not his direct fault that Oregon is out of the NCAA tournament. Anyone who watched the Ducks take bad shots down the stretch time-after-time against North Carolina can attest to that. But, fair or not, people will remember Bell’s missed boxouts more than anything else he accomplished in the 2017 NCAA tournament.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averagedΒ 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.