Courtesy Jadee Jones

The Basketball Joneses: Tre Jones quest to climb out of brother Tyus’ shadow

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Tyus Jones was a celebrity in Minnesota by the time that he was in eighth grade.

Before he was even enrolled at Apple Valley High School, he was starting on the varsity team, calmly handling point guard responsibilities against kids four years his senior while playing in gyms so packed you couldn’t get in the door if you showed up at tip-off.

That wasn’t just for high school games, either. Summer league, fall league, local AAU and EYBL events. If Tyus was playing, people were watching. For five years, he was to the Twin Cities what LaMelo Ball was to Las Vegas last week.

“For the state, he galvanized a huge interest in basketball,” Jadee Jones, Tyus’ older half-brother, said. “Before he was a junior in high school, if you typed Apple Valley into google, it showed up Apple Valley, Calforinia. Now it shows up Apple Valley, Minnesota.”

Tyus never left his hometown high school, spending five years with the Eagles while winning a state title, getting named Mr. Basketball and becoming a McDonald’s All-American as a senior. He enrolled at Duke where he won the 2015 National Title and the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award before becoming a one-and-done, first round pick by the local NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was enough that the town of Apple Valley, a Twin Cities suburb with a population of roughly 50,000 people and little previous basketball history to speak of, turned April 22nd, 2015, into Tyus Jones Day, where he received a key to the city, threw out the first pitch at a Twins game and had his number retired at Apple Valley High after a parade through the town.

For Tyus, that’s quite a legacy to leave.

For Tre, the youngest of the three Jones’ brothers, it only increased the burden of expectation that came with growing up in the shadow of a local legend.


Tyus Jones, Getty Images

Perhaps the most striking fact about the success that Tyus and Tre have had is that it is not the direct result of winning the genetic lottery.

Both brothers stand roughly 6-foot-1. Neither crack 200 pounds. Tre is more athletic than Tyus, but neither of them will ever be confused with, say, Russell Westbrook or John Wall or peak-Derrick Rose. From a basketball perspective, they are both very average when it comes to the kind of measureables that make NBA GMs salivate over potential.

Enter Jadee Jones.

A former Division I player himself — Jones played two years at Furman before transferring back to Division II Minnesota State-Mankato — Jadee is as responsible for the basketball development of both of his little brothers as anyone. He graduated from Mankato in 2009 with a degree in Health and Exercise Science and a dream of becoming a basketball trainer, making a career out of “blending improvement of the physical traits with skill development.” He’s also 10 years older than Tyus and 14 years older than Tre, an awkward age gap that slots the elder somewhere between father figure and best friend. That, however, ended up being perfect for the three, as Jadee has thrived in the role of coach.

AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Kyndell Harkness

Basketball is the life-blood of the Joneses. Mom, Debbie, won a state title as a point guard in North Dakota and spent some time playing in the Junior College ranks. Tyus and Tre’s dad, Rob, played at Division III Wisconsin-Parkside. Another half-brother, Reggie Bunch, played at Robert Morris University, while an aunt, Darcy Cascaes, and an uncle, Al Nuness, were all-conference players at North Dakota and Minnesota, respectively.

“All basketball, all the time,” Jadee said. “Gets to Grandma a little bit. She wants to be able to talk about different things.”

Jadee returned to Apple Valley at the time that his family started to realize that one of their own, Tyus, had a chance to be something special. There was no better guinea pig for Jadee, and after Tyus had completed his first season on varsity as an eighth grader, the two began training as if Tyus — and Tre — were already professionals. The specific workouts have changed over the years as Jadee has learned more and the younger pair continued to improve, but the core philosophy has remained the same: Monday-through-Thursday, it was weights in the mornings and skill sessions in the afternoons as they prepared for whatever tournament or tryout Tyus had the upcoming weekend. If there were no trips on the weekend, the workouts continued. During the school year, schedules changed as the boys had class and team practices to attend, but the dedication didn’t; it was not uncommon to see Tyus or Tre leaving the house before dawn to make it to a 5:30 a.m. workout.

As time as passed things have changed. After returning to Minnesota from Duke, Tyus now lifts in the morning at the Timberwolves’ facility. The Monday-through-Thursday schedule is tailored around Tre’s summer travel. Jadee has turned working his brothers out into a successful business called Top Flight Basketball Academy, and those daily workouts now include a handful of other local high school, college and professional players.

But that hasn’t stopped the trio from finding some time almost every day to train.

“[Jadee] has sacrificed so much just trying to help me and Tre become the best basketball players we can be and achieve our goals and dreams,” Tyus said. “He’s someone who is extremely smart, knows the game, studies the game, knows the body. I’m thankful to have an older brother like that in my corner.”

“He’s the toughest on me as a coach,” added Tre. “I know that that’s because he sees the potential in me and he wants me to be the best player I can be, and I want nothing less than that.”


Tre Jones, Jon Lopez/Nike

Tyus was a sensation as an eighth-grader, when he was the starting point guard for Apple Valley’s varsity team.

“We are playing every single game sold out. Most games were sold out at the JV game,” Jadee, who has worked as Apple Valley’s JV coach and an assistant for the varsity team, said. “It was a circus at away games. Every where we went, the other team, that was their biggest crowd of the season. It was wild. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

At one of those games, a little kid was plucked out of the stands at halftime to compete in the kind of challenge that you see at halftime of every basketball game: Make a layup, a free throw, a three-pointer and a half-court shot in 30 seconds. It seemed cruel. He was too small.

That little kid proceeded to make the layup. Then the free throw. Then the three-pointer. By the time he knocked down the half-court shot, the crowd had erupted. That kid was a fourth-grader by the name of Tre Jones.

That night seven years ago serves as an apt metaphor for Tre’s career to date. The attention always seems to be on his older brother, but when given his chance to shine, Tre has done just that. Tyus won Mr. Basketball in the state as a senior, but Tre was on the varsity roster as an eighth-grader that year, just like Tyus. When Tyus was in the process of winning that national title at Duke and taking home the MOP trophy, the one that earned him a parade, Tre was busy winning the first of two state titles for the Eagles. The second one came this past spring, when, for seemingly the first time in his life, all the focus was on him.

Tyus Jones (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Prior to last season, Tre wasn’t even the most famous player on either his Apple Valley High School team or the loaded Howard Pulley EYBL team both brothers played for. Gary Trent Jr., a top ten player in the Class of 2017 and a Duke commit himself, was. But Trent transferred to Prolific Prep in California for his senior season, leaving Tre as the face of both teams.

He more than lived up to the hype, leading Apple Valley to their third state title in five years — and his second state title, besting Tyus — before leading Pulley to an impressive EYBL season and a spot in the Elite 8 at Peach Jam, the preeminent summer event on the AAU circuit. In the process, Tre staked his claim to the title of best point guard in the Class of 2018, rocketing up recruiting rankings. Last fall, he was generally thought of as a top 50 talent. He’s currently the 9th-ranked player — and the top point guard — in 247’s composite recruiting rankings.

“Tyus set the bar, and Tre came along. Everyone said Tre is playing in Tyus’ shadow,” Debbie said. “When you follow somebody, and your brother had that kind of success, people expect that stuff early. I think Tre maybe developed the accolades a little later.”

That wasn’t always easy on Tre.

“Early on in his high school career, maybe his freshman year and even sophomore year, it was tougher for him, trying to pave his own way and kind of do his own thing and earn his own stripes,” Tyus said. “The older he’s gotten, the less pressure he’s felt as the success has come.”

The irony of it all is that the cause of all this outside pressure on Tre — the success Tyus has had, his local celebrity, the enormity of the footsteps Tre is trying to follow in — provided the youngest Jones with the perfect blueprint on how to handle it. Tyus was the most famous basketball player in the Twin Cities at 14 years old, and he lived up to the hype. If anyone knows how to handle pressure, it’s him.

“It’s something we talk about quite a bit,” Jadee said. “Doing everything you can control to maximize the opportunities you have and being the best player and person that you can be is more important than outdoing someone else. Tre, he puts a lot of pressure on himself … but I think he more gets wrapped up in the process of what he’s doing day-to-day instead of check marks for what he’s doing compared to Tyus.”

“He has had some success and he grew into it, yes, but the foundation of the mentality was there. Tyus handled an immense amount of pressure as well, because when he was in eighth grade everyone in the state of Minnesota recognized him and wanted to watch him play. Everything was a circus, and you could never tell [by the way Tyus acted] that was the case. I saw him have one bad game in five years of high school. The pressure never bothered him.”

Tre Jones, Jon Lopez/Nike

Tyus quickly learned the value of putting in the work. It dates back to a fall league game before his sophomore season, when he went up to dunk on an opponent. He missed the dunk off the back of the rim, but the difference was clear. After a full spring and summer of going through Jadee’s workouts, the improvement was right there in front of him. The results were tangible.

And addicting.

And Tre saw it all. He was in fifth-grade, doing the same things that Tyus was doing, watching his idol throw himself headfirst into a dream, using the day-to-day grind to block out that external noise.

“They would be getting up before school to work out, or they would be going two-a-days, and that’s when I didn’t need someone else to push me,” Tre said. “Someone else can only push you so far. Once I saw Tyus go through it all, and especially when his hard work started to pay off, that’s when I took it upon myself.”

Some believe Tre has a higher ceiling that Tyus simply because he’s a better athlete. He’s longer, he’s springier, he’s a better defender. At this point, Tyus is still a better shooter than Tre, but what has always set Tyus apart from other point guards is the way he sees the game. “He’s a general,” Jadee, who knows his brothers’ games better than anyone, says. “He can see what’s happening and initiate actions to manipulate what he sees. He does that on a level that you don’t see the impact that he has, because he’s moving the ball or himself at a certain time to a certain spot.”

“Tre goes at being a point guard with a lot of fire. With his feet, the things you can see, the hustle plays, the defense, the rebounding, taking charges, scoring in transition.”

Their play matches their personalities — Tyus can be quiet and pensive, Tre is a busy-body that wears his emotions on his sleeve — and part of the change in Tre’s perception had to do with how well both Apple Valley and Pulley did despite losing Trent.

Maybe Tre has more of Tyus’ ‘natural point guard’ ability in him than people realized.

Which means that maybe, one day, Tyus will be known as Tre’s older brother.


via @trejones03

The question in recruiting circles now is whether or not Tre is a lock to follow in Tyus’ footsteps in college.

Is he going to Duke?

Many believe he is, but according to every member of the Jones family that NBC Sports spoke to, that decision will be left to Tre.

He wants to be recruited. He wants to develop a relationship with different coaching staffs. He wants to make sure that he is making the right decision on where to go to school. As it stands, Duke is one of five schools left on his list, along with UCLA, USC, Minnesota and Ohio State. The Buckeyes weren’t previously in the mix, but due to Tre’s relationship with Chris Holtmann and his staff when Holtmann was at Butler, he’s now considering the school; the coach was always on his list.

“[Tyus] is behind me, any decision I make, what I feel is best for me,” Tre said. “He went [to Duke], but at the same time he’s been through all this. He knows whatever the best fit for me is the best fit for me. He’s going to support me 100 percent.”

“We already got a lot of Duke gear,” Jadee said, chuckling, “but when all the cards are out there, if he feels like there’s another spot that’s better for him, we’ll support that.”

That’s how the family rolls.

When it comes to basketball, they always support each other. Blood is thicker than college. No questions asked. The traveling party that made it down to North Augusta for Peach Jam was nearly ten-deep, including Jadee, Tyus and Grandma. The closer the games are to home, the bigger the Jones’ section in the stands gets, whether it’s a high school game, a Pro-Am or a YMCA game for one of Jadee’s three sons.

“My oldest is going to start his four-year old YMCA basketball league stuff this winter, and we’ll probably have eight or nine people there,” he said. “First and last out of the gym.”

The only real sibling rivalry that Tyus and Tre care about?

Who ends up being the cool uncle.

“It’s me,” Tre said. “We both have a lot of fun with our nephews, but of course I’m going to say me.”

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?

Top 100 Players Countdown

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Starting on Monday morning and continuing throughout the week, we will be counting down the top 100 players in college basketball on the College Basketball Talk twitter account.

Check back to this page – or to the CBT twitter account – throughout the week to get caught up on the rankings.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview

Pac-12 Conference Preview: Will the FBI investigation overshadow a promising season?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Pac-12.

The Pac-12 won’t have nearly as much star power this season.

Losing the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks after one season would hurt any league but the Pac-12 is also hurting after only four teams made the 2017 NCAA tournament.

While Arizona remains a national title contender and USC is a darkhorse candidate to do a lot of damage nationally, UCLA and Oregon are building on the fly with a lot of new pieces.

Outside of the four NCAA tournament teams, the league still faces a lot of postseason uncertainty as unproven players and new head coaches are featured throughout the league.

There might not be a superstar like Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball but there are still plenty of reasons to stay up late for Pac-12 hoops this season.

Allonzo Trier (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Arizona is in position to make a Final Four (if they can stay focused)

Arizona is going to be one of the most fascinating teams to follow in recent memory this season thanks to a very talented roster and some intriguing off-the-court storylines.

To start with the product on the hardwood, this team is good enough to be in the running for preseason No. 1. Allonzo Trier is back, as the preseason All-American will be counted on to be one of the nation’s premier scorers. The junior guard is good enough to put the Wildcats on his back with dominant scoring stretches against great teams, but he’s also prone to playing hero ball and freezing out his teammates. If Trier can find a healthy balance between the two then he’s a darkhorse Player of the Year candidate.

Trusting teammates shouldn’t be difficult for Trier this season since he has so much talent around him. After a solid freshman campaign that saw him average double-figures, Rawle Alkins is back on the perimeter. Senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright doesn’t put up big numbers but he’s a steady veteran ball-handling presence who can knock down perimeter jumpers.

The interior sees the return of stable senior center Dusan Ristic, an efficient double-figure scorer who doesn’t get enough credit nationally for his post-scoring skill. Energy senior big man Keanu Pinder is back to give a lift off the bench with his high-motor play.

And then there is the incoming freshman class has some ridiculous talent and depth.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

Once considered the No. 1 player in the country, 7-foot center Deandre Ayton is a freak athlete who has surprising touch for a player his size. Think about Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, Greg Oden and DeAndre Jordan. All of those guys can dominate athletically on the interior at 7-feet-tall but none of them have shooting touch outside of the paint. They’re all awful from the free-throw line. Ayton is different in that regard. He has the touch to extend his range to at times knock down three-pointers while also shooting around 80 percent from the charity stripe over a 20-game span in the Nike EYBL.

The huge question with Ayton is his motor. Sometimes Ayton is motivated enough to run through all of the nation’s elite big men (including Duke’s Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter) at Peach Jam in succession. Other times, he barely shows up and it doesn’t look like he wants to play basketball. Whichever Ayton that Arizona gets could dictate this team’s true ceiling.

Besides Ayton, Miller did a great job of stockpiling the roster with additional depth at multiple spots. Five-star wing Emmanuel Akot is an intriguing athlete at wing forward who could be a boost defensively and on the glass. Brandon Randolph is a 6-foot-6 perimeter threat with a beautiful-looking jumper who might provide much-needed floor spacing. Ira Lee is a consensus top-100 prospect who can give energy minutes.

But how will this team fit together? Does Ayton get enough touches to stay consistently hungry to be great? Will any of the other freshmen be good enough to be more than role players?

The on-court questions are riveting enough. Now also factor in that Arizona is also one of four programs who had an assistant coach — Emmanuel “Book” Richardson — arrested as part of the FBI’s investigation into bribery in college recruiting practices. The Wildcats just lost a five-star point guard for next year, Jahvon Quinerly, in recruiting. Clearly, this isn’t an issue that is going away anytime soon and the Wildcats will have to get used to hearing about it for the foreseeable future. How they handle all of the off-the-court drama – especially with five freshmen – could determine their season.

We went deep on Arizona’s prospects this season here.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview
Chimezie Metu (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

2. USC is absolutely loaded

One of the teams to watch out west this season will be USC as the Trojans return a ton of talent from a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament. Six players return who made at least 18 starts last season, including the senior backcourt of point guard Jordan McLaughlin and shooting guard Elijah Stewart.

The duo can both shoot, they’re comfortable with head coach Andy Enfield’s system and they’re a major part of a very balanced roster. Up front the Trojans get even scarier. Junior forward Chimezie Metu was one of the nation’s prominent breakout players last season as he’s a great athlete on both ends of the floor. After missing half the year, junior Bennie Boatwright provides floor spacing and rebounding at 6-foot-10.

Sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton is a valuable defender and glue guy and junior wing Shaqquan Aaron started 20 games last season. USC’s wealth of backcourt riches continues with sophomore Jonah Mathews.

The newcomers USC adds also gives them that extra boost to be a national player this season. It didn’t work out at Duke for point guard Derryck Thornton, but after sitting out a transfer season, he is a valuable guard to have in the rotation as he provides steady ball handling and perimeter defense.

McDonald’s All-American wing Charles O’Bannon Jr. also joins the Trojans, going across town from where his father starred in Westwood. The younger O’Bannon gives USC another potential wing scorer and perimeter shooter as they’ll be deep on the wing and on the perimeter.

Frontcourt depth could be a concern for USC. The Trojans can go to a lot of small-ball lineups if needed but there isn’t a lot of dependable size outside of Metu and Boatwright. Sophomore Nick Rakocevic played some solid minutes but he can also be inconsistent. Freshmen like Jordan Usher and 6-foot-11 Victor Uyaelunmo are also unproven.

If this group can stay healthy and get a lift from the new guys then the Trojans should have all the pieces in place to make a run at the second weekend.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
Jordan McLaughlin (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

3. UCLA has a lot of new faces (and a new Ball brother) on a talented team

There are reasons to pay attention to UCLA this season but the Bruins won’t be nearly as engrossing as the Lonzo Ball-led group of last season.

For one, Lonzo is with the Lakers now. The Bruins still have a Ball brother — freshman LiAngelo, the middle of the three brothers — but he’s a shooting guard who hasn’t displayed nearly as much promise as his older brother. More on him in a minute.

UCLA loses a lot but there is also a lot to like. Senior big man Thomas Welsh is back manning the middle as he’s a consistent double-double threat who can provide spurts of really good offense. Junior guard Aaron Holiday is back after being arguably the nation’s best player off the bench last season. A tenacious defender who can play on or off the ball, Holiday could have a huge year now that he’ll be the team’s most experience perimeter player.

And, once again, head coach Steve Alford has a top-flight recruiting class coming into Westwood. LiAngelo, a three-star prospect, might actually be the lowest-rated member of the six-man group. Point guard Jaylen Hands and 6-foot-8 wing Kris Wilkes are both very athletic McDonald’s All-Americans who should be counted on to produce right away.

Hands doesn’t play with the unselfishness of Lonzo by pushing the ball ahead with the pass, but he’s a very aggressive downhill guard. If Hands can show a workable perimeter jumper then he should still be a major boost to a UCLA offense that wants to continue to play fast. Wilkes can be electric on the wing in the open floor and he has the type of scoring prowess to be a double-figure guy from day one. If frontcourt freshmen like Cody Riley and Jalen Hill can give Welsh some help then UCLA should remain stable in the frontcourt as well.

But the big question for this team (besides the obvious one of replacing Lonzo at point) might actually be perimeter shooting. The Bruins should be adequate. They were elite last season.

Lonzo, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton all made at least 74 triples last season — with the first two on that list both being at least 41 percent. T.J. Leaf was a stretch option who nailed 46 percent of his three-pointers. This year’s UCLA team brings back a solid 41 percent three-point shooter in Holiday but they’re actually going to need LiAngelo to come through and be a floor spacer to have an offense nearly as capable as last season.

And that doesn’t even factor in how many easy looks UCLA got last year by having unselfish floor leaders who loved to move the ball. Lonzo’s unselfishness could be contagious. Hands can be a scoring guard who will sometimes set up others but he hasn’t necessarily shown an ability to get others easy looks on a regular basis.

UCLA still has a high ceiling and a bevy of young talent. They’ll put up a lot of points on some nights, and this year’s team might actually be more athletic on the perimeter. But it’ll be nearly impossible to replace the nightly magic last year’s Bruins seemed to produce on the way to a Sweet 16.

This team should be fascinating.

RELATEDACC Preview | Perry Ellis All-Stars | Contender Series
Steve Alford (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

4. Oregon needs its newcomers to be productive

Coming off of last season’s Final Four appearance things will be dramatically different at Oregon this year. Five double-figure scorers have departed, along with dependable rotation guard Casey Benson. It’ll be hard to replace the energy of Jordan Bell (arguably the best player in the 2016 NCAA tournament), the versatility of Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks and the scoring ability of Tyler Dorsey.

Payton Pritchard will be a huge key for the Ducks. After a freshman season that saw him play more minutes and with more production than many had probably envisioned, now Pritchard is Oregon’s best returning player from last season’s roster. Likely responsible for running point, Pritchard needs to improve his shooting efficiency and consistency but he’s also capable of getting hot from deep and he’s coming off a strong summer after making the USA U19 World Cup team. Senior forward Roman Sorkin and sophomore Keith Smith are the only two returning players besides Pritchard from last season’s team. The rest of the roster will be based off the play of newcomers.

Transfers will be a huge part of Oregon’s season. New Mexico transfer Elijah Brown enters the backcourt picture and he’s provided production everywhere he’s gone. The major question with Brown is his ability to play intelligent and winning basketball. McKyle McIntosh was a solid grab from Illinois State as he is a versatile two-way forward who plays with a solid motor. After sitting out most of the last two seasons, Paul White is hoping to remain healthy and help on the interior as he brings a high skill level to Oregon from Georgetown.

Credit head coach Dana Altman for also bringing in a solid group of newcomers as this freshman class should also help. Las Vegas native Troy Brown is a five-star perimeter threat who is versatile enough to play multiple positions with a good degree of skill. The frontcourt should also get some help from 6-foot-7 Abu Kigab, who averaged a double-double for the Canadians during the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer.

Obviously a lot of things need to fall into place for the Ducks but they at least have a known point guard in Pritchard and athleticism and versatility at multiple positions like Altman craves out of his rotation. Oregon needs to find some rim-protecting big men who can eat up minutes on the interior but they should be talented and experienced enough to make it back to the tournament.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Dana Altman (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

5. Will another team step up and make the NCAA tournament? 

For as good as the top teams were in the Pac-12 last season, the rest of the league was pretty dreadful by power conference standards.

Three teams played in the NIT last season, Cal, Colorado and Utah, and all three got hit hard with players leaving the roster. Five teams from the league missed the postseason completely as many of the teams in the conference are still in rebuilding mode.

Perhaps the teams with the best chance at a breakthrough in the Pac-12 this season is Stanford. We know that junior forward Reid Travis is one of the best frontcourt players in the nation while senior Dorian Pickens is a double-figure scorer. But the Cardinal need to be more consistent. Senior big man Michael Humphrey is hit or miss and point guard Robert Cartwright will be pushed if he doesn’t improve his mediocre shooting.

Stanford also has intriguing young talents like four-star prospects Daejon Davis and Kezie Okpala entering the picture. Davis should push for backcourt minutes early as his athleticism is a huge boost while Okpala is an intriguing long-term prospect on the wing at 6-foot-8. Redshirt freshman Kodye Pugh is also one to keep an eye on.

But even with all of that talent, Stanford has been woefully inconsistent when it comes to scoring and perimeter shooting. They need a lot of work in that department to make a run.

Other teams have intriguing parts about them but the giant question marks are just as glaring. Utah has been a consistent presence in the top half of the Pac-12 and David Collette is back but there are holes in other spots. Arizona State and Oregon State both have talent but many of their players are either unproven or coming off of poor showings last season.

It’s hard to say if the Pac-12 can improve and get more than four teams in the 2018 NCAA tournament but nobody outside the top four really stands out at the moment.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Allonzo Trier, Arizona

It was a strange junior year for Trier, as he had to sit out the first 19 games of the season. He had to wait until late January to play and still put up numbers against only Pac-12 and NCAA tournament competition. With a full season of being in a rhythm and knowing his teammates, Trier could be in for a huge junior season as the guard has the ability to take over a game with his scoring.

THE REST OF THE PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

  • Chimezie Metu, USC: The league’s most improved player last season, Metu is a bouncy double-double threat who is capable of impacting the game above the rim on both ends.
  • Deandre Ayton, Arizona: Ayton could be a dominant one-and-done freshman this season as he’ll be one of the most athletic 7-footers the college game has seen in years.
  • Reid Travis, Stanford: Healthy and thriving, the junior forward was the only Pac-12 player to be in the top five in scoring and rebounding last season.
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC: Overshadowed in a league that featured the top two picks in this year’s draft, McLaughlin has a chance to break the USC career assist record this season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Rawle Alkins, Arizona
  • Aaron Holiday, UCLA
  • Bennie Boatwright, USC
  • Thomas Welsh, UCLA
  • Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Aaron Holiday (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

BREAKOUT STAR: Aaron Holiday, UCLA

Overshadowed by Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton a season ago, Holiday could have a huge year during his junior campaign. Even though Holiday saw his minutes decrease as a sophomore, he became a far more efficient shooter as he finished at 48 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three-point range. The interesting thing with Holiday this season could be which role he plays. If he plays more on the ball, then Holiday needs to decrease his turnovers. Off-the-ball, Holiday would need to become one of UCLA’s go-to scorers after the team lost so much firepower.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Sean Miller, Arizona

The Pac-12 doesn’t have a lot of traditional “hot seat” pressure from coaches who need to win to keep their jobs. A different kind of pressure is what Miller is dealing with in Tucson. Since Arizona still has yet to advance to the Final Four under Miller, he will continue to deal with scrutiny if he falls short of the final weekend in March. With a roster talented enough to be considered preseason No. 1 in the country by some, Miller has all of the pieces to make it to San Antonio. But he’ll have to deal with keeping a lot of players who want shots and minutes happy while also handling the black cloud of the FBI investigation looming over his program.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

Top teams like Arizona, USC and UCLA show promise but the Pac-12 had another disappointing year for NCAA tournament teams.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT

the Pac-12 Tournament. Since it moved to Las Vegas it has become one of the must-see college hoops events of the season thanks to an unbelievable atmosphere. And as a bonus, the Pac-12 can’t screw up the schedule like they did with the regular season.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • 11/23, Connecticut vs. Oregon (start of PK 80 in Portland)
  • 11/26, Texas A&M at USC
  • 12/5, Arizona vs. Texas A&M (at Phoenix)
  • 12/9, Arizona vs. Alabama
  • 12/16, Cincinnati at UCLA

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @Pac12Network

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

POWER RANKINGS

1. Arizona: This team has almost everything they could want to make a run. A senior point guard, a dominant All-American scorer, potentially unstoppable post scoring and depth at multiple spots. The sky is the limit for Arizona this season as they face the immense pressure to win a national title.
2. USC: Backcourts as experienced and deep as USC’s tend to do well in the postseason and not many in the nation will be better than Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart. Coupled with some scary upside in the frontcourt and this is a sleeper pick to make a really deep tournament run.
3. UCLA: UCLA continues to recruit at an elite level and it means they have the potential to have a big season once again. But this group needs to share the ball and continue to shoot at a high level if they want to reach the second weekend like they did last season.
4. Oregon: Interior production could be a key for the Ducks as they’re hopeful some young players can step up and provide minutes. Four-star freshman Victor Bailey is another big-time athlete who should compete for rotation minutes for a team that is still athletic and skilled.
5. Stanford: The Cardinal faltered down the stretch last season but five of the team’s top six scorers are back. Reid Travis is a Player of the Year candidate in the league while Dorian Pickens doesn’t get enough national love. Finding reliable (and healthy) role players around them is key.
6. Utah: The Utes were hit with some offseason departures but senior big man David Collette is back along with some other solid options. Point guard Sedrick Barefield gets a full season to lead and Collette has a lot of depth around him in the frontcourt.
7. Arizona State: Expect the Sun Devils to have one of the better backcourts in the league with three seniors in Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice. The frontcourt has major question marks as redshirt freshman Romello White and juco rim protector De’Quon Lake should help.
8. Oregon State: The Beavers bottomed out at 1-17 in league play last year as Tres Tinkle was hurt and a young team struggled. The good news is that Tinkle and nearly the entire roster is back. Top-75 recruit Ethan Thompson, a noted perimeter shooter, will be added to the rotation at guard.
9. Colorado: Four starters are gone from a 19-win team as the Buffaloes get a lot of fresh faces. Solid senior George King is back and the freshman class, potentially Tad Boyle’s best during his tenure, could dictate whether Colorado builds for the future or fights for the postseason now.
10. Washington: The Huskies don’t have the lottery pick talent of the past few seasons as Mike Hopkins takes over the beginnings of a rebuild. Junior wing Matisse Thybulle is back after a solid season while junior guard David Crisp can also produce. It’ll be fascinating to see how Hopkins coaches his own team and how much he takes from his time under Jim Boeheim.
11. California: New head coach Wyking Jones has a veteran frontcourt in senior center Kingsley Okoroh and Kentucky transfer forward Marcus Lee (a Perry Ellis All-Star) but the backcourt has giant question marks after nearly everyone left. Seeing if Jones tries to go uptempo while utilizing a full-court press is something to monitor for how Cal wants to play in the future.
12. Washington State: Underrated forward Josh Hawkinson is gone and the Cougars need a lot of new pieces to step up. Sophomore point guard Malachi Flynn showed promise last season as he has a chance to be a breakout player.

Mizzou-Kansas benefit game raises nearly 2M for charity

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While there’s still a demand that longtime rivals Missouri and Kansas resume their basketball series at some point, Sunday’s exhibition game in Kansas City helped whet the appetites of many in attendance. But more important than the series and the opportunity for head coaches Cuonzo Martin and Bill Self to get an early evaluation of their teams against outside competition was the cause.

The rivals, separated by conference realignment that led Missouri to the SEC and the Big 12 to the brink of collapse, got together to raise money for hurricane relief. Multiple hurricanes hit the United States, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and other portions of the Caribbean earlier this fall, with some areas still in the early stages of getting things back in order.

The Showdown for Relief came about to help those in need, and it sparked a movement across college basketball as well.

It was announced at halftime of Sunday’s exhibition that the schools and their supporters managed to raise an impressive $1.75 million for hurricane relief.

According to Gary Bedore of the Kansas City Star more than $600,000 of the money raised came by way of pay-per-view sales for the game, which cost $40 for those unable to get to the Sprint Center.