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Physical transformation of Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall has Villanova on brink of title

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SAN ANTONIO — We were all thinking it.

John Beilein said it.

“This is the Golden State Warriors here,” the Michigan head coach said, one day after watching Villanova set a record for the most three-pointers made in a Final Four game and one day before his team will be tasked with trying to stop that avalanche from coming. “This is Draymond Green-type of thing where your [big] guys can shoot it, they can pass it, they can do everything.”

The big guys that Beilein is referring to are Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall, and they are what makes Villanova impossible to slow down.

I know Villanova has Jalen Brunson, and yes, he is the superstar, the National Player of the Year that can break your team’s spirit without breaking a sweat or cracking a smile. When he wants to take a game over, he is taking that game over.

“If he was the only one out there, you could do some things [defensively],” Beilein said.

He’s not.

Mikal Bridges is a potential lottery pick on the wing. Donte DiVincenzo probably has an NBA career in his future as well, and Phil Booth has proven to be a more than adequate role player as a redshirt junior.

But Spellman and Paschall are the difference-makers. They are the guys that create the mismatches, the players that force opposing big men to make a decision: Either they are going to chase their front court counterparts around on the perimeter, leaving space for guards to penetrate without any rim protection, or they are going to help and pray that their rotations are fast enough that one of Villanova’s half-dozen three-point snipers doesn’t get a wide-open look.

Neither option works.

And what makes them truly special is that neither of them will be overpowered or a liability defensively. Paschall is one of the most explosive leapers in the country, and at 6-foot-6 with long arms and the ability to move his feet, he’s the prototype of a switchable wing. Spellman is a beast, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound behemoth that has, in this tournament, really shown off his athleticism, shot-blocking and strength inside.

The most impressive part?

Both of them were fat when they arrived at Villanova.


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To truly appreciate where Omari Spellman is in his life right now you have to understand just how difficult it was for him when he arrived at Villanova less than two years ago.

At the time, Spellman was a balloon. He was right around 300 pounds, a five-star prospect that had all kinds of potential buried underneath his 25 percent body-fat. Spellman knew that, eventually, he would have to get himself into shape, but what he didn’t know was just how much time he was going to have to do it during his first year on campus.

Spellman had to redshirt his first year on campus. The NCAA ruled that he was a fifth-year player coming out of high school, that he didn’t get his core credit completed within the required window of time because they determined that his high school clock had started when he repeated the eighth-grade.

Villanova appealed the ruling, but the NCAA wasn’t hearing it.

“Coach called me into his office, and he just sat me down,” Spellman said. “‘The appeal came up. You’re not going to be able to play.’ I just broke down. It was hard, but we talked about it, and once I calmed down we could only move forward.”

“They told me you can’t be successful at any level past high school at 300 pounds,” Spellman added. “They told me, ‘Beyond basketball, how do you want to be able to interact with your children, and your children’s children?’ That really hit home for me, because I don’t want to be unhealthy for the rest of my life. It’s something I really took pride in.”

What moving forward meant was a blessing in disguise, and music to the ears of Strength & Conditioning coach John Shackleton, or Shack.

He’d have a full year to work with Spellman without having to worry about the inconvenience of a basketball game.

The key with Spellman came down to discipline. He had no understanding, or desire, to eat well. Gummi bears by the bag. Fried foods. Fast food. “I wasn’t eating because I was hungry,” Spellman said. “It tasted good.”

Shack’s job isn’t just to be the S&C coach. He’s also a nutrition coach, which is different from being a dietician or a nutritionist because his goal wasn’t to simply give Spellman the foods that he needed to be eating. He was teaching him how to be a healthier person. Shack and Spellman would stroll the aisles of Whole Foods, the coach teaching his student what was good for him and why the bad stuff was bad. He would go to restaurants and show Spellman how he could find something on the menu that he enjoyed eating without breaking his diet. He would task Villanova’s grad assistants with going to Sweetgreen — think Chipotle but salads instead of burritos — and have him drop them off at Spellman’s class five minutes before Spellman showed up.

“Everything with him was clockwork,” Shack said. “I knew if he didn’t eat for a while, he’d end up eating some s*** because he’d be starving.”

And when the results started to kick in, that’s when Spellman realized the power of being in shape. “He’s addicted to the grind,” teammate Donte DiVincenzo, himself a redshirt, said. Now, when Spellman goes out to eat on his own, he’ll take pictures of the plates, sending them to Shack — “Is this approved?” — instead of posting them to Instagram.

All told, Spellman lost about 45 pounds while adding muscle, explosiveness and quickness to his game that he never had before.

Paschall’s transformation wasn’t as drastic as Spellman’s.

The 6-foot-6 forward transferred to Villanova from Fordham after his head coach was fired, but he was injured at the end of that year and disenfranchised with where the program was headed.

“I got lazy,” Paschall said, and his weight jumped up close to 270 pounds. He had 16 percent body fat. More than anything, he had let himself go; the dad-bod physique may be what’s trendy these days, but it’s not exactly ideal for a basketball player whose skillset is built around his athleticism.

Like Spellman, Paschall was going to have to sit out a year once he arrived at Villanova, and once again, Shack was able to get his hooks into a player that needed to change his body.

Paschall’s situation was also a little bit different than Spellman’s. The weight came off once he started working out again — he says he’s down to 245 pounds with 6 percent body fat — but his issue was in the mechanics. He never was properly taught the movements he is supposed to make while working out, and that manifested itself in weak stabilizing muscles. “He couldn’t even squat or lunge properly,” but he still had a 40-inch vertical when he showed up to campus.

The plan with Paschall started at the very basic level. He would put the player in front of a mirror so he could see how goofy and awkward he looked doing movements like air-squats or lunges. He put him in a bicram yoga class to help develop his core and strengthen his stabilizers. He helped him perfect the details, and the results have been impressive. Paschall is a physical specimen.

And those transformations have transformed this Villanova team into what they are: A juggernaut that is impossible to matchup with.

They no longer have mismatches, not with their front line down 75 pounds.

“It helps the most on the defensive end, trying to stay in front of guys, blocking shots and moving laterally,” Spellman said of the weight loss. “It just helps all around to not have that weight. It would be like you going to play basketball but before you go out on the court, they put a 45 pound bookbag on you. It just makes it harder.”

Spellman lost weight, but he’s proud of where he has grown: as a person, as a man, as an adult. On a roster full of players more than happy to provide the media with canned responses highlighting all the buzz-words involved with Villanova basketball, Spellman is a breath of fresh air. He’s thoughtful, he’s introspective, he’s open and honest, particularly when he’s discussing himself and his weight loss. He’s taken up poetry in his spare time, and he told ESPN he’s working on writing a novel.

Which is why it’s very easy to believe him when he says things like this:

“It was a blessing in disguise. At the time it was hard for me to understand. It was definitely difficult for me to look at it as a positiive, but coach talked to me about having a great attitude and using our mantra as motivation. I just tried to make the best of it and mature as a person, and it’s definitely helped my game.”

“I had to go through a lot of ups and downs last year to fully understand that this is where I needed to be. If I would have played last year, I wouldn’t have been as meticulous and as disciplined. I would have had an OK year, but I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

And where he is, where Paschall is, now is the reason Villanova is one win away from another national title.

Report: Arizona State adds 7-foot-1 center

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Height has been something of an issue in recent years for Bobby Hurley and Arizona State. The Sun Devils took a step to remedy that Thursday.

Uros Plavsic, a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia has signed with Arizona State to become the fourth member of the program’s 2018 recruiting class, according to a report from 247 Sports’ Evan Daniels.

Plavsic, who is attending high school in Tennessee, originally committed to Cleveland State, but backed off that commitment last month before visiting Tempe this week.

“It was a great experience,” Plavsic told Scout. “They really took good care of me these past few days. Their campus is so, so big. The people here are nice. I met two guys I really liked and were important for a basketball team. Their facilities are crazy. Everything is in the same area.”

The Sun Devils ranked in the bottom half of the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last year while ranking 265th in average height, according to KenPom.

“They were short the past two seasons,” he said about Arizona State. “They really needed a big guy and they can use me inside or can pass outside. They really need a big guy and I think I can help them out a lot next season.”

 

NCAA begins work of implementing complex basketball reforms

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The most difficult part of the NCAA’s attempt to clean up college basketball begins now.

Hours after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the Commission on College Basketball’s sweeping recommendations for reforming a sport weighed down by corruption, NCAA leaders set in motion the process for turning those ideas into reality.

The NCAA Board of Governors, a group of 16 university presidents and the association’s highest ranking body, unanimously endorsed all the commission’s recommendations Wednesday. Now it’s up to various subcommittees, working groups and college administrators to dig into a mountain of work over the next three months as the NCAA attempts to change NBA draft rules, create a new enforcement body, toughen penalties for rules violations, revamp summer recruiting and certify agents. All while trying to get buy-in from organizations that might not be motivated to help.

“It’s going to be a challenge to say the least,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “This is a pace of decision making that the association’s really never done on this kind of scale before.”

The Division I Council, comprised mostly of athletic directors and headed by Miami AD Blake James, has the job of turning the recommendations into rules. That requires feedback from schools, then council votes with some conference votes counting more heavily than others. Each proposal then goes to the Board of Directors, where a majority vote is needed to send it to the Board of Governors for final approval.

It’s a winding path — crossing 351 Division I schools with varied priorities and concerns — and requiring consensus building and compromise for measures to pass. NCAA rule changes can sometimes take a full calendar year to sort out.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t let the good fall victim to the perfect here,” Emmert said. “Nobody believes we’re going to get everything perfect the first time through.”

The independent commission Rice led released a much-anticipated and detailed 60-page report , seven months after the group was formed in response to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. Ten people, including some assistant coaches, have been charged in a bribery and kickback scheme , and high-profile programs such as Arizona, Louisville and Kansas have been tied to possible NCAA violations.

“They believe the college basketball enterprise is worth saving,” Rice told the AP of commission members in an interview before addressing NCAA leaders. “We believe there’s a lot of work to do in that regard. That the state of the game is not very strong. We had to be bold in our recommendations.”

The proposals were wide-ranging, falling mostly into five categories: NBA draft rules, specifically the league’s 19-year-old age limit that has led to so-called one-and-done college players; non-scholastic basketball such as AAU leagues and summer recruiting events; the relationship between players and agents; relationships with apparel companies; and NCAA enforcement.

“Some people like some of (the recommendations) more than others, which is human nature, but as a board we’re unanimous in the endorsement and the acceptance of these recommendations for the NCAA,” said Minnesota President Eric Kaler, chairman of the Division I Board of Directors.

It’s not yet clear how the governing body would pay for some of the proposals, though the NCAA reported revenues of more than $1 billion dollars for fiscal year 2017 in its most recent financial disclosures.

The commission offered harsh assessments of toothless NCAA enforcement, as well as the shady summer basketball circuit that brings together agents, apparel companies and coaches looking to profit on teenage prodigies. It called the environment surrounding hoops “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” and said responsibility for the current mess goes all the way up to university presidents.

It also defended the NCAA’s amateurism model, saying paying players a salary isn’t the answer.

“The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the commission wrote in its report.

The commission did leave open the possibility that college athletes could earn money off their names, images and likenesses , but decided not to commit on the subject while the courts are still weighing in.

Rice called the crisis in college basketball “first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.”

ONE-AND-DONE

The commission emphasized the need for elite players to have more options when choosing between college and professional basketball, and to separate the two tracks.

The commission called for the NBA and its players association to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible. The one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006, despite the success of straight-from-high-school stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

“I’m confident they are going to be very supportive,” Emmert said of the NBA and NBAPA.

The NBA and players union praised the recommendations on enforcement and expressed concerns about youth basketball. On draft eligibility rules, however, there was no commitment.

“The NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game,” they said.

The commission did, however, say if the NBA and NBPA refuse to change their rules in time for the next basketball season, it would reconvene and consider other options for the NCAA, such as making freshmen ineligible or locking a scholarship for three or four years if the recipient leaves a program after a single year.

“One-and-done has to go one way or another,” Rice told the AP.

ENFORCEMENT

The commission recommended harsher penalties for rule-breakers and that the NCAA outsource the investigation and adjudication of the most serious infractions cases. Level I violations would be punishable with up to a five-year postseason ban and the forfeiture of all postseason revenue for the time of the ban. That could be worth tens of millions to major conference schools. By comparison, recent Level I infractions cases involving Louisville and Syracuse basketball resulted in postseason bans of one year.

Instead of show cause orders, which are meant to limit a coach’s ability to work in college sports after breaking NCAA rules, the report called for lifetime bans.

“The rewards of success, athletic success, have become very great. The deterrents sometimes aren’t as effective as they need to be. What we want are deterrents that really impact an institution,” said Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, who was a member of the Rice commission.

AGENTS

The commission proposed the NCAA create a program for certifying agents , and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers.

AAU AND SUMMER LEAGUES

The NCAA, with support from the NBA and USA Basketball, should run its own recruiting events for prospects during the summer , the commission said, and take a more serious approach to certifying events it does not control.

APPAREL COMPANIES

The commission also called for greater financial transparency from shoe and apparel companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. These companies have extensive financial relationships with colleges and coaches worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Adidas had two former executives charged by federal prosecutors in New York in the corruption case.

 

ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.

Loyola extends Porter Moser through 2026

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A trip to the Final Four might prove significantly lucrative to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser.

The Ramblers announced Wednesday that they reached a new contract agreement with Moser that will extend his deal through 2026 with what the Chicago Tribune called a “hefty raise” on his $420,000 per year salary, citing an anonymous source.

“As I have said many times before, I am a Catholic kid from Chicago who played in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Moser said in a statement released by the school. “This is the trifecta for me. We have invested so much time and energy in this program and I’m beyond excited to continue the journey. Watching Chicago as well as Loyola students, alumni and fans get excited for this team was exactly the vision we had when we took over the program.

“I will continue to challenge our fans to fill Gentile Arena as we did for the final home game to make it one of the best college basketball atmospheres in the country.”

The Ramblers went 32-6 last year, winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles ahead of their magical run to the Final Four for the first time winning the NCAA tournament in 1963. They return three starters from the Final Four squad, including MVC player of the year Clayton Custer.

“We are excited to be able to announce a new contract for Porter that will keep him at Loyola a long time,” athletic director Steve Watson said. “He is the perfect fit for Loyola and operates his program the right way, with student-athletes who achieve excellence on the court and in the classroom and are also excellent representatives of the institution.

“We are fortunate to work at a university like Loyola, that values and has made a commitment to athletics. It is nice to reward Porter not just for an outstanding season, but also for the job he has done during his time here.”

 

Dayton adds Michigan transfer

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After two years with a limited role at Michigan, Ibi Watson is returning to his home state.

The Wolverines guard is transferring to Dayton, it was announced Wednesday.  

“We are very pleased to have Ibi join our Flyer Family,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said in a statement.  “He is a young man who knew what he wanted after leaving a great University and winning basketball team at Michigan.  He has seen first-hand what it takes to be successful at this level.”

Watson averaged just 5.2 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Ann Arbor. He will sit out the upcoming season and then have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

“I know he will utilize his redshirt year to improve himself in every way,” Grant said, “and having an experienced, talented player to go against every day in practice next season will only help our younger players grow.  Ibi is an important piece of our future. Our team and campus community will enjoy having him become a Flyer.”

The Pickerington, Ohio native was a first-team all state selection as a senior when he averaged more than 19 points per game. He now joins Dwayne Cohill, Jhery Matos and Frankie Policelli as Grant’s 2018 class.