Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith to remain in NBA draft

Leave a comment

On the heels of a freshman season in which he established himself as one of the Big 12’s best newcomers and defenders, Texas Tech wing Zhaire Smith entered the 2018 NBA Draft without an agent in order to evaluate his professional prospects.

Smith’s decided to go “all-in,” with it being reported Tuesday night that he has decided to hire an agent and forego his final three seasons of eligibility. News of Smith’s decision was first reported by Michael Scotto of The Athletic, with Smith confirming the news shortly thereafter.

Smith, whose stock rose throughout the latter stages of the season as Texas Tech made its run to the Elite Eight, is projected by scouts to be a player who could land in the back end of the draft lottery because of his abilities as a defender, athleticism and upside.

Starting 21 of the 37 games in which he played, the 6-foot-5 Smith averaged 11.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 71.7 percent from the foul line. During an eight-game stretch that began in early February Smith averaged 15.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, shooting 61.0 percent from the field and 74.5 percent from the foul line.

Not only was Smith named to the Big 12’s All-Newcomer Team, but he was also an honorable mention all-conference selection and a member of the league’s All-Defensive Team.

It goes without saying that this is a tough personnel loss for Chris Beard and the Red Raiders to absorb, especially with leading scorer Keenan Evans, guard Niem Stevenson and forward Zach Smith both out of eligibility. With Zhaire Smith now moving on, returnees such as Jarrett Culver and Brandone Francis and grad transfer Tariq Owens will need to do even more as Texas Tech looks to build on its 27-win 2017-18 season.

South Carolina forward Chris Silva enters NBA draft sans agent

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tuesday afternoon South Carolina junior forward Chris Silva announced that he will be going through the NBA draft process without an agent, thus preserving his final season of collegiate eligibility.

The 6-foot-9 Silva was one of the SEC’s best front court players in 2017-18, averaging 14.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and earning first team all-conference honors. Silva, who also averaged 1.4 blocks per game, shot 46.7 percent from the field and 75.3 percent from the foul line during his junior campaign.

After serving as a reserve in Frank Martin’s rotation as a freshman, Silva’s been entrenched as a starter each of the last two years. As a sophomore Silva made 37 starts on a team that reached the Final Four, averaging 10.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in just under 21 minutes per game. Over the course of his career Silva’s improved with regards to staying out of foul trouble, with his fouls committed per 40 minutes dropping from 9.4 as a freshman to 5.3 in 2017-18.

Silva receiving feedback from NBA scouts and executives can only benefit him, especially if he can score an invite to next month’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. But if he were to leave South Carolina would have to account for the loss of its top scorer and rebounder, with Maik Kotsar (8.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) being the Gamecocks’ second-most productive front court returnee.

Felipe Haase averaged 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game as a freshman, with classmate Jason Cudd averaging 6.8 minutes per game in 23 appearances. South Carolina has also signed 6-foot-8 forward Alanzo Frink as part of its 2018 recruiting class.

Swofford expects ‘substantive’ findings from Rice commission

Jason Szenes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford says he expects “substantive” recommendations from the committee seeking ways to reform college basketball amid a federal investigation of corruption in the sport.

Speaking Tuesday at a regional Associated Press Sports Editors meeting, Swofford said he doesn’t know what the commission led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will conclude next week when it is expected to present its report to the Division I Board of Directors and Board of Governors.

Swofford said it is “hard to argue against the need for substantive change.”

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey, speaking at a similar meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, on Monday, hopes for an “impactful outcome” when Rice’s committee releases its recommendations.

The FBI’s corruption probe led to criminal charges against assistant coaches, agents, apparel company employees and others. The Justice Department arrested 10 people, including four assistant coaches from Arizona, Southern California, Auburn and Oklahoma State, in a case tied to hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school or an agent.

Sankey said the investigation received “an appropriate level of concern and attention” during the season.

“I did not mean and would not imply that I think it’s just business as usual,” Sankey said. “I’ve seen some observations that, ‘Oh wow, we’re just back to business as usual. I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t (get) that sense from our programs and programs nationally.

“I don’t think there’s a time when you can settle in and say, ‘OK, everything’s fine. We’re moving forward,'” he added. “I think the attention’s been raised and the attention will be raised again when that report is released. And then there will probably be a lot of new work in determining how we meet whatever new expectations may exist.”

Swofford also called it “aggravating” to have two ACC schools — Louisville and North Carolina State — involved in the federal investigation.

N.C. State was one of the latest schools to become swept up in it, with prosecutors last week accusing an Adidas representative, who no longer works for the company, of agreeing to funnel $40,000 through an unidentified coach to the father of former player Dennis Smith Jr. The scandal also led to Rick Pitino’s ouster at Louisville before the season.

Swofford said having that two of his schools two ACC schools involved is “the last thing, from my chair, you want to see, and it’s the thing that upsets me the most, aggravates me the most.

“So when you have all those emotions tied to it, you need to find a way to do something positive,” he added. “I think college basketball is so good, even with its current problems, that it will be resilient. I think it will come out of this better and hopefully stronger than ever. … It might not be fun getting there.”

Aaron Calixte commitment helps Oklahoma address perimeter needs

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the loss of three guards since the end of the 2017-18 season, as Trae Young turned pro and Jordan Shepard and Kameron McGusty both decided to transfer, Oklahoma had some major holes to address as it looks towards the 2018-19 season. Lon Kruger and his staff have gone the grad student route in addressing those needs, with two immediately eligible newcomers signing with the program.

On Tuesday former Maine guard Aaron Calixte announced that he will transfer to Oklahoma for his final season of collegiate eligibility, nearly two weeks after former Pacific guard Miles Reynolds made his pledge. The 5-foot-11 Calixte, who played in just five games during the 2016-17 season due to a foot injury, averaged 16.9 points, 3.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and was a third team all-America East selection in 2017-18.

Calixte finished the season with a possession percentage of 26.7 percent, a far cry from Young’s nation-high 38.5 percent mark. And as one would expect given Young’s influence and skill set, Oklahoma sets up to have a much different look on the offensive end of the floor in 2018-19.

Both Calixte and Reynolds, who averaged 13.3 points and 2.8 assists per game last season, have the ability to score as well as set up teammates. Given the personnel losses noted above, adding two experienced options on the perimeter was a necessity for an Oklahoma program that’s looking to build on a season in which it was able to get back into the NCAA tournament after missing out in 2017.

However, for as important as Calixte and Reynolds will be it’s important to note that neither will have to shoulder the load to the level that Young did during his lone season at Oklahoma. And if the Sooners are to make another NCAA tournament appearance in 2019, that will depend upon the progress made by returnees who served in supplementary roles this past season.

Brady Manek is coming off of a freshman season in which he averaged 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, and Christian James, Rashard Odomes and Jamuni McNeace will all be valuable members of the rotation as well. If that quartet can take a step forward, that would undoubtedly help Calixte and Reynolds in their quest to be impact newcomers.

Wake Forest loses Doral Moore to NBA draft

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of two Wake Forest players to announce in late March that he would be entering the 2018 NBA Draft without an agent, 7-foot-1 center Doral Moore announced Tuesday that he has decided to forego his final season of collegiate eligibility and being the process of hiring an agent.

Moore averaged 11.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game as a junior, with all three numbers being significant improvements on his production during his first two seasons at Wake Forest. Averaging 25.5 minutes per game, Moore shot 68.9 percent from the field as a junior. With Moore’s decision to begin his professional career, head coach Danny Manning has another hole to fill on a roster that has been hit hard by departures since the end of the season.

Moore is the fifth player to leave Wake Forest this spring. Sam Japhet-Mathias was dismissed from the program, Keyshawn Woods will either begin his professional career or play at another school as a graduate transfer, and Donovan Mitchell and Richard Washington have both decided to transfer.

In Moore and Woods the Demon Deacons will, at minimum, have to account for the loss of two of their top three scorers from this past season. And should Crawford, the team leader in points and assists in 2017-18, decide to remain in the NBA draft, that would place even more pressure on Manning and a solid recruiting class led by 5-star forward Jaylen Hoard.

NC State releases timeline outlining response to FBI probe

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York releasing a superseding indictment in connection with the FBI investigation into bribes and corruption in college basketball, two schools were named for the first time. Defendants James Gatto, Merl Code and Christian Dawkins now face, in addition to prior charges, three felony counts of wire fraud with two of those counts dealing with alleged bribes paid to prospects who would go on to attend Kansas and NC State.

With regards to NC State, the recruitment of former point guard Dennis Smith Jr. is what has been speculated to be the issue that the FBI has focused on. Per the documents released last week the schools don’t have much to worry about when it comes to alleged crimes committed, as the FBI has viewed the institutions as victims in all of this. And in NC State’s case, the school made its first moves to ensure it was in the clear back in the fall.

In a statement released Tuesday morning, NC State officials said that they first reached out to current and former members of the coaching staff when the case first came to light. Shoe company adidas has figured prominently in the case, and as an athletic department that has an endorsement deal with adidas NC State officials wanted to be proactive.

According to the school all questioned said that they had no knowledge of any payments being made to either secure or maintain Smith’s commitment to NC State. In its investigation of the matter, NC State said that it also questioned a sports agent who, after stating his belief that adidas influenced Dennis Smith Jr. in his decision to NC State, said that he had no direct knowledge of a payment being made.

Per the documents released last week, a coach who was working at NC State at the time informed Gatto and another man (CC-3) of the recruit (speculated to be Smith) wavering on his commitment. To ensure that the recruit would attend NC State, the FBI documents stated that Gatto and the co-conspirator (CC-3) delivered a $40,000 payment to the coach which was in turn given to the parent of the recruit.

NC State received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in mid-January, two months prior to the release of the superseding indictment.

While the federal government has taken the approach of viewing the schools as victims, under the premise that they were unaware of the recruits’ eligibility as amateurs being compromised, there’s still the matter of dealing with the NCAA once this is all said and done. One can’t blame schools for wanting to do all they can to show the NCAA they’ve done all they can to comply with the probe, with the hope that they would avoid any major penalties down the line.