Rob Dauster

Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura shines in U19 World Cup (VIDEO)

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The safe bet for Gonzaga’s latest breakout star is one of the best performers at this week’s U19 World Cup.

Rui Hachimura, a 6-foot-9 forward from Japan, put on a show all week long, averaging 19.5 points and 11.8 boards while shooting 6-for-14 from three in four games. He capped the event off with a 22 point  and 14 rebound performance which included a pair of threes where he went end-to-end in the final 15 seconds to tie a game against Italy that Japan would ultimately lose. Hachimura averaged 2.6 points in less than 10 minutes as a freshman last season.

Hachimura isn’t super-explosive, but he is a skilled combo-forward built in the mold of a current Gonzaga front court player — Johnathan Williams III. Whether Hachimura will start this year is unclear, as Williams is still on the roster and Killian Tillie, another player participating in the U19 World Cup, has plenty of promise in his own right, but that should tell you more about the status of the Gonzaga program than anything.

Think about it: Gonzaga lost a first-team All-American (Nigel Williams-Goss) and a top ten pick (Zach Collins) to early entry while watching their front court anchor (Przemek Karnowski) and best shooter (Jordan Mathews) graduate, yet they return a roster where a former four-star recruit (Josh Perkins) will finally be able to slide into his natural point guard role and one of two big men with NBA potential (Tillie and Hachimura) will have to come off the bench.

Not bad.

Although it does make you wonder: If Williams-Goss and Collins had both returned to school, would Gonzaga have been the consensus No. 1 team in the country?

The future is bright for USC basketball, Andy Enfield

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Has anyone in college basketball had a better offseason than Andy Enfield?

USC’s head coach was the clear-cut winner during the drama of the early entry deadline, as he had five players with NBA potential make the decision to return to school for at least one more season — Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, De’anthony Melton, Elijah Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin.

That’s good.

That’s one of the reason that the Trojans are considered a potential top ten team and the biggest threat to challenge Arizona in the Pac-12.

Alone, that would have been a great summer for Enfield. We’ve been saying for two years that USC is “a year away” and it looks like that year has finally arrived.

And then last week happened.

The Trojans landed commitments from three four-star prospects in the span of seven days. First, it was J’Raan Brooks, a top 60 power forward from Seattle, that made the pledge to Enfield and company. Then it was Taeshon Cherry, a 6-foot-9 small forward that is ranked 30th in Rivals top 100 but is a five-star prospect according to a couple of the other major scouting services. Then on Sunday it was Kevin Porter Jr., a top 50 shooting guard and another Seattle product.

And just like that, USC has, essentially, their entire recruiting class for the 2018 season filled.

They’re probably not done yet, not when it seems fairly likely at least one of Metu, Boatwright and Melton will be gone after this season, but this is an enviable spot to be in: A potential top ten team with a veteran core and a full recruiting class in place before the July 4th holiday.

I tried to tell you hiring Enfield would be worth the gamble.

VIDEO: Demar Derozan schools 2018’s top prospect Marvin Bagley III

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Marvin Bagley III is the best high school player in the country, the clear-cut best prospect in the Class of 2018, but he got a little lesson in just how big the gap is between high school star and NBA All-Star this weekend.

Bagley squared up against Demar Derozan, who averaged a cool 27.3 points for the Toronto Raptors this past season, and got schooled.

He did put up 32 points in that Drew League game, however, so he’s got a bright future.

But that will come after going viral for trying — and failing — to guard one of the best scorers in the world.

VIDEO: Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo with a block, windmill dunk in U19 win

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Hamidou Diallo is one of a handful of Kentucky players and recruits being coached by John Calipari in the U19 World Championships in Egypt this week, and Diallo put together the highlight of the tournament to date.

In a 109-68 win over Angola, Diallo blocks a three-point attempt at one end of the floor before throwing down a nasty, left-handed windmill dunk at the other end:

He’s quite the athlete, that’s for sure.

The USA is 2-0 in the event and will face-off against Italy, who is also 2-0 in group play, at 10:30 a.m. ET on July 4th.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari rides camels, shoots down Knicks rumors

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It’s a rite of passage every summer: John Calipari gets linked to an NBA job, John Calipari shoots down said links to said head coaching jobs, John Calipari gets a raise from Kentucky.

Last night, it was a link with the New York Knicks that popped up, as a report made the rounds that someone in the Calipari camp had reached out to the Knicks about the opening created when Phil Jackson was fired.

And Cal shot it down as only Cal can, tweeting  that “NO ONE has contacted the Knicks on my behalf. I am the coach at Kentucky and will be for a long time!” and that “Even in Egypt I can’t escape the rumors. Are you kidding me?! It’s 5 in the morning here and this is what I wake up to?”

He then proceeded to flood twitter feeds with pictures of himself at the Great Pyramids and riding camels:

Vols’ Grant Williams hungry for improvement

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee forward Grant Williams wasn’t quite satisfied with a freshman season in which he dramatically outperformed his recruiting ranking.

Williams, who wasn’t rated as one of the nation’s top 150 prospects in his signing class, topped the Volunteers in rebounds (5.9) and was his team’s second-leading scorer (12.6) last season.

But he couldn’t get Tennessee into the NCAA Tournament, as the Vols haven’t produced a winning season since their 2014 Sweet 16 appearance.

Tennessee’s absence from the NCAAs left him hungry for postseason success and apparently changed his appetite in other ways as well. The 6-foot-5 sophomore says he reduced carbohydrates from his diet and already notices a difference.

“I feel like I can move better,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m just running better. I look better. I feel in general I can jump a little higher and my body has adapted to the college game. When I came in, I was roly-poly man.”

Williams says he arrived on campus last summer weighing “257 (or) a little bit higher maybe” before he got down to the 232-234 range during the season. He’s working to reduce his body fat percentage as he attempts to sustain his energy on the floor and stay effective for longer stretches.

The change became apparent during his mother’s recent visit to campus.

Williams’ mom, Teresa Johnson, shopped for groceries and brought her son steak kabobs, pasta and Buffalo wings. Williams told her to take all those items back to her Houston home because he couldn’t eat them.

“He has committed to the program and has maintained it,” Johnson said. “No matter how we might want to get him into rice, gravy and potatoes, he says, ‘No, I can’t have that.'”

Williams inherited that discipline from each of his parents. His mother, a NASA engineer, taught her children to have a variety of interests.

When he wasn’t playing basketball, Williams was entering academic competitions or studying music. Williams says he used to play as many as nine instruments and remains proficient with the piano, violin and clarinet. He’s planning to expand his musical repertoire eventually.

“I want to learn how to play the guitar and I want to learn how to play the saxophone,” Williams said.

Williams considered Yale and Princeton as well as Richmond before signing with Tennessee out of Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Although Williams wasn’t a heralded recruit, Williams emerged as one of Tennessee’s top players in his freshman season.

His 61 blocked shots represented the second-highest single-season total in school history. His 402 points ranked sixth among all Tennessee freshmen ever.

He wanted more.

“I feel like I could have played better,” Williams said. “I feel there are a lot of things I missed out on. I could have played a lot harder at the beginning of the year, especially. I feel like every freshman has regrets.”

The next step is becoming more effective away from the basket. Williams believes he’s improved his ball-handling and has developed into a more consistent shooter. He’s working to show he can defend guards and wings on occasion.

His willingness to expand his game exemplifies the leadership skills Williams must utilize to boost a team whose only senior is Howard graduate transfer James Daniel III.

“He’s not acting like a freshman or a sophomore,” junior forward Kyle Alexander said. “He’s acting like a senior.”

Williams understands his improved versatility requires him to get in better shape. He won’t be able to defend quicker players if he’s still that self-described “roly-poly man” who arrived on campus last year.

That’s why he rejected some of his mother’s groceries as emphatically as he swatted away shots last season.

“The food looks good, but I just can’t do it,” Williams said. “I’ve got to stick to my diet.”