One of the most polarizing debates when it comes to college basketball strategy is what a coach should do with a player that has picked up two fouls in the first half of a game.
And there really is no easy answer.
On the one hand, these are college kids we’re talking about. They’re 19, 20, 21 years old. They’re not seasoned veterans. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to commit fouls. As a coach, do you really want to risk an important player picking up an early third foul, particularly when that player only gets five fouls to begin with? Three fouls in the first half means that the kid is one foul away from having to play totally passive on the defensive end of the floor.
As long as the score is still close and your bench guys are doing their jobs, it’s not necessarily wrong to try and ride out the first half to ensure your best players will be on the floor in crunch time. I get that line of thinking.
I also understand — and, to a degree, agree more with — putting your players back in the game with two first half fouls. There’s something to be said for trusting your players to avoid fouls, particularly if they are of the veteran variety, and while I’m not totally bought into the analytics perspective here — i.e. the tenth minute being just as important as the final minute — I do think that it’s silly to risk digging yourself a hole you can’t get out of just so you have a shot at making a late comeback.
And it should come as no surprise that Jim Boeheim tops the list for high-major head coaches; he’s fourth overall, as players with two fouls were on the floor for 49.1 percent of the possible first half minutes over the past seven seasons. The Orange play a zone. That makes them less foul-prone, which makes it less risky to use a guy with two fouls that early.
Boeheim isn’t the only legend whose name is at the top of this list: Sean Miller is 32nd, Roy Williams is 39th and Coach K is 43rd. Other notable names in the top 50: Bryce Drew (15), Mike Brey (17), Lorenzo Romar (22), Josh Pastner (42).
But there are some sensational coaches at the bottom end of this list as well. On average, Virginia’s Tony Bennett (who ranks 305th out of 321 active coaches with at least one season of experience since 2009) has played a player with two first half fouls for less than 15 total minutes in the last seven season. Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall (312) has played a kid with two first half fouls for a total of 16 minutes while Archie Miller (304) averaged a total of 20 minutes in his five years at the helm of Dayton, and those are arguably the three most in-demand young coaches in the business. They will never do it unless they have to. The same goes for Rick Pitino (261), Lon Kruger (263), Will Wade (277), Larry Krystkowiak (284), Ben Jacobsen (285), Tom Izzo (294) and John Beilein (308).
What’s really interesting here is to see the differences in opinion among family, both coaching and otherwise. Archie and Sean Miller are brothers, but they totally differ in how they use players with two first half fouls. Archie never does. Sean does quite a bit.
Then take a look at Coach K’s coaching tree. Brey (17) and Steve Wojciechowski (50) are on the same page as K in terms of how to use a player with two first half fouls. Chris Collins (93) and Tommy Amaker (96) are both top 100 on this list, while Johnny Dawkins (155) is barely in the top half.
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey scrapped much of his planned speech at the league’s annual media days to decry the wave of shootings across the country.
The second-year commissioner said Monday this is “one of those times in our nation where we weep, we mourn, for those families and cities who have experienced loss.”
Sankey said the shooting in Dallas that killed five police officers was particularly personal because he lived in the city for 11 years.
Sankey also paid tribute to the late Pat Summitt. Tennessee’s Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach died last month at 64 more than five years after being diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
The league’s 14 teams will conduct interviews throughout the week in Hoover.
Illinois, John Groce lands critical 2017 five-star recrut
“Jeremiah Tilmon is a monster grab for Illinois. After already putting a few solid commitments together in the Class of 2017, head coach John Groce has landed an elite big man to build around as Tilmon is a great rebounder who can protect the rim and finish around the hoop,” NBCSports.com’s Scott Phillips said. “If Groce can put another quality player or two around Tilmon, he might have given himself more job security and given Illinois basketball a much brighter future.”
Tilmon’s commitment matters for John Groce more than most commitments will mean because Groce, to date, has has a disappointing tenure with the Illini. He’s coming off of an injury-plagued, 15-19 season and will be one of the names at the top of every hot seat list entering the season. There’s also no assurance that Groce will remain in place after the season, not after he had to dismiss Kendrick Nunn, one of his best returning players, during the offseason.
But there is reason for Illini fans to feel hopeful, and reason for the Illinois administration to believe Groce can still turn this thing around. After missing out on elite recruits in recent years, Groce prioritized the in-state talent outside the city of Chicago. Tilmon is one of those. Da’Monte Williams, the No. 77 recruit in 2017 and the son of former Illini star Frank Williams, is committed to Groce, as is Javon Pickett, another three-star in-state prospect. If the Illini can real in Jordan Goodwin, the No. 53 prospect in the class, Groce will have by far the best class he’s landed in his tenure with the Illini.
Will that be enough to save his job?
Well, it may depend on what he is able to do with the team he has at his disposal this year. Malcolm Hill has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player as a senior. Jalen Coleman-Lands had some promising moments as a freshman, and Tracy Abrams will be back for another season, although there’s no telling what he will look like coming off of injury.
But with this class and a successful season, Groce will be able to say, for the first time, that his program has momentum, both in the Big Ten standings and with in-state recruits.
That may be the best news that the University of Illinois’ athletic department has heard in years.
Making A Five-Star: Collin Sexton’s rise from unranked to MVP of Team USA
AUGUSTA, Ga. — When covering an event like Peach Jam, it can be hard, at times, to remember that the kids playing in these games are just barely old enough too legally drive a car.
These kids are doing things athletically that I can only dream about with the kind of build that makes it obvious they don’t spend their summers sipping cold beers while shoveling hot dogs, burgers and chips and dip down their gullet. I’m also 6-foot-3, and it’s rare when I interview a player that is shorter than me.
Put another way, these kids don’t look like the 16 and 17 year olds you’re used to seeing.
And that’s before you consider that the players at the top of every class are already aware and conscious of their image and branding. The best of the best are going to end getting picked in the NBA Draft within two years, and even the kids that are destined to end up as role players in college have dealt with enough interviews over the years to be media savvy and know the right things to say.
These kids don’t always talk like the 16 and 17 year olds you know, either.
Which is why it was so refreshing to hear Collin Sexton tell an NBCSports.com reporter how excited he is to get to AAU Nationals in Orlando to … ride Go-Karts?
“Go-Karts, that’s what I do,” Sexton said, without so much as trying to contain a grin stretching ear to ear. He checks out the best spots to ride Go-Karts everywhere he travels, which makes me worry for the parents of a young man that doesn’t have his driver’s license yet. “They’re some fun. I can’t wait to get down to Florida because there’s a Go-Kart place called Fun Spot. It has like a four story track. It’s huge.”
Sexton’s exuberance is palpable. He’s genuinely excited that reporters want to interview him after games. Even games that he plays poorly, like the one I saw him play in Augusta. He’s blown away by the fact that the likes Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self and Sean Miller are leaving the Peach Jam to drive 15 minutes, literally into a different state, in order to watch him play.
“I didn’t see none of this coming,” his father, Darnell, said. “Nowhere close. This wasn’t in the ball park at all.”
There may be a reason behind that.
For everything that Sexton is as a player today, six months ago, even the best recruiting analysts in the business didn’t know much about him.
And, when you know the story behind the growth, you’ll know that says more about who Sexton is than it does anything else.
Collin Sexton is the best scorer in the Class of 2017, and that’s really not up for debate.
A 6-foot-2 guard that played for Peddlebrook HS (Georgia) as a junior this past season, Sexton averaged 29 points during the high school season, a number that looks paltry compared to the 31.7 points he averaged on the Nike EYBL circuit. That was nine points better than Michael Porter Jr., the second leading scorer on the circuit. His ability to put up a massive amount of points in a hurry earned Sexton a trip to Colorado Springs for the U17 trials. He played his way into a spot on the team, where he averaged 17.2 points, 4.8 boards and 3.4 assists off the bench to win MVP of the U17 World Championships in Spain.
That’s quite a résumé for anyone to have put together, but it’s made all the more impressive by the fact that Sexton was a relative unknown outside the state of Georgia prior to his junior year. He didn’t climb his way into the national rankings until midway through last season, and he only really came under consideration as a potential McDonald’s All-American and a top ten prospect in the last month. He has scholarship offers from North Carolina, Kansas and Arizona. He’s spoken on the phone with coaches from Duke and Kentucky.
“I haven’t seen a guy like him make a rise like this ever in Georgia,” said Justin Young, a longtime, Atlanta-based scout that is now the editor of HoopSeen.com.
It’s uncommon anywhere for a player to make a jump like this. Anthony Davis did it once upon a time, but his rise came as he sprouted up from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-11 without losing any of his coordination or perimeter skill. John Wall also exploded onto the national scene after getting cut from his high school team, but his status as an unranked prospect had everything to do with his attitude and little to do with his ability.
With Sexton, he wasn’t exactly a nobody. He played in Peach Jam with the 17s last summer. He was an honorable mention Class 6A all-state player as a sophomore, one of just two underclassmen to get recognized in Georgia’s largest division. And it’s not like he suddenly turned into a freak of an athlete. He has been competing at the state championship-level in the high jump and the 4 X 400 relay; his career-best jump of 6-feet-8.5 inches would have won him a state title if he didn’t miss the meet to play in the EYBL in Brooklyn.
Sexton didn’t have a come-to-Jesus moment like Wall did. He didn’t suddenly turn into a player that has one of the most valuable physical profiles in basketball like Davis.
He just got better.
Can it really be that simple?
“A wild horse got tamed,” Young says. “Now he’s using that ‘put your head down, get to the foul line’ skill, channeling his aggression. He couldn’t draw fouls before because he wasn’t strong, he was making bad decisions. And he improved on it.”
“He’s been on a mission.”
Both Sexton and his dad back that up. According to Sexton, the last year of his life has centered around this schedule: He’s up before 6 a.m. and in the gym, lifting weights and working on his conditioning. Then it was off to school before he would head to high school or AAU practice. After practice was over, it was time for the skill-work, getting up jumpers or working on his handle or running through the same move until it becomes nothing but muscle memory. Step-backs, euro-steps, finishing through contact. All of it.
And it paid off.
But there was more to it than just adding to his skill set.
Because Sexton had a rep prior to his junior year, and it is what kept a lot of people from buying in on him.
Off the court, he’s bright and engaging, but even to this day, he’s something of a lunatic on the floor. He talks to himself. He curses himself out when things don’t go his way. In the game that I watched, the game that had 18 high major head coaches in the stands, he never once sat on his team’s bench, choosing to instead sit on the floor or on the stairs of the bleachers when he wasn’t on the court.
And this is the toned down version?
That is something the family has worked hard on.
“What it really was was understanding how to redirect his energy to reflect what he’s able to do on the floor,” Darnell said. His intensity is a good thing. Keeping that intensity focused and under control isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.
But the end result is a player who is in the midst of becoming a nationally-pursued recruit, whose ability to get into the paint and draw fouls is unmatched at this level. Sexton made 181 free throws in the EYBL this season, which is more than No. 2 and No. 3 on that list combined.
There are questions about whether or not he is truly a point guard or a simply a scorer that can handle the rock. There are concerns about how he’ll be able to handle being on a team where he can’t simply dominate possession.
But the bottom-line is this: When you can get buckets the way that Sexton can get buckets, the big boys will come calling and figure the rest out later.
Part of the reason that a story like Sexton’s is so interesting to us is that it doesn’t happen all that often.
Between the accessibility to information that the internet provides and the profitability of aligning oneself with an elite prospect, we typically know who the best players in the country are when they enter high school. If a kid gets labeled as a high major prospect as a freshman, he’ll stay there. If he’s slotted as a mid-major guy, he’s probably going to end up being considered a mid-major guy by the time he graduates.
Diamonds In The Rough are, by definition, hard to find.
But they do exist. Steph Curry is the best example today. His story has been told a million times by now. He had no ACC offers coming out of high school — not even Virginia Tech, his dad’s alma mater — and he would go on to become one of the most prolific college scorer we’ve ever seen and one of the best players in the NBA today. Kawhi Leonard made a similarly meteoric rise, as has Draymond Green and Russell Westbrook.
Those guys have a couple things in common as well. Curry and Leonard both have a legendary work ethic, bordering on clinical insanity. They were seen in high school. As legend has it, Curry scored six points in six games at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va., prior to his senior season in high school. Leonard was Mr. Basketball in California and a top 50 recruit in 2009, the same year that five top 30 recruits came out of the state.
Green’s story is a little different. He’s gotten better since he was the No. 35 pick in the draft in 2012, but he also found a role that fit him better than a tailored suit. Westbrook grew — and grew into his athleticism — later in his development than most kids.
They were all known. They weren’t considered good enough. They got better.
Just like it happened with Sexton.
“We make snap judgements in high school,” Young said. “If you’re not a high major by your sophomore year, that’s who you are. It’s not intentional, but we forget just how much better kids can get. When it happens, we go nuts. Sexton is a perfect example. He didn’t come out of nowhere, he just kept adding pieces. He’s always been talented. He played with Kobi Simmons. He’s been around.”
“He’s just gotten better, to the point we can’t ignore it.”
Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young, Quade Green headline 2016 Peach Jam top performers
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Peach Jam is always the best AAU event of the summer, and it certainly lived up to the hype. The caliber of play isn’t comparable to any other AAU tournament because of the depth on talent on every roster. There are kids coming off the bench that will be all-league players in mid major conferences. Some teams start five guys that are top 100 players in their respective classes.
Between the level of play, the intensity in the gym and the atmosphere that is created at the Riverview Park Activities Center, there is nothing better. The one downside this year is that the U17 USA Basketball team returned from winning a gold medal in Spain and immediately went to play at Peach Jam. Given the jet lag and the timing, thanks to a cancelled flight on July 4th, it was understandable that some of the biggest names at the event — Kevin Knox, Wendell Carter, Jaren Jackson Jr., Troy Brown — didn’t play their best. They have been on the road for a month.
That set, there were many truly terrific performances there this week. Here is who stood out the most:
Trae Young, MoKan Elite: Young is not the most highly-regarded prospect on the MoKan roster — Michael Porter Jr. is, more on him in a second — but he was the best player on the floor for them this week as MoKan took home the Peach Jam title. Young averaged 27 points and 7.3 assists in eight games in North Augusta, numbers that are somewhat skewed by the pace at which MoKan plays and the amount of time he has the ball in his hands. His production and his dominance, however, cannot be questioned. Deep range, beautiful stroke, handle, court vision, the ability to finish in the lane, you name it, he can do it.
The knock on Young, who has emerged as Kentucky’s top target in the class, has always been that he’s wired as a scorer, which works on this MoKan team and at the high school level in Oklahoma. He’s a poor decision-maker at times, forcing threes and turning the ball over too much. As he ascends through basketball’s ranks, he’s going to have to continue to learn how to be a facilitator. That should come with time, with coaching and with a team surrounding him that is as or more talented than he is.
Michael Porter Jr., MoKan Elite: Porter is the best prospect on that MoKan roster and may be the best prospect in the Class of 2017. He’s a rangy, 6-foot-9 wing with elite level athleticism, consistent three-point range, the ability to score off the bounce and a knack from grabbing a defensive board and going coast-to-coast. His ability in transition and in space is what made this MoKan team so dangerous when allowed to get up and down the floor. He averaged 26.4 points and 11.4 boards this week, going through stretches were he looked totally unstoppable.
There are some issues with Porter. He needs to add weight and strength, and for a guy whose NBA ceiling centers around his potential as a versatile defender, his lateral quickness and desire to keep in front of a defender is lacking. The biggest knock on Porter is that he’s “soft”, and that narrative is somewhat overblown. His best performance of the week came Thursday morning against Team Takeover, when he played through a twisted ankle and responded to an opponent’s jawing in his ear with 33 points, 13 boards, three assists and three steals. But on Friday night, in a MoKan win over Howard Pulley, Porter totally disappeared as Gary Trent Jr., a top ten prospect in his own right, spent the whole game sticking him with elbows and running his mouth. Porter finished with just 11 points, and his impact on the game felt even smaller.
Quade Green, PSA Cardinals: The Cardinals were arguably the most talented team in the Peach Jam field, with 7-foot- center Mohammad Bamba the name that everyone knows. But Green was probably the best player on the floor for this week, averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 assists in front of every college coach in the country. His performance in the semifinals, going for 21 points and six assists while leading PSA back from an 18 point deficit, is something that will stick in the minds of people for a while. Along with Young, Green has emerged as a top 2017 point guard target for the blue bloods.
Deandre Ayton, California Supreme: I don’t know that Ayton will end up being the best player in this class in ten years, but I’m not sure there is a player with a higher ceiling than his. The things that he is able to do on the offensive end of the floor are absurd. He’s 7-foot with a 7-foot-4.5 wingspan (measured at the 2014 LeBron James Skills Academy). He was hitting step-in threes as the trailer on a fast break when he wasn’t sprinting the floor and getting easy buckets off of rim-runs. He can score facing up and he can use his strength to back down even the best defenders at this level. His footwork, agility and body control is unreal for a human his size, and he’s a much better passer than I realized.
The red flag with Ayton is his competitiveness and his motor, and that can show through on the defensive end. He doesn’t protest the rim as well as you would hope given his size. But I don’t think you can question his competitiveness after seeing him totally outplay Marvin Bagley III, Mitchell Robinson and Wendell Carter in head-to-head matchups. The most impressive performance came against the 7-foot Robinson, a top 15 prospect and an elite defender at this level. Robinson got the best of him in the first half, but Ayton responded with an impressive, dominating second half performance to carry Cal Supreme to a 17-point win as he spent the final 16 minutes letting Robinson know all about the whooping he just took.
Brandon Randolph, PSA Cardinals: There is a ton of talent on the Cardinals roster, but Randolph was as impressive as anyone. A top 50 prospect, Randolph had a handful of dominant performances in front of some elite programs. He’s a dexterous and explosive athlete with a unique ability to finish around the rim and range out to the three-point line. He had one sequence on Thursday where he hit three threes, had two tough, driving layups, a mid-range jumper and a thunderous dunk in transition all in the span of about five minutes.
Gary Trent Jr., Howard Pulley: Trent was one of the few members of USA basketball that showed up and played immediately. And while he didn’t have his best performances — when you’re a shooter and your legs aren’t there, it’s hard to be at your best — to do what he did while playing in games that tipped after 2 a.m. Spanish time is notable.
Alex O’Connell, Team United: O’Connell didn’t actually play in the Peach Jam. He played in the Peach Invitational, which was an event held 10 minutes away that included the Nike teams that didn’t qualify for the main event. An athletic, 6-foot-5 wing with deep range, O’Connell lucked out in the sense that, on Friday, when his team squared off against Collin Sexton’s Southern Stampede squad, they did so at a time when there were no games being played at Peach Jam.
And O’Connell, who is from Milton, Georgia, went off in front of 18 high major head coaches and members of more than two dozen staffs. That night alone, he added offers from Louisville and N.C. State. Duke was sitting three-deep for Sexton that day, and it’s worth noting O’Connell’s father played for the Blue Devils.
Jose Alvarado, NY Rens: The name that everyone knew on the Rens entering Peach Jam was Hamidou Diallo, the top ten recruit that had Coach K and Coach Cal sitting court side even when he rested for the final game of pool play. And given the point guard situation this season, the way Alvarado played should help him significantly depending on the way the dominoes fall.