Justin Jackson

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Three-star wing commits to UNLV

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UNLV landed its second recruit of the week on Friday night, as Carlos Johnson, a three-star wing, announced his commitment via Twitter.

“Happy to announce my commitment to UNLV,” he tweeted.

Johnson, who attends Findlay Prep in nearby Henderson, Nevada, joins guard Christian Vital, who picked the Rebels on Wednesday night, and four-star forward Justin Jackson in the Class of 2016.

The 6-foot-4 Johnson played for the Oakland Soldiers on the grassroots circuit, averaging 12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game in 19 appearances in the Nike EYBL.

United States U19 team advances to semifinals of FIBA U19 World Championships

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After coasting to a comfortable win over Argentina in the Round of 16 despite committing 26 turnovers on Wednesday, the United States U19 team faced a stiffer test Friday morning against Italy.

The Italians hung tough in the first quarter, with the United States taking control in the second quarter of what would eventually become an 86-65 victory. The win advances Sean Miller’s team into the semifinals of the FIBA U19 World Championships, where they’ll take on either hosts Greece or Spain on Saturday.

Jalen Brunson, who will play for Jay Wright at Villanova this upcoming season, led the way offensively with 17 points to go along with five assists and three steals. He was one of four players to score in double figures, with 2016 prospects Harry Giles (ten rebounds) and Josh Jackson scoring 14 points apiece and Jayson Tatum finishing with 12.

As a team the United States shot 54.2 percent from the field and compiled an offensive rebounding percentage of 55.2 percent, but once again turnovers were an issue as they racked up another 22 against Italy. Also of note for the United States is the absence of Arizona signee Allonzo Trier, who did not play after suffering a right ankle injury in the win over Argentina. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be able to play in Saturday’s semifinals.

Other teams in action with connections to college basketball are Australia and Canada, with both teams falling earlier Friday. The Australian team, which includes Nebraska commit Jack McVeigh, fell to Turkey 81-70 with McVeigh accounting for a team-high 14 points along with three rebounds.

Canada, whose team includes Oregon forward Dylan Brooks, Harvard forward Chris Egi, and UNLV’s Jalen Poyser and Justin Jackson (a 2016 commit), lost 84-71 to Croatia in another quarterfinal. Jackson led the way offensively with 20 points, and Brooks added 17 in the Canadians’ first loss of the event.

Questions remain regarding UNLV’s final available scholarship

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The 2015-16 season is an important one for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, as an influx of talent combined with some solid returnees is expected to pay dividends on the court. Add in the fact that the program has missed out on the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons, with UNLV yet to win a tournament game under the leadership of head coach Dave Rice, and 2015-16 sets up as a campaign that could set the tone for years to come as well.

Even with the addition of players such as grad student Ike Nwamu and freshmen Stephen Zimmerman and Derrick Jones, Rice and his staff still have a scholarship at their disposal for the 2015-16 season. And according to Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, there are a couple possibilities when it comes to filling that scholarship.

UNLV’s still in the running for former Florida guard Eli Carter, who’s also considering Memphis and Georgetown and will be eligible immediately, and 2016 commit Justin Jackson could reclassify to 2015. Or, UNLV could simply leave the scholarship open.

Rice is planning to utilize more players and frequent three-guard lineups next season. He envisions a team that plays pressure defense and runs, and he needs depth to execute his plan. But he already has 12 scholarship players who are expecting to see significant minutes, and Carter would be the 13th. No college coach in the country uses more than 10 players regularly.

Jackson, a highly touted UNLV commit, left Findlay Prep a year early with hopes of reclassifying as a 2015 recruit, but his status remains in limbo. Jackson made Canada’s Under-19 National Team roster and will compete in the FIBA World Championships in late June.

With the Under-19 World Championships running through July 5 it’s unknown when Jackson, who attended Findlay Prep last season, would make a decision regarding his status. UNLV has depth on the perimeter and in the paint, and as the report notes they have players who are expecting to be factors in the rotation.

They’ll all have to compete for minutes, but the question for Rice is whether he’d have the right balance with 12 players or if there’s a need for one more. And the answer will have an impact on whether or not the Runnin’ Rebels rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 campaign.

UNLV awaiting two important personnel decisions in its front court

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UNLV’s efforts to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season received a considerable boost late Thursday night, as five-star 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman announced his decision to remain home and play for the Runnin’ Rebels. With his skill set UNLV will have a talented front court next season. But how talented will this group be? That question remains unanswered, as head coach Dave Rice and his staff are still awaiting two important decisions.

The most important decision is that of 6-foot-10 forward Christian Wood, who was a second team All-Mountain West selection and finished the year with averages of 15.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. With Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith moving on Wood was the leader in the front court for a young UNLV team last season, and that would once again be the case if he were to return for his junior season.

But according to Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rice believes that Wood is torn in regards to whether to stay in Las Vegas or move on with the NBA’s early entry deadline of April 26 on the horizon.

“I’m quite sure he’s undecided,” coach Dave Rice said.

If Wood declares, he is projected to be a late first-round pick. If he stays in school, he could lead one of the tallest and most talented front lines in college basketball. So it’s obvious his decision is an important one for the Rebels.

With Wood undecided UNLV is sure to have five players in its front court: freshmen Zimmerman and Derrick Jones, sophomores Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh and redshirt junior Ben Carter, with Carter eligible after sitting out the 2014-15 campaign following his transfer from Oregon. Those bodies give Rice a number of possibilities from a skill standpoint. But without Wood, UNLV would be in a similar position to last season from an experience standpoint even with Carter having two years of Division I experience under his belt.

And Wood isn’t the only question mark in the front court either, as 6-foot-7 small forward Justin Jackson is reportedly considering a move into the 2015 class. Jackson attended Findlay Prep last season, and if he were to move up a year the Canadian would join Morgan and Jones in the competition for minutes at the three.

Having a surplus of talented options certainly isn’t a bad thing, and it isn’t as if UNLV would be in panic mode when it comes to available bodies if Wood were to leave and Jackson were to remain at the prep level. But it’s clear that, at the very least, retaining Wood would be a major boost for a program looking to once again be a factor in the Mountain West and make some noise nationally as well.

While a major question remains unanswered, No. 4 North Carolina can be special in 2015-16

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LOS ANGELES — There’s no denying the fact that the 2014-15 season was a difficult one for North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. There was the passing of his friend and mentor Dean Smith, and there was also the NCAA investigation that’s still ongoing. Add in the fact that his team didn’t truly hit its stride until March, and Williams certainly had his hands full throughout the 2014-15 campaign.

North Carolina’s season came to an end Thursday night in the Sweet 16, as they fell 79-72 to West regional champion No. 1 Wisconsin, but the finish to the season is something that Williams and his players can build on this offseason. The Tar Heels hung with the Badgers throughout, but a couple key lapses on the defensive end proved costly down the stretch. Wisconsin rebounded nearly 39 percent of its misses Thursday night, and while the Badgers scored just ten second-chance points having to defend Bo Ryan’s team for longer stretches than one would want can add up over the course of a game.

North Carolina played arguably its best basketball of the season in March, winning three games in Greensboro before falling in the ACC tournament final to Notre Dame and then beating Harvard and Arkansas to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012. Outside of center Desmond Hubert, who missed the final 16 games due to a torn ACL, everyone should be back next season led by guard Marcus Paige, wing Justin Jackson and big men Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.

With that being the case the Tar Heels will be one of the early favorites in the ACC. And as we’ve seen, being a favorite in the ACC means that you’re a national title contender as well.

“If you think about it, you take away six minutes in the Notre Dame game and we would have had a great run here in the end, but you can’t take away the six minutes,” Williams said following Thursday’s defeat. “You take away the 7- or 9-0 stretch (in the second half), and we had a great run today.

“I want them to use this as fuel. The little lapses that Justin mentioned and that I mentioned to a failed boxout here or missed free throw there were important,” Williams continued. “And if we can take care of those little lapses, then we’ve got a chance to be one of those teams that has a chance to talk about winning the whole thing.”

The biggest development for North Carolina was the growth displayed by some of their supplementary options, with Johnson and Meeks being two of those players. While Meeks was hobbled by a sprained knee suffered against Arkansas Johnson played well against Wisconsin, accounting for 15 points and four rebounds despite playing just 22 minutes due to foul trouble. Both players made noticeable strides this season, with Johnson (13.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg) raising his scoring and rebounding averages by nearly three points and two rebounds per game and Meeks (11.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) improving his scoring by nearly four points per contest while also being able to play more minutes.

Receiving increased offense from those two, not to mention the freshman Jackson (10.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.3 apg), ensured that North Carolina would have a fighting chance against quality competition on nights in which Paige wasn’t at his best offensively. Against Wisconsin the junior guard scored six of his 12 points in the final two minutes, with the shots keeping the Heels within striking distance, but it was the play of players such as Johnson and Jackson (15 points) that kept North Carolina afloat.

That should only help the program moving forward, as a more potent rotation means that Paige won’t be required to save the day as often as he has in the past. What will also help North Carolina is the bond they managed to create in the midst of what was a tough season for reasons both on and off the court.

“It was a tough year for us as a program and for coach especially with everything that happened,” Paige said. “But we have a great group of kids that enjoy being around each other more so than my freshman year, more so than last year. And we’re going to have a lot of the same kids next year.

“It hurts for the seniors because they don’t get another opportunity at this, and in college it goes so fast in those four years. You only get four cracks at it,” Paige continued. “Obviously it hurts right now because we’re such a close group of guys. But for the guys that do get to come back next year, we’re going to try to come together even more as a team and try to execute better and make something special out of it.”

North Carolina had to navigate a lot this season, including multiple injuries and an NCAA inquiry that has yet to be completed, but by the end still managed to finish a couple plays away from the Elite Eight. And the status of that NCAA inquiry will have an impact on what the Tar Heels are able to do next season.

But even with that cloud hovering over the program, with no one having much of an idea as to what will happen, the players can’t control that. What they can control is how they prepare for 2015-16, a year in which much will be expected of them. The depth and talent are there for North Carolina to put together a special season. What the Tar Heels do this offseason will determine whether or not that turns out to be the case.

No. 4 North Carolina survives as No. 13 Harvard’s final shot misses the mark

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With a 26-12 lead at the under-8 timeout, No. 4 North Carolina looked to be well on its way to a comfortable win over No. 13 Harvard. Not only were the Tar Heels getting most of what they wanted on offense, but outside of Wesley Saunders the Crimson weren’t productive at all on the offensive end. However things changed, as Tommy Amaker’s team was able to control tempo and slowly fight their way back into the game.

But even with that being the case, Harvard could not pull off the upset. A Justin Jackson dunk with 23.5 seconds remaining proved to be the difference, as a Saunders three in the final seconds missed the mark. Roy Williams’ team picked up the 67-65 win in Jacksonville, and with that comes the opportunity to face either No. 5 Arkansas or No. 12 Wofford Saturday in a West Region matchup.

Jackson led the Tar Heels with 14 points, and as a team they shot 55.1 percent from the field. The issue for North Carolina offensively wasn’t their shooting, but rather the fact that they were unable to speed the game up. And playing at a slower tempo resulted in North Carolina forcing things at times, and their 17 turnovers were converted into 29 points by the Crimson.

That turnover count will be of even greater importance on Saturday, especially if they get matched up with the pressing Razorbacks. North Carolina may prefer a faster pace, but they cannot afford to be as loose with the basketball as they were Thursday night.

Saunders, who kept Harvard afloat in the first half with 15 points, finished his college career with a stellar 26-point, four-rebound and five-assist performance with point guard Siyani Chambers adding 13 points, three rebounds and three assists. But their efforts weren’t enough in the end, as North Carolina was able to do enough defensively in the final 50 seconds to escape with the win and keep Williams’ record in NCAA tournament openers (25-0) unblemished.