Unsung heroes shine in Pitt’s win over Maryland


NEW YORK – How many people knew the name Talib Zanna heading into tonight’s Coaches vs. Cancer opening round?

Pittsburgh fans certainly did. He’s been starting for the Panthers since the season began. Maryland probably did as well. You have to go over your opponent’s leading rebounder when you scout a team. I’m pretty sure that’s on page one of the coaching hand book.

But on a national scale, how many people would you actually expect to know who a redshirt freshman is that was supposed to come off the bench this season? I’d be willing to wager a fair amount of money that, when asked who Talib Zanna is, more people would answer “Did Talib Kweli change his name?” than “the most productive post presence on the No. 4 team in the country.”

And I’d be pretty confident that I would be leaving with more money than I came with.

“We’ve known about [Zanna] since last year,” Panther senior Brad Wanamaker said after the game. “If he had known the plays last year, he probably would have played. But him playing college basketball was a little adjustment for him. He came out tonight, had a double-double. He’s going to have a great season for us.”

Zanna is one of the more pleasant surprises of this young season. Coming into tonight’s tilt with Maryland, he was averaging 8.0 ppg and 8.3 ppg in three starts against subpar competition. Tonight, however, he made a name for himself. The Nigerian native led Pitt with 14 points and 12 boards going up against one of the best big men in the country in Jordan Williams.

One of those rebounds and two of those points came on a tip in with 59 seconds left in the game that gave Pitt a 72-66 lead and all but Maryland’s fate.

“Coach just tells me to go after the ball everytime,” Zanna said after the game. “Ashton took the shot, and I was ready to go. I was just ready to get the offensive rebound and put it back in.”

That stat was correct, by the way. The redshirt freshman that is only starting because Nasir Robinson is working his way back from knee surgery went into Madison Square Garden in a game televised on ESPN and led the Panthers, who won tonight 79-70, in both scoring and rebounding.

Its precisely that kind of depth that makes Pitt such a dangerous team this season.

Coming into the game, all the talk was about Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. Gibbs is the star, the preseason all-Big East member, while Wanamaker is the guy that everyone has pegged as one of this year’s breakout performers. Both were averaging 19.3 ppg in Pitt’s first three.

Neither played particularly well tonight.

And the Panthers were still victorious over a good Maryland squad that should be dancing come March.

Not many teams can boast that kind of balance.

While Wanamaker battled foul trouble all game, Gilbert Brown and Lamar Patterson got a number of crucial buckets and made the kind of hustle plays Wanamaker is known for. With Gibbs fumbling his way to six turnovers, Travon Woodall provided a spark off the bench. He finished with 11 points and five assists, the majority of which came in a transition game you don’t normally expect to see out of Jamie Dixon’s team. And Robinson, the guy that was expected to miss as many as ten games to start the year, gutted out seven minutes and scored arguably the most important points of the game. Pitt had built a 13 point lead early in the second half, and after Maryland went on a 17-4 run to tie the game at 46, Robinson answered with a tough, and-one bucket to spark a 7-0 counter punch that Maryland was never able to recover from.

“I thought we had a number of guys step up, I don’t really know who to point out,” Dixon said after the game.

“I think we have pretty good balance.”

Balance is right.

Five Panthers scored in double figures tonight. Seven scored between seven and 14 points. JJ Moore, a freshman that was the team’s third leading scorer coming into the guy, only played three minutes. That’s why this team is one of the few teams in the country that can lose a starter to injury and not miss a beat.

“It shows that guys are improving every day in practice,” Wanamaker said. “We got a lot of guys that show up and show that they want to work hard to get Coach Dixon’s confidence that if he puts them on the floor, they can show what they can do.”

This is nothing new for a Jamie Dixon-coached squad. Balanced teams and unsung heroes are his bread and butter. Its the reason he’s been the fifth winningest coach in the country since 2003, when he took over for UCLA-bound Ben Howland, without the benefit of a single first round draft pick.

And while Pitt’s balance is what will make them dangerous over the course of the season, tonight was Talib Zanna’s night to shine.

Will it affect his attitude if people start talking about him?

“I don’t really pay attention to that,” Zanna said.

“I just want to play my game and try to do what Coach Dixon tells me.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.