Eight midseason additions who’ll impact college hoops


Jon Kreft committed to Florida State in August of 2004.

That’s all of six years and four months ago. Kreft was preparing for his junior year in high school at the time, which would put him in the class of 2006. That’s the same class as guys like Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, and Ty Lawson. Every member of that class that graduated or left school within four years has become a professional, be it to the NBA, overseas, or, like those NCAA commercials love to tell us, in something other than basketball.

While the rest of his high school class is cashing paychecks, Kreft was finally granted eligibility at Florida State today. Tonight against Stetson, Kreft will suit up as a Division I basketball player for the first time in his life.

As you might imagine, it has been a long road for Kreft.

In May of 2006, he was arrested with a friend in a car with 15 grams of weed and a digital scale. He also admitted to hiding 1.7 grams of cocaine in his buttocks. He served almost a year in jail, but by the time he got out, Kreft’s scholarship offer from Florida State was gone. He found himself at Chipola College, spending the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons there. He had hoped to enroll at FSU for the 2009-2010 season, but he still needed to finish some course work.

So after clearing all of those hurdles, Kreft, now 24 years old but a junior in terms of his eligibility, will finally have the chance to play for the Seminoles.

It may be difficult for him to earn minutes initially. Florida State already has a deep and talented front line.

But that isn’t the story here.

The story is that Kreft turned around his life. And now he’ll have a chance to get an education. That is, after all, the purpose of collegiate athletics.

Kreft is far from the only player joining his team midway through the season. Here is a list of eight players that have yet to play a game, but could end up having a huge impact on the outcome of the season.

Josh Selby, Kansas, Fr.

We all know the story of Josh Selby by now. A Baltimore native, Selby had a relationship with Bay Frazier, Carmelo Anthony’s business manager, that the NCAA determined was based on his athletics abilities. He was suspended by the NCAA for nine games, and will become eligible to play on Saturday against USC.

What Selby’s impact will be is unclear. Most expect him to become a starter before long, but Bill Self is playing the part of the politician perfectly, requiring Selby to earn his spot in the starting lineup. He was considered just as good, if not better, than Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving coming out of high school, so it shouldn’t be an issue of if he will have an impact, but rather what that impact will be. He has needed the ball in his hands throughout his high school career, but Kansas runs a system that thrives on ball movement and runs through the Morrii, twin big men Marcus and Markieff. That said, a back court featuring Selby and Tyshawn Taylor will be talented, dynamic, and incredibly entertaining to watch.

If Selby can accept the fact that he will play a role, albeit an important one, for the Jayhawks, it shouldn’t be long before Kansas rivals Duke as the best team in the country.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico, Jr.

Gordon was arguably UCLA’s best player in the season and a half he spent in Westwood. But the talented power forward was never quite able to accept his role for Ben Howland, or the system that the Bruins ran, and left the school after six games last season.

With all due respect to the front line of San Diego State, Gordon could step in and immediately become the best big man in the Mountain West Conference. He’s big, hes athletic, and he is versatile. He can score with his bask to the basket, he can get out and run the floor in transition, and he can rebound the basketball. New Mexico already has a solid front line, but freshman Alex Kirk is more of a pick-and-pop player while AJ Hardemann and Emmanuel Negedu and big and physical, but more athlete than basketball player at this point. Gordon is on another level talent-wise.

It will be interesting to see what the Lobos look like with Gordon in the fold. Right now, they are probably the fourth best MWC team behind SDSU, BYU, and UNLV, who are all top 25 teams. The MWC will be that much better with a dangerous Lobo team. His first game will be Sunday against the Citadel.

Renardo Sidney, So., and Dee Bost, Sr., Mississippi State

Both of these kids had to wait for NCAA clearance to return to the Bulldogs, but for very different reasons. Sidney enrolled at Mississippi State prior to last season, but as a result of improper benefits he received and the NCAA’s belief that his family profited off of his athletic ability while he was in high school, Sidney was declared ineligible for last season and 30% of this season. He’ll play his first game on Saturday against Virginia Tech.

Bost, on the other hand, entered the NBA Draft back in April and took too long to withdraw his name. In a bit of an unexpected move, the NCAA cleared Bost while suspending him nine games. Since he was academically ineligible after last year, Bost’s suspension won’t kick in until the first semester is over.

Thanks to some tricky scheduling by Rick Stansbury, both Bost and Sidney will be available for the entirety of SEC play. And, there seems no doubt, these two will make the Bulldogs much better. They should immediately become the favorites in the dismal SEC West, but with losses to Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State already on their resume, will the Bulldogs be able to do enough to earn an NCAA bid this season?

Jio Fontan, USC, Jr.

Fontan is a talent. As a freshman at Fordham, he averaged 15.1 ppg and 4.7 apg. But the Rams were terrible, and the St. Anthony’s product wanted out. He left the school five games into his sophomore season after a long battle with the athletic department, finally settling on USC has his destination.

Last year, USC’s season turned when they added redshirt senior Mike Gerrity to the mix. Can Fontan have that same impact this year? Kevin O’Neil has said that Fontan is their best player right now, and that carries some weight, considering Nikola Vucevic is playing great and freshman point guard Maurice Jones has impressed early in the season playing a whopping 38.4 mpg.

The Trojans already have losses to Rider, TCU, and Bradley, but if Fontan can change the course of the season, the NCAA Tournament committee may look past those losses. Fontan will make his Trojan debut opposite Josh Selby on Saturday.

Mike Holmes, Coastal Carolina, Sr.

Coastal Carolina was one of the best mid-major programs in the country last season, winning 28 games. This season has been a bit of the same, as they are currently 8-2 on the year with their lone losses coming to Georgetown and the College of Charleston in the Charleston Classic.

Holmes gives them an entirely new dimension. He’s a legitimate, high-major big man. He averaged 10.4 ppg and 7.7 rpg as a sophomore at South Carolina, but was dismissed midway through his junior season due to repeated violations of team rules. Holmes will have a shot at redemption this season, and he is already making good on that opportunity. He had 14 points and 10 boards off the bench in the Chanticleer’s 78-69 overtime win at LSU on Monday.

Roberto Nelson, Oregon State, Fr.

Its been a long wait for Nelson, the best recruit to head to Corvallis since Gary Payton, as he’s had to deal with a year and a half of NCAA scrutiny of his academic eligibility. But the time is finally here, as Nelson had four points in 15 minutes off the bench for the Beavers in a win on Sunday over Texas Pan-American.

Craig Robinson has made it clear that he wants to bring Nelson along slowly, but he may not have the choice. Oregon State is not Kansas. They do not have a roster full of high school all-americans. They are one of the worst high-major teams in the country, and any kind of infusion of talent at this point in the season is incredibly important if this team wants to be competitive in a weak Pac-10 this season.

Gregory Echinique, Creighton, Jr.

Echinique may have played for Rutgers, but that doesn’t change the fact that the kid was a hell of a player in the Big East. As a freshman, he averaged 8.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg. Before transferring out of the New Jersey school as a sophomore, he was averaging 12.6 ppg and 7.7 rpg.

And now he is headed to the Valley, which may as well be known as Death Valley this season. For a league that is generally considered one of the best mid-majors in the country year in and year out, this is certainly a down season. Creighton hasn’t been great either, losing to both Nebraska and Iowa State already this season.

But with Echinique joining forces with the Blue Jay’s talented big man Kenny Lawson, Creighton all of a sudden has a front line that can compete with the high-majors. We’ll get out first look at the Venezuelan on Saturday against Iowa State.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark declares for NBA draft

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard Jaylen Clark has declared for the NBA draft, weeks after a leg injury forced him out of the season’s final six games.

The junior from Riverside, California, announced his plans on his Instagram account Wednesday.

“Thank you to UCLA and coach (Mick) Cronin for believing in me,” Clark’s post read. “I’d like to announce that I am declaring for the 2023 draft.”

Clark didn’t indicate whether he would hire an agent ahead of the June 22 draft or retain his remaining eligibility. He has until May 31 to withdraw and be able to return to Westwood.

He suffered a lower right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona on March 4. Clark averaged 13 points and six rebounds while starting 29 of 30 games. He led the Pac-12 in total steals with 78, tying for third all-time in single-season steals for the Bruins.

He was a second team All-Pac-12 selection, was named the league’s defensive player of the year and made its five-man All-Defensive Team.

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Penn State hires VCU’s Rhoades as men’s basketball coach

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Penn State hired VCU’s Mike Rhoades on Wednesday as its men’s basketball coach, bringing in the Pennsylvania native to take over a program coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade.

The Penn State board of trustees approved a seven-year deal worth $25.9 million for Rhoades, who is from Mahanoy City in eastern Pennsylvania.

Just a few hours after Rhoades was named at Penn State, VCU hired Utah State coach Ryan Odom to replace Rhoades.

Rhoades replaces Micah Shrewsberry, who was hired away by Notre Dame last week.

Shrewsberry, an Indiana native, was at Penn State for two seasons. The Nittany Lions went 23-14 this season, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and won an NCAA game for the first time since 2001.

Rhoades, 50, was 129-61 in six seasons at VCU, including three NCAA Tournament bids. He also spent three seasons at Rice, going 23-12 in the final year with the Owls before returning to VCU.

He was an assistant at the Richmond, Virginia, school from 2009-14 under then-head coach Shaka Smart.

Odom was 44-25 at Utah State in two seasons, with an NCAA Tournament appearance this season.

He previously spent five seasons at Maryland-Baltimore County, going 97-60. In 2018, Odom’s UMBC team became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when it beat Virginia.

Temple hires Penn State assistant Fisher to replace McKie

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PHILADELPHIA – Temple named Penn State assistant Adam Fisher just its fifth coach since 1973 on Wednesday.

Fisher’s goal will be to turn around a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019.

Fisher replaces Aaron McKie, who was transferred out of the coaching job earlier this month after four seasons and a 52-56 overall record with no tournament berths. McKie is now a special advisor to the athletic department.

Fisher takes over a team in flux with six players in the transfer portal. Temple has yet to find any steady success in the American Athletic Conference.

Fisher spent eight years as an assistant with Miami before he joined Micah Shrewsberry’s staff last season at Penn State. Shrewsberry has since moved on to Notre Dame.

“I am confident we have found the right person to lead Temple men’s basketball,” athletic director Arthur Johnson said. “We look forward to welcoming coach Fisher to the Temple community and returning to the NCAA Tournament under his leadership.”

Fisher also worked as a graduate manager at Villanova under Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright from 2007-09.

The Owls have traditionally given their coaches significant time on the bench, though McKie’s tenure was the shortest since Ernest Messikomer from 1939-42. The next five coaches all lasted at least 10 seasons, notably Hall of Fame coach John Chaney’s tenure from 1982-2006.

Cal hires Mark Madsen as basketball coach

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

BERKELEY, Calif. – California is hiring a former Stanford star to revive its struggling basketball program.

The Golden Bears announced Wednesday that Mark Madsen was signed to replace the fired Mark Fox following the worst season in school history.

“We conducted an exhaustive search, and one name kept rising to the top – and that’s Mark Madsen,” athletic director Jim Knowlton said. “Mark is a person of high character, high energy, high intensity, and he’s done it the right way. He’s intense. He’s passionate. He loves his student-athletes, and he loves competing. We want an ambassador for this program who is going to make us proud and develop our young men – both on and off the court. I am absolutely thrilled that Mark will lead our program into the future.”

Madsen played at Stanford under Mike Montgomery, who later coached at Cal, from 1996 to 2000 and helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four in 1998.

After a nine-year playing career in the NBA that featured two titles as a backup on the Lakers in 2001-02, Madsen went into coaching.

He spent time in the NBA’s developmental league and a year at Stanford before spending five seasons on the Lakers staff.

Madsen then was hired in 2019 to take over Utah Valley. He posted a 70-51 record in four years with a 28-9 mark this season before losing on Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals to UAB.

“Having grown up in the area, I have always admired Cal as an institution and as an athletic program, with so many of my teachers, coaches and friends impressive Cal graduates,” Madsen said. “We will win with young men who have elite academic and athletic talent and who will represent Cal with pride.”

Madsen is the third prominent coach to flip sides in recent years in the Bay Area rivalry between Cal and Stanford. The Cardinal hired former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor to take over the football program last season and Bears women’s basketball coach Charmin Smith played and coached as an assistant at Stanford.

Madsen is faced with a tough task, taking over a program that went 3-29 under Fox and set a school record for most losses and worst winning percentage in a season.

Cal went 38-87 during Fox’s tenure, ending his final season on a 16-game losing streak. Fox’s .304 winning percentage ranking second worst in school history to predecessor Wyking Jones’ 16-47 mark (.254) in the two seasons before Fox arrived.

The Bears haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and haven’t won a game in the tournament since 2013 under Montgomery.

Adding to the issues for Fox was the complete lack of interest in the program. Cal’s home attendance averaged just 2,155 this season for the lowest mark among any team in the Power 5 or Big East. That’s down from an average of 9,307 per game in Cuonzo Martin’s last season in 2016-17 and from 5,627 the year before Fox arrived.

Cal had the worst winning percentage among any school in the six major conferences during Fox’s tenure. The Bears also were the lowest-scoring team (62.4 points per game) in all Division I under Fox and had the worst scoring margin of any major conference team under Fox.

Brea Beal’s defense lifts South Carolina to Final Four


COLUMBIA, S.C. – Brea Beal is not just South Carolina’s X factor in one of the country’s best defenses but also a four-year lesson in sacrifice and reinvention that may add a second straight NCAA title to her resume.

Beal is generally third when most think of the landmark recruiting class from 2019 led by heralded All-American Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke. But she could have the most critical role at the Final Four, most likely checking Iowa’s All-American Caitlin Clark in the national semifinals.

The Gamecocks (36-0) face the Hawkeyes (30-6) in the second game in Dallas on Friday night, with the winner playing LSU or Virginia Tech for the national title on Sunday.

Beal, who has started 136 of 137 games in her four seasons, and her senior teammates have racked up championships in their time. They have won three Southeastern Conference Tournament titles, have been to three straight Final Fours and are chasing their second NCAA crown.

Beal takes on the opponent’s best player and, more times than not, limits her effectiveness – a role that took Beal time to embrace.

“It definitely came with some hardship, but throughout time I just walked into it,” she said at the Greenville 1 Regional last weekend.

It wasn’t a path Beal envisioned after a celebrated prep career. She was a three-time Illinois Ms. Basketball from Rock Island High School, averaging 20 or more points a game her final three seasons. Beal joined Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings as the only players in the state to earn that award as a sophomore.

Beal expected to make the offensive impact that Boston and Cooke have had with the Gamecocks.

“It’s not necessarily something I was like, ‘I’m this defender, I’m the best defender,’” Beal said. “It came naturally, just as well as offensively, it’s just something you’ve got to be patient and just accept as time goes.”

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley sees Beal’s value as more than what she does on the court. Beal, overlooked sometimes behind Boston and Cooke, didn’t look to transfer in the portal era or complain about her scoring. She has kept her head down, Staley said, and made herself an indispensable part of the undefeated defending national champions.

“It took her time to just really relax and see where she can find spots to be effective,” Staley said. “Now that she’s a senior, she sees it.”

Clark, the Iowa star, would have to be one of Beal’s most difficult assignments. Clark had a triple-double – 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds – in the Hawkeyes’ 97-83 victory over Louisville to reach their first Final Four in 30 years.

Clark is not one-dimensional – “I pride myself in doing a lot of different things for this team,” she said – and Beal understands it will take a team effort to slow her down.

South Carolina has relied on its defense throughout Beal’s time and this year’s run is no different. The Gamecocks lead the country in blocks and rebound margin, are second in field-goal percentage defense and are third in points allowed.

Cooke believes it’s Beal’s defensive focus that has all the Gamecocks looking to raise their intensity on that side of their game. “She’s the one that taught us how to play defense,” Cooke said. “Especially me. Just watching her and the things she does definitely wore off on me.”

Cooke’s offense may be elevating Beal’s game as of late. Beal has scored in double digits in eight games this season, seven of those since the start of February. She had 10 points in a 59-43 win over UCLA in the Sweet 16 and 16 in an 86-75 victory over Maryland in the Elite Eight.

Once considered the most likely of the 2019 freshmen class to play an extra season, the dual threat has been rising in WNBA mock drafts. ESPN.com has projected her getting called seventh in next month’s draft, going to the Indiana Fever in the first round.

Beal isn’t worried about her pro prospects or savoring all she’s accomplished. She only wants to finish her college career with another championship moment – and that means dialing up the defense.

“We’re a defensively minded team,” she said. “When we come to this part of the season, we definitely need our defense from every single individual.”