Jamie Skeen’s winding road to the Final Four

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It changed all the way back in November.

Prior to VCU’s Preseason NIT consolation game against UCLA, VCU center Jamie Skeen said at a team dinner that he wasn’t getting the ball enough.

“We were at dinner. I just made a joke about it at first,” Skeen said with a laugh after that game in November. “My coach took it seriously. He said ‘Okay, we’re going to get you the ball for real.’ I said that would nice.”

The 6’8″ Skeen would score 10 points in the first five minutes of that game, finishing with 23 points and nine boards as VCU knocked off the Bruins. He’s barely slowed down since, leading the Rams in both scoring and rebounding. Most recently, he had 26 points, 10 boards, and hit four threes as VCU knocked off Kansas in the Elite 8.

It hasn’t always been this easy. Skeen’s college career has been a long and winding road, one that has required as much patience as anything.

Back in 2006, Skeen was the reigning high school player of the year in North Carolina. A top 100 recruit, he was headed to Wake Forest. He started 24 games as a freshman in 2006-2007, averaging 7.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg playing along side Kyle Visser. As a sophomre, Skeen saw his minutes cut, but much of that was due to the addition of James Johnson, an eventual first round pick. With Jeff Teague also on the roster, Skeen started just six games and averaged only 5.6 ppg and 4.1 rpg, but he was a key piece of the front court rotation.

In 2008-2009, Wake Forest was loaded. Teague and Johnson carried the Demon Deacons, at one point being ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.

Skeen was supposed to be on that team, but he wasn’t. He had to sit out the first semester at Wake Forest due to some academic problems he had at the school, and instead of appealing he decided to transfer to VCU. He wouldn’t get eligible until the end of the fall semester in 2009-2010, which means that Skeen was forced to sit and watch both his old team and his new team take part in the NCAA Tournament.

When he finally was allowed back on the court in December of 2009, Skeen didn’t immediately see the court. He was stuck behind yet another future first round pick in Larry Sanders.

It wasn’t until this season that Skeen finally got his chance.

And he has shined. Skeen averaged 15.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg, leading VCU in both categories. Not just on the court, but in the classroom as well, where Skeen is scheduled to graduate this spring.

“He’s come a long way, a long way,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said earlier this week. “He’s matured. He’s developed as a person. He’s done a really good job of putting himself in a position where he’s on track to graduate this spring. His attitude is one of humility and wanting to be coached and to get better.”

On the court, Skeen has been arguably the most important piece for this Rams team. While VCU has a couple of other options in the post, Skeen is the only one that is any kind of scoring threat. In fact, VCU is at their best when they surround Skeen with four guards that can shoot. It creates space for him to operate inside, and with his ability to shoot the three, he makes VCU a very difficult team to defend.

“He became our go-to guy,” Smart said. “He was going to get as many touches as he could handle. Now we’ve been able to go to him over and over and over again, and he’s responded. He’s led us in scoring, rebounding. He’s been at times a point forward for us. We can play through him.”

“I’m just so happy for him because he did go through some adversity earlier in his career. Really happy that it’s finishing the right way.”

The most ironic part in all of this?

Skeen left a Wake Forest team that had Final Four potential. He went to VCU and has led a team that barely got into the NCAA Tournament to the Final Four. He’s put himself on the radar of NBA teams.

Who would have thought that transferring to a team in the CAA would have ended up being the best move that Jamie Skeen could have made?

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

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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

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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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

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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.