Recruiting rundown: Kansas got depth, Arizona got bigs

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College coaches are undoubtedly spending more time working on their current teams, as opposed to grinding on the recruiting trail, which generally is shown by a lack of verbal commitments in December. After all, there’s still over four months until the signing period starts for unsigned prospects.

Still, Kansas, Vanderbilt and Tennessee all landed pledges from high school players in recent days, with the Jayhawks landing a wing that could help next season.

Kansas snags second top-100 prospect
Lost in the celebration of the unprecedented dominance of Big 12 regular season and tournament championships by Kansas under coach Bill Self, is the fact that last two years of recruiting classes have largely fizzled out, at least by Kansas’ lofty standards.

The duo that the Jayhawks signed in 2010 has already departed from the program, with Josh Selby’s jump to the NBA, and Royce Woolridge moving on to presumably more playing time at Washington State. Academic casualties greatly diminished the impact of the 2011 class, with three incoming freshmen this year being denied initial eligibility, including touted guard Ben McLemore, and forwards Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson.

Anderson has since departed for Fresno State, and Kansas is anticipating the loss of both Tyshawn Taylorand forward Thomas Robinson to the NBA.

All that is to say that Kansas needs an infusion of both bodies and talent for next year to have a chance at continuing their Big 12 roll, and the verbal commitment last week of 6-6 forward Andrew White of The Miller School, Va.,gives them a second top-100 prospect to do so.

White is an important scorer for the Jayhawks, as the all-around wing forward provides a second player likely to contribute as a freshman next year, along with touted in-state star Perry Ellis, a 6-8 power forward from Wichita Heights, Kan. Ellis has three state championships under his belt, and both he and White figure to play steady minutes as rookies next year, based on both talent and need.

Kansas beat out NC State and a host of others for White. He’s a post-graduate player, with an extra year of maturity. Kansas also locked up 6-9 center Landen Lucas and 6-8 forward Zach Peters in the early signing period, and holds a verbal commitment from 6-3 guard Anrio Adams, a well-traveled prospect that’s at Rainier Beach, Wash., for his senior year of high school. Assuming Adams qualifies, he’ll help at both guard slots.

Though it’s not a top-10 recruiting class, it’s probably in the top-20, depending on things shake out during the regular signing period. For Kansas, quantity was needed as well as quality, and if White and Ellis pan out, they’ll have two players capable of starting early on in Lawrence, with the three other players in the class providing depth.

If McLemore and Traylor regain eligibility at the start of next season, Kansas could have seven players without college game experience on the roster next year, and the youth and inexperience will require perhaps coach Self’s most difficult roster construction job yet.

No Johnson, no problem for Arizona
Normally, when a college basketball team loses a freshman that was ranked as a top-100 prospect in their class, especially a live body that’s 6-9, it’s cause for concern. That’s not exactly the case for Arizona, which parted ways with newcomer Sidki Johnson after only three games.

The transfer of Johnson isn’t entirely unexpected for those who knew his track record. He started at national high school hoops powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, Va., last year, but transferred to Wadeigh, N.Y., to finish out high school due to troubles at Oak Hill. Prior to that, Johnson also spent time at St. Raymond, N.Y., and St. Benedict’s Prep, NJ, as a high school student.

The Arizona frontcourt isn’t deep this year, and Johnson could have earned more minutes as a reserve center as the season went on, but the Wildcats in reality only have to hold themselves over until next year. Two top-10 talents have already signed to join the program in 7-0 Kaleb Tarczewski of St. Marks, Mass., and 6-8 Brandon Ashley of Findlay Prep, Nev. Both will be ready to assert themselves when they hit campus next year, on sheer talent alone. Additionally, 6’-9” forward Grant Jerrett of La Verne Lutheran, Calif., continues to improve, and presents an outside shooting dimension to the frontcourt. West Coast scouts are extremely high on Jerrett’s development, and some believe he’s a McDonald’s All American game candidate.

When the trio of Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett arrived at Arizona next year, there was the possibility that Johnson would have been the odd man out, regardless of what he did this year. With that said, the situation is curious, especially given the fact that Johnson was committed to Arizona for several years, and did cite his close relationship with assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson on several occasions.

Arizona’s loss could be the gain for another school though, as the early buzz indicates Johnson could return closer to his home in the Big Apple. Assuming he takes care of business in the classroom, as he finishes out the term at Arizona, he could be an attractive and sought-after transfer for numerous schools. Prior to committing to Arizona, Johnson had heavy Big East interest, which included St. John’s, Providence and others. An especially thin front line, like that at St. John’s, could certainly benefit from his presence.

SEC snags a Volunteer and more
Two SEC programs based in the Volunteer state snared verbal pledges recently with Vanderbilt securing the services of 6-10 center Arnold Okechukwu, and Tennessee landing an early commitment from 6-1 point guard Travon Landry.

The Commodores can point to recent successes with Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang, but Okechukwu, a native of Nigeria, is probably more raw that Ezeli and Tchiengang were when they hit campus. Okechukwu comes in at approximately 220 pounds, and has more of an impact on the defensive end right now. He’ll be brought along slowly, but he is improving in a post-graduate year at Queen City Prep, N.C., this year, after finishing high school at West Oaks Academy, Fla.

Tennessee didn’t have much time to fill out this season’s roster when coach Cuonzo Martin took over after last season. Upon taking the helm, Martin scrambled to add a handful of mostly unheralded recruits to fill out the roster. Now, he’s utilizing his chance to put his own stamp on the program, and the Volunteers have their first 2013 recruit, lead guard Travon Landry of Bob Jones, Ala. He’s not nationally ranked by any source, but did reportedly have some interest from other SEC schools. Former coach Bruce Pearl set a high recruiting standard for the Vols, and it remains to be seen if the new staff can meet expectations.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.