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.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.

STAYING IN SCHOOL

TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.

GOING PRO

KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

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

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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.”