Recruiting rundown: UNLV should be optimistic about Shabazz Muhammad or Anthony Bennett

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The two uncommitted national top-10 prospects in the 2012 class both play in Las Vegas, and while the nation’s top recruit, wing Shabazz Muhammad has had a well-documented recruitment, 6-7 power forward Anthony Bennett’s college preferences have been a mystery at best to those that following recruiting closely.

The powerful post prospect cut his list from ten to five over the weekend, naming Kentucky, UNLV, Florida, Oregon and Washington as his contenders. That list was put out by Bennett prior to his friend and fellow native of Canada, Khem Birch, declaring for UNLV, and that move likely puts the Running Rebels even more into the status of a serious player for landing his commitment.

Kentucky will be a huge presence in Bennett’s recruitment until the end, but UNLV fans have to like their position with both Bennett and Muhammad. The longer the season progresses and the more success that UNLV has on the hardwood figures to be to their benefit in both recruitments against the blue bloods of college basketball.

Florida was a finalist for Birch, so not getting him isn’t promising, especially for team that looks to need interior help in the near term. Oregon has some track record with Canadians on their current roster, and also has signed one of Bennett’s teammates, point guard Dominic Artis. Still, from the outside looking in, this could be a Kentucky/UNLV race.

Bennett’s recruitment has been deliberate and on his own time table so far, and that is expected to continue. He’ll have five official visits to take before he trims his list and makes a final decision.

Seton Hall lands a crime stopper and show stopper
It’s not too often that a high school junior has reached almost urban legend status in the basketball community, but 5-6 point guard Aquille Carr of Patterson (Md.) has done just that. After getting the upper hand on current professional Josh Selby in a game in the Baltimore area as a freshman, Carr has only increased his rep as a dynamic prospect, extending from the Northeast to internationally.

Amidst reports of an Italian team offering him a six-figure contract, and the legend that crime decreases in his Baltimore neighborhood when Patterson plays, Carr is arguably the most exciting player watch nationally in the 2013 class, and is known by his nickname, the “Crime Stopper.” Though his size is a clear and obvious limitation, that hasn’t stopped high-major colleges from sending scholarship offers his way. Late last week, Carr ended his recruitment early, declaring the Seton Hall.

Carr is oftentimes a blur on the floor, and has earned his distinction as a top-50 player in the class. He’s an above the rim player that attracts crowds wherever and whenever he plays. He is quick and explosive, with the penchant for making a difficult play look easy. On the other hand, with that goes his prowess for turning the ball over unnecessarily, struggles at times in the half-court set, and the occasional defensive mismatch.

At Seton Hall, Carr will have an outstanding tutor in associate coach Shaheen Holloway, who has already taken Carr’s projected path, as he had a solid career as a diminutive point guard in the Big East at Seton Hall. Also, coach Kevin Willard is a rising star in the coaching profession, and also plied his trade as a Big East point guard at Pittsburgh.

Gaining Carr’s commitment, the Pirates first in the 2013 recruiting class, does not come with a downside, though. Seton Hall was believed to be a serious contender for Gill St. Bernard (N.J.) point guard Jaren Sina, who was formerly committed to Alabama, and the son of a former Seton Hall player in Mergin Sina, his coach. Sina is a fundamentally sound lead guard that would have been a nice addition, as well. That seems extremely unlikely now.

At a minimum, when the Pirates’ staff determines that he’s ready to play, Carr’s flair and style of play will attract attention to the Seton Hall program. In terms of credibility and positive press, adding Carr is huge for Seton Hall, as well.

St. John’s gains one, loses one
Earlier in the week, shooting guard commit Darrick Wood of Bridgton Academy (Maine) was the sole remaining member of the St. John’s recruiting class for 2012. National top-50 power forward Ricardo Gathers is entertaining other offers after his decommitment, and former point guard pledge Jevon Thomas signed with Dayton during the early signing period.

Wood re-opened his recruitment though, with the nebulous statement that the Johnnies still lead for his college services. Still, the track record of such players ultimately signing with a school that they decommit from is sketchy at best. With only a half-dozen recruited scholarship players on the current roster, St. John’s needed some good news in the worst way.

That pick me up came in the form of Jamal Branch, who was formerly known as a backup freshman point guard early on this season at Texas A&M. Branch didn’t get much of a shot for the Aggies, but immediately becomes a key member of the St. John’s plans for next year. He’s a pass-first, defensive minded point guard, and both of those skills are currently is nowhere to be found currently at St. John’s.

Branch is a native of the Lone Star State, like current freshman D’Angelo Harrison, and the two Texans could form a dandy duo. While coach Steve Lavin has his health as a priority, the program’s long-term success will rely on adding five or more players for next season, in order to start the season with a fair shot and a near full boat of scholarship players. If Branch becomes eligible at mid-season, as expected, he’s a quality addition and a welcome break from a recent streak of bad news.

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

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.