Why did native Kansan Kyle Weems turn down the Jayhawks?


SPRINGFIELD, M0. – No one would have blamed Kyle Weems if he had decided to leave Missouri State after last season.

Weems redshirted as a freshman, meaning that he finished his undergraduate degree this summer with a year of eligibility left in his back pocket. The new trend for high-major programs looking for a one-year stop gap is to recruit players like Weems. Thanks to an NCAA rule that allows a player to apply for a waiver to avoid sitting out a season if he transfers to a school to pursue a graduate degree that isn’t offered at his previous school, Illinois found their point guard in Bradley’s Sam Maniscalco and Michigan State found a shooting guard in Valparaiso’s Brandon Wood.

The recruiters came after Weems as well.

“A lot of big time schools came — Kansas, Kansas State, Oregon,” Weems told me after Missouri State’s 66-65 loss to Creighton on Wednesday night. “My cousin runs Nike Mo-Kan Elite, so obviously he knows a bunch of people. Cal even got in contact with my uncle Chris Williams who played at Stanford, and he’s on the Golden State Warriors staff right now. No one ever contacted me directly, but they talked to my family and got in contact with my high school coach in Kansas.”

Think about that for a second. Weems, who is the reigning Missouri Valley Player of the Year, is a Kansas native, growing up in Topeka. He was essentially given the opportunity to play basketball for Kansas or Kansas State without having to sit out a season. Fill out some paperwork, and he would be suiting up in the home locker room of Phog Allen Fieldhouse or the Octagon of Doom. That alone would probably be enough to convince most native Kansans to make a move.

And that’s not even considering the amount of turnover on the Missouri State roster.

The Bears went, essentially, seven deep on a good day last season, with the starters logging the heavy majority of those minutes. But Weems was the only non-senior in the starting lineup, which, when combined with former head coach Cuonzo Martin’s decision to take the Tennessee job, should give you an idea of just how little continuity there was going to be in the program.

Would you really blame someone for leaving that situation for a chance to play on a legitimate Final Four contender? If you were Kyle Weems, would you have passed on the opportunity to play on national TV every night to stay in the Valley, a conference where fans watch games on grainy streams from websites that more than likely helped inspire SOPA and PIPA?

Because that’s precisely the decision Weems made. And the way he tells it, there was hardly any consideration.

“With everything I’ve been through here with the redshirt year and this being my third coach, I felt I owed it to myself and to my family to at least look at it,” Weems said. “But it just felt like home here, and then when Coach Lusk got the job here, there was pretty much no doubt that I was going to stay.”


Springfield isn’t exactly smalltown America. The third-largest city in the state, Springfield is home to just under 160,000 people. Known as the Queen City of the Ozarks, Springfield has been called the birthplace of Route 66. And while it may pain Nat King Cole to hear it, Springfield’s claim to fame may actually be that it hosted a shootout between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt back in 1865.

But Springfield is hardly an urban metropolis. The city is somewhat isolated, with national forests bordering to the east and the south and a whole lot of nothing on it’s northern and western edges. We may as well call Springfield the “city that’s three hours from everywhere”, as it sits more or less smack in the middle of Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis and Tulsa.

That isolation fosters a sense of community, one that rabidly supports their Missouri State Bears. Its why their basketball team is able to pack the three-year old JQH Arena despite playing host to a team that’s barely over .500 this season. And its also a major reason why Weems feels so comfortable in Springfield.

He’s a star here, a big fish in a little pond. And that’s perfectly fine with him.

“These fans, they’re awesome here,” Weems said. “You can be an athlete and be at Walmart and they treat you with the utmost respect and they treat you like you’re a star. Its just an awesome thing to be a part of and it just felt right to stay.”

“They just do a good job of welcoming their players. Regardless of whether you’re from junior college or a redshirt. I’ve had the opportunity to be here for four and a half years now, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

The mutual respect between Weems and the community at large is part of the reason that first-year head coach Paul Lusk never really felt the need to try and recruit his star senior to return for his final year of eligibility. He knew Weems wasn’t going anywhere.

“You want all your guys to stay and certainly a kid of Kyle’s caliber,” Lusk said over the phone. “But I really was never that concerned about it. I just felt that this was the best situation for him. He’s so well-respected here. And why go somewhere and not finish it out? He’s had a lot of positive experiences in this place.”

That’s the kind of values that were instilled in him as a child.

Kim Weems, Kyle’s mother, has worked for 35 years at the same office as a dental assistant. His father, Kevin, has spent almost the same amount of time working in the Topeka school district, surviving with a new job title despite recent layoffs.

“That’s dedication,” Weems told Yahoo! Sports back in July. “If they can work a 9-to-5 job like that, then I feel I can be loyal to a university, which has done nothing but great things for me.”

These are the same parents that make the seven hour round trip drive from Topeka for the Missouri State home games, making it to work at 7:30 am the morning after seeing their only child play. Is it any wonder that their son would value loyalty above all else?

“The thing that I was always confident about is that he has great people around him,” Lusk said. “His mom and dad are terrific people, he has great values. He’s got a lot of substance.”

“In the end we’re very fortunate that he’s here.”


Starting over is never easy, and that is precisely what Missouri State had to do this season.

They lost more than 60 percent of their scoring. The four starters they lost played more than 60 percent of the available minutes last season. When you’re playing in a league as balanced and competitive as the Valley, that’s an overwhelming number to try and overcome.

“To lose four starters who played most of the minutes and are very, very good players,” Lusk said. “Weems is the lone returning starter. We were picked in the bottom half of the league. A lot of people could have bailed out and said I’m not going through that. He stuck.”

But it hasn’t been easy. Missouri State is 11-9 on the season. After losing their rematch with Creighton, the Bears are now 4-4 in the league, a full three games behind Wichita State and Creighton. Barring a miracle finish to the season, Missouri State is going to have to leave Arch Madness victorious if they don’t want their season to end in the NIT, CIT or CBI.

He’s had to make an adjustment on the individual level as well. Its not exactly a secret that he was the league’s best player a year ago, and in a conference as well-coached as the MVC is from top-to-bottom, you better believe that defensive schemes have been geared towards him each and every night he takes the floor.

“Each and every game I’ve gotten more attention,” Weems said.

“I think that’s been an adjustment for Kyle because of all the new faces and everyone trying to get everyone else figured out,” Lusk said.

Neither Lusk nor Weems is using the new-look roster as a crutch, because the Bears are as competitive as they’ve ever been. Of their nine losses, only two — to New Mexico and St. Mary’s — have been by double figures. They lost by five to Oral Roberts and Oklahoma State and took West Virginia to overtime. The three game losing streak they are on subsists of two one point losses and a game they dropped in overtime.

“We’re 11-9 right now, but we’re close. We’ve lost some heartbreakers here down the stretch,” Lusk said.

That change and those losses have undoubtedly been difficult to deal with, but its no guarantee that he would have been any better off had he chosen to jump ship. At Kansas, the 6’7″ Weems would be sharing a front court with Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson and the suddenly-dominant Jeff Withey. At Kansas State, he would be splitting time with Jordan Henriquez, Thomas Gibson and Jamar Samuels. He may have played more minutes at Cal or Oregon, but neither of those schools are guaranteed to be destined for the NCAA Tournament. A valid argument could be made that the Valley is a better conference as a whole than the Pac-12 as well.

“He can play anywhere,” Lusk said. “But what’s his role going to be? He’s going to have to fit in and adjust and get acclimated to a new system and new friends.”

“Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener.”


Kyle Weems is everything that is great about college basketball.

He’s a star in a place outside of the bright lights of a major conference. He embraces the ideal of being a student-athlete, living as a member of the community and not as a rental deity spending one year feigning interest in an education as a launching point towards a professional career.

The seedy underbelly of the sport — the agents, the runners, the Ricky Roe duffel bags stuffed with cold, hard booster cash — can and has reached its tentacles into the mid-major ranks.

And for all the attention that Weems received during the offseason — as Lusk put it “I think there were some things going on” — his commitment to Missouri State never wavered.

“This is my second home,” Weems said.

What does that say about the program Lusk inherited? What does it mean that a school is southwest Missouri that plays a long way from the bright lights of ESPN was able to retain the services of a player that was coveted by the big boys?

Nothing, according to Lusk.

“I think it says a lot about Kyle and him wanting to stay and wanting to finish his career here.”

“He’s just a good person.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

George Mason Final Four star Tony Skinn hired as hoops coach

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FAIRFAX, Va. – Tony Skinn, who helped lead 11th-seeded George Mason to the Final Four during March Madness as a player in 2006, was hired Thursday to coach men’s basketball at the school.

Skinn replaces Kim English, who left George Mason for Providence after Ed Cooley departed Providence for Georgetown.

“Tony Skinn is the right man for this moment in Mason’s basketball program,” university President Gregory Washington said in the news release announcing the hiring. “His coaching style will galvanize our student-athletes and his connection to our finest hour on the court is sure to electrify our alumni and fans.”

Skinn was a starting guard for the Patriots 17 years ago when they picked up a series of surprising wins – including against UConn in the regional final in Washington, about 20 miles from campus – to make the semifinals at the NCAA Tournament.

George Mason’s coach at the time, Jim Larrañaga, is now at Miami and has the Hurricanes in this year’s Final Four.

Skinn was most recently an assistant coach at Maryland. He also has worked at Ohio State, Seton Hall and Louisiana Tech.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to step back on campus,” Skinn said. “I’ve had some of my greatest memories here and I’m looking forward to making new ones with our fans and our community.”

Gonzaga’s Timme among five finalists for men’s Wooden Award

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LOS ANGELES – Drew Timme of Gonzaga is one of five finalists for the John R. Wooden Award as the men’s college basketball player of the year.

He’s joined by Zach Edey of Purdue, Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana, Houston’s Marcus Sasser and Jalen Wilson of Kansas.

Timme took his team farthest in the upset-riddled NCAA Tournament with Gonzaga losing in the Elite Eight. Sasser helped Houston reach the Sweet 16. Purdue lost in the first round, while Indiana and Kansas were beaten in the second round.

The winner will be announced April 4 on ESPN. All five players have been invited to Los Angeles for the 47th annual presentation on April 7.

Also among the top 10 vote getters were: Jaime Jaquez Jr. of UCLA, Brandon Miller of Alabama, Penn State’s Jalen Pickett, Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky and Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis.

Voting took place from March 13-20.

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley will receive the Legends of Coaching Award during the ceremony at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Indiana’s Teri Moren wins AP Coach of the Year

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DALLAS – Teri Moren has led Indiana to some unprecedented heights this season.

The team won its first Big Ten regular season championship in 40 years, rose to No. 2 in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll and earned the school’s first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Moren was honored Thursday as the AP women’s basketball Coach of the Year, the first time she has won the award. She received 12 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. South Carolina’s Dawn Staley was second with eight votes. Utah’s Lynne Roberts received five and Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks three.

Voting was done before the NCAA Tournament.

“I think a lot of people were like this is going to be a year where Indiana is reloading, rebuilding, they won’t be as good as they had been the year prior. We were picked third in the Big Ten,” Moren said.

Moren was surprised by her team, who told her she won in an elaborate ruse.

“Anytime you can share it with people that made it happen. the staff, the players, the most important people who have been instrumental in the season and this award is special. I was speechless.”

Moren accepted the award at the Final Four, sharing the stage with AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark to complete a Big Ten sweep.

The team has come a long way from when Moren was a young girl growing up in southern Indiana. She was a diehard fan of the Indiana basketball team. The men’s one that is.

She would attend men’s games with her family when she was a kid and was a big fan of coach Bob Knight. She has a constant reminder of the Hall of Fame coach in her office as a picture of his infamous chair-throwing incident hangs by the door. Moren said it’s the last thing she sees before heading to practice.

As far as the women’s team, they just weren’t very good. Times have changed, as Moren has built the program into a blue-collar team that focuses on defense and is a consistent Top 25 team the last few seasons, appearing in the poll for 75 consecutive weeks starting with the preseason one in 2019-2020. That’s the fourth-longest active streak.

Before that, the Hoosiers had been ranked for a total of six times.

“People still talk to me about living in Bloomington and they couldn’t afford a ticket to the men’s game. Not that they settled, but became women’s basketball fans. At that moment, you could walk in and find any seat you wanted and watch women’s basketball,” Moren said.

“There were 300-400 people in the stands, now to what it is today, it’s an unbelievable thing to watch it grow. Things you dream about to see fans and bodies up in the rafters.”

The Hoosiers had six of the school’s top 10 most attended games this season, including crowds of over 13,000 fans for the first round of the NCAA Tournament and 14,000 for the second round game – a shocking loss to Miami.

“It stings right now, but that last game doesn’t define our season,” Moren said.

AP source: Alabama’s Brandon Miller declares for NBA draft

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Alabama All-American forward Brandon Miller is heading to the NBA after displaying versatile talent and athleticism in a lone season of college ball that was blemished by revelations he was present at a fatal shooting in January near campus.

ESPN first reported on Miller’s decision, and a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed the report to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Miller hadn’t yet made an official declaration for the draft.

The 6-foot-9, 200-pound freshman, who was one of the nation’s top high school recruits, is projected as a potential top 5 draft pick.

Miller displayed his accurate 3-point shooting and athleticism in the most productive season of any freshman in Alabama history. He led the Tide to their first No. 1 ranking in 20 years and first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.

Miller averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds while hitting 38% from 3-point range. But he was scoreless in his first March Madness game, and went 3 of 19 and scored just nine points in a Sweet 16 loss to San Diego State.

Miller was described as a cooperating witness after the Jan. 15 shooting and was never charged with a crime.

But he and the Tide were dogged by off-court questions for the final two months of the season. Former Alabama player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Jamea Harris, who was killed in early on Jan. 15.

Miller and fellow freshman Jaden Bradley were placed at the scene as well. According to police testimony, Miller brought Miles his gun. Miller’s attorney said the Tide forward was on his way to pick Miles up when Miles texted asking him to bring the weapon, but that Miller never handled the gun and didn’t know any criminal activity was intended.

Miller received threats after the news came out, and was accompanied by a university-provided security guard. “It doesn’t bother me,” Miller said of the threats at the NCAA regional in Birmingham, Alabama, “I send it to the right people and they handle it.”

Alabama finished the season 31-6 and won the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark wins AP Player of the Year

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DALLAS — Caitlin Clark has put together one of the greatest individual seasons in NCAA history with eye-popping offensive numbers.

Iowa’s junior guard, though, saved her best performance for the game’s biggest stage, recording the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history to get Iowa to the Final Four for the first time in 30 years.

Clark was honored Thursday as The Associated Press women’s basketball Player of the Year. She received 20 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. Voting was done before March Madness began.

“It’s a huge honor,” Clark said. “I picked a place that I perfectly fit into and that’s allowed me to show my skill set. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t mean something. It’s not the reason you play basketball, it’s just something that comes along with getting to do what you love.”

The Iowa coaching staff surprised Clark by sharing that she won the award while they were visiting the Iowa Children’s Hospital – a place near and dear to her. It also has huge ties to the Hawkeyes athletic department.

They put together a video of some of the children in the hospital congratulating Clark on an outstanding season, and in the middle of it, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder popped on the screen to tell her she won.

“I’m there for inspiring the next generation and being there for the people that you know are going through a hard time,” said Clark, who grew up in Iowa. “Being able to give joy to people that watch you play and watch your team play is amazing.”

She averaged 27.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds during the season to help Iowa go 26-6. Clark has 984 points, the sixth-most in a season by any player in Division I women’s history. She also has over 300 assists.

“She is spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court,” Bluder said.

Next up for the Hawkeyes is undefeated South Carolina in the national semifinals. The Gamecocks are led by Aliyah Boston, last season’s winner of the award. She garnered the other eight votes this season.

“There’s so many great players, more than just me and (Aliyah),” Clark told the AP. “You can go on and on and list the tremendous players. I think that’s really good for our game when there’s a lot of great players. That’s what is going to help this game grow more than anything else.”

Whether it’s hitting deep 3s from the Hawkeye logo at home games, hitting off-balance game-winning shots or throwing pinpoint passes to teammates for easy baskets, Clark has excelled on the court this year to get Iowa to a place it hasn’t been in a long time.

“It’s funny, because the better the opponent, almost the better she plays,” Bluder said. “It’s like she locks in on those, when we’re playing against Top 25 teams. That’s when her statistics even go up even more, against great opponents.”

Clark is the second Iowa player to win the AP award in the past few seasons, joining Megan Gustafson who won it in 2019.