Recruiting rundown: San Diego St. adds to stockpile; Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad set visits


There’s little doubt that the San Diego State men’s basketball program is running on all gears right now. They’ve been extremely successful in what was expected to be a down season, and have talent waiting in the wings for next year in the form of two high-major transfer forwards in J.J. O’Brien (Utah) and Dwayne Polee (St. John’s). The Aztecs have also struck gold on the recruiting trail, as they now have their third, and best, pledge for the 2012 class in 6-8 forward Winston Shepard of Findlay Prep (Nev.).

Shepard was previously one of only a handful of top-100 players left still on the table, and has steadily been working his way up the player rankings charts with his play for the national No. 2 ranked high school basketball team, Findlay Prep. He’s a Texas native who was well-known for his defensive prowess, slashing offensive game and overall energy as a sidekick to Shabazz Muhammad on the AAU circuit, playing for the loaded Dream Vision team that also featured players bound to Boston College, Colorado, Kansas State and UNLV. Among that cast of stars, Shepard stood out at times with his long frame and game-changing potential.

The skill and talent levels aren’t entirely comparable, but the fairest comparison to Shepard’s overall game in the college ranks could Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky’s touted freshman forward. Shepard, like Kidd-Gilchrist, lacks a reliable outside shot, but brings tremendous intangibles, and plays to win at all times. Both show defensive prowess that isn’t seen in every elite prospect.

Shepard’s recruitment looked in the summer like it would come down to current Mountain West rivals San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico, but as of late, St. John’s, Connecticut and Oklahoma State were among the schools that jumped in the picture with scholarship offers. Still, San Diego State did a tremendous job in Shepard’s recruitment, and won out over some bigger “name” schools.

While Shepard is clearly a gem, the Aztecs previously signed two other excellent prospects from Southern California. Local wing forward Matt Shrigley should be a multi-year starter with his combination of bounce and skill, and many recruiting analysts are scratching their heads regarding the lack of Pac-12 offers to 6-9 center Skylar Spencer, who is expected to be a major factor down the road at San Diego State. Additionally, the Aztecs landed an under-the-radar transfer from Virginia, forward James Johnson, who could benefit with a year to develop following his change of colleges.

While the Big West isn’t the most lauded college basketball conference, there’s sure to be many schools taking their aim at San Diego State when the Aztecs become basketball members. With the talent that coach Steve Fisher and his staff have amassed, though, it’s easy to image a basketball dynasty in the making near the shores of the Pacific Ocean on San Diego State’s sunny campus, especially if they continue their recent recruiting successes.

Heads of the class take trips

The top dogs in the 2012 class, 6-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Nev), and 6-10 Nerlens Noel of Tilton School (N.H.) are fitting in travel to their prospective college campuses, as their high school seasons wind down. Muhammad is expected to be at Kansas, as the Jayhawks prepare for what should be an epic tilt with Missouri this weekend, while Noel made his way to Syracuse and Kentucky in recent weeks.

Muhammad, the top prospect in the 2012 class until Noel recently reclassified, has taken official trips to Texas A&M and Kentucky, and is also expected to trek to Duke to be on scene for their tilt against North Carolina. Additionally, Muhammad is still considering, to various degrees UCLA, UNLV, USC and Arizona. He may not officially visit the schools nearest his Sin City home, as prospects are only allowed five official visits. He has been on those campuses, on unofficial visits.

Noel is not yet allowed, per NCAA regulations, to take any official visits, as his paperwork is not complete to be technically a member of the 2012 class, just yet. As a result, he is making unofficial trips on his own dime while he conducts his abbreviated recruitment. It’s no surprise that the Orange and Wildcats made up his first two visits, as those schools are expected to be the major players to land his unique, shot-blocking talent.

Still, Florida, North Carolina, Georgetown, Providence, UConn and others are attempting to make up lost ground for Noel, and work their way towards wresting him away from two elite programs in Syracuse and Kentucky.

The 2012 class is largely off the board, which puts the spotlight even brighter on Muhammad and Noel. Whichever school lands either prospect has an immediate starter for at least a year, and Kentucky fans have to be salivating as they remain on both lists. Along with 6-7 strong man forward Anthony Bennett of Findlay Prep (Nev.), only three legitimate impact players are left in the 2012 class, which makes their priority obvious for the schools in hot pursuit.

St. Mary’s recruit Cullen Neal spurns father’s school
Anyone who saw the New Mexico-based Danny Granger Hurricanes club basketball team over the summer saw two star players with deep ties to the New Mexico basketball program. Two standout 2013 guards, Bryce Alford and Cullen Neal, are the sons of Lobos coaches Steve Alford and Craig Neal. While Alford may still elect to play college at New Mexico, Neal committed last week to St. Mary’s. The move didn’t come as a shock though, as Neal was expected to blaze his own trail for college.

While he was recruited and offered scholarships to the Pac-12 level, Neal is an absolute steal and could star at St. Mary’s. He’s a rare recruit who will end up at a great fit, rather than the most prestigious sound opportunity.

Landing recruits like Neal is part of the reason for coach Randy Bennett and the Gaels continued success. At 6-3, the Eldorado (N.M.) star can play either guard slot, and sets up to be a scoring point guard in the WCC. While he won’t continue to average the 27 points per game he currently is against New Mexico high school competition, Neal could be an early and valued contributor at St. Mary’s.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

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


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

kansas mccullar
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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

clemson pj hall
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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.