Jim Calhoun: Shabazz Napier ‘is not Kemba Walker’

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NEW YORK–Let’s stop the noise before it starts. Shabazz Napier is not this year’s Kemba Walker.

Following his team’s 71-67 overtime win over West Virginia on Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun wanted to draw a distinction between his 2011 National Championship team and his 2012 squad.

“Last year and this year, two completely different deals. This is not Kemba Walker,” Calhoun said, pointing down the table at guard Shabazz Napier. “He’s a totally different player. “

Napier had a game-high 26 points, including a personal 9-0 run at the end of regulation to help Connecticut to force overtime, before fouling out in the extra session.

“I think any comparisons are unfair to last year’s team and unfair to this team,” Calhoun continued. “In the last week that I’ve been around Shabazz, he’s a different player than he was three weeks ago.”

What was going on three weeks ago? Napier had just called out his teammates, telling the Hearst Connecticut’s Kevin Duffy, “I hate to say it, but I gotta question some of these guys’ heart,” after a loss to Marquette.

On Wednesday afternoon, he changed course completely, saying almost the exact opposite.

“I have faith in my teammates no matter what,” he said.  “I know Jeremy [Lamb], I know [Ryan Boatright], I know Andre [Drummond]…I love watching them play because they play with a lot of heart.  That’s exactly what they did.”

Napier, himself, was the one who played with considerable heart, powering the Huskies while fellow guard Jeremy Lamb, who still finished with a strong 22 points, was quiet for the majority of the second half.

Not that the sophomore had shied away from the spotlight recently, though. Does anyone remember when he pulled up a few steps inside the half-court line and nailed a shot to beat Villanova?

But Wednesday’s big game doesn’t automatically crown him the leader of the Huskies, going forward.

“He’s one of our more vocal leaders. We’re all leaders in our own way. We all have something to say to each other,” said freshman Andre Drummond, who had seven points and four rebounds. “It’s not just one person. That’s not how it works.”

There is one thing to be certain about, though: the leader of the 2012 Huskies might be Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, or someone else, or all of them together, but it certainly is not Kemba Walker.

Calhoun may have had the most succinct, pithy response as to why one should leave memories and comparisons to Walker in the past.

“Kemba is making a lot of money, just built a house, doing great.”

And with a laugh, Connecticut moves on to play Syracuse on Thursday at noon.

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Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Missouri star Jontay Porter tears ACL, MCL

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Missouri announced on Sunday evening that star forward Jontay Porter will miss the season after tearing the ACL and the MCL in his right knee.

The injury came during Missouri’s secret scrimmage against Southern Illinois.

As a freshman, Jontay averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Tigers. He entered the NBA draft following the season but opted to return to school after if became clear he was not a lock to be picked in the first round of the draft. He would have entered this season as one of the best big men in the SEC, if not the country.

This is the second time in as many seasons that the Porter family has had to deal with a devastating injury. Last year, Michael Porter Jr. — Jontay’s older brother — missed essentially the entire season after undergoing surgery on his back. He was eventually picked 14th by the Denver Nuggets.

The eldest Porter, Bri, suffered five ACL tears during her playing career, while Cierra, another sister, retired from basketball due to chronic knee issues.

Four-star 2019 forward flips commitment from Big Ten to SEC program

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Four-star 2019 forward Tray Jackson flipped his verbal commitment from Minnesota to Missouri on Friday night.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decommitment from the Golden Gophers on Twitter and then announced a commitment to Missouri a little more than two hours later. Regarded as the No. 96 overall prospect in the Class of 2019, Jackson reclassified from the Class of 2018 and saw his recruitment blossom in the summer.

While decommitting happens in basketball recruiting semi-frequently, flipping a commitment to a new school within a matter of hours is a very uncommon practice. Typically associated with football recruiting, Jackson’s switch is a big deal for Missouri.

His pledge gives head coach Cuonzo Martin an athletic and versatile frontcourt player with upside as Jackson could play multiple positions. The Tigers missed on E.J. Liddell, but Jackson is a nice prize to land instead. Missouri now has two four-star prospects in the Class of 2019 as Jackson joins four-star guard Mario McKinney.

Minnesota needs to replenish its recruiting efforts as they are now without a commitment in the Class of 2019. With head coach Richard Pitino facing pressure to win this season, this isn’t good for the future of Golden Gopher basketball either.

West Virginia lands five-star 2019 center Oscar Tshiebwe

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West Virginia pulled in a major commitment on Saturday as five-star 2019 center Oscar Tshiebwe pledged to the Mountaineers.

A late-developing, high-motor big man who ascended into a national recruit this summer, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Tshiebwe represents an important grab for West Virginia. Tshiebwe represents a potential replacement for Sagaba Konate in the middle as the Mountaineers beat some pretty impressive programs to land him. That includes Baylor and Kentucky.

Tshiebwe is quick off the floor and a good athlete, as he could be a very dangerous player in Bob Huggins’ system because of his brand of basketball. Regarded as the No. 21 overall prospect in the Rivals Class of 2019 national rankings, Tshiebwe also took official visits to Baylor, Illinois and Kentucky during the recruiting process.

Tshiebwe joins three-star guard Miles McBride in West Virginia’s 2019 recruiting haul.

VIDEO: Marshall’s Taevion Kinsey easily clears three teammates on ridiculous dunk

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Marshall freshman Taevion Kinsey put down one of the preseason’s best dunks on Friday night. With the Thundering Herd hosting Herd Madness, the 6-foot-5 Kinsey put down a ridiculous dunk that easily cleared three teammates.

Most dunkers use an arm on the shoulder during the dunk. Kinsey didn’t need any sort of help as he glided over his teammates.

Kinsey is going to be a dunker to keep an eye on in the future. His teammates certainly think highly of his dunking ability, as most of them projected Kinsey to win the dunk contest before the event even started.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson impresses Duke fans in Cameron Indoor debut, downplays link to trial

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Duke freshman Zion Williamson made some ridiculous dunks look effortless in his Cameron Indoor Stadium debut on Friday night. As part of Duke’s annual “Countdown to Craziness” event, Williamson took part in a scrimmage against his Blue Devil teammates.

That included Williamson going head-to-head with fellow freshman R.J. Barrett in a scrimmage. And more absurd dunks in the warm up line.

But besides for the on-court action, Williamson was also asked about his family’s link to the college basketball corruption trial. On Tuesday, a transcript of calls was read to the New York courtroom that allegedly included Williamson’s stepfather on FBI tapes asking for money and a job from Kansas men’s basketball coaches. The tapes were not admitted as evidence.

“Honestly, I’ve paid no attention to it,” Williamson said to reporters, including ESPN’s David M. Hale, about the trial. “I’m just a college kid, out here having fun with my classmates, looking forward to stuff like Countdown and our first game. You only get one chance at the college experience, and I want to enjoy it.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski also downplayed Williamson’s link to the trial, pointing to the NCAA eligibility center’s “exhaustive” process to vette incoming recruits.

“They have an eligibility center now that these kids and their parents go through — and they go through everything,” Krzyzewski said. “We feel very comfortable with him and all our freshmen.”

We’ll likely hear more about Williamson, Kansas and this trial, as time goes on. Williamson also might legitimately not know much about this if it was his stepfather on the call. For now, Williamson is making a huge impression with Duke fans every time he steps foot on the floor.

(H/t: Lawrence Davis III and Duke men’s basketball)