Detroit looks to lead Horizon with Butler gone

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The Horizon league has been on a kick to simplify the naming system employed by the league. With household name Butler gone to the A-10, now’s as good a time as any to make things user-friendly. One school has been way out ahead of the naming trend, however. The school we know as simply Detroit is technically and officially known as the University of Detroit Mercy. That’s because the University of Detroit proper merged with Mercy College of Detroit in 1990. The school is still sponsored by the Society of Jesus and the Religious Sisters of Mercy. The school is probably still best known as the program that gave us Dickie V., and recently named the basketball court after the former head coach turned ESPN shouting head.

Valpo is widely regarded as the heir apparent to the Butler Bulldogs this season, but Detroit is lauded as a possible league #2. The Titans embrace the opportunity to stake their claim to the newly wide-open league title.

“When I came into this league I said we wanted to be where Butler is,” said coach Ray McCallum. “They were the marquee program and the face of the league. What they accomplished is our dream as basketball coaches and players. We’re in a different role; we’re the hunted now.

“For us to be selected second it’s a sign of respect and growth. … Having this championship ring is something we want our new players to have.”

The Titans are a legit threat to dominate the emerging league power structure, primarily because they have retained the services of Ray McCallum. Both Ray McCallums, actually. There is little doubt that Ray McCallum, Jr. is a Titan primarily because his father is the head coach. The junior point guard is considered to be an NBA talent who could have gone anywhere in the country. He led his team to the NCAA tourney last season – their first appearance since 1999 – and it’s a good bet he didn’t stay in school hoping to come in second this year.

The rest of the team is a question mark, with several players from overseas looking to play crucial roles this year. Three junior transfers — two from Nigeria, one from Germany — are expected to provide instant maturity to a team that needs solid players surrounding a white-hot playmaker.

Shades of Davidson during the Stephen Curry years, methinks. Whether the Titans turn that catalyzing force into the next Horizon League dynasty, or struggle to survive once their ace goes pro is a question for next season. For now, the Horizon’s the limit.

West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate returns to school

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The nation’s most entertaining shot-blocker is back for another season.

Sagaba Konate, a 6-foot-9 center from Mali, will return to school for his junior season to anchor West Virginia’s defense for yet another season, according to ESPN.

Konate declared for the draft and went through the combine, and while his shot-blocking and intensity shined through there as it did throughout the season, he’s more of a mid-to-late second round pick than he is a first rounder at this point.

As a sophomore, Konate averaged 10.8 points, 7.6 boards and 3.2 blocks. He also shot 79 percent from the free throw line.

So let’s sit back and enjoy what we get to see for another year:

Luke Maye to return to North Carolina for senior season

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Here’s something I never thought I’d say: Luke Maye is returning to North Carolina for his senior season, meaning that the Tar Heels will have their preseason National Player of the Year candidate back in the fold.

Who saw that coming?

“I have had a great experience learning from the NBA process and growing as a basketball player during the past couple weeks,” Maye wrote on Instagram. “I would like to thank my family, friends, coaches and teammates for all of their support. Through this process, I have decided that I am going to comeback to school to improve as a player and finish my college career. I am looking forward to the opportunities and challenges that I will face and there is no better group to do it with than my teammates and the Carolina family! Time to finish the right way with two of the best players and leaders that I know! Let’s finish our legacy the right way!”

Maye, who averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 boards as a junior, declared for the draft last month, but he did not get invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. The 6-foot-9 forward is a stretch four that will fit perfectly at the four for the Tar Heels this season, with Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams on the perimeter and a trio of sophomore bigs to handle the five.

Getting Maye back was key, but expected. UNC reaching their ceiling this season will depend on whether or not their point guard play is up to par. With Jalek Felton gone and Joel Berry II graduated, that is going to come down to whether or not Seventh Woods can handle the lead guard role or if Coby White can step in and start as a freshman.

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.