Cook, Sulaimon shine in Duke’s first exhibition

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As we noted in our ACC preview, Duke needs a couple of guys to play well in the backcourt. One of them is presumptive point guard Quinn Cook. The other is freshman Rasheed Sulaimon. In today’s exhibition game against DII champion Western Washington, they got a chance to see how both players are progressing as the season draws near.

According to the Duke University Chronicle, Cook got off to a good start, playing 32 minutes and notching 13 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Six turnovers were cause for concern, especially given that they came against non-DI competition. Clearly, Cook is preparing himself to lead the Blue Devils this season, however.

Sulaimon got a big chance to show what he could do, playing several minutes that would have normally gone to the injured Seth Curry. He scored 20 points, had 3 assists and swiped two steals. The Chronicle’s BlueZone blog observed the game, and offered some details:

On the team’s first possession, he made a nice cut and layed the ball in, absorbing the contact. He finished the first half with a team-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting, making 2-of-3 from deep.

19:47 in the first half—On Duke’s first possession, Rasheed Sulaimon set the pace for the entire first half with a layup. Duke basketball head coach Krzyzewski praised Sulaimon’s read on the play, saying that he made a cut against the design of the play, but at the same time it was the same read on the defense.

The blog noted that the game was played at a fast pace, as the final 105-87 score would indicate. As such, guard play was clearly at a premium, but a perceived Duke advantage in the post was not quite as evident as expected. Mason Plumlee grabbed 11 rebounds in 33 minutes, but as a team, the Devils only outrebounded the DII Vikings 41-34. Hidden inside that number is an 18-14 deficit on the offensive boards.

Neither the good stuff or the bad stuff is a big deal right now. It just tells us what drills Mike Krzyzewski will be running on Monday. For Duke fans, it’s always good to see your team get the yips out in an early exhibition. For the rest of us, it just makes the upcoming season all that more tangible.

Can’t wait.

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.