The Secondary Break: Monday’s Links

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Bairstow’s success story is 23 years in the making (Albuquerque Journal)
Of the three members of New Mexico’s “big three,” senior forward Cameron Bairstow may be the most overlooked. But to this point in the season he’s been outstanding, averaging 20.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. And Bairstow’s path to becoming one of the Mountain West’s best players is one that’s been 23 years in the making.

Unforgettable hurt from bullying (ESPN)
In recent years bullying has received greater attention in American society, with there being a greater level of understanding of what the experiences do to people. ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale shared his own experiences with bullying, and his journey to becoming one of the sport’s most recognizable personalities is certainly an inspiring one.

Loyola’s SJ Tuohy enjoying life after “The Blind Side” (Baltimore Sun)
Loyola (MD) guard SJ Tuohy was a part of the life depicted in the movie “The Blind Side,” with his family taking in a young man in Michael Oher who is now a starting offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Oher’s presence in Baltimore played a role in Tuohy’s decision to join the Loyola program a couple years ago.

Tennessee, Virginia seeking to gain momentum (Associated Press)
One of the bigger non-conference games of the upcoming week is Virginia’s game at Tennessee, with both teams in a position where they can use a quality win ahead of the start of play in their respective leagues. Both teams have endured their struggles thus far as well, leaving players on both teams hopeful to gain some momentum in their final game of 2013.

Toledo caps a turnaround by taking on a giant (New York Times)
Tod Kowalczyk’s Toledo Rockets are one of eight remaining undefeated teams in college basketball, which is quite the achievement when considering the fact that they were ineligible for postseason play last season. But the Rockets will be tested on Monday night when they visit No. 16 Kansas.

Big East teams have much to prove in league play (USA Today)
With many of the league’s members failing to rack up the signature non-conference victories, the first season of conference play in the new Big East takes on added importance. The fun kicks off on Tuesday, with all ten conference teams taking the floor in the first conference games of the new era.

Illinois basketball’s Rayvonte Rice in shape on, off basketball court (Chicago Sun-Times)
In Illinois’ 74-60 win over UIC on Saturday afternoon Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice stole the show, scoring a game-high 28 points to lead the way. And it was the latest step forward for Rice, who lost 45 pounds and cut his body fat by some ten percent according to head coach John Groce. As a result, he’s been one of the best transfers in the country to this point in the season.

Utes appear to be headed in the (Delon) Wright direction (Salt Lake Tribune)
One of the best junior college transfers in the nation to this point in the season has been Utah’s Delon Wright, whose versatility has proven to be a major asset for Larry Krystkowiak’s Utes. How good can the brother of Portland Trailblazer Dorell Wright and his teammates be this season? We’ll learn a bit more about Utah on Thursday night when they host No. 12 Oregon.

Patsos pleased with Saints’ progress (Troy Record)
Given how far Siena tumbled in the three seasons following Fran McCaffery’s move to Iowa, it was clear that new head coach Jimmy Patsos had a lot of work ahead of him this season. And despite the Saints having a 4-8 record entering Monday night’s game against Fordham, the former Loyola (MD) head coach is pleased with the team’s progress.

Cougars trying to find some joy in Malibu amid three-game gloom (Provo Daily Herald)
Dave Rose’s BYU Cougars dropped their third straight game on Saturday afternoon as they lost 87-76 at Loyola Marymount. With just one day off before they play at Pepperdine, the Cougars are hopeful that the trip to beautiful Malibu will serve as a catalyst of sorts.

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.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.