Iowa’s Aaron White embraces burden of leadership after tough finish to 2013-14 season

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LAS VEGAS — Given the amount of talent that returned to Iowa City last season, the 2013-14 campaign was one in which many forecasted a return to the NCAA tournament for Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes. With guard Roy Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White leading an experienced group not only were the Hawkeyes seen as an NCAA tournament team, but they were also seen by some as a possible contender in the Big Ten. Iowa played that way during the first half of the season, winning ten of its first 11 games and beginning Big Ten play with wins in four of their first five contests.

But things changed following that solid start to conference play, with the rigors of the Big Ten and defensive struggles combining to result in a 9-9 conference record and losses in six of their seven games ahead of the NCAA tournament. A team that looked to be well on its way to a “protected” seed in the NCAA tournament found itself in Dayton, where they lost to Tennessee in overtime as their head coach was dealing with a family issue more important than the game of basketball.

With the likes of Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe out of eligibility, Iowa is looking to not only return to the NCAA tournament but do so in smoother fashion in 2014-15. And while the defensive issues may stick out to most when comparing the start of the 2013-14 season to its finish, in the eyes of rising senior forward Aaron White there wasn’t just one particular issue that proved problematic for the Hawkeyes.

“When it comes down to it we were winning at the beginning of the year and we weren’t at the end,” White told NBCSports.com last week at the LeBron James Skills Academy. “A lot goes into that. We were playing with a high level of confidence, sharing the ball and trusting each other. But sometimes you can’t really put your finger on one thing that results in a losing streak.

“I’m just proud of the season we had as a whole. I think we put Iowa on the map, reaching the top ten [of the national polls] and being in the Top 25 for most of the season. [Last season] taught me a lot and my teammates also learned a lot that we’ll take into next year. I think I took a lot more good from last season than bad.”

White was one of the mainstays on that team, starting all 33 games and posting averages of 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 forward shot a career-best 58.4% from the field, a figure which ranked first in the Big Ten. And with the now-departed Marble being the only other double-digit scorer (17.0 ppg) for at team that also had seven players averaging between 5.7 and 7.8 points per game, it’s pretty clear that White will be in a position where he’ll be asked to do more both statistically and as a leader for the Hawkeyes.

“It affects me individually because I think when people looked at Iowa, it was me and Devyn,” noted White. “We were kind of a 1-2 punch. And now that he’s gone it’s my team in a sense. I’m not saying that in a selfish way, but I’m the guy returning with the most experience. Devyn was a great player obviously, making first team All-Big Ten and getting drafted. We’re not going to have one guy fill his role. Everyone’s going to have to step up and we’ll be able make up for [his departure].”

And in discussing what he’s doing to work towards being an even more integral figure for Iowa, White noted that the goal of being a professional once his college career ends has impacted the way in which he’s gone about his business during the summer.

“I just want to conduct myself as if I’m going to be a professional basketball player,” said White. “That’s being more aggressive on offense, being more of a leader on defense and communicating. Improving my body, and just trying to prepare myself to have a great final year and take that into next summer.

“I’ve had a lot of talks with Coach McCaffery and we’re on the same wavelength. He always wants me to lead the team, be confident and be aggressive. Just play my game and don’t defer to anyone else; look for my shot and play hard and the rest will fall in place.”

Accounting for the loss of Marble, Basabe and McCabe as a team will be a group task especially when considering what Marble gave the Hawkeyes. Among the options who will be asked to help account for the lost production are guard Mike Gesell (7.8 ppg, 3.9 apg) and forward Jarrod Uthoff (7.6, 4.6 rpg), and the Hawkeyes are also adding a three-member recruiting class led by junior college transfer Trey Dickerson. Last season at Williston State College in North Dakota the 6-foot-1 Dickerson posted averages of 19.8 points, 5.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, and his arrival gives Iowa some additional perimeter depth alongside its returnees.

However even with those options available to McCaffery, White’s abilities not only as a player but also a leader will be needed if Iowa is to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. And part of the battle for any team playing in a league as rigorous as the Big Ten is to keep a stretch of negative results from “snowballing” into a situation that proves too difficult to rebound from. This is where the experiences that White and his teammates come into play, and it’s an opportunity he’s looking forward to taking on in 2014-15.

“It’s the best league in the country,” White stated. “[Some of the other campers] may tell you otherwise but it definitely is. Every night’s a dogfight whether you’re playing the 12th place team or the first-place team, home or away it’s a battle. Look at Wisconsin. They lost to Northwestern at home and went on a losing streak (the Badgers lost five of six games early in conference play), and then they end up reaching the Final Four.

“It’s just that type of league. You have to be ready every night, but that’s what makes it fun. You don’t want to be in a league where you have a “cupcake” every other week. I’ve loved the challenge all three years I’ve been at Iowa, and I’m looking forward to this year.”

Ohio State grabs five-star 2019 point guard D.J. Carton

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Ohio State landed one of the biggest commitments so far this summer on Saturday as five-star Class of 2019 point guard D.J. Carton pledged to the Buckeyes.

The 5-foot-11 Carton burst onto the national recruiting scene this spring as he went from a relative unknown into a five-star prospect. Although Carton doesn’t play on a major shoe-company circuit he impressed national scouts and college coaches with his play during the April live evaluation period with Quad Cities Elite — the same program that produced quality college players like Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Montana State’s Tyler Hall.

An explosive athlete who can play above the rim, Carton showed a high amount of upside during the USA Basketball U18 tryouts in June as he competed against many of the top players in his class.

Ohio State is landing a key piece at an opportune time as they now have a lead guard of the future to help build around. Carton is only the third five-star prospect to commit from the Class of 2019 so far, as he’s the No. 17 overall prospect in the Rivals national rankings. Carton joins in-state four-star wing Alonzo Gaffney in the Buckeyes’ 2019 recruiting class as Ohio State has the makings of a potential top 10 recruiting class.

With where Ohio State was last summer, with head coach Chris Holtmann taking the job in June and the roster lacking scholarship players, the Buckeyes have had a monster turnaround in the last 14 months. Ohio State now, once again, looks like a scary team when it comes to recruiting as they should be a major factor for some elite prospects.

Alabama lands four-star wing Juwan Gary

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Alabama added a quality wing to its Class of 2019 recruiting haul on Friday as four-star Juwan Gary pledged to the Crimson Tide.

The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Gary has been a known national prospect since his freshman season as the South Carolina native is an athletic two-way wing who thrives in the open court. Although Gary still needs to polish up his jumper, he has the potential to be an impact player in the SEC, especially if Alabama gets him going in transition.

Gary joins four-star forward Diante Smith in the Crimson Tide recruiting class in 2019 as now head coach Avery Johnson and his staff can focus more of their efforts on adding to a potentially strong class. Pulling Gary out of South Carolina — especially in light of recent NCAA tournament success from in-state programs like South Carolina and Clemson — is an impressive recruiting win for Alabama.

Former UCLA guard Billy Knight was facing child molestation charges before suicide

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Former UCLA guard Billy Knight, who took his own life earlier this week, was arrested in June for sexually abusing a nine-year old girl, according to court documents that were obtained by The Mercury News.

The alleged assaults occurred in April of 2017 and Knight was reportedly arrested in Arizona in June. He was being charged with two counts of sexual conduct with a minor, two counts of sexual abuse, and two counts of molestation of a child.

Knight posted a video to YouTube prior to his death saying that he had lived a life of “sin”.

Jalek Felton signs pro contract in Europe

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Jalek Felton’s college basketball career is over.

The former North Carolina point guard has signed a pro contract with Olimpija Lubiana, a club team in Slovenia, they announced.

“I’m happy to join a club like Petrol Olimpija,” Felton said in a statement. “This is a club with a rich tradition, where many NBA players have begun their careers. For me, this is a big step. I know that this will be a great challenge for me and I am ready to go there and work. My agent told me that Olimpija will play in various competitions and that makes me all the more pleased. Playing in such competitions with Olympia in Europe will prepare me for playing in the NBA. The city looks nice and I heard that basketball there is a religion, so this will be an interesting experience.”

Felton, the nephew of former UNC guard Ray Felton, was a five-star prospect that played in 22 games as a freshman with the Tar Heels. But he was suspended from the program in January and, in March, withdrew from school.

He averaged just 2.9 points in his one season in Chapel Hill.

Creighton lands local 2019 commit

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Omaha isn’t exactly thought of as a high school basketball hot bed, but Creighton has had success mining its hometown for talent in recent years, most notably in recent NBA draft picks Justin Patton and Khyri Thomas.

The Bluejays went back to the well Thursday by securing the commitment of Shereef Mitchell, a 6-foot guard from local Burke High School, he announced via social media.

“Being a kid from Omaha you dream of playing for Creighton and in front of the hotown fans,” Mitchell wrote. “That is something I want to do  and I don’t want to turn that opportunity down.

“I can’t wait to play in front of my family, friends and the best fans in the world!”

Burke was offered by Greg McDermott’s staff just earlier this week, adding to a list of offers that included Bradley, Loyola Chicago and South Dakota State.

Burke recently graduated from his Omaha high school, but will reclassify to 2019 after spending a season with Sunrise Christian in Wichita, Kan.

“I really feel like I will be a way better player than what I am right now after my year at Sunrise,” Mitchell told the Omaha World-Herald. “I think I could have a shot at being an impact player right away and possibly starting after a year there.”

Burke averaged 24.6 points and 3.8 assists per game as a high school senior, earning state player of the year honors in the process. He’s hoping to extend the line of Omaha products to thrive at Creighton.

“I’m a kid from Omaha, and getting an offer from Creighton is something kids dream of and it would be hard for me to pass up,” Mitchell told the World-Herald. “Seeing players like Khyri Thomas and Justin Patton, two kids from (Omaha public schools) that are in the NBA, it gives you hope that you can do the same thing.”