Stanford guard Anthony Brown looks to take another step forward in 2014-15

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LAS VEGAS — Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, one of the questions to be asked of the Stanford Cardinal was what they could expect from 6-foot-7 guard Anthony Brown. After putting together two solid seasons, the Los Angeles native played in just four games in 2012-13, missing the majority of the season due to a hip injury that required surgery. Would Brown be the player who averaged 8.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore? Or could he possibly give Johnny Dawkins even more in a season billed as an important one for a head coach who had yet to lead the Cardinal to the NCAA tournament.

Not only did Brown meet those numbers, he exceeded them, accounting 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, as he also developed into one of the Pac-12’s best shooters. Brown, who hovered around the “180” mark (50 percent or better from the field, 40 percent or better from three and 90 percent of better from the foul line) for most of the season, finished the 2013-14 campaign shooting 47.5% from the field, 45.3% from three and 78.5% from the foul line with all three marks representing career bests.

Brown began the season well, reaching double figures in each of Stanford’s first nine games, and by the end of the year he was the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player as the Cardinal had earned its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008.

“[Confidence] was the big thing,” Brown told NBCSports.com at the LeBron James Skills Academy. “I started off the season hot. Going into last year I was coming back [from the injury] and my main focus was to come in and be a shooter, space the floor for my teammates. We had great big guys last year, and that’s something I pride myself on. Once things got rolling, I just used [my shooting ability] as a weapon.”

While it was frustrating to be unable to play, Brown was able to pick up some valuable lessons during the 2012-13 season. As a result the game slowed down for him, as Brown picked up on the subtleties of the game while sidelined. That wasn’t the case for Brown during his first two seasons, and not only did that help with Brown’s individual skill set, but it also helped with his understanding of his teammates’ games.

Another change that impacted Brown last season was the loss of Aaron Bright, who played in seven games before missing the remainder of the season due to a dislocated right shoulder. It had already been decided by Coach Dawkins that Chasson Randle, who finished the season as a first team All Pac-12 selection, would handle the primary ball-handler responsibilities. But the loss of Bright meant even more opportunities for Brown to operate with the basketball in his hands, serving as a secondary option, capable of creating for himself as well as his teammates (a career-best 2.0 assists per game).

The next task for Brown and his teammates is to account for the loss of forwards Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell, with the former being a member of the Pac-12 All-Defensive team and the latter being a first team all-conference selection. The Cardinal won’t lack for experience, but those are two important personnel losses to address in the coming months.

“It has to be a team effort,” Brown noted when discussing how Stanford will account for the loss of those two starters. “Dwight and Josh probably pulled down close to 15 rebounds per game and both could block shots (Huestis averaged 1.9 bpg), so it has to be a team effort. And we have to bring the freshmen along as quickly as possible.

“Me and Chasson have to get in there a little bit more; we’ll probably have to pressure the ball a little bit more and not get guys get behind us,” Brown continued. “And we have to gang rebound. Last year we relied on, ‘Josh go get that [rebound], Dwight go get that’. This year all five of us have to rebound.”

The Pac-12 race will be an interesting one, because while there’s a team considered to be the prohibitive favorite in Arizona there are a lot of questions to be answered with no clear-cut challenger to the defending regular season champions. Stanford fashions itself as one of the possible options, and the progression of their freshmen will be something to consider.

Of the four arriving on campus two, Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis, are talented front court options, who will look to compete for minutes alongside returning starter Stefan Nastic. If Humphrey and Travis prove capable of contributing immediately, Stanford could have the front court help it needs to go along with its productive perimeter options. And that would place Brown and his teammates right in the mix amongst the many teams looking to contend in 2014-15.

“Our goal is to win the Pac-12,” Brown stated. “We want to be in that hunt. If we’re in the top two or three, we’re giving ourselves a chance [to win the conference].”

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)

Louisville lands commitment from Irish basketball star

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For the sixth time since Chris Mack took over the Louisville program, the new Cardinal head coach has landed a commitment from a member of the Class of 2019.

On Friday, it was Aidon Igiehon, a top 50 recruit, that announced he will be playing his college basketball for the Cardinals.

He followed in the footsteps of fellow four-stars Samuell Williamson, David Johnson, Jaelyn Withers and Josh nickelberry, not to mention three-star forward Quinn Slazinski.

And all this has happened over the course of the last five months.

Mack got the job in April, after he finished his final run with a Xavier program that he had been in charge of for the last nine years. That came just six months after Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino was fired for a series of scandals that had enveloped the university in the last few years, not the least of which was their involvement with the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.

That may be the most impressive part of all of this.

No one really knows what is going to happen with Louisville and the NCAA as a result of the way that they were able to entice Brian Bowen on campus. What we do know is that while Louisville was on probation due to the fact that a member of their coaching staff was paying for strippers and sex workers for players and recruits, an agreement was made for Adidas to pay the family of Brian Bowen $100,000 to get him to enroll at Louisville. Bowen’s father said under oath that, in addition to that money, he also accepted at least one $1,300 payment from former Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson.

Those are NCAA violations committed while the program was on probation.

And those are the kind of things that the NCAA does not take lightly.

Everyone involved with the reason that Louisville was on probation and that actually committed those violations has moved on, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that the Cardinals could be facing even more punishment from the NCAA, which is what has made this recruiting job by Mack so impressive.

He’s filled up an entire class of prospects before he’s even coached a game for the program all while this nonsense is swirling around his program.

Was there ever any doubt that the Cardinals hired the right guy?