adidas Nations Sunday Recap

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LONG BEACH, California — College counselor games finished up on Sunday at adidas Nations as the college players had two more sessions of games and a chance to ball with former NBA all-star Tracy McGrady and Denver Nuggets wing Arron Afflalo. CBT‘s Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips were there to take in the action and give six takeaways from the day’s action, including a high-profile matchup of freshmen and a thoughts on two All-Big Ten candidates.

Frank Kaminsky looking to balance inside, outside play

Wisconsin senior forward/center Frank Kaminsky struggled with his outside shot this weekend, and while the ability to be a “pick and pop” guy who extends defenses is one of his best attributes there’s also the need for Kaminsky to balance his time on the perimeter with carving out some space inside. And in speaking with Kaminsky following his game Sunday evening, he touched on the amount of work it takes to manage that balance and make sure he as effective as possible.

“It’s tough sometimes,” Kaminsky told NBCSports.com Sunday evening. “There are a lot of things that go into it. Working hard in the weight room, conditioning and things like that. It’s not easy but it’s the way I know how to play. It was difficult for a couple of years but it’s getting easier and easier as I [gain experience].”

Another key for Kaminsky and his teammates is the need to account for the graduation of guard Ben Brust. Brust shot the ball well for the Badgers last season, and he was also an important leader for a team that won 30 games and reached the Final Four. According to Kaminsky it will be the responsibility of everyone to step forward in 2014-15, and the fact that so much of Wisconsin’s rotation from last season returns to Madison will help in this regard. (RJ)

Click here for CBT’s coverage from adidas Nations

A.J. English enjoys a productive weekend

After winning 22 games and the MAAC regular season title in 2013-14, Tim Cluess’ Iona Gaels are hoping to get back to the NCAA tournament after falling short of their goal in the MAAC title game. The Gaels will have to account for the loss of guards Sean Armand and Tre Bowman, but they return three key cogs in the attack led by junior guard A.J. English. English, who averaged 17.2 points, 4.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game last season, performed well in the adidas Nations counselor games throughout the weekend while playing two different roles depending on the circumstances.

English saw time at both guard spots Sunday, with his time at the point coming when camp teammate and point guard Derrick Walton Jr. sat out the evening session game. English knocked down shots when open, made some solid decisions off the dribble and also defended well. As for what English was looking to gain from the camp experience, he hoped to make strides in all aspects of his game.

“I feel like I have to get stronger [in all aspects],” English said Friday. “Nobody’s perfect; I’m definitely not perfect. So I try to learn stuff from these great coaches and take in everything they say.” (RJ)

Camp gives LSU’s Josh Gray, Jordan Mickey valuable time on the court together

With Anthony Hickey transferring to Oklahoma state, former Odessa College point guard Josh Gray is an incredibly important piece for Johnny Jones’ LSU Tigers this season. And while Gray has been able to establish some on-court chemistry with his new teammates while taking summer classes in Baton Rouge, sophomore forward Jordan Mickey wasn’t among them. With that being the case, the adidas Nations camp gave those two some valuable time on the court together as they work to understand where the other is most effective.

“It means a lot since he wasn’t [on campus] for summer school,” Gray said when asked how the camp helped him establish greater chemistry with his new teammate. “So coming out here and playing on the same team, that’s helped a lot. Now I know what he likes, what he doesn’t like and what positions he’s [at his best].”

Mickey and Jarell Martin will be the leaders for LSU in the front court, where the Tigers have to account for the early departure of Johnny O’Bryant III. Now a Milwaukee Buck, O’Bryant led the Tigers in scoring and was one of their best rebounders in 2013-14 and how good the Tigers can be this season depends upon what strides Mickey and his fellow big men can make in their individual (and collective games).

“We just have to make up for it as a team,” Mickey said. “We have to trust our offense, trust our coaches and not be selfish players.” (RJ)

Kelly Oubre makes his camp debut; faces Stanley Johnson

One of the biggest names at adidas Nations this week has been highly-touted Kansas freshman wing Kelly Oubre. The 6-foot-7 lefty didn’t play the first two days in camp games, but suited up for a high-profile battle with fellow McDonald’s All-American and incoming freshman Stanley Johnson on Sunday morning.

It was a fun matchup of two of the best freshman college basketball will see this season. Johnson used his power game and skill level to go off of the bounce to attack Oubre while Kelly unleashed some feathery perimeter jumpers to the tune of a 6-for-7 outing from three-point range. Oubre also showed off some passing ability while attacking the basket or if he was trapped on high ball screens and he generally looked the part of potential impact player this season. Oubre still has some work to do on the defensive end against bigger and stronger players, but he has the natural talent and athletic traits to be a difference maker at Kansas this season. Oubre finished the game with 20 points and three rebounds while Johnson had 18 points, five assists and four rebounds. (SP)

Terran Petteway closes out a strong week

One of the camp’s most steady performers this week was Nebraska junior wing Terran Petteway. The reigning All-Big Ten selection consistently hit shots from the perimeter, attacked using shot fakes and also played very hard on both ends of the floor.

As one of the more experienced guys in the event, the 6-foot-6 Petteway looked like an even more complete scoring threat than last season with the variety of ways he scored the ball this week in Long Beach. Petteway had minimal difficulty getting his own shot, and besides UCLA guard Norman Powell, might have helped his NBA stock more than any other player in attendance this week. (SP)

Jabari Bird steadily improves as week goes on

One of the players I wanted to see the most this week was Cal sophomore wing Jabari Bird. The 6-foot-6 Bird started the week slowly but came on strong during the final day of games on Sunday. Bird finally seemed more comfortable hunting his own offense and his jumper seemed to be more consistent, as well.

Bird also rebounded the ball well from the wing and was engaged on the defensive end while battling some higher-profile wings. The sophomore will be an interesting player to watch this season under Bears’ first-year coach Cuonzo Martin and this week seemed like a step in the right direction for him going into year two in the Pac-12. (SP)

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.