College Basketball Talk’s Preseason Player of the Year: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor

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Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with naming a freshman the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the one hand, with the way that the one-and-done rule works these days, the best prospects in the country are always going to be the first-year players. College basketball is simply a one-year stopover for the best players in the country, which means that as guys like Anthony Bennett, Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore head off to the NBA, kids like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle slide in to take their place.

Duke center Jahlil Okafor is the guy that headlines that crop of newbies this season, which means that there is going to be plenty of hype and expectation for him as we enter the 2014-2015 season.

But hype and potential doesn’t always equal immediate production, especially for freshmen playing college basketball at the highest level. It’s easy to forget that last season’s National Player of the Year was senior Doug McDermott, and fellow old men Shabazz Napier, Sean Kilpatrick and Russ Smith were first-team all-americans.

Part of that was because those four were really, really good players. But they were able to take home those honors in large part because the freshmen didn’t quite live up to those expectations. Wiggins’ has a world of potential, but as good as he was last season, he still didn’t quite understand how to harness that potential. Parker’s lack of defense and inability to get Duke past Mercer in the NCAA tournament didn’t help his cause. Randle’s Kentucky team struggled. Aaron Gordon’s offensive repertoire needs to grow. Joel Embiid got injured.

There are so many things that could go wrong when heaping this kind of pressure onto a kid that has yet to play his first collegiate game. How will he adapt to the college level? How will he fit into his team’s system? Can he defend? Can he grasp the offensive schemes his coach runs?

But those same questions can be asked of the upperclassmen as well. How will Frank Kaminsky handle being the center of attention for an entire season? Can Marcus Paige make North Carolina elite once again? How will Caris LeVert adapt without Nik Stauskas by his side? What do we make of Wichita State’s two stars?

Which brings me back to Okafor.

There isn’t a freshmen in the country that is more ready to force at the college level than Okafor. He’s a big man, but he isn’t a typical big man prospect. He’s not highly-valued because he’s long, athletic and can run without tripping over his own feet. He’s a solidly-built, 6-foot-11 center with an array of low-post moves that will make many NBA centers jealous. Like Parker, Okafor is going to be able to score immediately at the college level. How good he’ll end up being defensively is another conversation, and whether or not he’ll be able to handle double-teams from veterans that are his size and strength is also a question mark, but there’s no questioning whether or not he is prepared to play right away.

It’s risky — and, to a point, unfair — to put undue pressure on a kid that may not be ready to handle it.

With Okafor, that’s a risk we are willing to take.

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?