Transfer-laden Colorado State squad looks to rebound from disappointing 2013-14

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Larry Eustachy’s Rams went 16-16 last season (Getty Images)

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.

Entering the 2013-14 season Larry Eustachy’s Colorado State Rams had quite the challenge in front of them. Gone were five starters, four of whom scored in double figures, who played key roles in the program making consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (2012 and 2013) for the first time since 1989-90. Predictably the Rams struggled, finishing the season with record of 16-16 overall and 7-11 in Mountain West play. Entering 2014-15, Colorado State’s roster includes six Division I transfers, and the hope is that this experienced group can deliver the program’s first regular season conference title since 1990 (shared the WAC title with BYU).

Transfers move from one program to another for a variety of reasons, but the schools that enjoy the most success with such players tend to have this in common: there’s no confusion about roles or expectations. That’s the case in Fort Collins, where Eustachy’s Rams will be led by two seniors who began their respective careers at different schools in Daniel Bejarano and J.J. Avila.

“Larry always knows what he’s doing, and he’s always been successful with transfers because they’re ready physically so he doesn’t really have to worry about things like that,” Bejarano told NBCSports.com last week. “They’re willing to work, and no offense to freshmen, but at the same time I think Larry wants guys who are ready to compete.

“Larry knows what he’s doing but at the same time you have to give credit to our assistants (associate head coach Leonard Perry and assistants Steve Barnes and Ross Hodge) as well because they work hard, and I appreciate them more than anything.”

Bejarano is entering his third season (on the court) at Colorado State, and he’s steadily become one of the Mountain West’s best guards. After winning Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2013 Bejarano took full advantage of the added responsibility in 2013-14, averaging 16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game and being named first team All-Mountain West at season’s end. As for Avila he averaged a team-best 16.6 points to go along with 7.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contest.

Both will once once again be in a position to make plays offensively for the Rams, but the addition of four-year (meaning the institution, not eligibility) transfers John Gillon and Antwan Scott and junior college transfer Gian Clavell provides Colorado State with some welcome depth in this area.

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“I don’t need to have the ball in my hands as much as I did last season. We all can make plays,” Avila noted. “I can go set more screens and get my teammates open, which in turn gets me open too. We should be better offensively as a result.”

The perimeter newcomers will be key for a team that struggled shooting the basketball last season, as Colorado State finished the year ranked tenth in the Mountain West in both field goal (42.8 percent) and three-point percentage (32.6 percent). Of course the Rams were the second-best team in the conference from an efficiency standpoint, with their ability to hit the offensive glass and get to the foul line being key reasons why. But improved shooting could be the key for a team hoping to thrive in a conference race that has as many as seven realistic contenders.

Gillon shot 39.4 percent from beyond the arc in his lone season at UALR, and Scott made 39.2 percent of his attempts at Grambling as season ago. If those two can replicate those numbers in Colorado State’s system, things should open up for the Rams’ other scoring options.

Unlike Bejarano, who began his college career at Arizona, Avila made the move to Colorado State from a less successful program at Navy. What also made things difficult for the 6-foot-7 forward is that his year away from competition was spent without the benefit of any kind of structured basketball. Avila didn’t have the benefit of going through the practices and workouts that can be of high value to transfers in 2012-13, and it was during this period that Avila learned more about himself as a person.

“It was awful,” Avila told NBCSports.com. “I think it really taught me the value of self-discipline. I was in the gym and doing what I needed to do, but it isn’t the same as being in workouts and practices. I became more introspective as well, just understanding that things happen for a reason and remaining on track. I don’t wish that [time off] on anybody, but I’m here now.”

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Daniel Bejarano (Getty Images)

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Avila and Bejarano were Colorado State’s best rebounders a season ago, leading the way for a team that ranked second in the Mountain West in offensive rebounding percentage (39.4 percent) and third in defensive rebounding percentage (73.1 percent). This year they’ll have more help on the glass, even with Gerson Santo out of eligibility and Jon Octeus having transferred to Purdue. Stanton Kidd, who averaged 14.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game at North Carolina Central in 2012-13, and Tiel Daniels (7.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg at Southern Illinois in 2012-13) give the Colorado State needed depth and experience in the front court with senior Marcus Holt also looking to factor into the rotation.

Even with last season’s results the formula hasn’t changed at Colorado State, and that’s what gives their surplus of newcomers a good shot at experiencing success. According to both Avila and Bejarano there’s a clear understanding of what’s expected, and for a player looking to get acclimated to a new program and new surroundings that can be invaluable. Colorado State has a total of nine players on its roster who arrived on campus via either another four-year school or a junior college, and balancing such rosters can be tough. However with their two leaders having gone through that experience themselves, Colorado State feels well-equipped to manage that as they look to win a Mountain West title.

“We’re going to have to gel together and we’re going to have to stick together, because we’re going to have some ups and downs and that’s what it’s all about in college basketball,” Bejarano said. “We’re going to be very successful this year and I’m very confident about that, it’s just all about going out there and doing it.

“A lot of people don’t have us winning [the Mountain West], finishing second, third, fifth or wherever, but none of that matters. What matters is [where you’re at] at the end of the season.”

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

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For the fourth time in the last five years, Duke is tapping into that Minnesota pipeline to mine talent.

Following in the footsteps of Tyus Jones, Gary Trent Jr. and Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 forward and a top ten prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on Friday that he will be playing his college ball for the Blue Devils.

Hurt ultimately picked Duke over Kansas, but he was also pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Minnesota. He joins Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

Hurt is the perfect compliment to Carey, a powerhouse low-post force, and Moore, who is a talented wing. He has size and is extremely skilled, with the ability to stretch the floor out to 25 feet and the potential to be a dangerous face-up scorer, both in the mid-post and on the perimeter. He needs to get stronger and tougher, but that will come with time. As it stands, he’s the piece to the puzzle that Duke needed to add.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

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The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

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Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

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Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.