Caris LeVert’s 2013-14 season ended just like the rest of his Michigan teammates: with a 75-72 loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight. But unlike much of last season’s Wolverines rotation, LeVert is back at Michigan for his junior season.
Jordan Morgan graduated, Jon Horford transferred to Florida and Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas all entered the 2014 NBA Draft. As a result that leaves the junior, LeVert, and last season’s starting point guard, sophomore Derrick Walton Jr., as the vital pieces for Michigan this season.
After being passed over by numerous Division I programs and nearly ending up at Ohio during his high school career, LeVert has had a long and strange journey to become the junior leader and All-American candidate of a storied Big Ten program.
Early in his senior year of high school, LeVert was getting some college interest from small Division I schools like Alabama State and Prairie View A&M before an Ohio assistant coach saw him and realized a talented local player had no scholarship offers. From there, Ohio’s entire staff, led by former head coach and current Illinois coach John Groce, saw LeVert play, offered the Pickerington, Ohio native a scholarship, and the then-6-foot-4 LeVert committed to be a Bobcat after being recruited more by Groce and his staff.
It would be only months later that Ohio would lose a head coach and a future star to the Big Ten.
After Groce took the Illinois job, LeVert was given a release from his Letter of Intent that forced him to choose a new school outside of the MAC. Dayton quickly jumped in and offered a scholarship and received a visit while Michigan, Purdue and Xavier would call and check on LeVert. LeVert ended up taking visits to both Purdue and Michigan, but the Wolverines ultimately won out.
In fact, it was LeVert asking the Michigan coaching staff if he had the opportunity to play in Ann Arbor during his visit to campus.
Head coach John Beilein was probably thrilled that LeVert asked to play for Michigan because the wing has been thriving under his watch ever since. The junior has now grown to nearly 6-foot-7, 200 pounds, after entering college as a skinny 175 pounds. Last season, LeVert was one of college basketball’s biggest breakout stars averaging 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game on 43 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Now with all of that star power from last season having left Ann Arbor, LeVert has to take on a new leadership role that he hasn’t faced at the college level before.
“I’m already a junior and it seems like just yesterday I was a young freshman here,” LeVert said at Big Ten media day last month. “Now the team only has me, Spike and Max from that team now so, it’s definitely a new look for us.”
Embracing the leadership role might not be as naturally easy for LeVert as the hard work it took for him to be one of the Big Ten’s best players, but Beilein said that his junior guard’s work ethic sets enough of a positive tone for Michigan’s young team to still make a difference.
“There’s guys that if they’re not comfortable being vocal they may not help,” Beilein said of LeVert’s leadership at Big Ten media day. “And I wouldn’t say he’s not comfortable but he’s not going to be like the Zack Novak like you’ve got to really jump in somebody’s face, which Zack was very happy to do several times.
“But you can still get it across. His effort every day and his attitude of being coachable and his effort every day speaks volumes for who he is. And he’s always been that way but now as one of the veteran players, our guys are watching him and that’s where I want to get this program to.”
Vocal leadership might not be LeVert’s forte, but he has a major advantage that many star players don’t have with incoming freshmen: he’s entirely relatable to Michigan’s seven new freshmen. LeVert entered the university just like this new core group at Michigan, as a physically unprepared system recruit with a chip on his shoulder. Because he was under-recruited and in the same position as many of the current Michigan freshmen, now Beilein hopes those players can follow in LeVert’s model and find success of their own.
LeVert has blazed an unlikely path to be a Big Ten star, and after the junior likely becomes a NBA Draft pick, Beilein is hoping to find another LeVert.
If Michigan wants to replace all that they’ve lost from last season and move forward quickly, the program will count on LeVert not only to produce on the floor, but to show others the way it’s done this season.
Caris LeVert once asked the Michigan coaching staff if he could play basketball for them. Now, those same Michigan coaches will ask LeVert to lead the Wolverines as their best player a little over two years later.
Auburn landed a late commitment for the 2019-20 season on Wednesday night as three-star athletic wing Devan Cambridge pledged to the Tigers.
A 6-foot-6, 215-pound wing, Cambridge had a very strong showing at the Nike Peach Jam last week as he averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game during pool play at the event. A big-time athlete who easily gets off the floor, Cambridge fits Auburn’s athletic, up-and-down style as he’s accustomed to playing fast and making plays with his game-changing athleticism.
Cambridge joins a seven-man mega class for the Tigers as he’s a versatile athlete who should play a number of different spots. Cambridge is still working to become more of a consistent perimeter shooting presence, but Auburn has landed a solid late commitment because there aren’t many better pure athletes in the class. If the Tigers can develop Cambridge and take their time with his development then he could turn into a very useful player.
Person avoids prison in college bribery sentencing
NEW YORK — Former Auburn assistant basketball coach Chuck Person has avoided prison in a bribery scandal that has touched some of the biggest schools in college basketball.
Person was sentenced on Wednesday to 200 hours of community service during the two years the Probation Department will supervise him. Judge Loretta A. Preska said “no purpose would be served by incarceration.”
Sentencing guidelines called for two years in prison, though three other coaches who pleaded guilty to the same charge also received lenient sentences.
Person, who was in financial trouble at the time, accepted $91,500 in bribes to parlay his relationships with top players to steer them to a financial adviser, federal prosecutors said. The adviser, however, was working as a government cooperator.
Preska defended her decision by saying she disagreed “vehemently” with the prosecution’s claim that Person was motivated by “insatiable greed.”
“He is charitable literally to a fault,” the judge said.
She noted that after signing his first NBA contract, he sent most of the money to family members and bought his mother a house. She described how he bought homes and cars for family and friends and made continuous donations. Then, he turned down lucrative jobs in the NBA to make less money as a college coach.
Person wiped tears from his face several times during the sentencing.
Of his crime, he said: “I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.”
Person’s guilty plea in March to a bribery conspiracy charge came nearly two decades after he was a regular presence on NBA courts, where he played for five NBA teams over 13 seasons after being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1986. In 2010, he earned a championship ring as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lawyers wrote that Person’s previous financial troubles intensified almost as soon as his NBA career ended, when he was paying $30,000 monthly to his ex-wife while he was earning $18,000 annually in his first non-playing role with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Chuck’s singular focus on basketball, his failure to plan for his financial future, and his unbounded generosity ultimately had catastrophic consequences,” they wrote.
The lawyers said he knew he was violating NCAA rules and was betraying his players and their families and Auburn University.
By 2016, when he was an assistant coach at Auburn, where he had set a record as the school’s all-time leading scorer in the 1980s, he was deeply in debt with bank loans, including one to finance a community center in his hometown, and several private loans, the lawyers wrote. One financial institution had obtained a default judgment that garnished 25% of his wages at Auburn, they added.
“Creditors were growing impatient, and Chuck was becoming desperate. Chuck could have turned to his many friends for help, but he was embarrassed and ashamed,” they wrote.
Instead, the man who overcame racism and extreme poverty growing up in rural Alabama got swept up in the college basketball scandal when his search for a new loan earned him an introduction to the government cooperator, the lawyers said.
His lawyers’ submission included letters from Charles Sonny Smith, who coached at Auburn for 11 seasons through the 1980s, and Sam Perkins, another former NBA player who met Person when both competed to be on the U.S. Olympic team in 1984.
Smith called Person “my favorite player ever.” Perkins said Person was “still a good friend.”
Kansas landed another piece for the upcoming season on Tuesday night as guard Dajuan Harris pledged to the Jayhawks on Twitter.
Previously a member of the Class of 2020, Harris will reclassify and join Kansas for next season. The 6-foot-1 point guard is coming off of a strong Nike Peach Jam in which he helped MoKan Elite to the event’s title with a big week. A recent Kansas offer right before the July Live Evaluation Period, Harris averaged 7.1 assists per game while playing great defense throughout the event.
The Jayhawks adding Harris to the Class of 2019 means they have five members in the group — headlined by four-star prospects Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna while three-star recruits Christian Braun and Isaac McBride are also involved. While Kansas struggled to land its usual five-star talents in this recruiting class, they’ve rebounded nicely with three commitments this spring to help fill out a veteran roster that is hoping to recapture Big 12 glory.
Kansas has plenty young players to build with the next few seasons as it’ll be interesting to see how this new five-man class shapes up. Wilson and Enaruna are expected to contribute, but the rest of the group, including Harris, is a bit of a wild card in terms of producing right away.
The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.
That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.
Today, we are talking Atlantic 10
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
THE LEAGUE WILL BE MUCH, MUCH BETTER THIS SEASON: The Atlantic 10 got lucky last season. There was one team in the league worthy of an at-large bid – VCU – and that team lost in the conference tournament. That’s the only reason they ended up as a two-bid league instead of a one-bid league.
This year should be different. VCU and Davidson are both sitting in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. Dayton isn’t all that far behind them. Rhode Island and Richmond both bring back essentially all of the pieces that mattered last season. The top of the league is as strong as it has been in a while, and I think there’s a real chance that we’re talking about the conference getting three or four bids to the NCAA tournament this season.
That, of course, all depends on what happens during non-conference play. Last year it was hideous for the league, and that left them in a position where the computer numbers were ugly and there was no way to add quality wins for the teams that needed quality wins. The bottom of the conference should be just as bad this season, but with three teams at the top worthy of top 25 consideration combined with a much stronger middle, there’s reason to be hopeful.
VCU AND DAVIDSON FIGHTING FOR FIRST PLACE: I think you can go either way when it comes to who is the favorite to win the league, but I don’t think you can pick anyone other than VCU or Davidson. They finished 1-2 in the Atlantic 10 last season and, combined, they lost three players from their rotations. VCU graduated a third-string center and lost a guy who lost his spot in the rotation to a freshman while, hopefully, getting Marcus Evans back to the peak of his powers; more on him later. Davidson brings back their top six, including one of the best backcourts in all of college basketball in Kellan Grady and Jon-Axel Gudmundsson. It will be a fun race between the two programs that couldn’t play more contrasting styles.
WILL DAYTON’S TALENT COME TOGETHER?: On paper, Dayton is right there with Davidson and VCU. They lose Josh Cunningham, but with the rest of their rotation – including a bonafide pro in Obi Toppin – returning and four sit-out transfers entering the fold, there is more than enough talent, depth and experience on the roster. The reason I have them a notch below the favorites is because I want to see how all the pieces come together. They can certainly win the league, but managing minutes and egos is going to be the toughest part of Anthony Grant’s job this season.
THE BATTLE FOR FOURTH: Best I can tell, there are going to be at least three – if not more – teams fighting for that spot. Rhode Island seems to make the most sense, given just how much they bring back, while Richmond is the sleeper that all the coaches in the conference are talking about. I also think it is worth noting that St. Bonaventure will be better than some believe given that they managed to find a way to keep Mark Schmidt in Olean for another season.
But I also think that it’s possible that a team like La Salle, or George Mason, or Saint Louis can pop up and surprise some people. There’s depth in the conference that wasn’t necessarily there a year ago.
CAN CHRIS MOONEY GO FROM ALMOST-FIRED TO NCAA TOURNAMENT?: Richmond is going to be the most interesting team in the league. There are big-money boosters that have spent the last year or two trying to get Chris Mooney fired. Someone even put up a #FireMooney billboard on I-95 in the city. The irony here is that Mooney may have his best team since the 2011 team that reached the Sweet 16. Grant Golden is arguably the best big man in the league while Jacob Gilyard was a second-team all-Atlantic 10 player last year. Nathan Cayo is back and, perhaps most importantly, Richmond’s best wing scorer Nick Sherod should be healthy again. Throw in Wagner transfer Blake Francis, and there are a lot of pieces on this roster.
We’ll see if Mooney can make it all fit together, but this team is certainly good enough, on paper, to win 12 conference games.
PHIL MARTELLI, St. Joseph’s: An Atlantic 10 and Philadelphia institution is gone. After 34 years at the school and 24 seasons as the head coach of the Hawks, Phil Martelli was fired this spring. He landed on his feet – as an assistant coach on Juwan Howard’s staff at Michigan – but St. Joe’s is going to have to completely rebuild. As of right now, there are seven scholarship players on the roster.
JAVON BESS, Saint Louis: Bess was the best defender in the Atlantic 10 last season, the anchor for what was the best defense in the league. He also doubled as the best scorer and shooter on the roster of a Billiken team that struggled to score. This is a big, big loss for a team coming off an NCAA tournament trip.
JOSH CUNNINGHAM, Dayton: The Flyers will have more than enough talent to replace Cunningham, but losing an all-league senior that was capable of going for 20-10 on any given night is never ideal.
COURTNEY STOCKARD, St. Bonaventure: Stockard took a step forward as a senior, helping the Bonnies to remain top four in the league despite losing Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. He was a deserving first-team all-league player last season.
OTIS LIVINGSTON, George Mason: The Patriots are going to have to change the way they play this season with Livingston gone. He was one of the best lead guards in the league for the last four years and the guy that allowed Dave Paulsen to run offense without worrying about what happens at the end of a shot clock.
ERIC WILLIAMS, Duquesne: The Dukes bring everyone else back, and Keith Dambrot has the respect of every coach in the league, but Williams was their best player. Losing him is a hard way to make up ground in a league where the top five teams all bring everyone back.
EVERYONE, VCU: Well, that’s technically not true. Michael Gilmore, a backup center, graduated and Sean Mobley, who started to lose minutes by the end of the year, transferred. So there are some changes. But all of the truly important pieces – star guard Marcus Evans, De’Riante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Issac Vann, Vince Williams, etc. – are back, and they’re joined by a really good recruiting class. They’re old, they’re experienced, they’re deep, they’re talented and they were a No. 8 seed last season. This is a preseason top 25 team.
EVERYONE, Davidson: Last season, Kellan Grady was the guy we all thought would be the best player in the Atlantic 10 after a sterling freshman season got him on the radar of the NBA. Despite being banged up, Grady averaged 17.3 points as a sophomore … and his teammate, Jon-Axel Gudmundsson, won Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Both of them are back, along with the rest of Bob McKillop’s top six from a team that went 24-10 last season.
EVERYONE, Rhode Island: The Rams bring back their top four scorers, including Fatts Russell, Cyril Langevine and Jeff Dowtin, and the only player they lose from their rotation averaged just 5.7 points. There is a lot of reason to like this group.
OBI TOPPIN, Dayton: One coach told me that Toppin is not only clearly the most talented player in the league, he is the only guy in the conference that is a surefire pro. A late-bloomer, he hasn’t stopped improving throughout his career and should be in line for a major breakout season.
NICK SHEROD, Richmond: Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard and Nathan Cayo are the bigger names and they all return, but Sherod is the guy that coaches in the league believe is the difference-maker. He’s a big-time shooter and scorer on the wing that they were missing after he went down with a knee injury.
KYLE LOFTON and OSUN OSUNNIYI, St. Bonaventure: Losing Stockard is going to hurt, but sophomores Lofton and Osunniyi are going to be very, very good for a long time in this league. One coach told me he thought Lofton was “the best freshman I’ve seen in the Atlantic 1 in a while, you would never have guessed he was a freshman” based on the way he played and his poised.
JORDAN GOODWIN and HASAHN FRENCH, Saint Louis: Goodwin is a do-it-all wing and French might be the best, and certainly is the most powerful, big man in the conference.
DAYTON’S TRANSFERS: The Flyers had four players sitting out as transfers last season — Ibi Watson (Michigan), Jordy Tshimanga (Nebraska), Rodney Chatman (Chattanooga) and Chase Johnson (Florida). With Jalen Crutcher and Toppin both returning, the Flyers have as much talent on paper as anyone.
SCOTT SPENCER, La Salle: A transfer from Clemson, Spencer should fit perfectly in Ashley Howard’s system and give the Explorers a bit of a scoring pop to help offset the loss of Pookie Powell.
BLAKE FRANCIS, Richmond: The transfer from Wagner averaged 17 points before sitting out this past season.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-ATLANTIC 10 TEAM
MARCUS EVANS, VCU (Preseason Player of the Year)
KELLAN GRADY, Davidson
JON-AXEL GUDMUNDSSON, Davidson
OBI TOPPIN, Dayton
GRANT GOLDEN, Richmond
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. VCU: We’ve talked plenty about the Rams at this point, but I think their ceiling is still going to be determined by what they get out of Marcus Evans. Their star point guard has suffered an injury to each of his achilles since transferring to VCU from Rice. He rehabbed his entire sit-out season, and then spent last summer rehabbing the second injury. Somehow, he hasn’t lost any of his explosiveness and still managed to average 13.6 points and 3.2 assists last year. I spoke with him back in February, and Evans told me he was excited about this offseason because it was the first time he would have a chance to spend the summer getting better instead of getting healthy. He’s my pick to be the 2020 Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10.
2. DAVIDSON: This Davidson team has a chance to be the best group Bob McKillop has coached since the Stephen Curry days. A healthy Kellan Grady combined with Jon Axel Gudmundsson will give the Wildcats one of the best backcourts in the country. They’re going to be experienced, and Luka Brajkovic and Luke Frampton should both take a significant step forward as sophomores. Brajkovic was one of the best bigs in the league as a freshman. As always, their ceiling will be determined by just how good their defense will be, but on paper this group looks like a tournament team.
3. DAYTON: It’s easier to bet on VCU and Davidson as league champs because we know what they are, but keep in mind that the Flyers return the majority of their rotation from a team that went 21-12 overall and 13-5 in the league last season, and that among the players they return is future draft pick Obi Toppin. Oh, and they also add four sit-out transfers, three of whom came from high-major schools. It’s going to be a fun three-team race.
4. RHODE ISLAND: The Rams certainly have the talent to be relevant in the Atlantic 10 race, but with essentially the same team, they went .500 in the league last season and finished four games behind third-place Dayton. How are they making up all that ground when the teams above them return everyone?
5. RICHMOND: Every coach I’ve spoken to believes that the Spiders are the x-factor in the league race this year. For starters, bringing back Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard gives them one of the best 1-2 combinations in the league. Bringing back Nick Sherod’s size and scoring on the wing will be important, and Nathan Cayo was underrated league-wide. Throw in Wagner transfer Blake Francis, and this should be the most improved team in the conference.
6. ST. BONAVENTURE: Mark Schmidt lost Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley before last season and still managed to churn out an 18-win season and a fourth-place finish in the A-10, so we shouldn’t be all that worried about them after losing four of their top six, including Courtney Stockard. They have one of the best homecourt advantages in the league, Schmidt will find a way to get the best out of his roster and sophomores Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi are ready for bigger roles.
7. LA SALLE: I love this La Salle group. They should have more talent and depth this year, and you know they are always going to play hard. They’ve had a year under Ashley Howard, and what we saw as the season progressed was that this team played together much better than La Salle did under John Giannini. Keep an eye on sophomore Jack Clark.
8. GEORGE MASON: They’re going to have to play differently without Otis Livingston running the show, but Justin Kier is a going to have a chance to become a star in the league. Throw in sophomore Jordan Miller and a healthy Goanar Mar, and there are some pieces for Dave Paulsen here.
9. SAINT LOUIS: The Billikens were built on their defense last season and couldn’t score. They lost their best defender and best scorer in Javon Bess. I like Jordan Goodwin, I love Hasahn French and I think Fred Thatch is in line for a big sophomore season, but I need to see it from this group.
10. DUQUESNE: Coaches in the league have faith that Keith Dambrot will be able to find a way to make it work this year, and there are some pieces returning – notably Sincere Carey – but losing Eric Williams is big. He was their best player.
11. UMASS: The Minutemen have some talent and they bring in a good recruiting class, but I am going to need to see Matt McCall win there before I buy in. Keep an eye on freshman Tre Mitchell.
12. GEORGE WASHINGTON: Jamion Christian should be able to get the most out of this roster, and they’ll play a fun style that will see them bombing away from three, but it will take him a few years to get the kind of talent in the program he needs to make a run at the top of the league.
13. FORDHAM: Fordham won three Atlantic 10 games last season and lose their best player, Nick Honor.
14. ST. JOSEPH’S: Best I can tell, St. Joe’s currently has seven scholarship players on the roster, one of whom is a former walk-on. The post-Martelli era is going to have a rough start.
Dallion Johnson, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Maryland, has pledged to coach Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions, he announced Monday.
“Excited to announce my commitment to Penn State University!!” Johnson wrote on social media. “Thanks to God, my family, friends, teammates & coaches for believing in me. Thrilled to join the Penn State family under the coaching of Pat Chambers and staff.”
Excited to announce my commitment to Penn State University!! Thanks to God, my family, friends, teammates & coaches for believing in me. Thrilled to join the Penn State family under the coaching of Pat Chambers and staff. #WeAre#ClimbWithUs ‼️⚪️🔵 pic.twitter.com/k4556Ed7y6
Johnson committed to Penn State over the likes of Davidson, Richmond and UMass, among others which had offered. He is rated as a three-star prospect.
The Nittany Lions, which had the 12th-ranked recruiting class in 2019 according to 247Sports, went 14-18 overall and 7-13 in conference play, missing the NCAA tournament for the eighth-straight time under Chambers.