If No. 12 Villanova doesn’t have a star on their roster, no one told JayVaughn Pinkston

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BROOKLYN — The running commentary on No. 12 Villanova of late is that Jay Wright’s club doesn’t have a star, that he his roster full of selfless, faceless, quality veteran players, none of who shines brighter than anyone else on the roster.

And to a point, I understand the argument. There are no future lottery picks on Villanova, which is part of the reason that few players on the Wildcats get the kind of publicity is heaped upon the likes of Jahlil Okafor or Karl Towns or Cliff Alexander. They are balanced — six guys average between 8.8 points and 13.0 points — and they are old; Wright starts two juniors, two seniors and a redshirt junior.

But to say that they are without a star is overblown, and it’s a disservice to the player that JayVaughn Pinkston has become.

Tuesday night’s 60-55 win over No. 19 Michigan is a perfect example of what I mean.

Pinkston has gotten off to a rough start this season, averaging just 9.8 points during Villanova’s 5-0 start while shooting only 43.6 perfect from the floor and seeing his field goal attempts and trips to the foul line cut down to freshman levels. On Tuesday night, after having his best game of the season against VCU, Pinkston had just two points in the first 35 minutes and was 1-for-6 from the floor when Villanova gained possession, down by one, with less than two minutes left.

But despite the off night, it was Pinkston — not Ryan Arcidiacono, not Dylan Ennis, not Darrun Hilliard — that Wright went to on three straight possessions with the game on the line. Pinkston rewarded him with two buckets on those three possessions, including a layup after overpowering the smaller Caris LeVert in the post with just 16 seconds remaining.

That was the game-winning bucket.

“It was frustrating at first because my team needed me,” Pinkston said. “But I’m a senior leader, and that’s what we do in this program. Step up and make the big time plays, so that’s what I did.”

Part of the reason that those early struggles were frustrating for Pinkston was that this was his homecoming. He’s a Brooklyn native, and this was his first time playing at the Barclays Center, the brand new arena in the Prospect Heights neighborhood. He had 20 friends and family in attendance, and when he was younger, he wouldn’t have been comfortable with a slow start like the one he had on Tuesday.

“In the past he would have needed to come here and get 17, 18, 19, 20. Be the star,” Wright said. “He wants to come here and win. He’s looking at it now like, ‘these are my boys, and I’m bringing them back home with me,’ as opposed to, ‘I’m coming back home.'”

“He’s really grown up.”

That game-winning bucket wasn’t actually the defining play of the evening, which also belonged to Pinkston. He came out of nowhere for a game-saving block of Zak Irvin with seven seconds left, a play almost as impressive as the fact that the referees got the call right. Irvin’s fall looked bad, but wait until the replay. The block was clean:

As nice as that block was, it was a play that had to be made because Pinkston messed up. He was out of position on the inbounds. It was his fault that Irvin was able to receive the pass from Spike Albrecht. You see, the way Villanova designs their baseline out-of-bounds defense is that they have the man covering the in-bounder standing directly between the passer and the rim. His job is to make the pass to a cutter coming down the middle of the lane — which is exactly what Irvin did on Tuesday night — impossible, which allows Villanova to overplay cutters on the perimeter.

But Albrecht threw a little pass fake to his left, which got Pinkston out of position.

I know this because Pinkston told us afterwards.

“I messed up on the play. I didn’t take away the middle, so I just tried to make a play on the ball,” Pinkston said, eliciting laughter from teammate Dylan Ennis and from Wright, who leaned back from the microphones to say “I can’t believe you said that,” to Pinkston.

That honesty shocked Wright. He didn’t need to make himself look bad in front of a throng of media.

“All he had to say was, ‘I made a great block.’ But he admitted it,” Wright said. “We hadn’t even talked about it yet.”

And it wasn’t just that Pinkston acknowledged that he made a mistake, because, Wright says, he would have had no problem apologizing to the locker room after the game. The difference is that he now has the self-confidence to be able to admit it publicly. He could have just basked in the glory of the game-winning play, and none of us would have been the wiser. Wright certainly wouldn’t have thrown his player under the bus. He teammates wouldn’t have said a word. No writer on a deadline was thinking about any potential defensive mishaps. We were all just as excited as every fan in the country was about the exciting finish to a thrilling, November basketball game.

That just goes to show you the role that he’s grown into on this team. Their veteran. Their leader. Their go-to guy in crunch-time.

Pinkston is not a future NBA all-star. He’s not a kid that adores the spotlight. He’s not a great public speaker. When Pinkston’s name is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is his season-long suspension as a freshman. He was young and he reacted poorly to a situation he probably shouldn’t have been in. I’ve done the same in the past, but I’m not a 6-foot-6, 250 pound behemoth.

But Pinkston paid his dues. He didn’t play basketball for a year. He was banned from campus for the second semester of his freshman year, living with a friend of the Wright family while working at a warehouse and paying rent. That’s enough to knock some maturity into any teenager.

JayVaughn Pinkston is not a media darling, as is typically the case for college hoopers when your ability outweighs your potential.

But don’t let that blind you to what he is: Villanova’s star.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark wins AP Player of the Year

caitlin clark
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DALLAS — Caitlin Clark has put together one of the greatest individual seasons in NCAA history with eye-popping offensive numbers.

Iowa’s junior guard, though, saved her best performance for the game’s biggest stage, recording the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history to get Iowa to the Final Four for the first time in 30 years.

Clark was honored Thursday as The Associated Press women’s basketball Player of the Year. She received 20 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. Voting was done before March Madness began.

“It’s a huge honor,” Clark said. “I picked a place that I perfectly fit into and that’s allowed me to show my skill set. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t mean something. It’s not the reason you play basketball, it’s just something that comes along with getting to do what you love.”

The Iowa coaching staff surprised Clark by sharing that she won the award while they were visiting the Iowa Children’s Hospital – a place near and dear to her. It also has huge ties to the Hawkeyes athletic department.

They put together a video of some of the children in the hospital congratulating Clark on an outstanding season, and in the middle of it, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder popped on the screen to tell her she won.

“I’m there for inspiring the next generation and being there for the people that you know are going through a hard time,” said Clark, who grew up in Iowa. “Being able to give joy to people that watch you play and watch your team play is amazing.”

She averaged 27.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds during the season to help Iowa go 26-6. Clark has 984 points, the sixth-most in a season by any player in Division I women’s history. She also has over 300 assists.

“She is spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court,” Bluder said.

Next up for the Hawkeyes is undefeated South Carolina in the national semifinals. The Gamecocks are led by Aliyah Boston, last season’s winner of the award. She garnered the other eight votes this season.

“There’s so many great players, more than just me and (Aliyah),” Clark told the AP. “You can go on and on and list the tremendous players. I think that’s really good for our game when there’s a lot of great players. That’s what is going to help this game grow more than anything else.”

Whether it’s hitting deep 3s from the Hawkeye logo at home games, hitting off-balance game-winning shots or throwing pinpoint passes to teammates for easy baskets, Clark has excelled on the court this year to get Iowa to a place it hasn’t been in a long time.

“It’s funny, because the better the opponent, almost the better she plays,” Bluder said. “It’s like she locks in on those, when we’re playing against Top 25 teams. That’s when her statistics even go up even more, against great opponents.”

Clark is the second Iowa player to win the AP award in the past few seasons, joining Megan Gustafson who won it in 2019.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark declares for NBA draft

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard Jaylen Clark has declared for the NBA draft, weeks after a leg injury forced him out of the season’s final six games.

The junior from Riverside, California, announced his plans on his Instagram account Wednesday.

“Thank you to UCLA and coach (Mick) Cronin for believing in me,” Clark’s post read. “I’d like to announce that I am declaring for the 2023 draft.”

Clark didn’t indicate whether he would hire an agent ahead of the June 22 draft or retain his remaining eligibility. He has until May 31 to withdraw and be able to return to Westwood.

He suffered a lower right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona on March 4. Clark averaged 13 points and six rebounds while starting 29 of 30 games. He led the Pac-12 in total steals with 78, tying for third all-time in single-season steals for the Bruins.

He was a second team All-Pac-12 selection, was named the league’s defensive player of the year and made its five-man All-Defensive Team.

AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Penn State hires VCU’s Rhoades as men’s basketball coach

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Penn State hired VCU’s Mike Rhoades on Wednesday as its men’s basketball coach, bringing in the Pennsylvania native to take over a program coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade.

The Penn State board of trustees approved a seven-year deal worth $25.9 million for Rhoades, who is from Mahanoy City in eastern Pennsylvania.

Just a few hours after Rhoades was named at Penn State, VCU hired Utah State coach Ryan Odom to replace Rhoades.

Rhoades replaces Micah Shrewsberry, who was hired away by Notre Dame last week.

Shrewsberry, an Indiana native, was at Penn State for two seasons. The Nittany Lions went 23-14 this season, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and won an NCAA game for the first time since 2001.

Rhoades, 50, was 129-61 in six seasons at VCU, including three NCAA Tournament bids. He also spent three seasons at Rice, going 23-12 in the final year with the Owls before returning to VCU.

He was an assistant at the Richmond, Virginia, school from 2009-14 under then-head coach Shaka Smart.

Odom was 44-25 at Utah State in two seasons, with an NCAA Tournament appearance this season.

He previously spent five seasons at Maryland-Baltimore County, going 97-60. In 2018, Odom’s UMBC team became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when it beat Virginia.

Temple hires Penn State assistant Fisher to replace McKie

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PHILADELPHIA – Temple named Penn State assistant Adam Fisher just its fifth coach since 1973 on Wednesday.

Fisher’s goal will be to turn around a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019.

Fisher replaces Aaron McKie, who was transferred out of the coaching job earlier this month after four seasons and a 52-56 overall record with no tournament berths. McKie is now a special advisor to the athletic department.

Fisher takes over a team in flux with six players in the transfer portal. Temple has yet to find any steady success in the American Athletic Conference.

Fisher spent eight years as an assistant with Miami before he joined Micah Shrewsberry’s staff last season at Penn State. Shrewsberry has since moved on to Notre Dame.

“I am confident we have found the right person to lead Temple men’s basketball,” athletic director Arthur Johnson said. “We look forward to welcoming coach Fisher to the Temple community and returning to the NCAA Tournament under his leadership.”

Fisher also worked as a graduate manager at Villanova under Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright from 2007-09.

The Owls have traditionally given their coaches significant time on the bench, though McKie’s tenure was the shortest since Ernest Messikomer from 1939-42. The next five coaches all lasted at least 10 seasons, notably Hall of Fame coach John Chaney’s tenure from 1982-2006.

Cal hires Mark Madsen as basketball coach

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BERKELEY, Calif. – California is hiring a former Stanford star to revive its struggling basketball program.

The Golden Bears announced Wednesday that Mark Madsen was signed to replace the fired Mark Fox following the worst season in school history.

“We conducted an exhaustive search, and one name kept rising to the top – and that’s Mark Madsen,” athletic director Jim Knowlton said. “Mark is a person of high character, high energy, high intensity, and he’s done it the right way. He’s intense. He’s passionate. He loves his student-athletes, and he loves competing. We want an ambassador for this program who is going to make us proud and develop our young men – both on and off the court. I am absolutely thrilled that Mark will lead our program into the future.”

Madsen played at Stanford under Mike Montgomery, who later coached at Cal, from 1996 to 2000 and helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four in 1998.

After a nine-year playing career in the NBA that featured two titles as a backup on the Lakers in 2001-02, Madsen went into coaching.

He spent time in the NBA’s developmental league and a year at Stanford before spending five seasons on the Lakers staff.

Madsen then was hired in 2019 to take over Utah Valley. He posted a 70-51 record in four years with a 28-9 mark this season before losing on Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals to UAB.

“Having grown up in the area, I have always admired Cal as an institution and as an athletic program, with so many of my teachers, coaches and friends impressive Cal graduates,” Madsen said. “We will win with young men who have elite academic and athletic talent and who will represent Cal with pride.”

Madsen is the third prominent coach to flip sides in recent years in the Bay Area rivalry between Cal and Stanford. The Cardinal hired former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor to take over the football program last season and Bears women’s basketball coach Charmin Smith played and coached as an assistant at Stanford.

Madsen is faced with a tough task, taking over a program that went 3-29 under Fox and set a school record for most losses and worst winning percentage in a season.

Cal went 38-87 during Fox’s tenure, ending his final season on a 16-game losing streak. Fox’s .304 winning percentage ranking second worst in school history to predecessor Wyking Jones’ 16-47 mark (.254) in the two seasons before Fox arrived.

The Bears haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and haven’t won a game in the tournament since 2013 under Montgomery.

Adding to the issues for Fox was the complete lack of interest in the program. Cal’s home attendance averaged just 2,155 this season for the lowest mark among any team in the Power 5 or Big East. That’s down from an average of 9,307 per game in Cuonzo Martin’s last season in 2016-17 and from 5,627 the year before Fox arrived.

Cal had the worst winning percentage among any school in the six major conferences during Fox’s tenure. The Bears also were the lowest-scoring team (62.4 points per game) in all Division I under Fox and had the worst scoring margin of any major conference team under Fox.