Lessons learned as players at Montana aid three Division I head coaches

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There are 15 college programs can claim at least three alums among the 351 Division I head coaches. Name-brand programs — Duke and North Carolina, Arizona and Kentucky — are on that list. So are smaller schools, like Howard and Division III Catholic University.

Montana is on that list as well, as Larry Krystkowiak, Wayne Tinkle and Travis DeCuire have all followed a similar path in their respective coaching careers — former Montana player who eventually becomes a head coach at Montana at some point. You often hear about about the Carolina family or the Duke coaching tree, but up in Missoula, the Grizzlies have developed their very own coaching tree; a coaching tree that has produced the two favorites for Pac-12 Coach of the Year; a coaching tree that includes a Hall of Famer and dates all the way back to Jud Heathcote.

Heathcote served as head coach at Montana from 1971-76, posting an overall record of 80-53 before moving on to Michigan State. And after Jim Brandenburg took the reins for two seasons Mike Montgomery moved into the head coaching position, where he would eventually be followed by Stew Morrill and Blaine Taylor.

All three of those coaches would experience success at other stops in their respective careers. Montgomery made his name at Stanford before a short-lived stint in the NBA and, eventually, a few years at Cal. Taylor found success at Old Dominion, while Morrill turned Utah State into one of the nation’s best mid-major programs.

What’s noteworthy about the time those three spent in Missoula is that it intersected with that of Krystkowiak, Tinkle and DeCuire. Morrill, who will retire at the end of this season, coached both Krystkowiak and Tinkle, and he also added DeCuire to the program as a transfer before moving on to Colorado State.

And, according to him, it’s been administration’s willingness to foster continuity helped make Montana a successful basketball program.

“Jud Heathcote got it started, and we were all very fortunate that the administration was willing to hire the assistant coach time after time,” Morrill told NBCSports.com. “And it’s worked very well for them over the years. I got my start that way as a head coach, and I felt very fortunate to be in that position.”

It wasn’t an easy gig, however.

“There were high expectations; most of us only had one-year contracts,” Morrill added. “I was an assistant for Mike Montgomery for eight years and a head coach for five, and I always tell people that ‘I’ve been a coach for 29 years, but Montana was the most pressure I’ve felt.’ It was my first head coaching job, and the tradition had been established by the coaches who came before me.”

Krystkowiak was the first to arrive on the scene, as he was recruited by Montgomery and Morrill and went on to become the program’s greatest player. He won three Big Sky Player of the Year awards at Montana, and to this day he remains the school’s all-time leader in both points and rebounds. After playing more than a decade in the NBA, Krystkowiak embarked on what has been a successful coaching career, which includes a two-year stint at his alma mater (2004-06).

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Now in his fourth season as the head coach at Utah, Krystkowiak has revamped a storied program that fell on hard times prior to its move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. The Utes, led by senior guard Delon Wright, are currently ranked ninth in both the AP and Coaches’ polls, and with a host of contributors having eligibility remaining beyond the current season, the future is bright in Salt Lake City as well.

Something that has helped Krystkowiak in the process is his time at Montana, where he was able to play for coaches who not only knew the game but also knew what it took to build a quality program.

“It’s just the grind, the process of having to start over, and how to tackle it,” Krystkowiak told NBCSports.com. “It can be overwhelming I think, so the important thing was to have a target of what you’re trying to accomplish in short periods of time and move on to the next thing. If you don’t have some patience and a blueprint for how to attack it, then it’s probably not going to be very successful.”

“So we just tried to stay consistent and try to make a little progress each day. There weren’t too many long-term goals; it’s more about ‘whatever the fire is right now, let’s put it out.'”

Tinkle, now the head coach at Oregon State, was a teammate of Krystkowiak’s for two seasons at Montana and also served on his coaching staff from 2004-06. And during the time they spent together as teammates, Tinkle saw qualities in Krystkowiak that have translated into him being a good head coach.

“Looking back on his playing days, the work ethic and the energy he brought is what I’ll always remember about him,” Tinkle told NBCSports.com last month. “Nobody outworked him, nobody out-hustled him; he was super-competitive. We got in scraps in pickup games during the spring and summer because if you lost, you had to sit awhile. That’s where I learned a lot about the level of competitiveness you needed to play with.”

“The two years I got to coach with him is really when I got to see the ‘intelligent’ part of his mind as far as scheming, X’s and O’s, and his understanding of the game,” Tinkle continued. “And then his demeanor, personality and drive all set pretty good standards as far as never getting too emotional and keeping yourself in control.”

Tinkle arrived on the Montana campus as a player in 1985, with Krystkowiak coming off of a sophomore season in which he won the first of his three Big Sky Player of the Year awards. Both Montgomery (one season) and Morrill (three seasons) served as head coach during Tinkle’s playing career, one in which he would earn first team All-Big Sky honors in each of his final three seasons and be named team MVP as both a junior and a senior. Tinkle’s playing career took him overseas for more than a decade, before returning to his alma mater as an assistant in 2003.

And like his former teammate, the times spent in Missoula have helped Tinkle put together an impressive head coaching record. Taking over for Krystkowiak in 2006, Tinkle went on an eight-year run in which the program won more than 63 percent of its games and made three NCAA tournament appearances. The success at Montana is what led to some being surprised when he made the decision to take over at Oregon State last spring.

After being an integral figure in a program that considers contending for conference titles to be the norm, Tinkle was moving to one that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since the father — Gary Payton — of the best player on this year’s team — Gary Payton II — was in Corvallis. But in deciding to make the move, Tinkle saw some similarities between the two communities that lead him to believe that he can turn Oregon State into a consistent winner.

“They’re both college towns that really rally behind the university,” Tinkle said. “And the fact that they’re blue-collar communities that just want to see the kids play their tails off and do things the right way.”

The first season at Oregon State has been much better than anyone anticipated back in October. Picked to finish last in the Pac-12’s preseason media poll, Oregon State is currently tied for fifth and 16-9 overall (7-6 Pac-12). The Beavers aren’t the deepest team, but with players such as Payton II, Malcolm Duvivier and Langston Morris-Walker leading the way Oregon State has relied on its defense to this point in the season.

In conference games Oregon State is ranked second in the Pac-12 in both field goal and three-point percentage defense, and they also lead the Pac-12 in blocked shots per game. With a respected recruiting class signed up for next season, the future appears bright for Oregon State. But the current players can help set the tone, since the majority of them will return next season, and that’s something Tinkle’s players have embraced.

“We brought that up early on, with the hype of [the 2015 recruiting] class. They’re here right now, and in some respects we’re all kind of auditioning for the future,” Tinkle noted. “This is the way we want to do things and if you guys do it, we’re going to build something really neat and if you don’t you might not be here. But then we also said, ‘those guys are going to have to go through the rigors and the hard times just like you, nothing’s going to be handed to them’ and I think they appreciated hearing that.

“They did say, ‘why wait, let’s buy in and see what we can make happen in year one.’ Because I think they saw the effort that the staff was putting in. We’re all earning paychecks this year so we’re all grinding away, and we didn’t want to be anyone’s doormat.”

With Tinkle moving on, Montana made the decision in June to hire Travis DeCuire as its new head coach. Like Krystkowiak and Tinkle before him DeCuire was also a productive player at Montana, earning first-team All-Big Sky honors as both a junior and senior and remains the school’s all-time assists leader. DeCuire landed at Montana as a transfer after spending one season at Hawaii Pacific, and while he didn’t get to play for Morrill in actual games (his redshirt year was Morrill’s final one at Montana) the point guard certainly made an impression on the coach.

“He came from a great high school program in Mercer Island, Washington, and his high school coach Ed Pepple swore by him. I mean this in the most positive way: he was just a cocky little point guard,” Morrill said. “He had great days ahead of him as a player, and you could see that he had the things you hoped to have in a point guard even though he wasn’t playing in games.”

DeCuire’s last coaching stop prior to returning to Montana was at Cal, where he served on Montgomery’s staff for six seasons (assistant for four, associate head coach for the last two). Like Krystkowiak and Tinkle before him, DeCuire can speak from experience the impact that the school and community have had on Montana basketball over the years.

The relationship has helped Montana not only become one of the Big Sky’s preeminent programs, but to establish a level of consistency that allows them to enter most seasons with realistic thoughts of winning a conference title and reaching the NCAA tournament. That relationship is also what sold DeCuire as a player when he was going through the recruiting process.

“The dream was there, and I believed in what was being sold,” DeCuire noted when asked about his recruitment, with the passion of the Montana fan base also standing out. “There weren’t many programs that were comparable in terms of fan passion and attendance.”

It’s with the tradition of success and a passionate fan base that DeCuire looks to lead Montana back to the top of the Big Sky, and with two starters and seven lettermen returning from last season’s 17-win squad he wasn’t left with an empty cupboard. After going through a tough non-conference slate that included double-overtime losses at Boise State and California, Montana’s 10-3 in Big Sky play with two of the defeats being close losses to Sacramento State (10-3) and Eastern Washington (10-2).

Martin Bruenig (16.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg), who sat out last season after transferring in from Washington, is averaging just under 17 points per game in conference play and has been one of the Big Sky’s best front court players. And in guards Jordan Gregory (16.8, 3.3 apg) and Mario Dunn (8.9, 4.0 apg), the Grizzlies have a solid perimeter tandem to lean on as they look to make a run at their third Big Sky title in the last four seasons.

The key in doing that boils down to one word: consistency, especially when it comes to turnovers. If Montana can play more efficiently, they’ll have a shot at getting back to the NCAA tournament after missing out a season ago.

“Our efficiency needs to improve down the stretch,” DeCuire said. “We were up 13 at Sacramento State before losing that game, and turnovers hurt us against Eastern Washington as well.”

While DeCuire adds his chapter to the Montana history books, what helps is the fact that the blueprint has been set for years. From Heathcote to Montgomery, and from Montgomery to Morrill and Taylor, the Montana program has led to success not only in Missoula but in other locales as well. And given what Krystkowiak, Tinkle and DeCuire have been able to do in their respective coaching careers, that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

“I just think back to [Montgomery and Morrill’s] commitment to the fundamentals of the game, and how you went about life in general, were the main ingredients of what Montana basketball was and is.” Tinkle noted. “A lot of times you can get lost in all the nonsense. What winning programs come down to are the small things that become big things in the ‘big picture.'”

The 16 NBA draft stay-or-go decisions that will shape college basketball’s 2020-21 season

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The end of the 2020 NBA Draft early entry decisions period is now bearing down on us.

Underclassmen that opted to declare for the draft saw the deadline to remove their name and retain their collegiate eligibility bumped back to August 3rd due to the coronavirus pandemic. To be frank, the extra two months has not done much more than allow these players to try and get a better feel for what the basketball landscape will look like during the 2020-21 season.

But truth be told, so much is still up in the air. No one knows what college basketball is going to look like next season, not with college campuses likely to develop into mini-COVID outbreaks if students return to campus. No one can say for certain if the G League is going to happen next year, or if foreign leagues are going to allow Americans to enter their country based on the way that the United States has handled the pandemic.

Throw in the fact face-to-face meetings haven’t been made and NBA teams are currently more concerned about finding ways to keep their players that are in the bubble in the bubble, the kids making the most important decision of their lives are put in a terrible spot.

I don’t envy anyone having to make these choices right now.

But choices are going to have to be made.

And these are the 16 most influential stay-or-go decisions remaining.

For the most impactful transfer waivers, click here.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

2020 NBA DRAFT DECISIONS

1. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

This one should be obvious. Garza is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.8 points and 9.8 boards for a top 25 team, was named a first-team All-American and put himself alongside Dayton’s Obi Toppin in the race for National Player of the Year.

But he’s also in a unique spot where he doesn’t really project as a great pro because of his lack of athleticism and mobility. How often does a player that is that unquestionably great return for another year in the collegiate ranks? Cassius Winston did it. Doug McDermott did it. They were both preseason National Player of the Year favorites, which is precisely what Garza will be. It’s a big deal having him on the floor, to say nothing of the impact that he has on everyone else on that Iowa roster.

Depending on how the chips fall, I think that Iowa can still be in the mix as a top 25 team without Garza, and I don’t think that it would be crazy if Garza opted to take a deal overseas. He can make a lot of money in Europe.

But with him back?

I think this team is capable of getting to a Final Four and winning a national title. And if I had to guess, I would guess Garza is more likely to be wearing Iowa colors than not next season.

2. XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State

Michigan State is going to take a hit next season because they are losing Cassius Winston, but the Spartans will still have a chance to win the Big Ten title if they bring back Xavier Tillman.

For my money, Tillman had an All-American junior season. He’s the anchor of Michigan State’s defense, a leader in the program on and off the floor and an underrated weapon offensively because of his ability to pass the ball. He’s the piece that brings everything else together for this roster.

And there are going to be some weapons there. Rocket Watts will be a year older, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham. Joey Hauser will be eligible to play, and there’s a chance that Josh Langford will be back for his final season. Aaron Henry declared for the draft, but it seems fairly likely he’ll be back for his junior season.

But without Tillman, that is all just window dressing.

I would draft Tillman in the late first round if I was an NBA team. I think he’s the best two-way big man available in this year’s draft and a player that can impact an NBA game today. He’s already married. He had his second child in February. He’s mature and carries himself as a professional as it is. The smart financial decision here would probably be to enter the draft.

That said, he may be a guy that can improve his draft spot by being the focal point offensively. He’s also said that he will not be leaving campus without a guaranteed contract, and for some reasons, there are questions about whether or not he can get one. The way that Michigan State has set him and his family up on campus is wonderful, and he has a really good thing going while sitting a year away from a college degree.

At this point, I think Tillman is a legitimate 50-50 decision.

WHAT ABOUT AARON HENRY AND JOSH LANGFORD?

Henry is clearly a valuable piece to the puzzle for the Spartans, as is Josh Langford, who may or may not be returning after a foot injury cost him the 2019-20 season. Losing Henry would be a blow, but the sense I get is that he will be back in school. Langford is a bigger question mark, and there’s an argument to be made that his absence last season was the biggest reason that the Spartans struggled early.

3. COREY KISPERT, Gonzaga

For my money, of the three Gonzaga players who still have their names in the 2020 NBA Draft, Corey Kispert is the most influential. He’s a good defender and a great shooter as a 6-foot-6 wing, a role that gives him value as an NBA prospect. There’s a real chance that he can get picked in the late 30s or early 40s this year. That might be enough to get him to leave school.

Kispert’s skill-set also slots him in a position where the Zags really don’t have any depth to speak of. Mark Few’s teams pound the ball into the paint, and next season is not going to be any different given the amount of talented big men on the roster. But without Kispert’s floor-spacing, the lane can get clogged up awful quick. For a team that projects in the preseason top five, that matters.

WHAT ABOUT FILIP PETRUSEV AND JOEL AYAYI?

Losing Ayayi would certainly hurt, because his value as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker that can also space the floor is immense. The best teams in college basketball this decade all played with two point guards. Ayayi would qualify as point guard No. 2 on a team with Jalen Suggs. I think, however, he needs another season of seasoning in college.

Petrusev, however, is a totally different conversation. I’m not sure how he fits in the modern NBA. But I’m also not sure if he’s going to be able to improve all that much on the year he just had, not with Drew Timme on the verge of being Gonzaga’s next great center and Oumar Ballo ready to have a huge redshirt freshman season. Petrusev projects as a pro in Europe, and he can probably get paid pretty well next season somewhere other than the NBA.

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4. TYRELL TERRY, Stanford

Tyrell Terry was one of the more underrated freshmen in college basketball last season. He averaged 14.6 points, 4.5 boards and 3.2 assists while shooting just under 41 percent from three. He’s listed at just 160 pounds, but he’s certainly on the radar of NBA teams and might even be able to sneak his way into the end of the first round.

So he has a very real decision to make.

Because, as a potential breakout star as a sophomore, Terry will be playing on a team with the potential to win the Pac-12. The Cardinal bring back everyone off of last year’s team while adding Ziaire Williams, a five-star, one-and-done freshman that will slide right in at the four. With Terry, arguably the best point guard on the west coast if he returns, Stanford could have two lottery picks on their roster and we could legitimately be looking at a team that can get to the Final Four.

Without him, do they even have a point guard on the roster?

5. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

I currently have the Bears sitting as the No. 3 team in my preseason top 25, and that’s assuming that Butler is coming back to school. That, however, is not a guarantee. Butler showed enough as a creator in isolation and ball-screens this past season that he could end up getting picked early in the second round of the draft, and that has been enough to make worse players opt to leave school.

The big issue with Baylor this past season is that they went through stretches where they just couldn’t score. Butler is, by far, their best scorer, the one guy that can go create a bucket out of nothing. Without him, how long will those scoring droughts last?

WHAT ABOUT MACIO TEAGUE?

Teague was Baylor’s second-leading scorer last season. I don’t think that he’s nearly the NBA prospect that Butler is, but having the two of them together are awfully important for Baylor to live up to their hype. The key for Teague: He just finished his fourth year in college. Does he want to return for his redshirt senior season?

6. CHRIS SMITH, UCLA

Smith is a really interesting prospect in this year’s draft class. He’s a 6-foot-9 wing that averaged 13.1 points and shot 34 percent from three and 84 percent from the line for the Bruins, who turned into one of the 25 best teams in college basketball by the end of the season.

UCLA brings back the majority of last year’s roster, but they already suffered one major blow this offseason when five-star point guard Daishen Nix opted to accept a contract from the G League instead of heading to Westwood. Losing Smith would be another significant blow to a program that was once considered a borderline top ten team heading into the 2020-21 season.

One thing that is worth noting here: Smith, a junior, is three months younger than Precious Achiuwa and Cassius Stanley, both one-and-done freshmen that are expected to be drafted this year.

7. YVES PONS, Tennessee

Pons is definitely not a guy that is going to make any preseason All-American lists if he opts to return to school, but he may just be the best defensive player in all of college basketball. At 6-foot-6 and the best athlete in the sport, Pons can quite literally guard anyone from a point guard to a center, and he can make a step-in three. His presence will allow the Vols to play all kinds of small-ball lineups, which is exactly what they need to do with the number of talented guards on next year’s roster.

He is a borderline first round pick in my mind, although I would expect him to go in the second round if he decides to keep his name in the draft. With Pons back, Tennessee is my pick to win the SEC next season.

8. AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois

Dosunmu had a really, really good sophomore season for the Illini, averaging 16.6 points and 3.3 assists. The problem, however, is that while he hit a number of big shots over the course of the season, he didn’t really do much to prove to NBA teams that he can actually be a consistent perimeter shooter. He’s not expected to be a first round pick and there’s a chance he could drop out of the top 45. Sometimes guys that are great college players don’t project well to the NBA. Dosunmu is that guy.

That said, the safe bet seems to be that Dosunmu will keep his name in the draft, and with some backcourt talent coming into the program, Brad Underwood should be able to survive the hit. But if he does come back, Illinois will have an outside shot at winning the Big Ten title.

WHAT ABOUT KOFI COCKBURN?

Despite a terrific freshman season, Cockburn is not expected to be drafted if he keeps his name in the draft. He’s a slow-footed, 280-pound center that is more likely to tear a rim off the backboard than he is to make a three. If this was 1990 and not 2020, he’d be a top ten pick. But as it stands, he has one of the easier 2020 NBA Draft stay-or-go decisions.

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9. REMY MARTIN, Arizona State

In addition to having the best name in college basketball, Remy Martin is coming off of a season where he averaged 19.1 points and 4.1 assists for a team that would have made the NCAA tournament had it been held. He’s a potential preseason All-American on a team that will add five-star freshman Josh Christopher and likely will return Alonzo Verge. With Martin in the fold, Arizona State will be in the same conversation as UCLA, Stanford and Oregon when it comes to predicting the Pac-12 champion. They may even be the favorite.

10. JAY HUFF, Virginia

I think that Jay Huff has quite a bit of potential as an NBA player. He’s 7-foot-1 with three-point range and the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and he’s also a rim protector that has spent four years playing for Tony Bennett. To me, he makes perfect sense as an off-the-bench big in the league.

That said, his production has not quite lived up to his potential. Even playing in a system that stifles scoring numbers, Huff’s 8.5 points and 6.2 boards as a junior was a disappointment. So I think he should come back to school, where he would anchor a lineup that should be much improved for the Wahoos.

11. TRENDON WATFORD, LSU

The Tigers are already losing Skylar Mays to graduation and Emmitt Williams to the professional ranks. But with five-star Cam Thomas headlining a solid crop of newcomers, Will Wade should have a pretty solid roster. Watford, who averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 boards last season, is a bucket-getting combo-forward that should be their best player if he opts to return to school.

WHAT ABOUT JAVONTE SMART?

Smart is coming off of a season where he averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 assists as a sophomore, and with Mays gone, the Tigers are going to need someone to anchor their backcourt. Neither Watford nor Smart are projected as first round picks, and if they follow Williams out the door, the Tigers would be one of the biggest losers of the early entry period.

12. ISAIAH JOE, Arkansas

Arkansas already lost Mason Jones, who was last year’s leading scorer, to the draft. Joe entered the season with some NBA Draft hype due to the fact that he is a 6-foot-7 wing that shot a lot of threes as a freshman and made quite a few of them. His sophomore season was not quite as efficient, and also featured a knee injury in the middle of the year that slowed things down.

The Hogs have some talented transfers in the fold and four four-star prospects enrolling this summer. They remade their roster is typical Eric Musselman fashion. Keeping a veteran scorer around could be the difference between fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament and seeing themselves ranked in the top 25.

13. MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado

Colorado is already losing Tyler Bey, so the Buffaloes are taking a hit with early entries in this year’s draft. Wright matters, however, because he could be a preseason All-American. He’s coming off of a season where he averaged 14.4 points, 5.7 boards and 5.0 assists. He’s the kind of player that can put together a senior season where he throws a team on his back and carries them to a postseason run. Colorado is relevant with Wright in the fold. They are not without him.

14. ISAIAH LIVERS, Michigan

The Wolverines not only lost Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske to graduation, David DeJulius to transfer and Isaiah Todd to the G League, but they are also missed out on Josh Christopher, who committed to Arizona State instead. If Livers’ decision is to leave for the 2020 NBA Draft, that means Michigan will be losing their three best players from last season and their highest-rated recruit. If he’s back, Livers is an all-Big Ten player that puts Michigan in the mix for the top 25 and a top four finish in the league.

15. SANDRO MAMUKELASHVILI, Seton Hall

Mamu is coming off of a season where he averaged 11.9 points and 6.0 boards as one of the more underrated big men in college basketball. Someone on the Pirate roster is going to have to fill the void left by Myles Powell, Quincy McKnight and Romaro Gill, and Mamu would be that guys if he opts to return to school.

16. MARCUS CARR, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers have quite a bit left up in the air at the moment — their two most impactful transfers are both awaiting word on whether or not they will be sitting out for the upcoming season — but Carr may be their most important decision. I’m not sure that he has an NBA future, but he may have an all-Big Ten future if he returns to school. Carr averaged 15.4 points, 6.7 assists and 5.3 boards last season.

The nine most influential transfer waivers we are waiting on

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With the 2020 NBA Draft bearing down on us, the biggest question marks heading into the 2020-21 season are the players that have yet to decide if they are going to pull their name out of the NBA draft.

But there are also a number of transfers that are still considering applying for, or are already waiting on, immediately eligibility waivers.

These are the biggest names.

For the most impactful stay-or-go decisions, click here.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

1. OLIVIER SARR, Kentucky

Sarr is easily the most impactful transfer currently waiting on a waiver. As we have come to expect out of Lexington, Kentucky is turning their roster over completely, with a brand new crop of freshmen ready to carry the torch.

Brandon Boston is expected to be the best of the bunch. Terrence Clarke isn’t all that far behind. Devin Askew, as well as Creighton grad transfer Davion Mintz, should be able to handle point guard duties well enough. Throw in Keion Brooks, who is back for his sophomore season, as well as Cam’Ron Fletcher, that’s a pretty good place for Kentucky to start.

The problem is up front. E.J. Montgomery went pro despite having almost no chance of playing in the NBA in the near future. Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware are both highly-regarded, four-star big men heading to Kentucky, but neither of them are the kind of impact player that John Calipari needs at the five to be able to thrive. Sarr, however, is. He was a third-team all-ACC player a season ago, averaging 13.7 points and 9.0 boards. He put up 30 points and 17 boards on Notre Dame. He had 25 points against Duke. He went for 21 points and 13 boards against Arizona. He’s really good.

But he also has said publicly that he left Wake Forest because of a coaching change that occurred this offseason as well as the chance to improve his basketball life. Historically, the NCAA has not given out waivers to players that are transferring because of a coaching change. There have been players that transferred after a coaching change and got a waiver, but there was a reason beyond just a different staff that allowed them to get the waiver.

We’ll see what Kentucky cooks up.

Because with Sarr, they are a top ten team. Without him, the Wildcats are more of a back-end top 25 team.

2. LANDERS NOLLEY and DEANDRE WILLIAMS, Memphis

There were three dominoes that the Memphis basketball program has been waiting on.

The first fell last night, as Moussa Cisse committed to play his college ball for Penny Hardaway. Waivers for Nolley and Williams are the other two.

For my money, Cisse was the most important piece here. I detailed why in this column. Nolley, however, is almost as important. A 6-foot-7, 230 pound forward, Nolley averaged 15.5 points for Virginia Tech this past season as a redshirt freshman. He’s a really good shooter that was one of the best players in the conference before tailing off down the stretch of the season. Given the current roster makeup of Memphis, he’s also a perfect fit for a program that has a defensive anchor, a ton of guards and not all that much in between that can bring it all together. With Nolley and D.J. Jeffries on the wings, Cisse in the middle and the likes of Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones, Alex Lomax and Damian Baugh handling backcourt duties, the Tigers would be a top 20 team that could compete with Houston for an AAC title.

Williams, who averaged 15.2 points and 6.9 boards in 18 games for Evansville last year, is more of a big than he is a perimeter weapon, but he can still contribute in that role. Williams will be 24 years old by the time the season rolls around.

3. L.J. FIGUEROA, Oregon

Finding impact scorers on the transfer market has become something of a specialty for Dana Altman’s program, and Figueroa is no different. He averaged 14.5 points last season for the Johnnies, and he should be a really good fit in Altman’s offense. With a roster that already includes the likes of Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, Amauri Hardy, Eugene Omoruyi and Eric Williams, it may be tough for Figueroa to crack into the starting lineup, but getting a player like this eligible immediately is only going to help.

Figueroa appears to have a shot at getting the waiver due to the coronavirus pandemic. When Figueroa left, New York City was still the hardest hit place in the country.

4. MAC MCCLUNG, Texas Tech

McClung is a YouTube sensation known for his highlight reel dunks and ability to put up points in a hurry. He broke Allen Iverson’s record for points scored in Virginia high school basketball history. If there’s one thing that he can do on a basketball court, it’s get buckets.

McClung cannot, however, guard. Anyone. He’s a really, really, really bad defender. If there’s one thing that Chris Beard will not stand for at Texas Tech, it’s someone not playing defense. And if there is one thing that this Tech program desperately needed last season, it’s someone that could get a bucket.

Now, this all assumes that McClung is going to buy in defensively, Beard is going to put in the effort to develop him defensively and that the combination of those two things will allow McClung to beat out some of the more talented pieces on this roster — Kyler Edwards, Nimari Burnett, Kevin McCullar, Terrence Shannon — for playing time. But he is unquestionable a useful piece that Beard should be able to get the most out of, and I’m not sure there is a better place for McClung to be if he wants to fix the flaws in his game.

McClung may have a real shot at getting a waiver as well. Georgetown’s program went through quite a bit of drama in the last eight months, including a nagging foot injury that McClung just couldn’t seem to shake.

5. CHAUNDEE BROWN, Michigan

Brown is a powerful, athletic wing that averaged 12.1 points this past season at Wake Forest. He left the program after his junior season, entering the NBA draft and the NCAA’s transfer portal on the same day. That was more than two weeks before head coach Danny Manning was fired by Wake Forest. If Brown does receive a waiver, he would be a nice compliment to Isaiah Livers, who is still weighing whether or not to remain in the NBA draft.

6. BOTH GACH and LIAM ROBBINS, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers have quite a bit left up in the air at the moment — they are also waiting on Marcus Carr to decide whether or not he is going to pull his name out of the draft — but Gach and Robbins have a big impact as well. Robbins is a 7-foot center that averaged 14.1 points and 7.1 boards as a sophomore at Drake last season, while Both Gach is a talented wing that transferred back to Minnesota, where he played his high school ball, after averaging 10.7 points as a sophomore.

7. JAVON FREEMAN-LIBERTY, DePaul

I know it’s hard to get too excited about anyone that is going to be playing for DePaul, but Freeman-Liberty has a chance to be really good. He’s coming off of a sophomore season where he averaged 19 points for Valparaiso, and at 6-foot-4, is the kind of explosive guard that will draw the attention of NBA scouts.

Top prospect Jonathan Kuminga will enter G League program over NCAA

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Jonathan Kuminga announced on Wednesday night that, after graduating from The Patrick School last month, he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2020 and, instead of going to college, enrolling in the G League Pathway Program.

This decision will allow Kuminga, originally a member of the Class of 2021, to enter the 2021 NBA Draft, where he is considered a potential top five pick in what should be a loaded draft class.

As detailed in this story, the G League Pathway Program is an initiative that the NBA has developed for elite prospects competes with overseas deals — specifically the NBL’s Next Stars program — to provide a one-and-done year alternative to college basketball. Kuminga will join Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix and Kai Sotto as the inaugural class in the program. His deal is reportedly worth $500,000, which is similar to what Green was offered.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

Kuminga picked the G League over Duke, Kentucky, Auburn and Texas Tech. Tech was considered the frontrunner because his brother, Joel Ntambwe, is a member of their roster, but his decision to head to the G League caught no one by surprise.

As a player, Kuminga is an explosive athlete at 6-foot-8. He has long arms, the ability to play multiple positions and versatility on the defensive end of the floor. Prior to the pandemic, Kuminga was known as an elite athlete with upside through the roof, but he is going to have to develop offensively, particularly his shooting, if he’s going to reach that upside.

Moussa Cisse’s commitment makes Memphis a top 25 team

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Moussa Cisse committed to Memphis on Wednesday, which is huge for the Tigers. Any time you add a 6-foot-11 center that is a top ten prospect and a potential one-and-done player that could end up being the very best rim protector in all of college basketball this upcoming season, it’s a good thing.

A really good thing.

That’s precisely the player that Cisse is. He’s a terrific athlete that plays with a motor, loves to get on the glass and will be an impact defensive presence from the first day that he is allowed to play for the Tigers. More importantly, he won’t be put in a position where he is going to be asked to do much more than that for this Memphis team.

I spent much last summer trying to downplay the hype that surrounded Memphis as they brought in a recruiting class that ranked No. 1 in the country and featured a pair of one-and-done five-stars in James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa. The reason for that was simple: Not all No. 1 recruiting classes are built the same, and once you got past a pair of bigs that needed to be near the basket to be effective, the Tigers had a roster full of guys that had all the makings of being 2-3 year guys.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

D.J. Jeffries, Damian Baugh, Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones. Those guys all had solid freshman seasons. More importantly, they all returned to school for their sophomore seasons, and as the saying goes, the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. Throw in the return of Alex Lomax, and Penny Hardaway has a pretty good core of perimeter players at his disposal even before you consider the potential that Landers Nolley and Deandre Williams get waivers.

The true value of the Memphis recruiting class wasn’t just Wiseman and Achiuwa, it was the fact that Penny had himself a solid foundation for his program moving forward. Unless you are Duke or Kentucky, the teams that get the most out of their one-and-done freshmen are the programs that can plug these guys in and ask them to do a job. The healthiest programs in the sport — Virginia, Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas, Baylor — are the teams that can land elite talent while maintaining roster continuity.

And that’s precisely what Penny has set himself up with.

The hole in this Memphis team was in the middle.

There was not a player on the market better suited to filling that hole on Memphis than Moussa Cisse.

This addition gives Memphis a team that should enter the season in the preseason top 25 and will have a shot at contending with Houston for the American regular season title.

CBT Podcast: So are we going to have a college basketball season?

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to talk through … well, to talk about whether or not the Coronavirus pandemic is going to cause us to lose out on a college basketball season. Depressing, I know.