Five observations from EYBL Minneapolis

1 Comment
(Jon Lopez/Nike)

MINNEAPOLIS — The spring season of the Nike EYBL is finally in the books. Memorial Day weekend is always busy in grassroots basketball and the Minneapolis session — session No. 4 of the EYBL this spring — culminated with some great battles for the final spots at Peach Jam in July. The play was very good at times and showcased that plenty of talented players are still looking to improve before the important July live evaluation period. Here’s some thoughts from this weekend’s action.

1. This is the time during grassroots when college coaches should be out watching players

In the current landscape of college basketball recruiting, NCAA rules dictate that college basketball coaches at the Division I level can only be out for two spring weekends — often the second and fourth week of April. It’s nice that coaches get some time to watch a bevy of players during an all-day tournament but college coaches really need to watch the grassroots basketball played in May instead of April. Teams really start playing well together after figuring things out in April and there were a lot of EYBL battles in Minneapolis that were fun to watch and well-played basketball games. There was good competition for spots at Peach Jam and many teams ran solid sets with coaches finally knowing which rotations to use. Players were more familiar with each other as teammates and had more time to adjust after just completing the high school season. It would be a better evaluation tool for Division I coaches to watch May grassroots basketball and they should look to move one weekend from April to May to see how players develop over the course of the spring.

2. Division I coaches aren’t out but there are still some important coaches watching

College basketball coaches can’t be out watching players in May, but that doesn’t mean the best prospects in America aren’t being evaluated by important people in the world of basketball. National talent scouts are out checking in on prospects and the EYBL was also under the watchful eye of members of USA Basketball, specifically U16 national team head coach Don Showalter. The long-time, gold-medal winning head coach is back at the helm for the U16 national team that will play in FIBA Americas in Argentina this June and he was looking for players to potentially invite for the U16 tryouts which begin this week while getting an early look at what to expect at tryouts. Representing America and playing with the top players in the country is an important honor for many of these high school players, so it meant just another reason to close out the spring in strong fashion.

3. Elite 2016 prospects closed out in strong fashion

The last spring stop in the EYBL has been skipped over by some elite prospects in the past who try to take the holiday weekend off before a busy month of summer hoops. This year, the elite prospects came out in full force and there’s a lot to like with the competitiveness of this 2016 class. On the Nike circuit, Harry Giles is the pace-setter for elite prospects after putting together some tremendous efforts in both Houston and Minnesota. The 6-foot-10 power forward continues to get more comfortable without his knee brace and he is so productive around the basket as a scorer and rebounder. He’s also a willing passer with an improving face-up game and he plays a team brand of ball while putting up great numbers. Other five-star 2016 prospects like St. Louis native Jayson Tatum, Arkansas native Malik Monk and Houston-area native De’Aaron Fox also finished top-ten in the EYBL in scoring and played good ball over multiple sessions. The top of the 2016 class continues to compete for the top spots in the rankings and it should be fun tracking them, along with players from other circuits, this summer.

4. Some under-the-radar Class of 2016 prospects emerge

It was good to see some unranked players close out the spring with some solid play in Minneapolis. PSA Cardinals guard Christian Vital had a very good weekend, hitting 9-for-18 3-pointers and scoring in double-figures in his last three games. Off the bench, Vital gave a huge shot in the arm for the Cardinals and his overall competitiveness also translated to rebounding the ball effectively from the guard spot as well. The 6-foot-2 guard had a strong weekend overall and can hopefully build on that for April. As the fourth option on a loaded Houston Hoops team, 6-foot-8 forward Robert Williams doesn’t get a lot of minutes or touches, but he’s very productive in his limited time on the floor. Playing only a shade over 17 minutes a game this spring, Williams led the EYBL in blocks per game and tied for total blocks, even though he played 163 fewer minutes than his co-leader Kassoum Yakwe. A mega athlete who can leap with the best of them, Williams had one monstrous two-handed tip dunk that came off of a miss from his own 17-foot jumper. The Louisiana native is still raw and needs a lot of skill work, but his physical tools are there and he was very productive in limited minutes again this weekend.

5. Marques Bolden is coming on strong

Texas native Marques Bolden is beginning to emerge as one of the best centers in the country after playing through injury and having another strong showing in Minnesota. The 6-foot-10 Bolden is the No. 29 player in the country in the Class of 2016, according to Rivals, but he might be pushing five-star status if he continues his stellar spring play. As a scorer, Bolden knows how to get things done in the paint and runs the floor well with good hands to receive tough passes. If Bolden ramps up the motor a bit more as a rebounder and shot blocker, he’ll really change the game on both ends of the floor. For now, there’s a lot to like and he showed toughness by playing through an injury that limited his mobility.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.