Steady improvement turning Alize Johnson into valued Division I prospect

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LAS VEGAS — While the focus of the annual recruiting cycle is on whether or not prospects can play the game well enough to merit a college scholarship, there are many different paths that prospects take to reach that point. Some may be highly regarded players who seem destined for little more than a pit stop in the college game before cashing in on their NBA dreams, many others have a longer road to travel as they look to achieve their dreams.

One such player is Frank Phillips College (Texas) forward Alize Johnson, who as a 6-foot-8 guard/forward harbors ambitions of not only receiving a Division I scholarship but eventually playing in the NBA.

Johnson’s path began in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a town of just over 29,000 people known more for the fact that Little League was founded there than anything accomplished on the basketball court. Johnson began his high school career as a 5-foot-9 point guard at St. John Neumann, and the time spent on the perimeter helped him as he moved forward (and ultimately reached 6-foot-4 as a high school senior) in his basketball career.

“I’d say my passing ability,” Johnson told NBC Sports when asked about the strengths of his game. “I’m able to get out on the break and make plays. I was 5-foot-9 as a freshman and played point guard, and by my sophomore year I grew to 6-foot-4. [The growth spurt] has helped my game; I’ve been able to use my perimeter skills and height to my advantage in areas such as rebounding and post-up skills, along with handling the basketball.”

That senior season at St. John Neumann proved to be Johnson’s best, as he played well enough to earn Class A first team All-State honors alongside players such as Terry Larrier and Maverick Rowan. Yet while the perimeter skills have remained Johnson, who takes pride in his ability to set up teammates for scoring opportunities, has worked hard to improve as a rebounder and defender with an eye towards the Division I level.

And with that in mind having the influence of cousin Chevon Troutman, a tough forward who helped with Pittsburgh’s resurgence under Ben Howland in the early-2000’s and now plays professionally in Germany, has helped Johnson on the court. Troutman, a rugged forward who was also an adept passer during his time at Pitt, rebounds the ball at a level that Johnson is working hard to reach in his development as a basketball player.

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Alize Johnson/Frank Phillips College

“He’s a very good rebounder and competitor, a very strong and competitive guy,” Johnson said of Troutman. “I realize I don’t have the body structure that he has, but I try to take that part of his game and add it into mine. I think that’s why I’ve improved as a rebounder. That’s one of the biggest parts of the game, rebounding the basketball. I just feel that if there’s a rebound, I have to get it.”

The progress has been noted by college programs and scouts alike, especially in the aftermath of a freshman season that saw Johnson earn honorable mention all-conference honors in a conference that traditionally produces impact Division I products. And at the JucoRecruiting.com All-America Elite 80 West camp in Las Vegas this past weekend, Johnson improved throughout and earned a spot in the event’s all-star game.

“It was a combination of things. He’s skilled for his size and really gets out in transition well, and he excelled in that all weekend,” Brad Winton of JucoRecruiting.com said of Johnson. “I thought in the Sunday morning game he was more physical than I’ve seen in the past and really mixed it up, and then he elevated it in the top 20 game.

“In that (top 20) game there’s a high-level group of guys and a lot more size; there were four or five guys 6-foot-8 or taller, and he stood out there as well. He earned that spot with a really good set of games prior. He hit the glass really well, and was a bit of a matchup problem on the other end because of his ability to step out onto the perimeter.”

The weekend in Las Vegas was a productive one for Johnson, and his improvement as a rebounder and defender will be key in his progression to the Division I level. Prior to the event Johnson was already on the receiving end of a lot of interest from Division I programs, with Iona, Kent State, Stephen F. Austin, Idaho and Towson among those who have offered and Murray State, Hofstra and Memphis showing interest.

Johnson plans on revealing his visit plans in the near future, and one of the factors he’ll take into consideration is which coaching staff can best help him achieve the goal of playing professionally.

“Like every kid, my dream is to get to the NBA or play overseas,” Johnson said. “The school that I pick, I want to be in the best position to get there. I just want to join a program where the staff can help me reach that dream.”

Yet even with that goal, Johnson remains thankful for the support he receives from the people of Williamsport and the fact that he can serve as an example for the youngsters in his community. While Williamsport has produced basketball talent in the past, most notably Troutman, it isn’t labeled as a basketball hotbed per se. Having examples like Johnson to follow can only help younger players in Williamsport moving forward.

“I want to be a role model for the kids in Williamsport, because a lot of them think that things aren’t possible coming from a city like Williamsport,” Johnson said. “Me being recruited is opening a lot of kids’ eyes and making a lot of them want to attend my old high school. A lot of them look up to me, and I’m thankful for the support that everyone here shows for me.”

Oklahoma State dismisses three players from the program

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Oklahoma State announced on Wednesday that they have dismissed Michael Weathers, Maurice Calloo and Kentrevious Jones from the program due to a violation of team rules.

“We have a standard of behavior that we expect from everyone in our program,,” head coach Mike Boynton said in a statement, “and we’re going to move forward with the people who want to abide by those standards. I wish the others well as they move on.”

Weathers is the biggest loss. He is a sophomore guard that was averaging 9.2 points on the season. Calloo (2.5 ppg) and Jones (1.3 ppg), both freshmen forwards, were bit players that saw limited minutes in their first year in Stillwater.

No. 15 Marquette beats Georgetown after Markus Howard leaves with injury

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Marquette got a career performance from Sam Hauser and won a Big East road game Tuesday, but the Golden Eagles’ 74-71 win against Georgetown came with a caveat.

Markus Howard, the nation’s fourth leading scorer, played just three minutes before bowing out with a back injury.

“He’s been experiencing some low back soreness,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said after the game, per The Associated Press. “I’m not going to put a guy out there unless he’s 100%.”

Hauser shined offensively for Marquette with Howard unable to carry the load. The sophomore scored 31 points in the victory. It was the Golden Eagles’ defense, though, that got them to the finish line. Marquette blocked two go-ahead attempts by Georgetown freshman guard James Akinjo in the final 15 seconds, with the first coming from Brendan Bailey and the second courtesy of Theo John.

Now, though, attention will turn to the health of Howard, who is averaging 25.8 points per game and is a week removed from dropping 53 points on Creighton. Marquette does have a pair of home games upcoming against Providence and DePaul, so the Golden Eagles do have some fortuitous timing in their favor, but if Howard is sidelined for an extended period of time or the back is an issue all season, that’s going to be a significant issue.

Little, No. 13 North Carolina hold off Notre Dame 75-69

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Once Nassir Little got rolling, No. 13 North Carolina didn’t have to worry much about yet another home loss.

Little scored all 11 of his points in the final 11 minutes, and the Tar Heels beat Notre Dame 75-69 on Tuesday night.

“It was just a matter of time,” Little said. “Everybody was just waiting for me to do what I do, to help the team be as good as we can be.”

Coby White had 17 points while Luke Maye added 14 points and 10 rebounds and Cameron Johnson finished with 11 points for the Tar Heels (13-4, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). UNC used a late 12-1 run to bounce back from its most lopsided home loss under Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams.

“I got my wish — I wanted to win one ugly,” Williams said.

Prentiss Hubb scored 18 points, John Mooney had 16 points and 19 rebounds, and D.J. Harvey added 15 points for the Fighting Irish (11-6, 1-3). Hubb put Notre Dame up 58-57 with a layup with just under seven minutes remaining, but the Irish missed their next six shots while North Carolina took control.

“Everything was just right for us,” coach Mike Brey said. “We just needed a few more plays, and we probably needed another scorer.”

White started the key run with a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down with 6½ minutes to play, and Little, a freshman, ended it with a twisting layup on the break that gave the Tar Heels their first double-figure lead, 69-59, with less than 90 seconds left.

The Irish didn’t get closer than seven until Hubb’s 3 with 4.7 seconds left made it 73-69.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have lost three of four to begin conference play and haven’t cracked the 70s in scoring in any of those games. They aren’t afraid to pull the trigger from 3-point range — no team in the ACC has taken more of them this season, and roughly half their shots in this one were from beyond the arc — but they didn’t quite hit enough of them to pull off the upset: Notre Dame was just 4 of 15 from long range in the second half.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels will hear less about that embarrassing 83-62 loss to Louisville. They also haven’t lost three straight home ACC games in nearly a decade. Perhaps the most encouraging sign: They had only two turnovers in the second half.

STAR WATCH

T.J. Gibbs, who averages a team-best 18.5 points for Notre Dame, was held to five points on 1-of-9 shooting in his return after an illness that forced him to miss a game for the first time in his career. “My trainer said, ‘You can’t play him as usual, 35 minutes, because he’s ill,'” Brey said. “And then I played him 35 minutes, because he was our only option. … We need to kind of get him back to 100 percent by Saturday.”

PLAY OF THE NIGHT

Seventh Woods earned some hustle points for his blocked shot that brought the crowd to its feet with about 12 minutes left. Nate Laszewski was headed for an easy open-court dunk after stealing the ball from Johnson. But Woods raced in to block the attempt at the rim.

BATTLE ON THE BOARDS

The ACC’s top two rebounders — Maye (10.1 rpg) and Mooney (9.8) — went at it in this one. Those two combined for 29 of the 83 total rebounds in the game.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Plays host to No. 17 North Carolina State on Saturday.

North Carolina: Visits Miami on Saturday.

Tuesday’s Three Things To Know: It was a surprisingly wild night in college hoops

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While Golden State was busy putting up 50 points in a quarter, the college basketball world had themselves a wild night that featured a pair of top 25 teams winning in the final seconds, some big dogs rolling and a couple of trendy teams taking ugly losses.

Here is what you need to know from Tuesday night:

1. THE BIG BOYS ROLLED

The biggest game of the night ended up being one of the most boring games of the night, as No. 4 Virginia put away No. 9 Virginia Tech before we reached the under eight media timeout. The Wahoos hit nine of their first 11 threes, finished 13-for-24 from beyond the arc on the evening and took a 44-22 lead into halftime, eventually knocking off the Hokies, 81-59. It was an utterly dominant performance from Tony Bennett’s club, and one that had our Travis Hines convincing himself that this is the year for UVA.

The Cavs weren’t the only big dog to handle their business in impressive fashion on Tuesday. No. 3 Tennessee jumped out to a 23-6 lead on Arkansas and never looked back, beating the Razorbacks 106-87 in a game where the Vols never seemed to get out of third gear. While that was happening, No. 12 Kentucky was in the midst of going into Stegeman Coliseum and dropping a hammer on Georgia, 69-49. Ashton Hagans — who was previously committed to the Bulldogs — put a career-high 23 points on the board.

And lastly, while the Tar Heels didn’t run away with this win, they did manage to hold off Notre Dame, 75-69. This win was notable because of the second half performance from Nassir Little. He scored just 11 points, but all of them came in the final 11 minutes, and he had nine in a 14-6 run that turned a deficit into a 65-58 lead.

2. SAM HAUSER SAVES No. 15 MARQUETTE, No. 17 N.C. STATE IS NOT SO LUCKY

Hauser put up a career-high 31 points to go along with eight boards in a 74-71 win at Georgetown as he was forced into point guard duties as Markus Howard was dealing with a lower back issue and Joseph Chartouny has apparently forgotten how to be a point guard. The Hoyas are not exactly a powerhouse these days, but they are a dangerous team offensively that has won some games we did not expect them to win, and going into Washington D.C. and winning this game without the Big East Player of the Year is, frankly, really impressive.

And important.

The Golden Eagles remain the only team that is one game behind Villanova in the Big East regular season title race.

N.C. State was not as fortunate. Playing without starting point guard Markell Johnson, the Wolf Pack found themselves down by 15 points at the half and by as many as 22 points in the second half at Wake Forest. A 29-7 run tied the game at 58 with about seven minutes left in the game, but Wake Forest did enough down the stretch to get the win, 71-67.

This is not a great loss for N.C. State, who has now lost two of their last three games and no longer looks like a top 25 basketball team.

3. THE OLE MISS HYPE TRAIN DERAILS

The trendy team this week was Ole Miss, and deservedly so — in the span of 96 hours, they beat No. 11 Auburn by 15 points and went into Starkville and picked off No. 14 Mississippi State. They were 13-2 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC at that point. They deserved to be trendy.

And it all came crashing down with a visit from LSU. Tremont Waters scored 20 points and added nine assists as the Tigers knocked off No. 18 Ole Miss, 83-69, in Oxford. Now 3-0 in the league, it may be time that we start looking at LSU as the new Ole Miss.

AND I NEED TO MENTION …

That a pair of top 25 teams survived at the last second. In Starkville, Mississippi State survived Florida, 71-68, thanks to a three-point play from Quinndary Weatherspoon with 3.6 seconds left on the clock. And out in Boise, No. 10 Nevada knocked off Boise State, 72-71, thanks to a three with 4.5 seconds left from Cody Martin, who had not made a three since Dec. 15th and was shooting 19.5 percent from beyond the arc entering the night.

LSU cruises past No. 18 Ole Miss 83-69; 3-0 in SEC

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OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Tremont Waters scored 20 points, Kavell Bigby-Williams had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, and LSU beat No. 18 Mississippi 83-69 on Tuesday night.

LSU (13-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) used an early 8-0 run in the second half to take a 48-39 lead. The Tigers maintained a healthy advantage from that point, playing tight defense and forcing several turnovers.

Waters also had nine assists, and Skylar Mays scored 14 points. LSU has won six straight.

Ole Miss (13-3, 3-1) had its 10-game winning streak snapped. The Rebels hadn’t lost since Nov. 24, when they fell 71-57 to Cincinnati. Terence Davis led the Rebels with 21 points and 10 rebounds. K.J. Buffen added 13 points.

Neither team played particularly well in the first half, with LSU and Ole Miss both shooting 36 percent from the field. Tyree had 12 points before the break, and the teams went into halftime tied at 31.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: It’s another good win for LSU, which has quietly established itself as one of the SEC’s elite teams. The Tigers are extremely athletic in the post and should cause problems for plenty of teams around the league.

Ole Miss: The Rebels were probably due for some sort of regression and struggled in their return to the national rankings for the first time since 2013. They didn’t play very well offensively, and their 16 turnovers were particularly costly. Ole Miss will still take its 3-1 league start, but a big home game against Arkansas looms on Saturday.

UP NEXT

LSU returns home and hosts South Carolina on Saturday.

Ole Miss hosts Arkansas on Saturday.