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Tyrone Wallace looks to lead Cal’s resurgence

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The point guard position has changed in recent years, evolving as basketball has become a more free-flowing, position-less game built around spacing and perimeter ability.

Look at the best of the best in the NBA: For every Chris Paul, there is a Russell Westbrook, or John Wall, or (healthy?) Derrick Rose. And that’s impacted what NBA front offices look for in a point guard.

Tyus Jones slipped to the end of the first round in June’s NBA Draft, with “new era” point guards such as D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Cameron Payne all getting snagged in the lottery.

That’s why, even with his shooting percentages and turnover numbers, Providence’s Kris Dunn is held in such high esteem by NBA types. Another player in that mold is California senior point guard Tyrone Wallace, who ranks among the best point guards in the country. But unlike Dunn, Wallace spent his first two seasons in college playing off the ball as Justin Cobbs ran the show for Mike Montgomery’s teams.

That’s what makes Wallace’s first season as a full-time point guard at the college level all the more impressive.

Averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, Wallace ranked in the top five in the Pac-12 in each of those categories. As a result he was not only a first team all-Pac-12 selection but a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award as well.

“The thing about his being a slasher is that it was the position he (played) in the previous system, and that’s how they felt he fit into their program,” California head coach Cuonzo Martin said when asked of Wallace’s transition. “For us, he could already handle the ball so it’s not like we had to teach him how to dribble. He had the handle and he could make plays off the dribble, that was his biggest strength.”

“Now, the game has changed from a ‘traditional’ point guard in the last 15-20 years to a guy who can make plays, get to the rim, defend, score the ball, post up,” Martin noted. “So there’s a variety of things in being a point guard, it’s not the traditional point that you’re used to seeing. He fit that mold very well as far as attacking and making plays, and I thought his biggest adjustment was facilitating and getting guys involved within the offense.

“I think the thing he had to continue to learn was the ability to run the point at this level,” Martin continued. “Because it’s one thing to score, but now you have to facilitate and get other guys involved; you have to have eyes in the back of your head.”

It isn’t as if Wallace entered the 2014-15 without any experience in that kind of role. At the high school level Wallace was a standout at Bakersfield HS, setting a school record for career points and leaving ranked the 13th-best point guard in the Class of 2011 by Rivals.com. Wallace’s athleticism, versatility and motor were some of the things that set him apart from the competition in high school.

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Pac-12 Season Preview

“When he came in as a freshman he was really long and skinny, but he was very competitive,” Wallace’s high school coach, Greg Burt, noted. “He had a motor that just wouldn’t quit. He didn’t play varsity as a freshman, but his JV team went undefeated that year. He just never quit. He played offense, defense, he rebounded. He could do it all. He was just so competitive, and with the motor he has he’d outwork people.”

Wallace’s versatility allowed him to fill multiple roles on both his high school and grassroots teams, so the adjustment process wasn’t as difficult as it can be for a player making the move from a wing position to the point. And according to him, the process of improving his ability to play on the ball began back in middle school and he continues to see the benefits of learning multiple roles.

“It prepared me for any situation on the court,” Wallace said. “Whether I’m on the ball or off of it I can stay on the floor (and have an impact). I don’t have a set position that I have to play, and so I think that helped my skill set. Coach Burt prepared me well for college basketball, and now that I’m here I’ve constantly gotten better thanks to Coach Martin and the previous coaching staff.”

Wallace’s versatility has been a factor throughout his first three years at Cal, but there’s also the leadership that will be critical for the Golden Bears this season. And while Wallace is the type of leader who more often than not sets the tone through actions as opposed to words, his behaviors have made him someone worth following according to his high school coach.

“Tyrone never really been a vocal leader, and I know that’s something he’s really worked hard on in college,” Burt said. “But the one thing that he had was character. We like to say that ‘character wins,’ and he was an outstanding student, never had to worry about him missing class, he always did his homework and he never missed practice.

“He was just a guy that you could depend on every single day, and he was going to have a good attitude. He was more of a ‘leader by example’ kind of guy, but it was a great example.”

Leadership was also something Wallace, who had the option of turning pro but decided to return to Berkeley for his senior season, has focused on during the offseason.

“I’m transitioning into being more vocal,” Wallace said. “That’s one thing Coach and me talked about, and that’s something I’ve been working on this offseason. Whether it’s been in weight training or workouts, just being that vocal leader on the court because when it comes down to it I have to be able to do that.”

Cuonzo Martin and Tyrone Wallace at media day, AP Photo
Cuonzo Martin and Tyrone Wallace at media day, AP Photo

Wallace’s leadership, whether it’s vocal or through actions, will be critical for the Golden Bears this season. While he won’t be the only experienced returnee in the rotation — guards Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer and Jabari Bird are all juniors and sophomores Kameron Rooks (coming off of a torn ACL) and Kingsley Okoroh return in the front court — Wallace runs the show for a revamped roster that faces raised expectations.

California put together one of the nation’s top recruiting classes in the spring. Power forward and top ten prospect Ivan Rabb committed in April and top three recruit Jaylen Brown followed suit a month later. And with Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo available after sitting out last season, many expect this group to not only contend in the Pac-12 but nationally as well.

But it’s important to note that there are strides to be made, especially on the offensive end of the floor.

California won ten of their first 11 games last season before hosting eventual national runner-up Wisconsin in a game that presented the home team with another opportunity to make a statement nationally. Cal’s 68-56 loss to the Badgers began a stretch in which they dropped eight of nine games, with offensive struggles being the biggest issue. Just twice during that period did Cal manage to score 60 points or shoot better than 40 percent from the field, turning a team with NCAA tournament aspirations into one fighting to remain above .500.

In conference games only, Oregon State (55.5 ppg) scored fewer points per game than Cal (65.2 ppg), which ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in free throw percentage and ninth in both overall field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage.

Given those stats, it’s no surprise that Wallace was asked to carry the burden of both primary provider and primary scorer last season. This time around, Wallace won’t have as much of a load to carry from a scoring standpoint.

At least that’s the plan.

But does that mean Wallace turns back the clock and becomes a “traditional” point guard who looks at scoring as a last resort? No, and frankly that drastic of a move would be to the detriment of both Wallace individually and the Golden Bears collectively.

Martin wants his point guard to continue to be the attack-minded decision maker who is hailed as one of the nation’s best. What helped in this process was the team’s summer trip to Australia, which gave the coaches a good look at their personnel in a competitive setting and provided to players with valuable on-court time to establish chemistry within the flow of a game.

That’s something that cannot always be replicated in the few hours during summer school that coaches get to work with players or in pickup games.

“You don’t want to change [what he did last year]. You want him to keep being aggressive,” Martin said. “When you add Ivan and Jaylen Brown, and also Stephen Domingo, I don’t think it changes what Tyrone does for our team. He still has to facilitate, still has to score, make plays, defend, rebound.

“Now he doesn’t have to carry such a load offensively, and that was really a need for us,” Martin continued. “We need him to score in situations and force the action, but now he doesn’t have to do that as much. But he still has to be aggressive.”

And that aggression isn’t just about Wallace’s numbers. It’s also about setting the example for his teammates, especially the soon-to-be stars that have yet to experience college basketball. The lone player on the roster to have experienced a win in the NCAA tournament, Wallace is now being asked to lead a team viewed as being capable of playing deep into March.

Actions are both great and necessary, but there will be times when Cal looks to Wallace to provide the words needed to reach their goals. Whether or not Wallace can rise to that particular challenge will determine just how far the Golden Bears go, and it’s a responsibility he embraces.

“I definitely think it’s necessary,” Wallace said when asked about his increased vocal leadership. “With so little time to practice, when we’re playing in games it’s important that I be vocal because it’s my fourth year and I’ve been through it before. Just to get guys in right spots, get their heads up, whatever it may be, just to constantly be talking and vocal with my teammates to help them.”

After going 7-11 in conference play a season ago, California enters this season with lofty expectations. And while this group doesn’t lack for the tangibles needed to reach their goals, the intangibles picked up by Wallace throughout his basketball career could determine just how far the Golden Bears go.

Who are the best basketball prospects that have yet to play in the NBA?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, Pro Basketball Talk will be rolling out a project that we have been working on for the last month: Ranking the top 50 players five years from now.

Players ranked 46-50 were unveiled today.

You can find that list here.

In the meantime, since it is relevant, here at College Basketball Talk we are going to take a look at the guys that, in 2024, may actually deserve a spot on a top 50 players list that you may not know about just yet.

So without further ado, here are the ten best prospects that have yet to play a game in the professional ranks.

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1. Emoni Bates, Class of 2022

Bates is the shoe-in at No. 1 on this list. Over the years I’ve gotten to know quite a few of the scouts that do recruiting rankings and cover the sport at the high school level. These guys have been in the business for a long time – some for decades – and every single one of them rave about Bates in a way that you don’t often see players get talked about. One called him the best freshman he’s ever scouted. One called him as good as any prospect that he’s scouted in more than 20 years in the business. One called him the best prospect in high school hoops, which is exactly where I have him on this list. Personally, I think that he’s the closest thing that we’ve seen to Kevin Durant since Kevin Durant.

I wrote a story on Bates from Peach Jam back in July, and one of the things that I made sure to note in that story is the danger that comes with this level of hype at this age. Many of the things that are being said about Bates were said about Renardo Sidney at the same age, and we know how that turned out. Part of the reason I’m a little less-hesitant to make such proclamations with Bates is that he has an alpha mentality and competitive streak that you don’t see all that often. So not only does he have the physical tools as a super-skilled, 6-foot-9 scorer with range out to the NBA three-point line, but once he gets on the court, he’s an a–hole in all of the best ways.

2. Cade Cunningham, Class of 2020

Cunningham is tailor-made for modern basketball. He’s a 6-foot-7, 220 pound point forward. He’s a tough, physical and athletic wing that, two years ago, made the transition to playing the point full time. He has the savvy, the maturity and the polish of an NBA veteran. He doesn’t have the highlight reel athleticism of guys like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, but he has the kind of functional athleticism that will allow him to split the defense, avoid the charge, absorb the contact and finish in traffic. He was the MVP of the EYBL circuit this past season, and if he continues to improve his shooting stroke, there’s a very real chance that he gets picked with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft.

I think the best way to phrase it is this: He will likely be the first player to ever get compared to Luka Doncic, and I’m not sure how much more complimentary you can get.

James Wiseman (Elsa/Getty Images)

3. James Wiseman, Memphis

4. Evan Mobley, Class of 2020

I’m listing these two together because they really are quite similar prospects. Both stand 7-foot. Both have the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow them to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. Both of them are capable defenders with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And both of them are skilled enough where they have the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens.

Now, there are some differences. Wiseman, at this point, is probably more physically developed – he is a year older – while Mobley, at 6-foot-11 and 200 pounds, is going to have to make the absolute most of the meal plan USC gets him on. Mobley, on the other hand, seems to be more accepting of the fact that he’s destined to be a five in the NBA while Wiseman, in the words of one NBA draftnik, “thinks he’s Giannis when in reality he’s a lot closer to Myles Turner.”

There is nothing wrong with being Myles Turner. He just turned 23 years old and he is coming off of a season where he averaged 13.3 points, 7.2 boards and an NBA-best 2.7 blocks while shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s really good. But he also knows what he is and what he isn’t, and he isn’t Giannis.

5. Jonathan Kuminga, Class of 2021

Kuminga is a super-explosive, 6-foot-8 wing that is just now starting to figure out how good he has the chance to be. He has all the physical tools that you want out of a wing – height, length, athleticism, versatility – and he has shown that he is willing and able to defend multiple positions. The big thing with him in the long-term is going to be how well his jumpshot develops, and if that comes along, his upside is as high as anyone on this list. I do think it’s worth noting that at Peach Jam, he was in the same group as Terrence Clarke and Patrick Baldwin Jr. and justified his spot on this list.

6. Jalen Green, Class of 2020

Green has all the makings of a future top five pick. At 6-foot-5, he’s a naturally gifted scorer that makes the game look easy. He’s at his best when he’s slashing to the bucket, where he can finish above the rim and also has a shiftiness about him in the lane. He’s a capable ball-handler and passer, but he’s going to make his money as a bucket-getter. If his jumper catches up to the rest of his game, look out.

7. Anthony Edwards, Georgia

Edwards is a big time scorer and athlete that has the ideal physical tools for a combo-guard. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-5 with length and explosive athleticism. His game is well-rounded. He’s a good shooter that can also operate in ball-screens, create for his teammates and shoot off the dribble. In theory, he’s an ideal fit for a sport that is becoming more and more reliant on scorers that can create in isolation with shooters spacing the court. Part of the reason he stayed home to play for Georgia is that Tom Crean coached both Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade in college, and those two are what Edwards has the potential to be at the next level.

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8. Cole Anthony, North Carolina

Anthony is going to get a lot of hype heading into the 2020 draft. Beyond the simple fact that he is the son of UNLV legend and NBA journeyman Greg Anthony, Cole Anthony is headed to North Carolina, where Roy Williams is going to slot him into the same role that he used Coby White in last year. He is going to get a lot of shots, he’s going to score a lot of points and he’s going to have a lot of highlight reel plays in the process. My big question with Cole longterm is that I’m not convinced that he is big enough to play off the ball, I’m not sure he is a natural point guard and I don’t know if he is quite good enough to be allowed to play the way he has throughout his career at the NBA level. There is definitely some potential here, but I think the fit at the NBA level makes more sense with Green and Edwards than it does with Anthony.

RISING SON: Cole Anthony remains grounded while following his father’s footsteps

9. Terrence Clarke, Class of 2021

Clarke is a wiry-strong, 6-foot-6 off-guard from Boston that has the potential to be the No. 1 pick in whatever draft he ends up in. (There’s a chance he can reclassify into 2020.) He’s an explosive athlete that can finish in traffic while also displaying a high-level feel for the game. He’s an improving shooter that can create off the bounce in isolation, and his court vision and passing gives him the upside of having some positional versatility down the road.

10. Patrick Baldwin Jr., Class of 2021

As one coach at a top ten program told me this summer, Patrick Baldwin Jr. “is the best shooting big man I’ve ever scouted.” Still just heading into his junior year in high school, Baldwin recently went through a growth spurt that saw him sprout up to 6-foot-10. He needs to add some strength and weight to his frame (what 16 year old doesn’t?) but that size and shooting ability is not something that we see all that often. The big question for Baldwin is how well the rest of his game develops. Is he simply a pick-and-pop five, or will he continue to develop a floor game and the physical tools that will allow him to be a plus-defender in the NBA?

THREE THAT JUST MISSED THIS LIST

Jaden McDaniels, Washington: McDaniels’ upside is as high as anyone on this list save for Bates and Cunningham. At 6-foot-10, he’s a skilled wing with a perimeter game and a developing shooting stroke. It’s not hard to watch him play and see what he can be if he continues to put in the work, but he has a ways to go to get there. He’s still just 190 pounds and, at this point, more of a prospect that a producer.

Paolo Banchero, Class of 2021: Banchero is a tough prospect to gauge the ceiling of. He’s already 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds with a frame that should easily be able to hold more muscle, but without the kind of physical tools that will set him apart from the field. I think it’s also fair to say that his best skill at this point is how well-rounded he is. Put another way, he’s one of those guys that can do everything well – he can shoot it, he can pass, he can beat bigger defenders facing up, he can hold his own defending the paint, etc. – with an exceedingly high basketball IQ. Put another way, outside of continuing to stretch out his shooting range, I’m not sure just how much better he’s going to end up getting.

Jalen Johnson, Class of 2020: Johnson’s biggest strength at this point is probably his basketball IQ and passing ability at this size. He’s a 6-foot-9 lefty with a complete skillset and the kind of floor vision at this size that will make you think Ben Simmons lost his Aussie accent. Already committed to Duke, Johnson will likely continue to generate buzz as his defense and perimeter stroke improve.

Michael Avennati makes court filing alleging Nike cleared payments to Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford

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Lawyers for Michael Avennati filed a court motion on Wednesday alleging that Nike approved under-the-table payments to Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford while they were still in high school.

The alleged offers, which were for $35,000 to Zion and $20,000 to Langford, were found in “text messages, emails and other documents fro 2016-17” and prove “Nike executives had arranged for and concealed payments, often in cash, to amateur basketball players and their families and ‘handlers,'” the motion, which was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, alleged.

Specifically, the motion alleges that:

  • EYBL manager Jamal James texted EYBL director Carlton DeBose and Nike’s recruiting coordinator John Stovall asking if they would be “willing to do … whatever may be needed for the Zion/Romeo situations as well as the money we’re now going to do for the [redacted because he is still a minor] kid in Michigan.” Stovall responded “Langford – 20 Zion – 35 [unnamed minor] – 15”. Stovall added that it was a bad idea for the offer to be put into print.
  • DeBose said in a text message with an unnamed Kentucky assistach coach that the shoe company was “funneling payments to high school players through at least 10 different EYBL coaches.”
  • An EYBL coach told Nike executives he was concerned about the money being paid to players and their families because it won’t end well for Nike and innocent coaches “will be deemed guilty by association.”
  • DeBose told Nico Harrison, Nike’s VP of North America basketball operations, that he’s “willing to bet that 38 of the 40 teams in the EYBL had to pay a moderate to considerable ransom to families just to play in the EYBL.” He also said the arrangements are “being viewed as a contract” by the players and their families.
  • Another Nike executive, Rachel Baker, allegedly said she was worried about carrying cash through an airport.

All the quotes listed above are from the motion itself. It refers to emails and text messages, but they are not attached. The motion can be read in its entirety here.

The motion does not make clear whether or not the money was actually delivered. Both Zion and Langford played their final season of AAU basketball on the Adidas circuit. Langford’s father was the coach of the AAU program that his son played for.

“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion,” Nike said in a statement. “Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”

Avenatti was arrested in March and charged with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike by threatening to expose the way that the shoe company and its grassroots basketball league, the EYBL, funnel money to the elite high school players and their families. He threatened to hold a press conference at the start of the NCAA tournament announcing these allegations of misconduct.

Adding to the drama is the fact that Avennati represented Gary Franklin, who was the coach of the California Supreme at one point in time. Deandre Ayton, Bol Bol, Aaron Holiday, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill and Brandon McCoy were among the players that spent time on his roster. The motion to dismiss also contains allegations that Franklin was directed by DeBose to make payments to people associated with Ayton, Bol and McCoy, and that he submitted false invoices to Nike to disguise the payments as expenses for the 501(c3) he operated.

Arkansas dismisses forward Gabe Osabuohien

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas has dismissed forward Gabe Osabuohien from the men’s basketball program.

Coach Eric Musselman announced the move Thursday without disclosing the reason.

“We have set a level of expectations for our student-athletes on and off the court,” Musselman said. “After discussions with Gabe, it was decided that it would be best to part ways. We thank him for his time at Arkansas and wish him well.”

The 6-foot-8 Osabuohien was born in Toronto but played at Little Rock’s Southwest Christian Academy. He played in 54 games with eight starts in two seasons with Arkansas. He scored 128 points (2.4 per game) and had 136 rebounds (2.5).

Ollie gets win over UConn in one arm of dispute

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The arbitrator in the dispute between UConn and Kevin Ollie has ruled that the former basketball coach is protected by a union contract when it comes to the standard the school must meet in proving his firing was justified.

The collective bargaining agreement between the school and the American Association of University Professors, of which Ollie is a member, requires a showing of serious misconduct in order to fire an employee for “just cause” and also affords Ollie other union protections

UConn had argued that Ollie’s personal contract superseded the union deal, allowing it to fire him in March 2018 for a broader range of offenses.

Arbitrator Marcia Greenbaum, in a decision filed on July 31, found that neither Ollie nor the union waived his union protections when signing his latest contract.

The arbitrator plans hearings to determine whether UConn fired Ollie for just cause, or if he is owed more than $10 million that was left on his contract, which was through June 30, 2021.

“Serious misconduct is the standard that now has to be proved by the university,” said Michael Bailey, executive director of UConn’s chapter of the AAUP. “I think, as the arbitrator said in her discussion, that is a heavy burden to be placed on the university.”

The school acknowledged Tuesday that the ruling will make proving its case more difficult.

“Nonetheless, UConn remains confident it can prevail in this matter, even against the higher standard, especially in light of the recent NCAA ruling,” said Stephanie Reitz, the school’s spokeswoman.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions last month placed the UConn program on two years of probation and sanctioned Ollie individually for numerous violations of NCAA rules during his tenure.

The Committee on Infractions said the violations mainly stemmed from improper pickup games at which student managers kept statistics for coaches, the use of a video coordinator as a coach, which resulted in more than the allowable number of coaches, and free training sessions provided to three players by a trainer who was friends with Ollie.

The NCAA issued a three-year, show-cause order for the former head coach for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance and providing misleading statements to investigators and failing to monitor his staff.

That means that any NCAA member school that might hire Ollie must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows why those restrictions should not apply.

But Ollie’s attorney, Jacques Parenteau, said that does not mean the firing was justified.

“One should not assume that the NCAA’s recent action, which was totally lacking in due process protections, will have any relevance before an impartial arbitrator,” he said.

Bailey said he is hopeful that, in the absence of a settlement, the arbitration process can be concluded by the end of the year.

Oregon’s addition of five-star center Dante makes them Pac-12 favorites

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Oregon added a key piece to their puzzle for the 2019-20 season on Tuesday as N’Faly Dante announced that he will not only be committing to the Ducks but reclassifying so he can enroll at school this fall.

He picked the Ducks over Kentucky.

“I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and I’m excited to tell you that next year I’m going to be attending college and playing basketball at the University of Oregon,” Dante wrote in a letter to his mother, who lives in Mali, that was published on The Players’ Tribune. “Oregon has a program that reflects a lot of the values you taught me when I was growing up. And I hope that someday I get to show you around Eugene. It’s beautiful there!”

Dante is a 6-foot-11 center that ranks as a consensus five-star prospect. At this point in his development, he a rim-protecting rebounder that will do the majority of his damage around the rim, but with Kenny Wooten leaving for the NBA with two years of eligibility remaining, he fills a hole on the Ducks’ roster.

Dante joins C.J. Walker, Chris Duarte and Lok Wur in Oregon’s recruiting, which also includes grad transfers Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston. Those newcomers should help Altman offset the losses of Louis King, Bol Bol and Wooten.

The Ducks now looks like the favorite to win the Pac-12.