Young Duke team gets response they needed from Grayson Allen, Derryck Thornton

(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

NEW YORK — Grayson Allen got benched.

Three days after he was held to 2-for-11 shooting, three days after he finished with six points and four turnovers as Duke was run out of the Champions Classic by Kentucky, Allen was relegated to reserve duty by Coach K.

And he responded by, once again, being the best player on the floor.

“The response that Grayson had from Kentucky was huge,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I think it’s spectacular. A lot of kids would question themselves. He never did.”

Allen scored a career-high 30 points on Friday night, adding six boards and three assists as as the No. 5 Blue Devils came-from-behind to knock off VCU, 79-71, in the semifinals of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden.

It was the second time in the first eight days of the season that Allen has set a career-high and the third time that he’s finished with more than 26 points. The one outlier? That horrid performance against Kentucky, when Isaiah Briscoe hounded him into a 0-for-9 shooting performance in the first half.

Allen may not have questioned himself after learning that he would be watching the opening tip while sitting down, but the reason he was on the pine was because he spent the 28 minutes that he managed to play doing just that: questioning himself.

“I thought he was driving to score, not just to get a shot off,” Coach K said. “Unless you’re playing against that [kind of talent] every day … he’s a good player, but he’s not as experienced as he’s getting. He wasn’t able to make an adjustment during the Kentucky game, but since then he’s made that adjustment.”

The difference on Friday — from Tuesday, from the rest of the season, really — wasn’t just Allen’s mindset, it was that he was no longer a one-dimensional player. The first two games of the season, Allen essentially did one thing when he got the ball in his hands: he drove right, he drove hard and he drove straight to the rim. That worked great against Bryant and Siena. Not so much against Kentucky’s athleticism.

“We have a thing on our team, a standard that we tell each other the truth,” Coach K said. “He didn’t play well against Kentucky. He didn’t have a good look and he didn’t adjust. That was his first big time start. It’s not like he’s this combat veteran.”

“That was a rough film sensation after Kentucky,” Allen said.

“I was hard on him,” Coach K added, “but honest. I said, ‘We gotta look at something else,’ and it gave us a chance to look at Derryck.”

That Derryck that Coach K is referring to is Derryck Thornton, Duke’s freshman point guard who started in place of Allen, but I’ll get to him in a minute.

On Friday, Allen showed off the versatile offensive repertoire that assistant coach Nate James raved about this summer. He went left. He hit floaters. He drilled pull-ups going left and right. He drove right and spun back to his left. He broke Doug Brooks’ ankles with an in-and-out dribble that belonged at Rucker Park, not the Garden.

“I learned that from Tyus,” Allen said with a laugh after the game. “He got me a lot with that in practice.”

It was all there for Allen on Friday night, and the result was that he was a much more dangerous offensive weapon, one that VCU had scouted correctly and still could not find a way to slow down.

“The first half we were giving him the shots we wanted him to take, he was just knocking them down,” VCU senior center Mo Alie-Cox said.

But enough about Allen, because he wasn’t the only guard that thrived for the Blue Devils on Friday. Thornton, a freshman who is supposed to he a senior in high school right now, wasn’t phased by the moment. He wasn’t phased by starting in Madison Square Garden or by squaring off against the kind of pressure that VCU is always — Havoc! — going to put on opposing ball-handlers.

He finished with 19 points and four assists, shooting 7-for-11 from the floor and committing just three turnovers in 31 minutes.

“For Derryck to take of the ball and do that was sensational,” Coach K said.

He wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. He did commit three turnovers, but he also missed some defensive rotations, whiffed on a box out here and there, threw a couple of lazy passes that didn’t get charted as a turnover but cost Duke an open look. Freshmen do that. Freshmen point guards in their first start do that.

It was Thornton’s presence that made as much of a difference as anything.

“Derrick brought a personality,” Coach K said. “His talk, he looked strong, played that way. If there was a mistake, it never rattled him. What he’s doing, he’s earning the respect and confidence of his teammates. He brings something different to our team, and it’s not just being a point guard.”

“It’s not being afraid.”

College basketball teams generate hype because of the new pieces that they bring in. That’s just the way it works these days, and Duke is as much to blame as anyone. They won a national title with three one-and-done players and then went out and snagged a recruiting class that was among the best in the country.

But the dirty little secret that’s coming to light now that games have begun is that this freshman class really isn’t all that good. It’s not on the same level as the Class of 2013 or 2014. It’s no where near as good as the Class of 2016. Some analysts say it’s the worst class since Gerald Green and Josh McRoberts were pegged as the best high school hoopers in the country.

For Duke, this manifests as their top three recruit, Brandon Ingram, struggling to find any kind of a rhythm against collegiate competition. It manifests as sharp-shooter Luke Kennard opening the season by going 2-for-15 from beyond the arc. The bottom line is that this is a team that returned just four players that saw playing time in last year’s Final Four: Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson.

They are young.

They are inexperienced.

They are learning.

They aren’t a top five team right now.

“We have to develop into a team,” Coach K said. “We are not a team yet. All these situations help us. When we got down by six and had a turnover, it could have gone south quickly.”

“It wasn’t coaching, it was them. They have that in them.”

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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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

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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

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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.”