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College Basketball’s Best Big Men

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There are a number of really, really talented big men in college basketball this season.

Probably more than we have seen in recent years.

Of the three college guys currently in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, two of them – Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton – are bigs. Another big man is a potential top five pick, as well as a trio of players that you’ll find listed as first-team all-americans at some point during the preseason.

In a sport that has routinely been dominated by terrific lead guards in an era where small-ball and floor-spacing has become the most important part of the game, there are going to be some teams with some throw-back front courts this year. 

And that certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Before we dive into the top 20 big men in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.

RELATED: Top 100 Players | Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top Lead Guards
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1. Marvin Bagley, Duke

A potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley’s August decision to reclassify and attend Duke was the biggest roster news of the offseason. By adding Bagley, the Blue Devils are getting a double-double machine who is one of the most fluid and athletic big men of the last decade.

And that doesn’t even go into Bagley’s skill level with the ball in his hands or how hard he plays. The lefty can take a rebound at above rim level in traffic and run like a guard down the floor, delivering passes or finishing with long and fluid strides to the rim. If there is one big question mark with Bagley it is consistent perimeter shooting as Bagley has a workable jumper but it doesn’t always fall. Even with an inconsistent jumper, Bagley has a chance to be a major force for the Blue Devils this season.

2. Angel Delgado, Seton Hall

Arguably college basketball’s most productive big man last season, the 6-foot-10 Delgado put it all together for an All-American caliber junior season. Putting up 27 double-doubles and back-to-back 20-20 games in Big East play, Delgado averaged 15.2 points and 13.1 rebounds per contest.

An absolute warrior on the glass who makes an impact with putbacks, Delgado also improved his overall skill level and became a much better passer last season, nearly garnering a triple-double in the Big East tournament. With a veteran team around him that has played many games together, Delgado and Seton Hall could have a huge year.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Ethan Happ (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

3. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

The 6-foot-10 junior continues to be one of the most important players in the country and now Wisconsin needs Happ more than ever. With most of the senior core now gone, Happ is the team’s only returning starter after nearly averaging a double-double last season while leading the Badgers in both blocks and steals.

Happ’s summer project became re-working his jumper and proving that he can score outside of the paint — something he’s rarely done at the college level. Although Happ’s jumper looked okay during the summer at the Under Armour All-America Camp, Wisconsin big men have also shown dramatic increases in skill as their careers have gone on. Seeing if Happ can expand his range will be something to watch for.

4. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

He’s only 6-foot-5 but there is no doubting that Colson is one of the best in the country at playing inside. Putting up 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43 percent from three-point range, Colson has become a versatile player for the Irish the last few seasons.

Capable of playing against bigger post players because of his natural timing and 7-foot-0 wingspan, Colson is also a lot quicker than some of his larger counterparts and his range allows him to take them outside. One of the winningest players in program history, Colson has been on two Elite Eight teams and a team that made the Round of 32 last season.

5. Deandre Ayton, Arizona

It’ll be interesting to see how this five-star freshman fits in at Arizona in what will likely be his only season. The Wildcats return a ton of talent around Ayton, including another double-double threat in Dusan Ristic, and guards like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins can get shot-happy at times. Arizona would be wise to keep Ayton active and engaged during the season because college hoops hasn’t seen many 7-footers like Ayton in recent memory.

Gifted with outstanding athleticism and the touch of a wing, Ayton is quick enough to guard smaller wings while being big enough to wall up at the rim. Ayton can easily soar above the rim and he’s also capable of stretching the floor for three-pointers.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Deandre Ayton (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

6. Mo Bamba, Texas

The most fascinating player to watch on this list could be this 7-foot-0 freshman with an absurd 7-foot-9 wingspan. Bamba might be a little bit raw in certain areas of his game this season, but the New York native can make up for it by erasing almost everything on the defensive end.

For a player with an elite standing reach, Bamba’s lateral quickness and ability to switch might be his best attributes. Still skinny and needing to add weight as he increases his level, Bamba is going to be bullied by some but he might be long and athletic enough to make up for it.

Offensively, Bamba is fast and able to make an impact on the offensive glass and on lobs but he has to show a more consistent jumper than he has displayed in the past. The sky is the limit for Bamba’s basketball future but will we see a ton of positive flashes in the likely few months he’s in Austin?

RELATED: Why did Big Bob Williams return to school for his sophomore year?

7. Robert Williams, Texas A&M

One of the most fascinating returning players in the country this season will be Big Bob Williams as his freakish displays of athleticism earned him plenty of admirers last season. The SEC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Williams is capable of playing well above the rim on both ends of the floor and he has some of the best natural timing in the country for putbacks and blocks.

The key for the 6-foot-10 Williams this season (and for his NBA Draft stock) is to expand his skill level and show some more range on offense. There is no doubting that Williams can make impact plays thanks to his one-percent athleticism but he’ll also need to expand his game as jumps up some levels.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Chimezie Metu (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

8. Chimezie Metu, USC

USC needed the 6-foot-11 Metu to step up in a major way last season and he became the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player. Another freak athlete who can easily play at 11 or 12 feet, Metu can put up big numbers. The scary thing about Metu is that he has personal room to grow with his game and the Trojans have the kind of talent around him to make a serious run.

Metu put up a lot of big numbers last season while Bennie Boatwright was injured, and now that Boatwright is back, it could mean that defenses don’t have enough to stop a loaded frontcourt.

9. Yante Maten, Georgia

Quietly one of the best two-way big men in the country last season, the 6-foot-8 Maten can put up points in multiple ways while also being a solid defender and rebounder. Averaging 18.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, Maten can make impact plays on both ends of the floor.

Although he needs to improve as a defensive rebounder, Maten is strong on the offensive glass and also skilled enough to stretch the floor from three-point range. A sleeper SEC Player of the Year pick, Maten is hoping to lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA tournament.

10. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Davis only shot 61 percent last season as a sophomore after the massive 6-foot-10 Davis was at 65 percent as a freshman. One of the nation’s best post scorers, Davis owns a soft set of hands, developing post moves and the size that makes him very tough to defend one-on-one.

The key for Davis will be continuing to improve his agility and mobility as he’s done a great job of improving his conditioning throughout his college career. Also watch for the spacing the Aggies are able to put around Davis. With a frontcourt-heavy team last season, there were times when it got too clogged for Davis to be at his best. Now with more point guard options this season, Davis might have some easier touches.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Tyler Davis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
  • 11. Wendell Carter, Duke: The other five-star freshman in the Blue Devil frontcourt, Carter also has a chance to be a top pick with a big year. Big and skilled, Carter is a tenacious rebounder with a surprising amount of touch and vision.
  • 12. Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State: The Spartans have a wealth of bigs this season but this five-star freshman might be a lottery pick. At 6-foot-10, Jackson can knock down threes at 40 percent or defend the rim with his 7-foot-4 wingspan.
  • 13. Reid Travis, Stanford: The Pac-12’s returning leader in points and rebounds per game last season, Travis has become a force to reckon with now that he can stay healthy and on the floor. The Cardinal will run more offense through Travis this season.
  • 14. Mike Daum, South Dakota State: The 6-foot-9 junior plays in a one-bid league but he’s also a one-man show. Capable of 50-point games and huge numbers across the board, Daum is a must-watch for diehard college hoops fans.
  • 15. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Improving immensely from sophomore to junior year, the 6-foot-11 Landale just missed averaging a double-double last season. One of the nation’s most efficient players, Landale is also a solid passer.
Nick Ward (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
  • 16. Nick Ward, Michigan State: Others in Michigan State’s recruiting class were more highly-touted but Ward’s production in just under 20 minutes a game was huge for the Spartans making the NCAA tournament.
  • 17. Mo Wagner, Michigan: Wagner improved in every way during his sophomore season as he’s a three-level shooter who became more comfortable off the bounce. Defense and rebounding are areas Wagner can improve but he shows potential in both.
  • 18. Gary Clark, Cincinnati: A former AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Clark can lockdown multiple spots on the floor while also being a double-double threat. If Clark’s perimeter touch improves then watch out.
  • 19. Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech: One of the nation’s most improved players last season, Lammers became a force on both ends for the Yellow Jackets. He’s one of the best bigs in the country at playing from the elbows.
  • 20. Kyle Washington, Cincinnati: Washington thrived with the Bearcats last season following his transfer from N.C. State. The bouncy big man is a solid rim protector while being skilled enough to shoot 35 percent from three.

Race and Sports in America: Steph Curry, Charles Barkley on impact of George Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter

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Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley were among the athletes that say down and spoke with NBC about the intersection of sports and race in America.

The Black Lives Matter movement reached a crescendo in late May, when a police officer knelt on the neck of a Minneapolis man named George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, suffocating him while knowingly being recorded. The murder, which followed the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbary, set off weeks of riots and has led to two months of protest across the country and around the world.

Race and Sports in America: Conversations is a one-hour show with two segments that debuts on NBCSN on Monday, July 13 at 8 pm ET.

It will be simulcast on Golf Channel, Olympic Channel, and the regional sports networks. Along with Curry and Barkley, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, San Diego Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, golfer Troy Mullins, tennis player James Blake, former Saint Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith and former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis participated in the discussions.

Below, you can find an excerpt of Barkley and Curry discussing the way they are treated by white America as famous, Black athletes.


DAMON HACK:  It’s interesting.  You guys have all played at the highest level.  You’ve had people that would cheer for you when you were in uniform.  But if you were walking down the street and not wearing your uniform and you had a hoodie on, they might look at you a little bit different.

How do you navigate that?

CHARLES BARKLEY:  The notion that rich and famous Black people are treated like regular Black people, that’s not right.  We get treated great.  But I always worry about how we treat poor Black people.

You know, there’s a great thing  and Spike Lee, who I really admire and respect  in that movie, “Do The Right Thing,” that’s a perfect illustration what Ozzie is talking about, what I’m talking about, when the guy says, you know, you hate Black people.  He says, yeah, I hate Black people.  He says, who is your favorite entertainer.  He says Michael Jackson.  He says, who is your favorite jock.  He says, Michael Jordan.  He’s says, they’re Black.  And he said, well, they’re not “Black.”

And that’s the disadvantage that us four we’re at a disadvantage because White people treat us great.  And, like I say, I’m not worried about how they treat us because it really comes down to economics, too, at some point, because rich Black people aren’t treated like poor Black people.  And that’s the thing we’ve got to really engage conversation.

How can we get more Black people and poor White people also, but they’re in the same boat, give them economic opportunity.  That’s what America’s really got to grapple with.

STEPH CURRY:  I think one thing you said, too, is the preconceived notions of how they view rich, successful Black people as anomalies and our intelligence and our well spokenness, that’s always the first thing you hear.  If somebody knows how to be articulate, if they know how to

ALL:  So well spoken.

STEPH CURRY:  Come into a room  that’s the subtle racism and prejudice that kind of starts to add on itself.  And if another White person hears that comment, they’re going to think the same thing.  And it’s not going to trickle down to anybody else, and be able to create opportunities for somebody else to get that in that room and prove their value, prove their worth.

It’s just shifting perspectives and, again, holding everybody accountable whether it’s a private conversation, whether it’s a tweet, whether it’s a video.  Whatever it is, to do the right thing, no pun intended, but to see everybody as equal and that’s all we’re asking for.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.