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Arizona has plenty of offseason work after tumultuous season

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona went through one of the program’s most tumultuous seasons in 2017-18.

The Wildcats were ensnared in an FBI probe into recruiting before the season started, had a key player go down for a long stretch and were linked to the federal probe a second time late in the year.

Arizona still managed to win the Pac-12 tournament but the culmination of setbacks and distractions took a toll on the Wildcats once the NCAA Tournament started, leading to a surprising first-round exit.

Three players from that team were lost to graduation and three more are headed to the NBA, leaving the Wildcats with plenty of work to do this offseason if they’re going to remain among college basketball’s elite.

“Coming through this period of time isn’t always easy, but coming out on the other side, becoming bigger, stronger and better than ever, learning things and building our program. That’s what you talk about,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said Thursday. “It isn’t just pressing a reset button and doing things completely different. There’s a lot of things we’re very proud of that we wouldn’t change. There are a lot of things we have to improve on and that’s obviously on the leadership.”

Arizona’s last season hit a snag before it started. Assistant coach Emanuel Richardson was among 10 people arrested in September in a federal probe into shady recruiting practices, casting a dark cloud over the Wildcats.

Then Rawle Alkins broke his foot during preseason workouts and missed the first nine games. After an ugly trip to the Bahamas, the Wildcats pulled together and started winning games, remaining in the AP Top 25 most of the season.

Another bombshell dropped just before the Pac-12 tournament, when reports surfaced that Miller had been caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to lure a recruit to the school. Miller denied the report, kept his job and Arizona marched through the conference tournament, looking like one of the nation’s top teams headed into the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, the Wildcats stumbled in Boise, Idaho, succumbing to a barrage of baskets by Buffalo to lose in the first round.

“The totality of the season, beginning in the fall and getting to the Pac-12 Tournament took a toll on all of us,” Miller said. “I don’t know if we necessarily entered this year’s NCAA Tournament the most excited, eager, ready, happy as we could as a group.”

Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Keanu Pinder graduated, then Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Alkins opted to leave early for the NBA.

Arizona appeared to be headed to a rebuilding season with the losses and a recruiting class that fell apart due to the FBI investigation.

The Wildcats lost top point guard Jahvon Quinerly shortly after Richardson’s arrest and Shaquille O’Neal’s son, Shareef, announced he was withdrawing his commitment to Arizona after the second round of allegations hit. Highly touted point guard Brandon Williams followed suit not long after, leaving the Wildcats’ recruiting cupboard bare.

Slowly, Miller started to rebuild his recruiting class, starting with Southern California guard Devonaire Doutrive. Belgian forward Omar Thielemans followed and Williams gave the class a big boost by recommitting to Arizona.

Arizona also will have Duke transfer Chase Jeter, an athletic 6-foot-10 forward who sat out last season, with graduate transfers Justin Coleman (Samford) and Ryan Luther (Pittsburgh).

They’ll join a roster that includes six returning players, led by Dylan Smith, Ira Lee, Brandon Randolph and Emmanuel Akot.

“Most of the teams we’ve had, the younger incoming talent is very important. Many of those guys came in the door ready to go,” Miller said. “Most of the time, the success starts with the returners. They improve from one year to the next, they’re the most experienced, they lead and create our culture for the guys who have never been here before.”

Arizona will have a different look next season from years past. With Kaleb Tarczewski, Ristic and Ayton, the Wildcats featured a big body in the middle to anchor their talented wing players.

In 2018-19, Miller plans to follow the mold created by Villanova coach Jay Wright the past few years by filling his roster with multi-talented, multi-dimensional wing players and guards. Villanova has won two of the past three national championships with a sort of positionless basketball and Arizona will have a similar style.

“The way of playing moving forward for us is to have more wings and guards on the court at the same time, to have more spacing and quick movement,” Miller said. “As you play with more skill and the ball moves and you spread out a little more, you can’t lose that second part, the rebounding.”

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

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For the fourth time in the last five years, Duke is tapping into that Minnesota pipeline to mine talent.

Following in the footsteps of Tyus Jones, Gary Trent Jr. and Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 forward and a top ten prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on Friday that he will be playing his college ball for the Blue Devils.

Hurt ultimately picked Duke over Kansas, but he was also pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Minnesota. He joins Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

Hurt is the perfect compliment to Carey, a powerhouse low-post force, and Moore, who is a talented wing. He has size and is extremely skilled, with the ability to stretch the floor out to 25 feet and the potential to be a dangerous face-up scorer, both in the mid-post and on the perimeter. He needs to get stronger and tougher, but that will come with time. As it stands, he’s the piece to the puzzle that Duke needed to add.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

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The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

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Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

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Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.