Deandre Ayton after workout for Suns: ‘I know I’m going No. 1’

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PHOENIX — Deandre Ayton spent Wednesday with the Suns with the feeling that this was the start of a beautiful relationship.

The 7-foot-1, 250-pound center went through what he said would be his only pre-draft workout and expressed supreme confidence that the Suns will use the No. 1 pick to select him.

“I know I’m going No. 1,” he told reporters.

Not that the Suns have assured him of that; he’s just that confident that the team won’t pass on his combination of size, strength, athleticism and shooting touch.

“Nobody told me,” he said. “That’s just me. I think I deserve that. I’ve worked hard.”

It would be a comfortable fit for Ayton, who was born in the Bahamas and moved to the Phoenix area during high school. He said most of his family now lives here. Ayton played his one year of college basketball a couple of hours down Interstate 10 at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Deandre Ayton is the No. 1-rated NBA draft prospect, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports
“Everybody knows us now,” he said. “This is our second home, so we just feel welcome, and it would be a blessing if I become the No. 1 pick and stay here and make this home.”

Ayton said teaming with young Suns star Devin Booker would be “Shaq and Kobe 2.0.”

“We could really make something happen in Phoenix,” Ayton said. “We could really have a spark and start a winning legacy.”

There hasn’t been much winning in Phoenix lately. The Suns have missed the playoffs eight years in a row, and they had the NBA’s worst record last season at 21-61, which was the second worst in franchise history.

But there is a young core of talent, and most of those players, including Booker and Josh Jackson, watched what Ayton described as “a pretty intense” individual workout.

For nearly an hour, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov and his staff put Ayton through a series of game situations, as much as possible given the fact that no other players were on the floor.

“It was everything that we expected form Deandre,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. “Obviously, we’ve watched him closely at Arizona and we’ve scouted him heavily in person in games, at practice and on film. He showed us what we expected to see.”

McDonough said “it’s pretty rare” to find such a player.

“I think this is my 16th draft in the NBA,” McDonough said, “and you can probably count on one hand the number of guys with his size, athleticism, footwork, balance, touch. It’s a unique package.”

He was particularly impressed with Ayton’s outside shooting touch.

“We knew he was big and strong and athletic and moved well at that size, had good length, had great hands,” McDonough said, “but to see him make shot after shot in a workout in different scenarios.”

And he’s just 19 years old.

The Suns plan other workouts with candidates for the No. 1 pick later this week. The group won’t include Luka Doncic, who is still playing in Europe.

Phoenix is not tipping its hand, but Ayton will be hard to pass up.

“The strength of our team right now are young perimeter players, led by Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and TJ Warren,” McDonough said. “We’ve been looking for a center to kind of anchor our team offensively and defensively. We think Deandre has that kind of potential.

“He’s certainly a unique player and a unique talent that I think would fit in great with the rest of our roster.”

Ayton averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds in his one season at Arizona. He brushed aside questions about his defense.

“I don’t think that’s a weakness,” Ayton said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to really guard any bigs in college. I was always on the perimeter with the guards.”

Still, he pointed out, he averaged 2.3 blocked shots per game.

On offense, Ayton said, “I can score inside and out.”

“There will be a lot of mismatches because if I guard them they have to guard me at the end of the day,” he said. “I can score, I can pick and pop, I can pick-and-roll, I can put the ball on the ground, rebound, push the ball. It’s an open floor now. Nobody is really double-teaming or triple-teaming.”

Ayton said there is no current player on which he patterns his game. But he mentioned two pretty good ones from the past.

“Kevin Garnett, his intensity on both ends of the floor, how he changes the game, rebounding. From offense to defense, him starting the pick and roll, stuff like that,” Ayton said, “how he’s so vocal with his teammates. And Hakeem Olajuwon, with his footwork down low, I try to really pick up a lot of stuff with those guys.”

Ayton called himself the most competitive player in the draft. He said there’s none of the laid-back attitude that’s a trademark of his homeland.

“I left at age 12, so I got a little Americanized with the competitive level,” he said.

Ayton planned to get together with Booker and other Suns players to watch Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night.

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.