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Top of 2018 draft shows evolution of NBA

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We all too often think and talk about small ball completely wrong.

The strategy that has revolutionized basketball over the last decade — shoutout to the 7 Seconds or Less Suns — is unfortunately named. It conjures up images of a guard-heavy lineup with wings sliding down the positional scale to man the frontcourt. When we talk about small ball, we think of pint-size (by NBA standards, at least) shooters around a 6-foot-7 Draymond Green at center.

Play small, go fast, get buckets.

The problem with that line of thinking, though, is that small ball really has little to do with size. It’s a name that labels the byproduct of the aim of a style of play. Small ball isn’t about size. It’s about skill.

Small ball is about putting as much skill on the floor as possible. It’s about maximizing shooting, playmaking and versatility of both the offensive and defensive variety. Small ball is a means to an end, with the goal being having as technical proficiency and adaptability in the lineup as possible.

Now, what do players who can shoot, switch and sprint the floor usually look like? They’re guards or 6-foot-7 wings repurposed as frontcourt players.

If you want to play with shooting, skill and versatility on the court, you go small not out of philosophy, but out of necessity.

But maybe not any more.

As the 2018 NBA draft looms next week, it’s increasingly clear that small ball is increasingly becoming supersized with as many as six of the top seven selections potentially being centers, the heavy majority of which project as so-called modern bigs.

The “unicorns” we’ve celebrated in the last half-decade — Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo — are becoming decidedly less rare. Or at least the archetype they helped create is ushering in a new generation of players who will try to replicate their success while having the size and skill combinations that make such long-term projections not entirely unreasonable.

FULL SCOUTING REPORTS: Deandre Ayton | Mo Bamba | Jaren Jackson | Marvin Bagley

A 7-footer who handles the rock, blocks shots, switches one-through-five and makes threes is no longer a guaranteed generational player, but rather a piece that unlocks the rest of the roster to maximum versatility and skill.

Those types of players don’t populate every roster and they are in the highest demand by NBA franchises, but no longer does a team need to be drafting in the top spot to have a shot at such a big.

Just look at this year’s mock drafts.

Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marvin Bagley III, Mo Bamba and Michael Porter Jr. all project to be among the first players selected next Thursday and are all 6-foot-10 or taller with the skill sets and physical frames that allow them to anchor small ball lineups, or at least that’s what NBA franchises are hoping and banking on.

And that doesn’t even include Wendell Carter Jr.

Look at the presumptive top pick, Ayton. At 7-feet and 243 pounds with arms that look like they’ve been photoshopped to appear on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine, he’s got one of the most imposing frames that college basketball has seen in recent years. Ayton’s strength is phenomenal, but it’s his feet that make him so tantalizing.

He moves with the agility, quickness and effortlessness that belies a player that is, quite simply, a massive human being. Ayton has the size and physicality of a traditional big man. He’s a high-level rebounder, finishes at the rim and has the physical tools that allow NBA scouts to tell themselves he’ll be a better rim-protector than his block rate would indicate. His real appeal, though, is the prospect he can switch a one-five pick-and-roll, is potentially a devastating rim-runner and projects as pick-and-roll big who can pop or dive to wondrous results.

Ayton is at the top of draft boards because scouts believe that he can competently do everything Draymond Green can while inhabiting David Robinson’s body.

That’s much the same thing that has Jackson and Bagley projected in the top-five, slotted behind Ayton because they’re not quite as physically intimidating but still possess some combination of the athleticism, wingspan, agility and level of skill that has front offices dreaming of them fitting well into small ball lineups. Porter is a mystery after essentially missing all of last season, but he fits that same mold.

The outlier here is Carter. The 6-foot-10, 260-pounder is by no means a plodder, but he’s much more in the mold of a traditional big. He rebounds, protects the rim and is comfortable with his back to the basket. The question, though, is can he defend the pick-and-roll or will he be susceptible to switches that will play him off the floor? Post play is probably become somewhat underrated as it’s possible to stress defenses from the inside to create opportunities for the outside, but it’s increasingly de-emphasized.

If teams are looking to zig while the rest of the league zags, Carter would seem to be an option. If he can improve his footwork and extend his range, he could well fit into modern NBA offenses. The fact that he’s further behind in those areas, though, is why he’s generally considered the least of the best available big men.

Which brings us to Bamba.

While Ayton continues to be the conventional wisdom at 1 and Jackson’s combination of frame and skill entices front offices, the former Texas big may be the most intriguing prospect with the highest ceiling in this draft.

The 7-footer has a wingspan of 7-feet-10 inches and a standing reach of 9-feet-7.5 inches, which eclipse The Stifle Tower himself, Rudy Gobert. That height and length didn’t go unutilized in Austin as Bamba showed himself to be an elite rim protector (13.2 block percentage) and excellent rebounder (28.2 defensive rebounding percentage). Shot-blocking and rebounding translates, and Bamba measurements suggest he’ll be able to do both at the next level.

Then there’s his agility. He moves extremely well both as a rim-runner and laterally against guards. Given his length, he doesn’t have to be perfect when he’s switched on to small guards, but just stay within shouting — well, swatting — distance. Given what we saw from him last year, he seems entirely possible he’ll be capable of that going forward.

Bamba slightness and 3-point shooting percentage (27.5) along with questions about his physicality have depressed his draft stock, but those hurdles seem clearable. Bamba has what no other prospect in this class – or maybe any other – doesn’t with his size and length. Even among unicorns, Bamba stands out.

The 2018 NBA draft is revealing what we mean when we talk about small ball. To make it work, you need players that can switch and shoot. You need speed, athleticism and length. For years, those combinations came in smaller packages, but increasingly it’s becoming supersized as small ball becomes the preeminent way to play and the skills that are prized and necessary to employ it are now being taught to and honed by bigger and bigger players.

Small ball has become the bible for NBA franchises, but the label describes the book’s cover, not its substance.

UConn’s Mamadou Diarra out four-to-six months

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Dan Hurley’s first season in Storrs may begin with his sophomore forward on the shelf.

Mamadou Diallo, who averaged 10 minutes per game last season, will be out four-to-six months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, the school announced Monday.

“The surgery went very well and there were no surprises,” UConn athletic trainer James Doran said in a statement released by the school. “Mamadou will begin rehab immediately and we would expect him to make a full recovery.”

The  6-foot-8 forward from Queens suffered the injury during workouts last week and an MRI revealed the extent of the injury. He’s no stranger to knee injuries as he sat out the 2016-17 season due to patellofemoral syndrome, a condition that results in significant knee discomfort from the stress of high-level basketball.

Diarra averaged 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds while appearing in 31 games last season for the Huskies.

UConn went 14-18 last year in a campaign that ended with the firing of Kevin Ollie and the hiring of Hurley, who went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments at Rhode Island the last two seasons.

Kentucky leads country in attendance once again

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Kentucky led the country in average attendance last season while the Big Ten was tops among conferences, according to data released by the NCAA.

The Wildcats had a total of 393,743 fans attend 18 home games for a country-best 21,874 per game. Syracuse actually led the nation in total fans with 407,778 fans in attendance, but with 19 home games, the Orange narrowly trailed Kentucky with 21,462 fans per game.

Kentucky has led the country in attendance in four of the past five seasons and seven of the last nine.

Rounding out the top five was North Carolina (18,378), Wisconsin (17,272) and Creighton (17,000).

The Big Ten averaged 12,197 fans per game across the league with a total of 3,098,134 attending games for all 14 teams. The B1G also led the country in conference tournament attendance with 106,169 – which the league undoubtedly will look at as a huge success for it first foray into New York City and Madison Square Garden.

The SEC averaged 11,628 fans per game while the ACC was at 10,773, the Big 12 at 10,376 and the Big East at 10,371.

The Final Four had a total of 136,088 fans attend its three games while the entire NCAA tournament averaged 19,246 fans per session.

 

Final Four sites selected through 2026

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The NCAA announced the location of the Final Four for the 2023-2026 seasons.

It goes like this:

  • 2023: Houston
  • 2024: Phoenix
  • 2025: San Antonio
  • 2026: Indianapolis

That will follow Final Fours the next four years in:

  • 2019: Minneapolis
  • 2020: Atlanta
  • 2021: Indianapolis
  • 2022: New Orleans

For the most part, this is fine. What makes a good Final Four city — hell, what makes a city a good candidate to host any major sporting event — is that the arena, stadium or dome is walking distance from good hotels and the best restaurants and bars.

That’s why Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Antonio are generally considered the best locations for the event and why cities like Houston, Dallas and Phoenix are not.

The saving grace with Phoenix is that Scottsdale is a ton of fun and a great spot for fans to go, even if it is a $30 Uber ride from seemingly everywhere in the state of Arizona, and while I’ve heard great things about Minneapolis, going in early April does not sound all that pleasant.

But Houston?

I despite little more than going to Houston for the Final Four. Everything is so spread out, the traffic is a nightmare and I’m still searching to find a place that actually felt like a night at the Final Four instead of a night out in a big city.

Houston is fine, I guess. Houston is not a place where the Final Four should be.

That said, last time I was there I saw James Harden tip a bathroom attendant $20.

So it’s not all bad, I guess.

2018 Peach Jam Takeaways: Vernon Carey tops the class, C.J. Walker shines, and why the media saved Peach Jam

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Peach Jam is unquestionably my favorite event to cover during the summer months.

It’s the highest level basketball that you are going to find in America prior to college, the atmosphere is better than most high school games and the town of Augusta has really grown on me; there are some good restaurants there, and the bar scene isn’t all that bad as long as certain media members that shall remain unnamed aren’t taking you to a place where smoking is still legal inside.

Combine that with the fact that every coach in the country is there along with, at a minimum, a half-dozen future lottery picks, and I truly believe that it’s an event that every real hoophead in the country needs to attend at least once in their life.

This year’s Peach Jam ended on Sunday afternoon with Team Takeover out of Washington D.C. winning the title by going 23-1, the best record in the history of the EYBL. Here are a few things to take away from the event.

THE MEDIA SAVED PEACH JAM

I realize that there is a large portion of our population that despises the media, and even those that do appreciate the job that journalists have to do can get fed up with the self-importance that people in my industry tend to have. We’re here to tell stories, break news and operate as a watchdog for our nation’s biggest entities. We’re not here to complain about flight delays and getting shorted a few Marriott points.

That said, I’m here to tell you that the college basketball media saved Peach Jam.

I’m convinced of it.

Here’s what happened: In June, Jeff Goodman and I caught wind of changes that were going to be proposed by the NABC to the Commission on College Basketball that would ban coaches from attending AAU tournaments and show company events in July. I railed against the recommended changes in a podcast last week, as did every media member even remotely involved in covering college basketball, from recruiting analysts and independent bloggers to the likes of Jay Bilas and Gary Parrish. I spoke with more coaches at the event about those changes than any other subject, and I honestly could not find a single one out of what probably amounted to 50 or so coaches that was a fan of the changes, and I know for a fact that I was not the only one that heard about it from those coaches.

That is why you are now seeing some influential voices start to pump the brakes while speaking on the record.

One thing that the NCAA, and college basketball decision-makers specifically, does a good job of is listening to the criticism. For example, they’ve been crushed for years about the flaws with the RPI as a metric and, as a result, they’ve started to phase it out. They listened when we said that valuing home and road wins equally is silly. They listened when we said college basketball needs a better opening night. And it appears that they are listening to us now.

I was told back in June that these changes were being proposed to be implemented as soon as possible, that the plan was to get the rules changed for next summer. But what happened is that the NABC — National Association of Basketball Coaches — ad-hoc committee that developed this proposal was made up of the upper-echelon of the coaching profession, and that the rank and file by and large does not agree with the biggest names, and that the biggest names supported these changes more or less out of selfishness.

For some, it’s because they recruit their home city and know all of the high school coaches that they don’t need AAU events to find players. For others, it’s because they’re a high-academic institution and thus can easily identify who actually has a chance to get into their school. For at least one influential voice in that room, it is because his program is in hot water for dealing with a shoe company and he’s looking to make his own life easier.

Whatever the case may be, I believe now our voices were heard.

“Keep killing them,” one coach at a top 25 program who despises the proposal told me. “It’s working.”

VERNON CAREY IS THE BEST PROSPECT IN THE CLASS

The 2019 class is weird in the sense that there are a lot of guys that are a typical top five prospect but there doesn’t appear to truly be a No. 1 player in this class. There is no Anthony Davis. There is no Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. Sometimes that happens.

James Wiseman, throughout the last few years, has been considered by most to be the best player in the Class of 2019, and I get it. He’s a 7-footer that can get up and down the floor with pretty good range on his jumper. He certainly isn’t a small-ball five, but he’s not inept when it comes to playing on the perimeter.

Cole Anthony is probably the most well-known player in this class, in part because of his pedigree — he is Greg Anthony’s son — and in part because he’s an uber-productive player that led the EYBL in scoring with highlight reel athleticism.

I get why you would have either of them ranked as the No. 1 prospect in 2019.

But for my money, Vernon Carey Jr. is the best player in the class.

At 6-foot-10, Carey has the athleticism, mobility and handle to thrive. He is a constant grab-and-go threat in transition, he can score in the post and while facing up and, when engaged, he’s a man-child on the glass. As one coach recruiting him told me, “he’s the best player in the world when he decides to play hard.”

And at Peach Jam, he did. In five games at the Riverview Park Activities Center, Carey averaged 23 points, 10.4 boards, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals, up from 17.8 points, 7.4 boards, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals during his 14 previous EYBL games. That included 21 points, 13 boards, five blocks and four steals while going head-to-head with Wiseman in a one point loss. He also had 25 points while grabbing one of the most impressive rebounds I’ve ever seen to seal a win over Team Takeover, the only loss TTO took on the EYBL circuit.

There’s another issue as well. Carey is the son of former offensive lineman Vernon Carey Sr. and seems to have inherited his father’s ability to carry weight. Carey Jr. was about 255 pounds at Peach Jam, but that was because he got sick during Team USA’s trip to Argentina for the U17 World Championships and lost 20 pounds.

Motivating a player with weight issues is not exactly ideal, but neither is hoping Cole Anthony is Russell Westbrook or rely on Wiseman, a 7-footer that averaged 5.8 boards in the EYBL while shooting 10 percent from three in 16 games, to thrive in the small-ball era.

THEN THERE IS JADEN MCDANIELS

The ascent that McDaniels, the latest in a long line of talented players to come through the Seattle Rotary program, has made in the past year is impressive. The younger brother of Jalen McDaniels, a potential first round pick at San Diego State, has gone from a player that was a borderline top 100 prospect to someone that may just have the highest ceiling of anyone in the class.

He’s an absolute scoring machine. A slender, 6-foot-11 perimeter four, he has the skill-set to one day be a 20 point-per-game scorer in the NBA. He needs to add strength — he’s currently listed at 182 pounds — and continue to get more fluid and explosive. He needs to be more consistent from beyond the arc and I’m not convinced he’s close to being the defender or the passer he needs to be, but it’s hard not to look at him and be reminded of Brandon Ingram, another lanky late-bloomer that developed into the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Hell, I had one coach tell me that he was going to be the killer from Golden State that I refuse to compare any basketball player to.

Every coach on the west coast should be prioritizing him.

HOP ON BOARD THE C.J. WALKER HYPE TRAIN

If there was a breakout star at this year’s Peach Jam, it was probably C.J. Walker, a borderline top 50 prospect out of Orlando that plays for Each 1 Teach 1.

A 6-foot-7 forward already known for his athleticism, Walker did not disappoint in that department, throwing down what was probably the dunk of the week, on Vernon Carey, no less:

Walker finished with 40 points in that game, and what was perhaps the most impressive part about the performance was his shot-making. We know the kind of athlete that he is, but if he can develop into a player that can consistently make threes and create offense with the ball in his hands, he’s reaches a different level.

He’s already had a couple of programs, including Louisville, offer him based off of what he did in Augusta. It will be interesting to see who else follows suit.

SOMEONE IS GETTING A STEAL IN DREW TIMME

Maybe I just happened to catch him when he was playing well, but I could not have been more impressed with Drew Timme.

A 6-foot-11 center from Texas, Timme was sensational offensively in the two games I watched him. He had 25 points against MoKan Elite and followed that up with 21 points, including a dominating second half, against Cole Anthony’s PSA Cardinals. He can pass, he can shoot, he can handle the ball, he’s mobile, he scores with his back-to-the-basket. One coach that played in the NBA told me he thinks Timme is the next Spencer Hawes, although I think Ethan Happ is a more apt comparison. Timme to me screams college all-american that will play in the NBA if he learns to shoot it.

SCOTTIE BARNES IS A MONSTER

I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know the Class of 2020 all that well, but I do know this: If there truly are two players in that class better than Scottie Barnes, they are going to be superstars.

Because, for me money, Barnes was one of the eight or so best players at the event.

He’s a 6-foot-8 wing that defends, can handle the rock and is a really good passer, especially in transition. He also made some big plays and big shots in close games, and did all of that despite heading to Peach Jam just a day or two after returning home from Argentina, where he was playing for the U17s despite being a year younger than most of the players on that roster.

Duke’s White to chair NCAA selection committee for 2019-20

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Duke athletic director Kevin White will serve as the chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee in 2020.

The NCAA announced White’s role Friday. White will serve as vice chairman this season for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee headed by Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, then take over for the 2019-20 season.

White has been a committee member since the 2015-16 season.

In a statement, White called it “an incredible honor” to serve on the committee and be selected for a leadership role.

Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen served as chairman of the committee last season and will rotate off the committee Sept. 1.