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From Spokane to Serbia, Nigel Williams-Goss sees NBA dreams take a detour

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The Grobari was the most shocking part.

After two seasons playing in the Pac-12 and two years at Gonzaga, where The Kennel is renowned as one of the best student sections in college basketball, Nigel Williams-Goss was still not prepared for what he was going to encounter playing for KK Partizan, a Serbian club in Belgrade, one of the few European cities that is as crazy about basketball as they are soccer.

Grobari is what the Partizan fans call themselves — as in, “I’m Grobari” — and they support both Partizan’s basketball and soccer teams. Rabidly. When they behave, they’re called Ultras. When they don’t, which is fairly often, they’re referred to as Hooligans.

“I’ve see the flares being lit in the gym,” Williams-Goss told NBC Sports in a wide-ranging interview last month. “I’ve had times where I had to cover my head with a towel because the fans start throwing lighters and coins because they disagree with a call.”

“I remember one time we were playing a team and as they were warming up, our fans just threw like 100 rolls of toilet paper so they couldn’t warm up. They kept having to sweep off the toilet paper, and then they would throw rolls again.”

That is where Williams-Goss, coming off of a first-team All-American season for a team that lost in the national title game, spent his first season as a professional, wearing the badge of the highest college player selected in the 2017 NBA Draft that did not get a guaranteed contract or wind up as a two-way player for the organization that drafted him.



There may not be a better example of just how hard it is to sign one of the 510 available NBA contracts than Williams-Goss.

His amateur career was as decorated as anyone in recent memory. After becoming the first, and still only, player to spend four seasons as a member of Findlay Prep’s basketball program, where he won two national titles, Williams-Goss was named a McDonald’s All-American and played in the Jordan Brand All-American game. He won a gold medal with USA Basketball playing for the U19s. He spent two all-Pac-12 seasons at Washington before transferring to Gonzaga, where he led the Zags to a nearly-undefeated regular season, a No. 1 ranking for the majority of the year and a trip to the national title game. He was named a first-team All-American for his troubles, becoming one of just five players in Division I history to be named an academic All-American and a first-team All-American.

After that national title game loss, after completing an undergraduate degree in Psychology and starting in on a masters in Organizational Leadership, Williams-Goss left school with a year of eligibility still on the table.

He was selected by the Utah Jazz with the 55th pick.

His lifelong dream of hearing his name called during the NBA draft had come true. The reward was being forced to fight for a roster spot on a team with three established NBA point guards and Donovan Mitchell, a lottery pick that turned into the best player in the draft class.

“That was an emotional night for me,” Williams-Goss said. “Because I know that I did everything I could possibly do to put myself in a better position than that.”

“I had proven myself every step of the way. For me, it was weird, because [NBA teams] had seen [me] perform at a high level on the biggest stages my entire career, and then to fall that far in the draft and watch guys that were nowhere near as accomplished as I was get picked in front of me was really tough.”

He had to face reality: The NBA draft is all about potential — some combination of youth, athletic ability and physical tools — and shooting. Williams-Goss was a redshirt junior when he left school and 23 years old before the season started. He’s a below-average athlete by the standards that come with being an NBA point guard, and in four years he shot 33.1 percent from three on nearly 300 attempts.

That combination is far from ideal, but a death knell for his NBA dreams it is not.

Because the Utah Jazz still want him, or at least they are not yet ready to dispose of him. He wasn’t relegated to Europe as much as he was placed there, a draft-and-stash prospect. He’s stayed in regular contact with people in the Jazz front office and, after winning an MVP award and a tournament title in February, he was sent a care package from Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsay. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Jazz brass believed that spending a year overseas would benefit Williams-Goss more than if he had remained stateside as a G League player or on a two-way contract.

So after playing in the NBA summer league, Williams-Goss was faced with a decision: Accept an invite to training camp, where the Jazz had one roster spot available and four point guards on the roster, or get his passport ready. He met face-to-face with Lindsay and talked through all of his options, and all parties agreed that it was best to head to Europe.

“In my first year as a professional, it was important that I continue to develop and further my growth,” Williams-Goss said.

To do that, he needed to play.


Via Partizan

Partizan is one of the most storied clubs in all of European basketball.

A powerhouse in Serbia, Partizan has sent the likes of Vlade Divac, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nikola Peković and Jan Vesely to the NBA, and they’ve won more trophies than any other club in Serbia: 21 Serbian League championships, 14 Serbian Cups, six Adriatic League titles and the 1992 EuroLeague title, the most prestigious of the bunch.

But prior to Williams-Goss’ arrival in Belgrade, Partizan had been stumbling. It had been four years since the Black And Whites had won one of the four competitions they play in annually, an eternity for the Grobari. To make matters worse, their failures in the Adriatic League, which features teams from the seven countries that previously made up Yugoslavia and is considered one of the very best in the world outside of the NBA, coincided with archrival Red Star-Belgrade was representing Serbia in the EuroLeague, basketball’s equivalent to soccer’s Champions League; Luka Doncic was recently named the EuroLeague MVP.

And, as it would turn out, Williams-Goss would become the savior Partizan was looking for.

Despite beginning the year playing for a coach that spoke no English while playing abroad for the first time in his life on a team that was, and still is, in financial disarray, the Gonzaga product still managed to put together a masterful season, averaging 16.9 points and 6.8 assists across all competitions.

But most importantly, he was the MVP of the Korać Cup — the Serbian League’s equivalent of a conference tournament — as Partizan won their first trophy in four years by defeating the reigning evil empire, Red Star, in the finals.

Williams-Goss had 23 points and seven assists in the title game. He had become a sensation in Belgrade, living up to the burden that came with the All-American tag. The Grobari knew who he was before he showed up in their city. With notoriety comes expectation, and Williams-Goss handled it better than anyone could have asked for.

“There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders from fans even though I was a rookie,” he said. Partizan has always had a reputation for being a place that young talents can go to shine, and Williams-Goss was the latest — and the rare American — to be burdened with that honor. “The success of a season is determined by how many trophies you can rack up in a year, because it’s not like college or the NBA where there’s only one final trophy. There’s a lot of different leagues. Not having a single trophy for almost four years, and then to do it this year with such a young group being led by an American rookie, was special.”

And he wasn’t kidding.

One afternoon, before the season had come to an end and Williams-Goss had returned to the states, he was walking past a cafe on a Belgrade street when he was recognized. Three of the employees of that cafe came sprinting out and grabbed Williams-Goss before he was out of sight.

“They made me come in and made me a cake with my number on it,” he said.

That’s one way to say thank you.


Courtesy Nigel Williams-Goss

Williams-Goss has some options heading into the summer.

The word is out about how well he adjusted to playing European basketball, and EuroLeague suitors have already come calling. There’s a market for him in Europe, one where he should be able to double what was reported to be a $130,000 salary; keep in mind, for most European teams, the salary they pay is take home money. They’ll cover things like rent, travel and even taxes.

As good as that sounds, the dream isn’t to play in the EuroLeague.

The dream is the NBA, and the Utah Jazz still own the rights to Williams-Goss. Mitchell isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and Rubio still has another year on his contract. Exum and Neto are both at the end of their rookie contracts, and while the expectation is that the Jazz will try to sign Exum to a longer deal — he’s been a very effective piece when his body doesn’t fail him — should Williams-Goss head to training camp with the Jazz, he’d likely be competing with Neto for a spot.

If he makes the team, great. If he’s cut, suddenly he’s a free agent and available for other NBA teams to sign, but that comes with a significant amount of risk as well. European teams typically make their signings earlier in the calendar than that, which would make the market for Williams-Goss abroad smaller and, potentially, less lucrative.

He’s going to have some decisions to make, that much is certain.

But this is not a situation where he is going to be choosing between eight-figure deals and deciding which NBA city he wants to live. No matter how you slice it, Williams-Goss is a fringe NBA player right now despite the fact that the former Burger Boy and first-team All-American just finished an outstanding rookie campaign for one of the most storied clubs in Europe.

He knows first-hand just how hard it is to get to the NBA, which is why he was so frustrated seeing how many players without any chance of getting drafted announced their intentions to test the waters of the NBA draft this spring.

“If you know that you’re not that you’re really on that cusp and it is just for feedback, I don’t understand the point of announcing,” he said. “To me, it just looks like you’re doing it for the attention and for the non-basketball knowing peers and other people to think, ‘Aww man, this guy that we know is close to going to the NBA.'”

“There’s 60 picks,” he added, “but the game is international. There’s 60 picks for kids all over the world. It’s definitely one of the toughest jobs to get. But people know how tough it is, which is why this opportunity of announcing they can test the waters kind of gives them a feeling that they can show other people that they’re closer to that reality than they might actually.”

Williams-Goss was one of those kids three years ago. When he left Washington, he had the chance to put his name into the draft but declined. He knew he wasn’t ready. After two more years at Gonzaga, completing his degree and jump-starting his work on a masters, it was time.

“I’ve put myself in a great position moving forward,” Williams-Goss said, “whether that’s the NBA or an opportunity to move up in Europe.”

Hopefully, wherever he lands, he won’t have batteries being thrown at his head.

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.