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Lagerald Vick’s surprise return has buoyed No. 2 Kansas through uneven start

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BROOKLYN — Lagerald Vick was long gone.

After a terrific preseason and a better start to his junior year, Vick hit a brutal slump right around the start of conference play last season. He averaged 17.4 points over the course of the first two months of the season. Then, in a home loss to Texas Tech at the start of league play, he had just two points and two boards in 34 minutes. He scored single digits in five of his next six games, and despite being forced into playing major minutes for a team that didn’t have any depth, Vick’s performances — and, more importantly, his effort — never reached the level or the consistency that Bill Self demanded or expected. He was benched after an embarrassing home loss to Oklahoma State for Mitch Lightfoot.

Self did not think that he was getting the most out of Vick, and he was right. Vick did not think that he could do anything please the man that he was playing for, and he may have had a point. By February, they knew they had to go their separate ways.

Vick declared for the 2018 NBA Draft with the intention of signing with an agent.

Kansas gave away his jersey, No. 2, to Charlie Moore.

Then he went through the draft process, and reality clapped back: He wasn’t going to get drafted. Unless he wanted to learn a new language and play in a place where basketball is secondary to soccer, he options were limited. Accept a G League salary and hope he could play his way onto an NBA roster, or return to Lawrence, hat in hand, and hope that he would be welcomed back.

Vick never actually signed with that agent. He never cost himself his eligibility.

So when Vick pulled his name out of the draft, he was still able to return to play college ball for another year. After reaching out to Self, Vick and his family met with the Kansas coaching staff. The staff then met with their team. Everyone was on board. Vick agreed to buy into what the coaching staff wanted from him. The players who would lose minutes to Vick were fine with losing those minutes if it would help Kansas win games.

And Self?

He knew the talent that he was getting back.

It’s a decision that may have saved Kansas from an embarrassing start to their 2018-19 campaign.

Vick has been Kansas’ best player in the first two weeks of the season, and it’s not particularly close. After a quiet outing in the season-opening win over Michigan State, Vick has averaged 24.0 points in the last four games. He scored 32 points and hit all eight of his threes as the Jayhawks won a game against Vermont in Allen Fieldhouse where they trailed in the second half and Dedric Lawson went scoreless. He scored 33 points in a come-from-behind win over Louisiana, a game in which the Jayhawks trailed by as many as 12 points.

“We went through a period of time where the only basket Dedric could make was where he was sitting on his butt,” Self said after No. 2 Kansas stated their claim to the No. 1 spot in the polls with a come-from-behind 87-81 win in overtime of the NIT finals at the Barclays Center on Friday night. “We may not have won those last two home games we had if Lagerald wasn’t going 15-for-20 from three, so I’m very happy to have him back.”

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Vick was not Kansas’ best player on Friday night. That title belongs to Lawson, who looked every-bit the part of the All-American that he was entering the season, finishing with 24 points, 13 boards and six assists. But Vick did make a major impact on Friday. Tennessee outplayed Kansas in the first half. They pushed their lead to nine points midway through the second half before Kansas finally woke up.

The first Jayhawk lead of the second half?

That came via Vick, who buried back-to-back threes and a third jumper in the span of 1:19, a personal 8-0 run that turned a 56-53 deficit into a 61-56 lead. That Kansas immediately gave that lead right back says just about all you need to know about this Kansas team two weeks into the season.

“We’ve got a little bit of experience returning, but that’s a pretty young team out there,” Self said. The Jayhawks have started two freshmen in their backcourt all year — point guard Devon Dotson and off-guard Quentin Grimes — which is to say nothing of how new this group is. They lost three starters from last year’s team, they are playing three transfers major minutes and five of their rotation players did not play last season.

“I think if I had returning guys then I could have a decent feel within a month or so,” Self said. “I don’t really know what we have yet. If you’ve watched us play so far or studied us, it’s been a different guy almost every night. Go through a period of time where guys can’t scratch. Lagerald couldn’t scratch against Michigan State. The good thing is that different guys are stepping up different nights.”

And that’s where Vick’s impact is truly felt.

Look, the truth is this: Vick is truthfully just a piece for Self this season. Kansas’ best player is Lawson, a do-it-all four that is tailor made to play the power forward spot for Kansas. He can pass, he can score on the block, he can make threes, he’s effective in high-low actions and mid-post isolations. You can’t ask for much more.

The most important player for the Jayhawks is probably Udoka Azubuike, the low-post hoss that will be the player Self builds around. Grimes is the most talented player on the roster. Dotson is probably the x-factor at the point.

Vick?

He’s more-or-less out there to do a job. But he’s also the most experienced piece in the Kansas perimeter attack, a player that can pop-off for 30 points on the nights where Azubuike is in foul trouble, or Lawson is struggling, or Grimes can’t get out of his own head.

The concern with Vick’s return was whether or not he would be fine playing that role.

It looks like he is.

“Lagerald has been great from an attitude standpoint, a leadership standpoint, a playing standpoint,” Self told me when asked if he’s glad his senior guard returned to school. “He’s been a ten so far. I’m very excited about Lagerald being a part of it.”

“He’s been terrific.”

Maybe that new numbers suits him.

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.