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2019 Mock NBA Draft: Who are the 30 best prospects in college basketball?

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Periodically, over the course of the coming seven months, we will be posting an updated mock draft here on College Basketball Talk.

This will be different than other mocks, mind you. We’re not as much projecting who is going to be picked where — that is impossible to do right now, as the NBA season is six weeks old and the NBA changed their lottery rules to flatten out the odds of who gets the first pick — as much as take a look at where, in a vacuum, a player should be picked. 

With that in mind, one of the objectives of this mock will be to take a deeper dive into a handful of the most intriguing prospects in the mock each and every week. This isn’t meant to be just a place to rank prospects, the goal is to open up the floor for some discussion about the players that need the most discussing. 

Oh, and one other note: We’re only talking about the college kids here. I could sit here and pretend like I know something about Sekou Doumbouya beyond what I Googled and found on YouTube, but the truth is I don’t know a damn thing about him.

I’ll stick to what I know for now.

And that is these prospects:

1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

I’ll take the L on Zion. Prior to the start of the season, I had Zion ranked as a mid-to-late lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. I didn’t know how the athleticism would translate, and I didn’t know just how good of a feel he had for the game. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s a better shooter than people gave him credit for, even if that is still the weakness in his game. He’s got some handle. He blows by defenders on the perimeter like they’re cops with a radar gun.

Oh, and the athleticism?

It translates. The rebounding, the shot-blocking, the ability to grab-and-go in transition. He’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the NBA, an amalgam of Julius Randle and Draymond Green, only wildly marketable and already a star with a massive brand.

The only concern that I have taking him No. 1 is the weight, and it’s not because I’m all that concerned about whether or not, at 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, he can move around the court the way that he needs to. As long as his wind and conditioning are where they need to be, he should be fine.

My issue is the wear and tear that will come with that added weight. His vertical is somewhere in the neighborhood of four feet, give or take an inch or three. Go jump off of something that is four feet tall and see if you feel it in your knees and your ankles. Now imagine doing that over and over and over again — hundreds or thousands of times per week — with 272 pounds landing on those joints.

That’s where the concern lies for Zion. Wipe that away, and to me, he is the clear-cut No. 1 pick in this draft.

2. CAM REDDISH, Duke

3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

This may be a bit of a controversial take, as Barrett has been the go-to guy for Duke through the first three weeks of the season while Reddish has been forced into a complimentary role. It’s something of an odd dynamic. Reddish has spent the majority of his basketball playing life as a lead ballhandler, and now he is being asked to play as the floor-spacing jump-shooter on a team with three other stud freshmen that can operate as lead ballhandlers.

What sets Reddish above Barrett for me is that I think Reddish fits seamlessly into the NBA while Barrett projects more as a guy that might have a tough time finding a position. Reddish, at 6-foot-9, is bigger with better physical tools. He’s a much better shooter and scorer in isolation — as the saying goes, he’s got some sh** to his game — and, as I mentioned, he’s played as a primary ball-handler. I can picture exactly what role he’ll play at the next level.

With Barrett, I’m not so sure. He’s not the shooter that Reddish is. He’s “only” 6-foot-7. The intrigue with him is the idea that he can play as a secondary point guard, if not a primary point guard, but he hasn’t shown any consistency with his ability to make reads and correct passes. Barrett is nearly a full year younger than Reddish, and he’s been dominant at every level of basketball to date. I don’t think you can go wrong either way, but I’d rather have the guy I know can shoot, all things considered.

4. KEVIN PORTER JR, USC

Porter is a guy that I will likely be higher on than most, and the reason for that is pretty simple: I think that he is going to end up averaging 20 points in the NBA, if not more. I don’t think that it is a stretch to say that he is the best offensive weapon in this draft. He’s got it all in his bag. He’s 6-foot-6, he’s an explosive athlete, he has the frame to be able to handle the weight that comes with an NBA strength and conditioning program and he knows how to use that strength already:

That’s all well and good, but what sets him apart from other guys in this class is his ability to create on his own. There is not a player in this draft class that is as good as Porter when it comes to getting his own shot. He’s got it all. The amount of space that he can create in isolation is ridiculous. His balance, his footwork, his handle. It’s all at an elite level right now.

I mean, just watch this:

There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be a weapon as a scorer in the league.

The question with Porter has more to do with maturity, both on the floor and off it. The latter really depends on where he ends up and the support he gets from his organization. The former, however, manifests itself in how he operates in a team setting offensively and defensively. I think the truth of it is this simple: He’s never really been coached on how to do that stuff. In high school and AAU, he was always a ball-dominant lead guard. He didn’t need to know how to work off the ball. Defensively, he wasn’t being asked to make defensive rotations or drilled on how to help off the ball the way he will be in the NBA.

Put another way, in the right situation, those flaws can be coached out of him.

And given what his ceiling is with that scoring ability and athleticism, it’s worth the risk to reach and take him.

5. NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

Little is an interesting case. The 6-foot-7 wing has yet to play his way into the starting lineup for the Tar Heels, averaging just 19.5 minutes per game. He’s been productive in those minutes — 11.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg — but he has not yet been able to join fellow frosh Coby White in the starting five. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • He’s playing behind a pair of potential All-Americans at the forward spot in Luke Maye and Cam Johnson.
  • Roy Williams has, to date, steadfastly refused to go all-in on the small-ball movement, meaning that Garrison Brooks remains a starter.
  • And, most importantly, Little is still working through how to be a team defender and learning what Williams wants out of him on the offensive end — more to the rim, less settling for deep threes.

I’m not too worried. North Carolina was torched at Michigan on Wednesday night after losing to Texas last week, and part of the reason is their inability to guard teams that spread them out. I don’t believe the issue is Williams insistence on not playing freshman — look at the leash he’s given White — as much as it is Little’s learning curve being steeper at a position where there are veterans in front of him.

6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

I love De’Andre Hunter. I’m probably higher on him than anyone else that will put out a mock draft. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He can play the three, the four or even work as a small-ball five if you’re feeling frisky. You know he can guard since he played for Tony Bennett. He’s a career 39.7 percent three-point shooter and hits 76 percent of his free throws. He may not have the ceiling of younger guys that will get drafted over him, but he’ll start in the NBA for a decade and be ready to contribute the day you draft him.

7. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky

I don’t see Johnson becoming a star in the NBA, but I think his floor as a role player at the next level is really, really high. He reminds me a bit of Miles Bridges in the sense that he is a perfect complimentary piece. He’s a versatile defender, he’s athletic, he can make a jumper, he can attack a closeout, he can play a role on a team. I don’t know if you want him being your best player or your go-to guy offensively, which isn’t good for Kentucky but helps to make him a better fit in the NBA.

8. JA MORANT, Murray State

Morant is the latest lottery point guard to come through the mid-major ranks. At 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, he’s is a high-flying athlete that has been unbelievably productive through four games as a sophomore: 27.8 ppg, 9.0 apg, 7.5 rpg and 2.0 spg. The last two games that he has played have been ridiculous. He had 29 points, 13 boards and 12 assists against Missouri State before following that up with 38 points, nine boards and five assists (plus ten turnovers) in a six-point loss at Alabama with seemingly the entire NBA in attendance.

Barring a run to the NCAA tournament, that was one of just two games that Murray State will play against high-major competition this season; they’re at Auburn in December. He fared well. The turnovers are not a major concern, as he is carrying an unbelievable load offensively for a team that doesn’t have all that much talent, and a handful of them came in the final minutes, as the Racers were rushing to try and comeback late.

What pops about Morant initially is his athleticism. He has the quicks to get into the paint just about whenever he wants, he’s really good at reading ball-screens and he’s an explosive finisher off of two feet. His body control is impressive, and he’s shown a knack for being capable of finishing around (and sometimes over) the big bodies in the lane:

I’ve also been really impressed with his passing ability. He does have a habit of trying to get too flashy, but he can make those highlight reel plays along with making the right reads in ball-screen actions. He could have had 12 assists against Alabama if his teammates were able to finish at the rim.

There are still concerns about his jumper. He made 6-of-12 3s against Missouri State. He’s made two other 3s this season and has just 35 made in his college career. I also wonder about what he’ll be defensively in the NBA. He’s athletic and does have impressive anticipation in passing lanes, but he needs to get stronger and has some bad tendencies when it comes to losing track of his man off the ball and dying on screens.

Some of that can be coached out of him, and some of it will be fixed when he gets stronger and is no longer asked to expend so much energy offensively. He’ll be viewed as something of a boom-or-bust prospect, given what happened with Cam Payne coming out of Murray State after his sophomore season.

9. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana

Langford has mostly lived up to the hype for Indiana, becoming one of the best scorers in the Big Ten, but it’s worrisome that his jumper has not yet gotten more consistent and that he struggled as much as he did against the athletes of Duke. He has also gotten lost defensively more often than would be ideal, but freshmen will be freshmen. The big concern is the jump shot. The rest of his game is limited enough that if he’s not an efficient scorer and shooter, there isn’t much appeal.

10. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt

I really feel for Garland. After a promising start to his freshman campaign, he saw any hope of trying to play his way into the being the first point guard drafted go up in smoke after tearing the meniscus in his left knee and undergoing season-ending surgery. That’s tough. But Garland was impressive in flashes — particularly in the first half of Vandy’s win at USC — and not only should he be healthy by the time NBA teams can start bringing players in for workouts, meniscus tears are not considered to be career-altering injuries.

11. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Culver is a guy that has stood out to me as much as anyone early on this season. A 6-foot-5, 195 pound guard, Culver was not ranked among the top 300 in the Class of 2017, according to 247 Sports. As a freshman, he averaged 11.2 points, but that number has jumped to 18.8 points through six games this season.

What’s more notable, however, is that Culver has developed into a guy that can play the point for the Red Raiders. The expectation heading into the season was that he would replace the role vacated by Zhaire Smith. That hasn’t been the case. He’s the new Keenan Evans. He is the guy that Chris Beard runs his offense through. As a sophomore, nearly 25 percent of his offense is coming through ball-screens, according to Synergy, and that number bumps up to 32 percent when passes are factored in. When he was a freshman, those numbers were 9.8 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively. He’s currently in the 95th percentile in points-per-possession in ball-screen actions.

So let’s put it all together.

We have a 6-foot-5 guard that can play on the ball and operate in ball-screens. He’s shooting 39.6 percent from three on more than 160 attempts through two seasons, meaning he can play off the ball. He’s coming from a program that preaches toughness and defense, and he is a late-bloomer that is still growing into his frame.

To me, Culver is a guy that is going to continue to climb up draft boards as people realize just how good Texas Tech is this season and just how influential he is in that success.

12. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas

Gafford has all the tools that a player needs to really thrive as a five-man in the modern NBA. He’s a rim-protector defensively that is athletic enough where becoming a switchable defender is a real possibility. He’s a vertical-spacer offensively that will be a lob target both in transition and as the roller in ball-screen actions. He can rebound. He’s even knocking down the occasional jumper this year.

13. BOL BOL, Oregon

For my money, the son of the late Manute Bol is going to be the most difficult player to project in this draft. He is a unicorn in the sense that he is a super-skilled, 7-foot-2 center (with a 7-foot-8 wingspan) that was, quite literally, the best three-point shooter in the EYBL during his final year on the circuit. Seeing him block a shot, go coast-to-coast and knockdown a pull-up 15-footer is just not something we see people his size do. He’s also an elite shot-blocker when he is engaged, the kind of athlete that is going to be able to chase smaller defenders off of the 3-point line.

He is what I like to call a layup line scout. You don’t have to do any more than watch him during warmups to see what his potential is and what his potential can be.

The problem is that there are some very real concerns about whether or not Bol actually likes playing basketball, and if he has the toughness — or, given his slight frame and incredibly high hips, the strength — to ever be something more than an interesting physical specimen and complimentary piece.

He also has a habit of being a statue defensively. For a player that, when engaged, is one of the best shotblockers I’ve ever seen in the high school ranks, he is a horrid defender:

Bol is going to make a lot of money playing basketball. If he ever reaches his ceiling, he will be an incredible weapon. The question that teams drafting him are going to have to ask is whether or not the risk of Bol ending up being a total bust is worth the reward of the lottery ticket being a winner.

For me, the risk would be worth it at the back-end of the lottery, and if I am an NBA GM, I let someone else take that shot.

14. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been a sleeper in NBA draft circles since his senior season in high school ended. He’s an ambidextrous, 6-foot-5 combo-guard that shoots it at nearly 40 percent from three. The cousin of current Clippers point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil has all the tools to be a really effective complimentary piece in an NBA backcourt.

The physical tools are there to guard wings. He’s up to 205 pounds, according to Virginia Tech’s official site, and reportedly has a wingspan of 6-foot-9. He can play off the ball, as evidenced by the fact that, you know, he plays off the ball for the Hokies and is a career 39.3 percent 3-point shooter on more than 175 attempts.

The difference this season, and the reason that he is starting to intrigue NBA teams, is that he’s fulfilling his potential as a lead guard. Last season, less than 10 percent of his offense came in pick-and-rolls, and he averaged all of 0.657 points-per-possession in those actions.

This year, 36.4 percent of his offense has come in ball-screens — a number that jumps to over 44 percent when you factor in passes, according to Synergy — and he checks in at the 96th percentile with 1.278 PPP. He’s averaging 4.2 assists this year, up from 1.5 a season ago.

We’ll need to monitor this as Virginia Tech starts to play better competition, but the early returns are very promising for Alexander-Walker longterm.

15. QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas

Grimes scored 21 points in his first college game, hitting six of his first seven threes, notching four assists and becoming the star of Kansas’ season-opening win over Michigan State. Since then, he’s shot 3-for-12 from three, scored a total of 24 points and got benched against Tennessee for K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore. I think this is as much about Grimes figuring out what his role is with Kansas as much as anything, but we haven’t seen him look confident as a shooter, driver or penetrator since, really, the first half of his first game. I think he’ll get there.

16. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Rui has been one of the breakout stars of college basketball this season, averaging 21.9 points for what is now the No. 1 team in the country. He was awesome in the win over Duke, going for 20 points, seven boards, five assists and three blocks. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but there are two reasons I’m concerned about Rui at the next level: He struggles to defend in isolation and, in three years at Gonzaga, he’s 14-for-50 (28%) from 3. Those are two very important skills to have at the position we project Hachimura to play in the NBA, and it’s why I lean heavily toward Hunter over him.

17. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

I’m still on the Eric Paschall bandwagon even if he hasn’t been as effective as he was last season. He’s shooting just 28.6 percent from 3 this season and six of the ten made 3s he has came in one game. But he’s also being asked to play a role that will be much different from the one he’ll be asked to play in the NBA. He’s Villanova’s All-American go-to guy this season, and that’s not what he does best. He’s a complimentary piece, and athletic and versatile defender that makes threes, attacks close-outs and understands where he fits in a system. You’re drafting him to be O.G. Anunoby, not James Harden, and he can do that.

18. JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State

Jalen isn’t even the best prospect in his family — his younger brother, Jaden, might end up being the No. 1 pick in 2020 — but he has developed into a player with quite a bit of potential. There’s still some work to do on his body, as he’s 6-foot-10 and just 190 pounds, but he has perimeter skills and some longterm upside. He’s a risk, but he’s a home run if it pays off.

19. LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State

Dort might be the biggest surprise for people that haven’t been paying attention. Arizona State’s Canadian freshman is off to a rollicking start, averaging 22.3 points, 7.3 boards, 2.7 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting 34.5 percent from three on nearly five 3s attempted per game. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he’s drawing comparisons to Marcus Smart due to his competitiveness and build. The Sun Devils host Nevada and Kansas in December. We’ll have a better feel then.

20. JALEN SMITH, Maryland

Smith is off to a productive start as a freshman, scoring, rebounding and creating at a respectable level — 12.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.1 apg. He needs to get stronger (although it was impressive to seem him big boy Virginia’s bigs) but the key to his future lies in his ability to become a floor spacer and rim protector. He’s 1-for-9 from three with just five blocks in seven games.

21. JAYLEN HOARD, Wake Forest

Hoard is a 6-foot-8 forward with impressive mobility that profiles as the kind of athletic wing that NBA teams are looking for. He’s putting up impressive counting stats for a bad Wake Forest team, so it will be interesting to see how his efficiency holds up. Can he ever become a threat from the perimeter? Whoever gets convinced that he’ll be able to make NBA 3s will likely be the team that ends up taking him.

22. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

Clarke is just such an exceptional athlete that it is getting hard to ignore. He’s proven himself as a rim protector, blocking 4.1 shots per game for the Zags after being known as a rim protector while as San Jose State. He’s a finisher around the basket as well, shooting 78 percent from the floor on the season while averaging 15.9 points and 7.4 boards. I could see him end up doing what Jordan Bell is doing in the league.

23. TRE JONES, Duke

Jones is never going to get the attention that he deserves this season because of his vaunted teammates, but I think he’s fine with that and I also don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing when projecting his future in the NBA. He’s not going to be Chris Paul. He’s going to be piece, and as long as he continues to defend, avoid turnovers (41 assists to eight turnovers), knockdown threes (46.2 percent) and make his floaters, he should have success.

24. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

For me, the end of the first round should be a place where good teams can pick up players that will be contributors and thrive in a role on the cheap. That’s precisely what Edwards can and will do. He’s a bowling ball of a lead guard, a 6-foot-1 lightening bolt that is averaging 25.1 points and 4.1 assists this season. I think he’s a great fit as a spark plug off the bench and can operate as a microwave scorer against NBA second teams.

25. TALEN HORTON-TUCKER, Iowa State

With Lindell Wigginton on the mend, Horton-Tucker has been the Cyclone who has stood out early on this season. The weight is a bit of a concern — he’s 238 pounds at just 6-foot-4 — but he has an awkward game that might just be unique enough to work in the league. He has a 7-foot wingspan. He can play as a creator or off the ball, although it would be nice to see his shooting percentages come up. He’s tough, and he’s very young; his 18th birthday was Nov. 25th. The 26 points, 14 boards, six assists and three blocks he had against Illinois in Maui put him on the map.

26. JONTAY PORTER, Missouri

Porter tore his ACL and MCL in October, which means we won’t have a chance to see what he can be as a sophomore. What we do know is this: He’s young for his grade, he can make threes, he’s a good passer and his has the kind of high hips and slow feet that make people wonder what he’ll be defensively. Here’s to hoping he gets healthy.

27. TY JEROME, Virginia

Jerome is, to me, a guy that will play point guard for 10 years in the NBA. He has the IQ, the toughness, the competitiveness, the leadership. He’s a career 39.5 percent three-point shooter on more than 250 attempts. There are, of course, question marks when it comes to Jerome’s athleticism at the next level. He’s capable of creating space with step-backs, and he’s shown flashes of being able to get to the rim, but mostly I’m not overly concerned. Tony Bennett teaches his guys to guard, Jerome has positional size and he can play off the ball. Fred VanVleet had some of these same question marks, and he’s doing fine as a backup point guard.

28. KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga

The concern with Tillie is that he is currently battling a stress fracture. The upside with Tillie is that he is a 6-foot-10 former volleyball player (read: bouncy) that shoots it at 48 percent from three. Let’s see how the ankle holds up this season.

29. IGGY BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan

Brazdeikis is just so tough. At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, he’s built in the mold of a player that can guard up in the NBA with the perimeter skills to be able to take advantage of slower defenders. He’s a dog. I’m not totally sold on the jumper yet, but he’s making 38.9 percent of his threes and 78.6 percent of his free throws, and if he’s going to be Julius Randle lite at the next level, he’ll need to get a bit stronger. Is he a four that can guards fives or a three that can guard fours?

30. JAXSON HAYES, Texas

This pick would be entirely based on upside, but given his size, athleticism, length, hands and the simple fact that he’s a late-blooming blank canvas, he’s got a chance.

Jay Wright on double-duty with Villanova, USA Basketball

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Jay Wright immediately accepted a chance to be an assistant coach with USA Basketball for this year’s World Cup.

And then he checked his calendar.

Villanova students are headed back to school this week — while the Villanova men’s basketball coach will be halfway around the world for the next month or so. It has been, and will continue being, a major schedule challenge for Wright as he’s tasked with both helping USA Basketball win a gold medal while his players are on campus getting ready to start their seasons.

“It was a snap ‘yes.’ That’s the problem,” Wright said. “And then after you think about it, you’re like, ‘wow.’ Only then do you realize what you’re missing at home.”

To be clear, Wright said this is a problem only half-seriously.

Logistical matters weren’t going to keep him from being part of the staff of assistants that include Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce — all working under USA Basketball head men’s coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.

“This is basketball heaven,” Wright said.

It’s not uncommon for college coaches like Wright to be part of the USA Basketball mix, which can collide with college calendars. At the most recent World Cup in 2014, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim was one of the assistants — and that tournament ended in mid-September.

But at this tournament, which starts Aug. 31 in China with the Americans playing their first game against the Czech Republic a day later, Wright is the only college coach on the U.S. roster. Popovich, Kerr and Pierce all have some time before their ‘real’ teams start practice. Wright doesn’t have that luxury.

“He’s kind of doing double-duty right now,” Popovich said. “He’s keeping touch with his kids, and obviously doing a great job with the USA team. But he hasn’t forgotten about his Villanova guys.”

To make this work, Wright rearranged Villanova’s summer schedule, everything from player workouts to coaching meetings. He was able to do his usual gamut of recruiting, but his usual start-of-semester matters like meeting with parents and having newcomers get acclimated now will fall on his staff of assistants until he returns.

“You don’t say no to this,” Wright said.

The Americans needed a 17-hour flight from Los Angeles before arriving in Melbourne, Australia, where they resumed practice on Monday. They’ll play three games in Australia, the first of those coming on Thursday, before heading to China next week.

“Longest flight I’ve been on, but I’m happy to be here,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum said.

Popovich believes in a style of coaching where everyone gets a chance to argue all parts of the game — a participatory approach, like he uses in San Antonio. Wright is primarily helping with the U.S. defensive schemes, but he also gets his opportunity to offer suggestions for the offensive plans. And he’s usually one of the last coaches still working on the floor after practice, running groups through shooting drills.

“We’re meeting in the morning, watching film, meeting with the team, practicing, going back, watching film, then watching film with the team,” Wright said. “And then we all go to dinner, but all we talk about at dinner is basketball.”

Wright guided Villanova to national championships in 2016 and 2018. Over the last four seasons, only Gonzaga has won more games than the Villanova — the Bulldogs have 130 wins, the Wildcats 129. And he has plenty of USA Basketball experience, like a gold medal as coach at the 2005 World University Games and a select team coach before the 2010 World Cup and 2016 Olympic runs by the senior national team.

Despite his experience, Wright notes that being around coaches like Popovich, Kerr and Pierce for umpteen hours a day has been a basketball education.

“It’s such an incredible opportunity,” Wright said. “We’re only a couple weeks in and I’ve already learned so much that I can bring back to our team. It’s incredible. Honestly, I feel like I’ve grown in two weeks as a coach, as a leader, more than I have in the last 10 years.”

Pounding Nails: Mick Cronin’s plan to recast UCLA from blue-blood to blue collar

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Four months into his tenure, the players that he inherited as the new UCLA head coach have yet to experience a vintage Mick Cronin blowup.

They’ve seen them, mind you.

They pull up the YouTube videos on their phones. It’s something that the staff and the players laugh about it. But watching Mt. Cronin erupt on Ted Valentine, J.P. Macura or whoever Rob is is very different than experiencing first-hand the wrath of a man who once missed a season because he, quite literally, blew a gasket.

“I can tell it’s there,” Chris Smith, a junior wing and one of the elder statesmen on this UCLA roster. “We’ve seen snippets of it in practice.”

“He will get fiery,” added freshman Jaime Jaquez, “but he’s being patient.”

And there’s a reason for that.

(Which I’ll get to.)

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After 13 seasons as the head coach at Cincinnati, after rebuilding the Bearcats from the ground up, Cronin left the city where he was born to become the tenth man in the last 44 years tasked with getting UCLA basketball back to where it was under John Wooden. The hire did not come with a ton of fanfare; in fact, Cronin was, at best, UCLA’s fourth choice. They wanted Jamie Dixon, but they couldn’t negotiate their way around his buyout. The same can be said for Rick Barnes, who publicly stated that he would be the head coach of the Bruins right now if the program had ponied up enough. UCLA chased John Calipari, and while it’s obvious that Coach Cal was using them to get a raise out of Kentucky, the Bruins believed there was a real chance they could get a deal done.

The fact that Cronin was not UCLA’s first choice had nothing to do with the level of success he achieved with the Bearcats. There are six programs in college basketball that have been to the NCAA tournament the past nine seasons. Cincinnati is one of them. Michigan State, Gonzaga, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas are the other five. Cronin is the only coach on that list that isn’t either in the Hall of Fame today or a lead pipe lock to be inducted in the very near future.

“A program like UCLA, winning is expected,” redshirt senior Prince Ali said. “He’s bringing that pedigree.”

Out of context, that level of consistency is remarkable.

In context, it’s even more impressive.

(I promise, I’m getting to the point.)

Remember, when Cronin took the Cincinnati job, it was at the height of the Big East’s powers in hoops. When he was hired, he had just two players on the roster, one of which was Connor Barwin, a walk-on recruited from the football team and a future NFL player. In his third season, the Big East had three No. 1 seeds in the tournament and a Final Four appearance. The first year Cincinnati reached the Big Dance, they were one of 11 schools from the conference to get a bid.

Making Cincinnati matter in a conference that was that strong was no easy task.

And that success was borne out of the one thing that, as it stands, is nowhere to be found in Westwood.

(We’ve arrived.)

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Cronin developed a specific brand for his Cincinnati program. They were tough. They were physical. They were going to grind you down defensively. They were going to win the battle of the boards. They were going to play that open stance defense.

More importantly, the players on the roster knew what to expect. They had been recruited by the Cincinnati staff. Those relationships would often last six years, from the time Cronin could start recruiting them as juniors in high school through their senior season in college. They went to Cincinnati because they wanted to be coached the way Cronin coaches, because they thought they could thrive playing the way Cronin’s teams play. They picked Cincinnati for a reason.

More importantly, they knew everything that was expected of them. There was a familiarity built off of roster continuity that allowed the program, in a sense, to run itself.

Now? In LA?

“Everyone is new,” Cronin told me last week. “New to me and me to them.”

Cronin knows there is going to be a learning curve with this group. The players have to figure out what they are being asked to do. They have to learn an entirely new terminology. They have to learn Cronin’s teaching style while he has to figure out the best way to get through to them. As he put it, “listening is overrated. It’s listen, learn and apply. The way [my players] learn and apply is going to determine our rate of improvement,” and it’s his job to figure out the best way for them to learn, and the easiest way for them to apply.

And then there is the elephant in the room. The players have to be reprogrammed to play a style that hasn’t been prevalent in Pauley Pavilion for at least a decade.

Cronin wouldn’t comment on what UCLA was before he arrived – “I cannot speak to anything that’s happened here prior because I wasn’t here.” – but I certainly can.

During his nine year NCAA tournament run, the Bearcats were, on average, ranked 15th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. The only season in which they ranked outside the top 22 in defensive efficiency was last year, when they “only” ranked 28th. UCLA, on the other hand, has ranked outside the top 100 in KenPom’s defensive ratings for three of the last four years. They haven’t finished in the top 30 since 2008, when Ben Howland was still getting the Bruins to Final Fours.

Put another way, Cronin is not only the new coach walking in the door, he’s the guy asking a roster full of players to play a way they’ve never been asked to play before.

That takes time.

And if he comes at them screaming like a madman every time they make a mistake, he’ll lose them.

He knows that.

“Being a college basketball coach is like being a starting pitcher,” Cronin said. “You have to change pitches. You’re pitching the whole game. You can’t throw fastballs every day.”

“You can’t get after people if they don’t believe or trust what you’re doing is real,” said assistant coach Darren Savino, who has been with Cronin for a decade, and that as much as anything else has been the focus of the first four months of the Cronin Era.

Cronin has taken a fairly unusual approach. There haven’t been team trips to the bowling alley. He hasn’t taken UCLA on any wilderness retreats or hired any Navy SEALS to come in and grind his players to a pulp with 5:30 a.m. workouts.

“I believe guys need to have a life and when it’s time to work, you work,” Cronin said. “I’m not into the corny stuff.”

I asked him to elaborate on that.

Prince Ali (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

“Showing up to your kid’s game is not being a parent. Taking your guys bowling is not being a coach or developing bonds,” he said. “After practice, the guys all go around saying ‘good work today,’ but during practice they make faces when a guy makes a mistake or doesn’t throw them the ball. Anyone can walk around saying good job, but what about when we’re competing?

“College basketball is 80 percent culture and how hard you compete. Do you care for each other? How do you interact? As a coach, you have to make it mandatory to play unselfish, play for each other and treat each other right.

“I can get after you as a coach. You don’t need to get on his ass because I will do that. You need to lift him up. My line is simple: ‘Your job is to worry about the team and helping each other. My job is to worry about you.'”

“I’ve felt the switch in culture. Everyone knows the whole idea is intensity and passion,” Smith said. “I’ve felt his presence in the gym, in practice. We’re going 100 percent in every drill. I can already see what the difference is going to be.”

“It’s great so far because there’s no stat sheet yet,” Cronin added with a chuckle.

UCLA lost their three leading scorers from last season in Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes and Moses Brown, but there is more than enough talent on this roster for Cronin to get to the 10th straight NCAA tournament. Ali was a top 30 prospect nationally coming out of high school. There are three four-star recruits returning on the wing – Smith, Jules Bernard and David Singleton – and two coming back to school in the frontcourt. Jaquez is a local kid and a freshman that made his debut playing for the Mexican national team this summer, and both Tyger Campbell and Shareef O’Neal will be able to play this year after missing their freshman seasons.

Put another way, the problem with the UCLA program the last few years hasn’t been talent. In fact, the Bruins are deep enough that Cronin is actually concerned about making sure he finds enough minutes for everyone that deserves minutes.

The problem last season was simple, really. There was a lack of desire to play defense, there were too many guys playing for their draft stock instead of their teammates and there was a coaching staff that didn’t – or couldn’t – hold players accountable; Steve Alford was fired on Dec. 31st, and interim head coach Murry Bartow was nothing more than a substitute teacher.

Changing that mindset, slowly but surely, has been Cronin’s mission, and he knows that the process is far from complete.

“When you start to build a house, it’s a bunch of boards and nail,” he said. “You have to start pounding nails. You can’t look at it as a bunch of wood and a bunch of nails. You have to get up every day and start pounding nails, and eventually, you have a house.”

College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

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There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.

But we’re doing it anyway!

A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them. 

So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
  • WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman

2. KENTUCKY

  • WHO’S GONE: P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis
  • WHO’S BACK: E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickly, Nick Richards
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

3. DUKE

  • WHO’S GONE: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden
  • WHO’S BACK: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey

4. KANSAS

  • WHO’S GONE: Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson, Quintin Grimes, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Mitch Lightfoot, David McCormack
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna, Isaac McBride, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike

5. VILLANOVA

  • WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
  • WHO’S BACK: Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, Brandon Slater
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Bryan Antoine, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

6. LOUISVILLE

  • WHO’S GONE: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams, Darius Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Samuell Williamson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, Fresh Kimble, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehom, Quinn Slazinski
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Fresh Kimble, Samuell Williamson, Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora, Malik Williams

7. MARYLAND

  • WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
  • WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Chol Marial, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Jalen Smith

8. VIRGINIA

  • WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
  • WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kadin Shedrick, Justin McKoy
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff

9. TEXAS TECH

  • WHO’S GONE: Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase, Khavon Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Chris Beard, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew, Andrei Savrasov
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jahmius Ramsey, Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Kevin McCullar, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jahmius Ramsey, Davide Moretti, Deshawn Corprew, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke

10. FLORIDA

  • WHO’S GONE: KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, DeAundre Ballard
  • WHO’S BACK: Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, Dontay Bassett, Isaiah Stokes
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Kerry Blackshear Jr.

11. GONZAGA

  • WHO’S GONE: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones
  • WHO’S BACK: Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Admon Gilder, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Ryan Woolridge, Brock Ravet, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zahkarov
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev

12. SETON HALL

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Nzei
  • WHO’S BACK: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Tyrese Samuel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

13. NORTH CAROLINA

  • WHO’S GONE: Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cole Anthony, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

14. UTAH STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Quinn Taylor
  • WHO’S BACK: Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta, Diogo Brito, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alphonso Anderson, Liam McChesney, Sean Bairstow
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Diogo Brito, Abel Porter, Sam Merrill, Brock Miller, Neemias Queta

15. OREGON

  • WHO’S GONE: Paul White, Louis King, Ehab Amin, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol, Victor Bailey
  • WHO’S BACK: Payton Pritchard, Will Richardson, Francis Okoro
  • WHO’S COMING IN: N’Faly Dante, C.J. Walker, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, Addison Patterson, Chris Duarte, Lok Wur, Chandler Lawson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Payton Pritchard, Chris Duarte, Anthony Mathis, C.J. Walker, Shakur Juiston

16. ARIZONA

  • WHO’S GONE: Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph
  • WHO’S BACK: Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Terry Armstrong, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Max Hazzard, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter

17. SAINT MARY’S

  • WHO’S GONE: Jordan Hunter
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Dan Fotu, Jock Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry

18. XAVIER

  • WHO’S GONE: Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins, Kyle Castlin, Elias Harden
  • WHO’S BACK: Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kyky Tandy, Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey, Dieonte Miles
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, Tyrique Jones

19. LSU

  • WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Trendon Watford, James Bishop
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Trendon Watford, Emmitt Williams

20. BAYLOR

  • WHO’S GONE: King McClure, Makai Mason, Jake Lindsey
  • WHO’S BACK: Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler, Jared Butler, Devonte Bandoo, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillespie, Matthew Mayer
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jordan Turner, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Mark Vital, Mario Kegler, Tristan Clark

21. MEMPHIS

  • WHO’S GONE: Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr., Raynere Thornton, Kareem Brewton, Antwann Jones Jr.
  • WHO’S BACK: Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
  • WHO’S COMING IN: James Wiseman, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, Damian Baugh, Lance Thomas, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa, James Wiseman

22. AUBURN

  • WHO’S GONE: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, Chuma Okeke
  • WHO’S BACK: Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Isaac Okoro, Anfernee McLemore

23. TENNESSEE

  • WHO’S GONE: Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone, Grant Williams, Derrick Walker Jr, D.J. Burns
  • WHO’S BACK: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons., John Fulkerson, Jalen Johnson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Josiah James, Drew Pember, Olivier Nkamoua, Davonte Gaines
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

24. VCU

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Gilmore
  • WHO’S BACK: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Vince Williams, Mike’L Simms, P.J. Byrd, Malik Crawford
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jarren McAlister
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Vince Williams, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva

25. OHIO STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington, Kyle Young, Justin Aherns, Musa Jallow, Jaedon LeDee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddel, Ibrahima Diallo, CJ Walker
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson

JUST MISSED

DAVIDSON

  • WHO’S GONE: Nathan Ekwu, Dusan Kovacevic
  • WHO’S BACK: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luka Brajkovic, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Carter Collins, David Czerapowicz, Bates Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Hyunjung Lee, David Kristensen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Luka Brajkovic

CREIGHTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Froling, Kaleb Joseph, Connor Cashaw
  • WHO’S BACK: Davion Mintz, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Shereef Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mintz, Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson

WASHINGTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Dominic Green
  • WHO’S BACK: Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, Jamal Bey
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels, Quade Green, Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quade Green, Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart

COLORADO

  • WHO’S GONE: Namon Wright
  • WHO’S BACK: McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, D’shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert, Evan Battey, Shane Gatling, Daylen Kountz
  • WHO’S COMING IN: No one
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: McKinley Wright IV, Shane Gatling, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert

MARQUETTE

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Hauser, Joey Hauser, Joseph Chartouny
  • WHO’S BACK: Markus Howard, Theo John, Sacar Anim, Ed Morrow, Jamal Cain
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Koby McEwen, Symir Torrence, Jayce Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Markus Howard, Koby McEwen, Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey, Theo John

Ex-Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves acquitted in sex assault case

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FLINT, Mich. — A jury acquitted former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves Tuesday on charges alleging he sexually assaulted a woman in a motel room four years ago.

The verdict announced in a Genesee County courtroom in Cleaves’ hometown of Flint came after a nearly-two week trial that included the testimony of the Mount Morris woman, who told jurors that she had wanted to leave the motel room but Cleaves continued to force himself on her.

Evidence against Cleaves included a video that prosecutors contended showed the woman pulling away from Cleaves. Prosecutors argued she tried twice to escape from the motel room.

Cleaves did not testify. One of his attorneys, Frank Manley, said Cleaves had consensual sex with the woman who was in the motel room “of her own free will” after a charity golf tournament and visit to a bar. Cleaves’ attorneys told jurors that the woman lied about what happened because she felt guilty about cheating on her boyfriend.

The 41-year-old Cleaves was acquitted on all charges, including unlawful imprisonment and assault with intent to commit criminal sexual penetration. He had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison had he been convicted.

Cleaves has long denied the allegations, saying in a March 2016 tweet that he was “innocent and the allegations are without merit.”

The trial itself came after a long legal battle that started in late 2016 when a district judge dismissed the charges, saying that there were a number of factors that suggested “something else was going on” between Cleaves and the woman.

But in 2017, the charges were reinstated after the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal that contended the judge had abused her “discretion of power” in dismissing the charges. Then last year, the Michigan Supreme Court refused to review that decision, clearing the way for the trial.

Cleaves is a revered figure in Michigan, an integral part of a Michigan State team that won the national championship in 2000 before his six-year NBA career.

And on Tuesday, sitting in a courtroom was another reminder of that team: Coach Tom Izzo. Izzo told The Detroit News that he did not know the details about the allegations against his former star player but wanted to be in the courtroom to support Cleaves as he would “any of my guys.”

Mick Cronin lands first five-star recruit at UCLA

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Less than 24 hours after cutting his list to five schools, five-star point guard Daishen Nix committed to UCLA.

Nix is a 6-foot-5 point guard from Alaska that’s currently playing his high school ball in Las Vegas. He’s known for his court vision and elite basketball IQ with a developing jumper and a feel for the game that cannot be taught. He ranks as a top 15 prospect, according to 247 Sports.

He was Mick Cronin’s top target at the point guard spot, and Cronin landed him. That’s notable, because one of the concerns that people had about UCLA’s decision to hire Cronin was whether or not a coach known for his toughness, his intensity and his team’s propensity for being defense first would adjust to playing at California’s flagship program, where tempo is a must and defense has been, for the last half-decade, optional.

And while it remains to be seen how the team and program will adjust to his coaching style – I will have a story coming on that later this week – at the very least, Cronin has proven that he can dip his toe in the west coast recruiting waters and get a player that he prioritized.