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Top five prospect R.J. Hampton to skip college, turn pro in New Zealand

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R.J. Hampton, a top five prospect in the Class of 2019 and a player that Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech had all hoped would be the late-May addition they needed to make them a favorite to win the 2020 national title, announced on Tuesday morning that he will not be attending college.

Hampton, instead, is heading to New Zealand, spending his one-and-done season playing as a professional in the land of Steven Adams. This won’t come as much of a surprise to people that have been paying attention — the rumors that Hampton was headed abroad had grown louder after he reclassified last month — but it is a decision that is unprecedented.

“My dream has never been to play college basketball,” Hampton said on ESPN’s ‘Get Up’ on Tuesday morning. “So I think this was the best route for me.”

Because based on everything that I am hearing, Hampton would be eligible to play college ball, making him the first elite prospect to skip college altogether when he actually had the option on playing in the NCAA.

Terrance Ferguson didn’t. When he made the decision in the summer of 2016 to head to Australia, he did so knowing that there was a real chance he would never be cleared to play in college. Ferguson attended Prime Prep, the high school that Deion Sanders created in Texas whose coursework was not accepted by the NCAA. That’s the same school that Emmanuel Mudiay attended, which was the driving force behind his decision to play professionally in China instead of trying to get cleared to enroll at SMU. Brandon Jennings, the first player that skipped college to head abroad, did so with questions about whether or not he would get a qualifying test score. If LaMelo Ball eventually ends up heading to Australia, he’ll do so because he forfeited his collegiate eligibility when his family made the decision to play professionally in Lithuania last year.

Hampton doesn’t have looming eligibility issues hanging over his head.

And that is what makes this unique.

If anyone can really be considered a trailblazer here, it’s Hampton, and frankly, it will be fascinating to see how this turns out.

It worked for the first three guys to make the leap. Jennings averaged better than 15 points for the first six seasons of his career, and while he was out of the NBA this past season, he’s already earned more than $40 million in NBA paychecks. That doesn’t include endorsements or money that he made overseas. I think he did OK.

Mudiay has not had the easiest transition to the professional level, but he did average 14.8 points and 3.9 assists in 59 games for the Knicks as a 22-year old this season. He’ll get another contract, and he’s already banked $14 million off his rookie deal. Ferguson? He started every game he played for the Thunder this season, including five games during the playoffs.

There’s more than one way to get to the NBA.

And five years ago, Hampton making this decision likely would have resulted in column after column being written bemoaning how problematic this would be for the college game, but that shouldn’t be the case anymore. There are kids currently in high school that will likely end up being able to go straight to the NBA, assuming that the 19-year old age limit gets eliminated in a couple of years like everyone in basketball expects it to.

Hell, Hampton could very well end up being the last high school kid that has to trek halfway across the world to be able to capitalize on his market value.

Put another way, this isn’t going to be the end of college basketball as we know it the same way that the sport — somehow, miraculously — survived Ferguson, and Mudiay, and Jennings opting for a gap year.

And if I’m being totally honest, I don’t even know if this decision is going to have all that much of an impact on the game this season.

Look, Hampton is a stud. I don’t know if anyone is going to unseat James Wiseman as the No. 1 pick in this draft class, but Hampton is certainly somewhere in that conversation. He’s also a guy that is picking between three college teams already in the preseason top ten. No one actually thought that Texas Tech was in the mix down the stretch, so we can take them out of this conversation.

Memphis already has the talent. Would Hampton be a talent upgrade at the point over Boogie Ellis and Tyler Harris? Sure, but the issue Memphis has right now isn’t talent. It’s experience. Hampton reclassified from the Class of 2020 meaning he should be heading into his senior season in high school. He would not be the answer to their experience problem.

Kansas was considered to be the favorite to land Hampton had he decided on the college route, but even that was a weird fit. Hampton wants the ball in his hands, but that would have required Bill Self to take the ball out of Devon Dotson’s hands — it might have even convinced Dotson to keep his name in the NBA draft. I don’t know if that would have been optimal for the Jayhawks. With Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett and potentially both Dotson and Quentin Grimes returning, the Jayhawk perimeter is already crowded. Hampton, would certainly be a talent upgrade, but considering that the issues the Jayhawks will face next season center around the fact that they lack A) a four-man to run high-low with Udoka Azubuike, and B) the kind of perimeter shooting needed to play small-ball full-time, this is another situation where Hampton is not necessarily the answer to what will ail Kansas.

Put another way, I currently have Kansas and Memphis at No. 7 and No. 9, respectively, in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. I don’t know if the addition of Hampton would automatically vault either of them into the top three.

So I guess my question is this: If a five-star prospect that wasn’t supposed to be a member of the Class of 2019 doesn’t enroll with the Class of 2019, and if the three top ten schools recruiting him wouldn’t be drastically better with him on board, will anyone actually notice that he never made it to campus?

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)