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Big Ten Offseason Reset: Michigan State, Maryland headline deepest league in America

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Big Ten.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

MICHIGAN STATE’S TITLE PUSH: It’s been discussed seemingly every year how the Big Ten hasn’t won a national championship since 2000.

With Virginia becoming the latest ACC program to take a title as Michigan State fell short in the Final Four once again, it’s only natural to think about what could have been.

Thankfully for the Big Ten’s title hopes, Michigan State is arguably the No. 1 team in the country entering this season. The Spartans have Preseason Player of the Year favorite in Cassius Winston and guard Josh Langford should return to health. Perhaps most importantly, Xavier Tillman looked like a huge threat down the stretch last season as the loss of Nick Ward shouldn’t even hurt the Spartans that much. And keep an eye on Aaron Henry.

Michigan State has everything they need to make it back to the Final Four as they bring experience, talent and an intriguing underclass group to the table. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if this Spartans team broke the Big Ten’s drought by winning it all next season.

JUWAN HOWARD REPLACING JOHN BEILEIN AT MICHIGAN: John Beilein going to the Cleveland Cavaliers in late May was the biggest coaching change of this offseason as a veteran Final Four coach and consistent top-25 presence opted to try his hand overseeing the highest level.

Replacing Beilein will be a proud alum in Juwan Howard, a Fab Five stalwart and 19-year NBA veteran. While it’s easy to be skeptical of an NBA guy taking over a program after recent failures elsewhere, Howard has six seasons of experience as an assistant coach with the Heat as he learned from one of the NBA’s best in Erik Spoelstra.

Juwan Howard (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

But Howard has never been a head coach, worked in the college game or recruited. Howard has been seen this spring at Nike EYBL events as he has a feel for the current recruiting landscape and how things work. It’s also very tough to replace a man who took a program to two Final Fours and had one of the best development programs in the nation.

Losing three key starters (more on that below) and assistant coach and defensive guru Luke Yaklich will also be a hit. There’s also reason to remain optimistic thanks to the return of veteran floor general Zavier Simpson and big man Jon Teske. Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks also return along with a talented sophomore class. And former Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli joining the staff as an assistant should ease the transition a bit for Howard.

Howard guiding a semi-experienced Michigan team as a first-year head coach will be one of the most fascinating subplots of this season in college basketball.

MARYLAND IS A TOP-10 THREAT: When Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith returned to school it gave the Terrapins one of the most intriguing teams in the country heading into the season.

Losing a double-double machine and elite big man in Bruno Fernando will undoubtedly hurt Maryland. The good news is that most of the rest of the team is back. Cowan is one of the league’s elite point guards as he’s got Smith back on the interior to ease things up for him. Smith’s sophomore classmates Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Ricky Lindo Jr. should also take a leap while junior Darryl Morsell is also returning.

The inside-outside combo of Cowan and Smith should be one of the league’s best and if multiple sophomores take a step up then Maryland could be a major threat for the Big Ten title. Top-35 in offense and defense in KenPom last season, the Terps are balanced, have all-league players at key positions and upside at multiple spots. Alert Scott Van Pelt. It could be a fun season for Maryland.

THE BIG TEN REMAINS INCREDIBLY DEEP: Although the Big Ten didn’t get a national title last March, they were the most impressive league in the NCAA tournament, getting eight teams into the field and going 7-1 in the first round.

This season looks no different for the Big Ten, as top-to-bottom it could be the toughest league in the country. Although some programs are in rebuilding mode, there is a strong case for many of the second and third-tier teams in the league thanks to star power and returning veteran experience. It’s not out of the question that the Big Ten could field double-digit teams in the field if things go as they could.

As long as the league’s teams don’t beat up on each other too badly then the Big Ten should be primed for another memorable season as the league has a lot of quality teams once again.

FRED HOIBERG TAKES OVER NEBRASKA: Juwan Howard isn’t the only new head coach in the league with an NBA background.

Following a failed trip to coach the Bulls, Fred Hoiberg is back in the college game as he takes over at Nebraska for Tim Miles. During a five-year stint at Iowa State in the first half of the decade, Hoiberg made four NCAA tournament appearances and the Round of 32 or better three times as he quickly turned around his sinking alma mater.

With a rabid fan base and great home court advantage in Lincoln, Hoiberg will try to create a turnaround similar to what he oversaw in Ames. Incredibly, Hoiberg has already turned over most of the Nebraska roster. Isaiah Roby leaving means two returning players from last season as he’s already loaded the roster with new players. Hoiberg was at his best taking transfers with the Cyclones, so it’ll be interesting to see his recruiting patterns in his new home.

Anthony Cowan (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: After becoming a cult hero in the NCAA tournament, Edwards turned pro and got picked in the second round by the Celtics. The Boilermakers will have a tough time replacing his volume scoring.
  • ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin: One of the Big Ten’s most prolific players is finally out of eligibility for the Badgers. It will feel incredibly strange seeing Wisconsin without Happ on the floor.
  • NICK WARD, Michigan State: The bruising junior big man decided to leave the Spartans as he ended up signing with the Hawks. Ward’s minutes declined at the end of the season as Xavier Tillman became the main interior presence.
  • BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: It’s nearly impossible to replace a double-double per game on 60 percent shooting but the Terps move on without their big man. Fernando was an early-second-round pick who ended up with the Hawks.
  • CHARLES MATTHEWS, IGGY BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan: The three top scorers from the Wolverines all departed for the pros as Howard will have to plug in many new pieces his first season. Not only could the group really score but they were all on the floor for one of the nation’s premier defenses.
  • EUGENE OMORUYI, Rutgers: Unknown compared to many on this list, Omoruyi’s transfer to Oregon gutted a Scarlet Knights team trying to turn the corner. He was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season.
  • AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota: The Golden Gophers might have been intriguing had Coffey returned on the wing but he opted to go pro and landed a two-way deal with the Clippers.
  • ROMEO LANGFORD and JUWAN MORGAN, Indiana: This duo accounted for 32 pointer per game for the Hoosiers last season as Langford went No. 14 to the Celtics.
  • TYLER COOK, Iowa: Leading scorer and rebounder for the Hawkeyes last season, Cook’s departure to the pros hurt a Hawkeyes deep with big tournament aspirations.

WHO’S BACK

  • CASSIUS WINSTON, JOSHUA LANGFORD and XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State: There might not be a more talented and experienced returning trio in the sport. Winston is a senior and National Player of the Year threat who controls the entire game for the Spartans. Langford is another senior and double-figure scorer returning from injury while Tillman improved immensely the final weeks of the season.
  • ANTHONY COWAN and JALEN SMITH, Maryland: Besides for Michigan State, this is the top inside-outside duo returning in the Big Ten this season. Cowan returned to school, where he was a huge offensive threat for the Terps last season. Smith is an NBA prospect who should command more touches with Fernando leaving.
  • KALEB WESSON, Ohio State: The Big Ten’s best post scorer is back for another season after flirting with the NBA. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound, highly-skilled big man doesn’t have many peers in college hoops as he’s the key to Ohio State’s offense.
  • AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois: After a promising freshman year, Dosunmu didn’t even entertain the NBA Draft process as he returned to Illinois. A lockdown defender who can score going to the rim, Dosunmu is a consistent jumper away from a potential lottery selection.
  • LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State: With 1,660 career points and an All-Big Ten First Team season already under his belt, this senior forward is one of the nation’s most underrated players. Stevens is a three-pointer away from being a total monster.

WHO’S COMING

  • ROCKET WATTS, Michigan State: One of the best names in college hoops next year doubles as a major second-unit perimeter scoring threat who could wind up playing a big part in a Final Four run. The 6-foot-2 Watts can really fill it up.
  • C.J. WALKER and D.J. CARTON, Ohio State: Ohio State overhauls its perimeter with this duo. Walker transfers from Florida State and provides experience at point while Carton is the best player in a loaded recruiting class, a high-flying guard with big upside.
  • TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS, Indiana: Whenever Mr. Basketball in Indiana ends up a Hoosier its a huge deal. This 6-foot-9 big man will be asked to come in and play right away as his rebounding and athleticism helped make him a near five-star prospect.
  • KOFI COCKBURN, Illinois: Listed a 7-foot-0, 290 pounds on the team’s official roster, this top-50 prospect is going to be a load to handle on the interior. Cockburn’s addition gives Illinois a very talented frontcourt.
  • YVAN OUEDRAOGO, Nebraska: The sweet-shooting 6-foot-9 French big man nearly averaged a double-double at last summer’s FIBA U16 European Championships. It was considered a coup when Hoiberg landed Ouedraogo this spring.
  • JAHAAD PROCTOR, Purdue: Losing Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline means this graduate transfer guard will get a ton of shots. The second-team All-Big South selection put up 19.5 points per game at High Point last season.
  • PAT SPENCER, Northwestern: College basketball’s most interesting transfer this season, Spencer is a former star Division I lacrosse player grad transferring to the Wildcats as a potential rotation guard for his final year of college eligibility.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG TEN TEAM

CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State (BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
JALEN SMITH, Maryland
AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
KALEB WESSON, Ohio State
LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State

Kaleb Wesson (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. MICHIGAN STATE: It’s title or bust for the Spartans as they look like the possible team to break the Big Ten’s title drought. Winston is an elite college basketball player and a healthy Langford is a lethal secondary scorer. Tillman looked scary by the end of last season while Aaron Henry and Kyle Ahrens are more returning contributors. Michigan State has the experience of making it last year and most of the returning pieces to get there again.

2. MARYLAND: Expectations are sky-high for the Terps as more than a few feel they’re top-10 worthy. Since they only lost Bruno Fernando from a promising team, Maryland has a lot to like. Anthony Cowan is the league’s best point guard besides Cassius Winston and Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell all return. There’s a ton of talent in place to make a national statement this season.

3. OHIO STATE: A year ahead of schedule making the Round of 32 last season, Kaleb Wesson’s return gives the Buckeyes a ton of threats. Wesson is the league’s premier interior scoring talent and he’s surrounded by returning experience and a top-flight recruiting class with multiple top-50 prospects. The Buckeyes getting consistent guard play from new pieces and sophomores Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad

4. MICHIGAN: Things will be drastically different in Ann Arbor as only Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske are back in the starting lineup. The Wolverines still have decent upper class talent with Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks while the four-man sophomore class needs to take a step up this season with the depleted recruiting class. Landing Franz Wagner, Mo’s little brother, would also be a monster move at this point in the offseason.

5. PURDUE: One of the league’s deepest frontcourts makes up for the loss of Edwards and Cline. Matt Haarms, Trevion Williams, Evan Boudreaux and Aaron Wheeler all proved themselves last season. Nojel Eastern is one of the league’s best defenders as he also returns. Proctor should help with the scoring but the Boilermakers need to find points to replace a volume-shooting backcourt.

6. IOWA: Returning three noted scorers in center Luka Garza and guards Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp will help the Hawkeyes as they should still put up points in bunches. Ryan Kreiner and Connon McCaffery also have plenty of experience while Patrick McCaffery, a four-star forward, also joins the roster this season. Getting stops will be key to Iowa’s season as an improved defense saw them make the Round of 32 last season.

7. ILLINOIS: The top four scorers all return as Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili were all credible double-figure scorers last season. Guard Andres Feliz is another player who can contribute points and center Kofi Cockburn’s addition gives the Illini a much-needed interior force. This team has massive upside but hasn’t tasted real success.

8. WISCONSIN: If Wisconsin can improve its inconsistent scoring and shooting then they should be a dangerous team. A thin frontcourt that returns only Nathan Reuvers and Aleem Ford is a concern but the perimeter of D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison is talented. Kobe King or Brevin Pritzl making a leap would help while the Badgers have a big group of inexperienced bigs to try out.

9. INDIANA: Losing Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan is going to be tough to overcome as the Hoosiers lack a clear go-to option. A team full of former role guys like Devonte Green, Al Durham and Justin Smith will have to step up. The Hoosiers have depth. Archie Miller has developed good teams in the past. Can this group improve enough to make a major leap this season?

10. PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions have experienced pieces in Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins while grad transfer Curtis Jones helps with guard depth following the loss of Rasir Bolton to transfer. Myles Dread is also back but the Nittany Lions will be playing a lot of unproven pieces. How far can Stevens carry this team?

11. RUTGERS: Finding a go-to player will be key now that Omoruyi is gone as the Scarlet Knights still return three starters and gain some solid transfers. The promising perimeter of Geo Baker, Montez Mathis and Ron Harper Jr. still have room to get better. Sophomore big man Myles Johnson came on strong the end of last season. But where does star power and scoring come from?

12. MINNESOTA: The loss of Amir Coffey stings but there’s a very intriguing sophomore core in place. Double-figure scorers Gabe Kalscheur and Daniel Oturu both return while Pitt transfer Marcus Carr and Vanderbilt transfer Peyton Willis enters the backcourt after redshirt years. Finding production outside of those the starting lineup could be the key to Minnesota’s season.

13. NORTHWESTERN: The last-place team loses its top three scorers while likely relying on a very young frontcourt and unstable point guard situation. The Wildcats really need young pieces to step up like freshmen center Jared Jones and forward Robbie Beran while senior A.J. Turner has to become a go-to presence.

14. NEBRASKA: First-year head coach Fred Hoiberg has already turned over much of the Nebraska roster. It’s a clear rebuilding year. Hoiberg was always at his best at Iowa State with an experienced roster, so the Huskers are still likely a few years away.

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.