Prep basketball takes backseat to AAU in recruiting game

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MANHATTAN, Kan. — Back when Bruce Weber was an up-and-coming assistant on Gene Keady’s staff at Purdue, the coach would spend countless hours on planes and behind the wheel to catch as many high school basketball games as possible.

He would walk into the gymnasium of an elite prospect on a cold January night and wedge his way into a crowd of half a dozen other coaches, all trying to scout their next potential star.

“These young guys, they can’t even imagine,” said Weber, now the coach at Kansas State, “but there was no AAU, and the young guys that grew up in it, played in it, that’s all they know.”

A gradual but pronounced change has occurred in basketball recruiting, one that has taken much of the importance away from the high school game. Instead, more and more college coaches spend the majority of their time and budgets to watch travel teams playing on the sneaker circuits sponsored by the likes of Adidas and Nike, and the multitude of high-profile summer tournaments that have cropped up.

It makes sense, too: Weber can see dozens of top recruits in a single night at the Peach Jam event in July than he’d see by logging thousands of frequent flyer miles to see their high school teams.

Is prep basketball becoming an afterthought for those who stock rosters in college?

“Many college programs still make an effort to watch and recruit student-athletes at high school competitions, but elite showcases and summer basketball definitely offer these programs more chances to see kids in the offseason than ever before,” said Alex Schobert, the coach of Belleville West High School in Illinois, which sent elite prospect EJ Liddell to Ohio State this season. “The landscape of college basketball and recruiting has changed tremendously the last few years.”

The powerbrokers of the NCAA have noticed it, too.

The governing body made sweeping changes this past year to off-season recruiting and evaluation periods over the summer months. Among the many moves was the addition of a second three-day evaluation weekend at the end of June that is only for scholastic events, an attempt to bring some of the focus back to the high school basketball programs that once formed the backbone of recruiting.

“Being in Dallas, we get a lot of college coaches through here,” said David Peavy, the coach of powerhouse Duncanville High School, whose son Micah is a top-50 recruit headed to Texas Tech.

“But it’s tough. It’s tough on the schools,” Peavy said. “I’m glad in a way for the way it is now — that these kids get so much exposure — but it’s tough on high schools.”

It doesn’t help them that their seasons coincide with the college season, when coaches find it difficult to slip away for a few days to drop in on high school games.

John Oxton, who has spent three decades coaching Lakeville North High School in Minnesota, also has seen the trend. But he points out that if a coach is really interested in a player, they still get in touch with the high school coach, who often can offer a broader assessment of the individual.

Shooting, rebounding and scoring matter. So do academics, personality and general disposition.

“It’s not an exact science, recruiting,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman, who spent nearly two decades seeking the best mid-major prospects for Marshall and Creighton, and who now is landing five-star recruits with regularity in the Pac-12.

Part of recruiting, Altman said, becomes a game of who you know.

That is where the value still exists in high schools.

“I don’t know if there’s been more focus put on elite events and the like, but I do know that relationship building seems to be one of the main focuses now,” said Mike Jones, who coaches perennial power DeMatha High School outside Washington, D.C., and USA Basketball’s under-16 national team.

“I would agree that being seen in gyms of top-level players has become a priority,” Jones said, “but rules allow for only a certain number of visits, so coaches have to be very strategic.”

It’s not just that coaches are putting more emphasis on summer games, either. The kids taking the court understand a showcase tournament that attracts dozens of high-level coaches usually means more to their future than a regular-season game with their high school friends.

“In high school, it’s all about winning,” said Kansas State freshman DaJuan Gordon, who was Mr. Chicago at Curie High School last season, and who starred for Team Rose on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit in the summer months. “With AAU, it’s about winning and your individual achievement.”

Gordon’s new college teammate, Antonio Gordon, agreed that summer games pack more pressure, along with more exposure and more opportunities.

“I feel like the games we played were more fun at AAU rather than high school games,” said Gordon, who played alongside Christian Braun (Kansas), Malik Hall (Michigan State) and Grant Sherfield (UCLA) for MoKan Elite and helped his team to the Peach Jam semifinals last year.

“Games were pretty easy in high school,” Gordon said, “but AAU games are against people that are similar to you, just as good as you and even better than you, going to big schools.”

That talent level — and the volume of players at that level — are why Weber and his coach staff at Kansas State have embraced the trend toward scouting the summer leagues and sneaker circuits.

It’s why every other coach in America emphasizes them over the prep season, too.

“I hope we get a little mixture of both. That’s the goal of the NCAA,” he said. “Hopefully we can meet with the AAU and work with the shoe companies and make this a very positive thing.”

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.

No. 12 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes matched his season high with 23 points as No. 12 Iowa State held on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76 on Tuesday night.

The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Wildcats and Texas.

Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points for Iowa State. Osun Osunniyi finished with 16.

Markquis Nowell led Kansas State (17-3, 6-2) with 23 points.

A 3-pointer from Holmes gave Iowa State a 59-49 advantage with 8:12 remaining. Kansas State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the margin to 60-59.

Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer steadied the Cyclones and pushed the lead back to 63-59 with five minutes left.

Free throws by Osunniyi, Grill and Holmes sealed the victory in the final 24 seconds.

The first half featured eight lead changes and ended with Kansas State up 33-31.

A 3-pointer by Kalscheur ignited an early 9-0 run for the Cyclones and helped them build a 19-14 lead. Iowa State made just one of nine 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was trying to extend its best start to a season since 1961-62.

Iowa State improved to 11-0 at home. The Cyclones have not lost back-to-back games this season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State hosts Florida on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Iowa State travels to Missouri on Saturday.

Georgetown snaps 29-game conference losing streak

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WASHINGTON – Primo Spears scored 21 points and Georgetown snapped a 29-game conference losing streak with an 81-76 victory over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Georgetown (6-15, 1-9) won its first Big East game since March 13, 2021, ending the longest skid in the history of the conference. The Hoyas also ended a 10-game losing streak this season.

Spears also contributed six assists for the Hoyas. Akok Akok scored 12 points and added six rebounds and four blocks and Brandon Murray recorded 12 points.

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons (9-12, 3-7) in scoring, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three steals. Javan Johnson added 13 points.

Spears scored nine points in the first half and Georgetown went into the break trailing 37-36. Georgetown used a 10-0 run in the second half to build a 12-point lead at 75-63 with 1:39 remaining.

Nance scores 21 as North Carolina survives Syracuse, 72-68

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Pete Nance scored 21 points, capped by a dunk with 19 seconds left that put North Carolina in front for good as the Tar Heels pulled out a hard-fought, 72-68 battle with Syracuse on Tuesday night.

Joe Girard hit from beyond the arc to put Syracuse up, 68-66 with 1:28 left, but after Nance hit the first of two free throws to get North Carolina within one, he missed the second free throw and in the scramble to gather in the rebound, the ball caromed toward the end line and Girard dove to save it. Instead, he flicked the ball right to Nance, who dunked for the lead.

Judah Mintz tried to drive the lane for a go-ahead layup but was called for an offensive foul that was upgraded to a flagrant foul. North Carolina took possession and Caleb Love converted three straight free throws to put the game away.

Armando Bacot scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds with four assists for North Carolina (15-6, 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Love finished with 15 points and five assists.

Girard hit 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and finished with 18 points to lead Syracuse (13-8, 6-4). Mintz scored 17 points and had three steals and Chris Bell hit 3 of 5 from deep and finished with 15 points.

North Carolina has a week off before playing host to Pitt on Feb. 1. Syracuse plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Green Bay fires Will Ryan after 11th straight loss

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay fired Will Ryan three days after the Phoenix suffered their 11th consecutive loss.

Ryan, the son of former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, posted a 15-61 record in 2 1/2 seasons. Freddie Owens, who had been an assistant coach on Ryan’s staff, will be interim head coach for the rest of the season.

“UW-Green Bay is committed to continuing its legacy as an outstanding Division I athletics program in the future, and Phoenix men’s basketball needs to help lead the way as we work to elevate all of our programs and be a shining light for this region and beyond,” athletic director Josh Moon said in a news release announcing the move.

Moon thanked Ryan and his family for their contributions to the program and said that “we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Stadium first reported Ryan’s firing.

Green Bay dropped to 2-19 overall and 1-9 in the Horizon League with a 72-38 home loss to Robert Morris.

Ryan was hired by Green Bay after going 14-13 in his lone season as the head coach at Division II program Wheeling (West Virginia). Green Bay went 8-17 in Ryan’s debut season and finished 5-25 last year.

Ryan had taken over for Linc Darner, who went 92-80 and posted a winning record in four of his five seasons.