Top prospect Jalen Green becomes first player to test G League professional pathway program

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Jalen Green, the No. 3 prospect in the Class of 2020 and a guy with the potential to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, announced on Thursday afternoon that he has committed to … the G League?

Instead of going to college, Jalen Green will be the guinea pig in the latest G League effort to keep American talent that is not interested in playing collegiately stateside. Green is the first high school player that has opted to enter the G League’s professional pathway program for prospects that want to do something other than go to college for their one-and-done season.

And he may not be the only one that follows this path. Isaiah Todd, another five-star prospect in the Class of 2020, announced earlier this week that he will not be attending Michigan and is exploring professional routes. He is expected to join this same G League program. Kentucky commit Terrence Clarke was pursued by the G League but seems intent on heading to Lexington, while Gonzaga commit Jalen Suggs has also made clear that the professional route is something he is considering.

Green is expected to earn north of $500,000 this year and enroll in a program that is significantly different from the option that was given to high school players in the past. According to ESPN, Green will not be playing as a full-time member of a G League team but instead enroll in what amounts to an NBA academy. He’ll get on-and-off the court training, he’ll have a chance to scrimmage G League teams as well as other NBA academy programs from around the world and he will receive professional coaching and player development training from actual NBA coaches. The goal is not to force Green and fellow high school graduates into competing against professionals but to instead help them learn what it takes to be a professional basketball player, on and off the court.

This will obviously be a blow for the sport of college basketball, but it’s one that we have become somewhat accustomed to in recent years. Every year, there are more elite high school prospects that are opting for alternative routes to the NBA than going through college. R.J. Hampton and Lamelo Ball followed Terrance Ferguson to Australia, where the NBL has established a Next Stars program for one-and-dones. Anfernee Simons and Thon Maker started a trend of players going to prep school for a year before entering the draft, one that will be followed by Makur Maker, Josh Hall and Kenyon Martin Jr. this year. MarJon Beauchamp announced last summer that he will be on the Mitchell Robinson plan, skipping college and opting to spend his one-and-done season working out and prepping for the NBA draft on his own.

The G League route, however, is something that we never saw an elite prospect do. Former Syracuse commit Darius Bazely intended to enter the G League, but he realized it was not in his best interest. (Back in 2009, Latavius Williams skipped college and went straight to the G League, but that was before this program was established and issues with collegiate eligibility influenced that decision.)

The reason for it is that the G League is by no means an easy place to play.

We look at it as a joke because it is the minor leagues, but the truth of the matter is that the G League is made up of players in their early-to-mid 20’s that were high school All-Americans and all-conference players in college. Look at some of the names on this year’s midseason all-G League team:

  • Frank Mason was the National Player of the Year in 2017.
  • Josh Jackson was a top five pick and a top three recruit that is still on his rookie contract.
  • Gary Payton II averaged 16 points, 7.8 boards and 5.0 assists for an Oregon State team that actually made the NCAA tournament.
  • Keldon Johnson was a top ten prospect that will be two years out of college next season.
  • Tremont Waters averaged 16 points and six assists in two years at LSU.
  • Marial Shayok averaged 18.7 points at Iowa State

The list goes on and on and on.

These are grown men, many with young families, fighting — sometimes quite literally — for one last chance at landing an NBA contract, at the financial security that comes with getting one of those coveted 450 jobs. The adjustment to the college game is difficult for most freshmen. The G League is a significant step up from even the highest level of college basketball.

Now Jalen Green might have been ready for that leap to the G League. Some high school kids are. Zion Williamson certainly would have been, and while I don’t think that he is on the level of Zion, I do think that Jalen Green is a good enough player right now to be able to go to the G League without getting exposed. He’s a consensus top three player in a class where the top three are all good enough to be picked No. 1 in this year’s draft.

I don’t know if I can say the same about some of the other players considering this route. Todd, specifically. He’s a 6-foot-10, mobile big man with three-point range and the ability to handle the ball, but he’s not tough enough, strong enough or ready to defend at that level. Like Bazley, he is precisely the kind of player that could torpedo his draft stock playing against grown men before he’s ready.

Which is why this decision to turn the G League route into what amounts to an NBA academy is so important. These guys aren’t going to playing against pros every night on a team that has no incentive to actually develop them. This route, which will include a free college education, now becomes appealing, especially when it will be located in Southern California and come with a $500,000 payday.

The bigger question, however, is whether or not a decision like this, a push from the G League to get stars into the NBA’s grips as quickly as possible, is bad for college basketball.

And in a sense, it is.

Having a player as good as Jalen Green at a school with a fanbase as passionate as, say, Memphis would have unquestionably been a good thing for the sport.

But James Wiseman lasted three games at Memphis last season, and college basketball was, overall, just fine. Ball is as big of a draw as Zion, and college basketball survived while he played in Australia. Hampton was likely to commit to Kansas if he went to college, and the Jayhawks were still the clearcut No. 1 team in the country.

Losing out on a handful of freshmen every season is not something the NCAA or college basketball fans should be worried about, not when the one-and-done rule is likely to be gone before Emoni Bates or Bronny James arrives.

And according to sources that have spoken with NBC Sports, the goal here is to bring in 6-8 high school players every year. They are less concerned with ending college basketball than they are with taking the kids that are not interested in going to college and steering them towards the professional ranks in America as opposed to Australia, or China, or Italy.

Where college basketball needs to focus their attention is on the All-Americans that are leaving school to go undrafted. The Immanuel Quickleys, the Ty-Shon Alexanders, the Jordan Bones, the Tyler Cooks, the Jared Harpers. Kentucky will have a chance to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if Quickley, who will be a contender for National Player of the Year, changes course and comes back to school. Instead, they are taking players off Creighton’s bench as grad transfers because they’re worried about their freshman point guard. Creighton will be a top five team in the country if Alexander decides to come back to school; reportedly, he’s in the draft for good regardless of where he is projected to get picked or the feedback he receives from NBA teams. They could win a Big East regular season title and, legitimately, a national championship with him. They’re more of a top 15-20 team without him.

This is something that I’ve repeatedly harped on. I will continue shouting it at the top of my lungs until I fully devolve into the old man shouting at a cloud meme: The single biggest issue that college basketball is facing is their annual talent drain. Recognizable faces disappear into professional obscurity, the continuity on rosters are torpedoed and the game itself becomes uglier and uglier. It’s never going away because people are always going to cheer for their favorite school and March Madness is always going to be gambling utopia, but if we really want the sport to grow, the key isn’t keeping Jalen Green or Isaiah Todd from the G League.

It’s providing a financial incentive to keep stars on campus for an extra season or two.

Michigan St. rallies to win after giving up lead to Maryland

Maryland v Michigan State
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Joey Hauser scored 20 points and Tyson Walker had 17 and Michigan State rallied after scoring the game’s first 15 points to beat Maryland 63-58 on Tuesday.

A.J. Hoggard had 10 rebounds and eight assists for Michigan State.

Jahmir Young scored 17 points for Maryland, Hakim Hart 12, Julian Reese 11 and Donta Scott 10 for the Terrapins.

The Spartans (15-9, 7-6 Big Ten) used an 8-0 run in which Walker made a layup and 3-pointer wrapped around a 3 from Jaden Akins for a 52-48 lead with 7:44 remaining and Michigan State led for the remainder.

The Terrapins erupted for a 12-0 run in less than three minutes in the second half turning a 38-26 deficit into a 38-all tie. Young and Hart posted back-to-back three-point plays, and Hart’s 3-pointer with 13:01 knotted it at 38. Prior to that 3, Hart was 3-for-last-27 shooting from beyond the arc. Maryland finished shooting 3 of 22 from distance.

Michigan State started the game with a 15-0 run and led 31-22 at halftime. Coming off an 81-46 win over Maryland (16-8, 7-6 Big Ten) on Saturday, the Terrapins have yet to win back-to-back contests in almost three years.

The Terrapins host Penn State on Saturday. Michigan State travels to play Ohio State on Sunday.

Arkansas pulls away from Kentucky in 2nd half, wins 88-73

Arkansas v Kentucky
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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ricky Council IV scored 20 points, Anthony Black had 19 and Arkansas used a blazing second half to pull away and beat Kentucky 88-73 on Tuesday night, giving coach Eric Musselman his 200th collegiate victory.

Black added five assists and five steals. Makhel Mitchell and Davonte Davis scored 15 points each and Jordan Walsh 13 for the Razorbacks (17-7, 6-5 SEC) who have won five straight conference games, including three in a row. It was Arkansas’ third straight win over the Wildcats (16-8, 7-4). The teams meet again in Fayetteville in a regular-season finale on March 4.

Cason Wallace scored 24 points to lead Kentucky, which had won six straight conference games. Chris Livingston added 13 points and Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves 11 each.

After a first half with 11 lead changes, there were none in the second when Arkansas shot 72% and Council and Black combined for 25 points.

Three steals, including two by Black who turned them into consecutive dunks, fueled an 11-3 run to begin the second half for a 52-43 lead. A basket by Black made it a double-digit lead with eight minutes left as the Razorbacks sank 7 of 9 over that span to finish the game. They made 8 of 10 free throws over the final two minutes.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was given a technical foul with 33 seconds left in the first half. Black sank the resulting free throws for a three-point lead before Daimion Collins’ midrange jumper made it 41-40 at halftime.

Both teams shot over 50% in the first half with Wallace leading all scorers with 11 points. Kentucky dipped under 50% for the game while Arkansas finished at 63% and outscored the Wildcats 46-28 in the paint.

Arkansas is home against Mississippi State and Kentucky is at Georgia, both games on Saturday.

Tulane secures 101-94 OT win over Cincinnati

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NEW ORLEANS – Kevin Cross and Jalen Cook scored 27 points each as Tulane took down Cincinnati 101-94 in overtime on Tuesday night.

Cross added 15 rebounds and six assists for the Green Wave (16-7, 9-3 American Athletic Conference). Cook added 14 assists. Jaylen Forbes scored 24 points and shot 6 for 15 (3 for 6 from 3-point range) and 9 of 9 from the free throw line.

Landers Nolley II finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Bearcats (16-9, 7-5). Ody Oguama added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Cincinnati. In addition, David Dejulius finished with 12 points, eight assists and three steals.

Tulane entered halftime down 37-28. Cross paced the team in scoring in the first half with 10 points. Forbes scored 18 second-half points and hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Tulane scored seven unanswered points to break a tie and lead with 42 seconds left in overtime.

No. 16 Oklahoma women take 1st lead in OT, rally past Baylor

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WACO, Texas – Ana Llanusa and Skylar Vann each scored 20 points and No. 16 Oklahoma took its first lead of the game in overtime before rallying past Baylor 98-92 on Tuesday night.

The Sooners trailed for 39 minutes in regulation and were down 75-63 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Baylor turned it over twice on inbounds plays in the closing seconds of regulation and Taylor Robertson tied at 83-all on a wide-open 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

Llanusa started overtime with a 3-pointer, and she finished with eight points during the extra session. Baylor never led in overtime, shooting 2 of 6.

Robertson, who tied Danielle Robinson’s program record of 140 starts, finished with 14 points and three 3s for Oklahoma (19-4, 9-3 Big 12), which trails Texas (18-6, 9-2) in the hunt for its first conference title since 2009. Nevaeh Tot added 13 points, Liz Scott added 11 points and eight rebounds and Madi Williams had nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

The Sooners, the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense at 86.5 points per game, have scored at least 88 points 14 times this season, seven in conference.

Caitlin Bickle scored a career-high 30 points with four 3s and Sarah Andrews added 20 points for Baylor (16-7, 7-4). Freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs had 14 points and 17 rebounds and Ja’Mee Asberry scored 11. Jaden Owens had 14 of Baylor’s 25 assists on 32 field goals.

Bickle was 8 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 7 from distance, and Littlepage-Buggs recorded her sixth double-double in the last seven games.

It was the first time in 20 years the Sooners were ranked in game against an unranked Bears squad. Oklahoma continues its road trip at Kansas State on Sunday. Baylor plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Newton has triple-double, No. 21 UConn tops No. 10 Marquette

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HARTFORD, Conn. – UConn appears to have its mojo back.

Jordan Hawkins scored 20 points and Tristen Newton recorded his second triple-double of the season as No. 21 Connecticut ran away from No. 10 Marquette 87-72 on Tuesday night.

Newton had 12 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for the Huskies (19-6, 8-6 Big East), who won their third straight game after losing six of eight. They started the season 14-0, rising to No. 2 in the AP Top 25.

“Teams go through tough stretches during the course of the season,” coach Dan Hurley said. “The bottom line is we’re 19-6. You know, we beat some of the best teams in the country.”

Adama Sanogo added 18 points, while Alex Karaban and Nahiem Alleyne each chipped in with 13 for Connecticut, which never trailed.

Tyler Kolek had 17 points to lead Marquette (19-6, 11-3), which had its five-game winning streak snapped. Ben Gold and Stevie Mitchell each scored 12.

The Huskies outrebounded Marquette 48-24 and used 21 offensive boards to help them get 27 second-chance points. The Huskies also had 20 assists on 31 baskets, while holding Marquette to just seven assists.

UConn opened the game on a 22-6 run, highlighted by a fast-break lob from Newton to Andre Jackson for a dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. The Huskies made their first four 3-point shots, three by Hawkins, who had 14 points in the first half.

A hook shot by Sanogo gave UConn its first 20-point lead at 32-12 .

A late first-half run by Marquette cut the margin to 43-29, but Alleyne hit a 3-pointer from almost half court to send UConn into the break with a 17-point cushion.

Another 3-pointer from Alleyne gave the Huskies a 59-38 lead in the second half.

UConn led by 25 before Marquette went on an 8-0 run to pull within 17. But the Golden Eagles never threatened to get back in the game.

“We won two or three games in January,” Hawkins said. “It was definitely a tough stretch, definitely going to shake your confidence. But you just have to stay the course, trust the process and that’s what we did and that’s what we’re going to continue to do during this last stretch.”

BIG PICTURE

Marquette: The Golden Eagles had won nine of 10. They are trying to win a regular-season conference title after being picked ninth in the preseason poll by the league’s coaches.

UConn: Entered 1-5 against the top five teams in the Big East and 1-3 versus ranked opponents. UConn lost 82-76 at Marquette on Jan. 11 after leading by 11 points in the first half.

“The rankings mean nothing,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. “It’s amazing the disparity – no disrespect to anyone here – between what the ranking means to media and fans in the middle of a season and what it means to players and coaches. It just doesn’t mean anything.”

BACK FROM INJURY

Marquette’s Sean Jones, who missed the previous three games with a wrist injury, had 11 points in just over 19 minutes. He came down hard on the wrist in the second half, but appeared to shake it off and continued playing.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Newton’s first triple-double came in November against Buffalo, when he had 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He joined Shabazz Napier as the only Huskies players to get more than one.

“My amigos right here, they were going crazy hitting shots,” Newton said. “They were boxing out and I was getting the rebound, so I just had the easy job, just get them the ball.”

UP NEXT

Marquette: At last-place Georgetown on Saturday.

UConn: Will visit No. 23 Creighton on Saturday.