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John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Matt Mitchell to return to San Diego State

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SAN DIEGO — Forward Matt Mitchell will return to San Diego State for his senior season after exploring his chances in the NBA Draft.

Mitchell didn’t hire an agent, so he retained his college eligibility.

He was named first-team All-Mountain West last season, when SDSU went 30-2, won the MWC regular-season title and would have been a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He is ranked 27th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,085 points.

Mitchell said Friday that he made his decision after speaking with his family and coaching staff.

Besides completing his degree, “I am excited to join my teammates and for the opportunity to lead our quest for another Mountain West championship, and potential return to the NCAA Tournament,” he said.

Coach Brian Dutcher said it was important for Mitchell to meet with NBA teams and hear their evaluations.

“As we focus on earning another Mountain West championship in 2020-21, this experience can only be a positive for Matt and the Aztecs,” Dutcher said.

Mitchell started last season as the sixth man but moved into the starting lineup after Nathan Mensah was sidelined with a respiratory ailment.

Leading hoops scorer AJ Lawson returning to South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s top scorer and rebounder AJ Lawson is returning to school for his junior basketball season.

Lawson announced on social media Wednesday that he is withdrawing from the NBA draft. The 6-foot-6 guard from Toronto started all 31 games last year, averaging team highs with 13.4 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Lawson thanked the pro teams he met with the past few months and said he was excited to play another season at South Carolina.

Lawson put his name in the draft pool in April, but did not hire an agent giving him the option to return.

The coronavirus pandemic, that ended South Carolina’s season before the Southeastern Conference Tournament, pushed back the NBA draft along with the deadline for college players to decide whether to go back to school.

Lawson started all 31 games last season. He also averaged 13.4 points during his freshman year, starting 29 games for South Carolina.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin also said Wednesday that ex-Missouri State freshman Ford Cooper Jr. has transferred to South Carolina.

Former Illinois, New Mexico St coach Lou Henson dies at 88

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Lou Henson, the plain-spoken coach who took New Mexico State and Illinois to the Final Four during a 21-year career that included nearly 800 victories and a feud with fellow Big Ten coach Bob Knight, has died. He was 88.

Henson died Saturday at his home in Champaign and he was buried in a private service Wednesday, the Illinois athletic department said.

Henson left the game as the winningest coach at both Illinois and New Mexico State, and still ranks fifth all-time among Big Ten coaches in total wins (423) and conference wins (214). In 2015, he was named to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, an honor his fans thought might never come.

“I just think that Lou is probably the most underrated coach in college basketball,” former Illinois and pro player Stephen Bardo said.

Henson stressed preparation and discipline. But his best team, the 1988-89 Flyin’ Illini that reached the NCAA semifinals, won with a fluid mix of athleticism and style.

Henson was gracious and gregarious, yet also serious. But he made headlines for his contentious dispute with Indiana’s Knight, while his comb-over hair style, the Lou-Do, served as a source of amusement.

And for years after Henson left the sidelines, he and his wife, Mary, were widely loved, unofficial ambassadors for both Illinois and New Mexico State and the towns where they’re located, Champaign, Illinois, and Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“Who doesn’t love Lou? Seriously – who doesn’t love him?” said former NBA player Reggie Theus, who succeeded Henson at New Mexico State and considered him a mentor. “Because he’s genuine. There’s no ego there.”

Illinois coach Brad Underwood called Henson’s death “a sad day for the Illinois basketball family and Illini nation.”

“His achievements are legendary, but what is immeasurable are the countless lives he impacted during his 21 years in Champaign and 41 years in coaching,” Underwood said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Mary and their family, and the hundreds of players who were fortunate enough to be led by such a tremendous man and coach. Rest in peace to the best to ever wear the orange jacket; we’ll miss you, coach.”

Henson, a native of Okay, Oklahoma, played college basketball at New Mexico State in the early 1950s. After coaching at Las Cruces High School – where he won three state titles – and Hardin-Simmons University in Texas, Henson took over at New Mexico State in 1966.

His Aggies made the NCAA Tournament in each of his first five seasons, including a Final Four appearance in 1970.

Wins at New Mexico State led Henson to Illinois in 1975, where he took over a program that had struggled since an NCAA scandal in the 1960s.

He wanted to build with players from Illinois, and particularly talent-rich Chicago, but warned that might be a slow process.

“We’re going to try to build relations in our state,” he said during an interview years later. “And we did.”

Henson had to wait for his fifth Illini team to win 20 games, a benchmark Bardo said Henson set for all his teams. Henson took Illinois to the NCAA Tournament in his sixth season, in 1980-81.

By the time Bardo and the rest of the Flyin’ Illini were on campus, the talent pipeline Henson set out to build – and one Illinois coaches since have hoped to match – was flowing. Nine Henson teams made it to the NCAA Tournament between 1981 and 1990.

Bardo said it’s unlikely a newly hired coach would now get the kind of grace period Henson needed.

“Just because the way that college athletics has gone, there’ so much pressure on coaches to produce, now,” said Bardo, who works as a TV commentator.

The Flyin’ Illini were Henson’s best team.

Led by Bardo, Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill and Nick Anderson, Illinois reached the Final Four with 31 wins before finally losing to Michigan by two points.

“We always knew that if we went to Champaign and we weren’t prepared, we’d get beat,” said former Purdue coach Gene Keady, whose team lost by 27 points at Illinois that season.

A dark period for both Henson and his team was just ahead.

In 1990, the NCAA put Illinois on probation for rules violations. Among them were improper contacts with recruits by longtime Henson assistant Jimmy Collins and car loans made to three players without requiring full credit information by a booster who owned a car dealership.

“A week from today, we probably would be signing five players,” Henson said as the NCAA sanctions were announced in November 1990, just before signing day. “Now we have to tell these young men and their parents” that some won’t be getting scholarships.

The school was cleared of more serious allegations that, among other things, Collins offered Chicago prospect eventual Illinois star Deon Thomas $80,000 and a Chevrolet Blazer to play at Illinois. The allegation, made by then-Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl, set off the NCAA investigation and led Illinois fans to despise Pearl for decades.

The Illini struggled the next season. Then the rivalry with Knight boiled over. After Knight refused a post-game handshake and said something to Henson outside the teams’ locker rooms in 1991, Henson called the Indiana coach “a classic bully.”

Henson left Illinois in 1996, never getting the Illini back to his own 20-win benchmark after the NCAA probation. He returned to New Mexico State for another seven seasons, winning the Big West in 1999 and advancing once more to the NCAA Tournament.

He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2003 and coached for a time from a wheelchair on the sidelines. But Henson left coaching for good the following season, finishing with a 779-412 record.

Henson dealt with health concerns related to his illness and its treatment for the rest of his life, but he also swam and golfed regularly. He routinely practiced chips in his Champaign front yard before dawn.

Henson also remained a presence on both Illinois’ and New Mexico State’s campuses and, according to Theus, a quiet voice of authority at the latter.

“Anything that went on in our basketball program – if Lou agreed, nobody ever questioned what I did,” Theus said.

In Champaign, Bardo said, Henson could have been elected mayor: “Everybody has a story about coming across Lou Henson and him making them feel like they’re the only person in the room.”.

Henson is survived by his wife, Mary, and daughters Lisa, Lori and Leigh Anne. A son, 35-year-old Lou Henson Jr., died in a 1992 car accident.