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Arizona lands commitment from five-star guard despite FBI investigation

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FBI investigation be damned, Sean Miller is not going to stop recruiting.

On Friday, the Arizona head coach landed a commitment from one of his top targets, five-star point guard and Phoenix native, Nico Mannion.

“It just felt right,” Mannion told 247Sports of his decision. “I’m really comfortable with them. It’s close, I like the guys they have already. The kids they are recruiting are all good kids, so it makes it easier for me but it was just the feeling. It felt like home.”

Mannion picked the Wildcats over Marquette, Duke and Kansas, among others, although it wasn’t much of a surprise. Arizona was always considered the leader for the star in their backyard. If Mannion’s name sounds familiar, it is because he reclassified from the Class of 2020 after getting called up to the Italian national team during a World Cup qualifier over the summer; his father met his mother, an Italian volleyball star, while playing pro ball in Italy.

This is the first commitment in the Class of 2019 for Arizona, who was as publicly tied to the FBI’s investigation into college basketball as any program. A former assistant coach, Book Richardson, was arrested and still faces federal charges, while former star Deandre Ayton was alleged in a since-discredited report to have received $100,000 as a payment to attend Arizona.

Five-star 2019 guard Nico Mannion down to two schools

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Five-star Class of 2019 point guard Nico Mannion appears to be inching closer to his college decision after announcing that he’s down to two schools on Friday night.

The 6-foot-3 Mannion recently reclassified into 2019 after being in the Class of 2020 the past few years, as big-name colleges immediately offered. Mannion was down to a final four that included Arizona, Duke, Marquette and Villanova.

Now, Mannion is focused on Arizona and Marquette as the Blue Devils and Wildcats have been dropped from his list. With Villanova taking a recent commitment from five-star guard Bryan Antoine, it makes sense that it might be a crowded backcourt situation. Duke is a potentially crowded backcourt situation as well, with multiple five-star point guard offers in 2019.

Arizona is the in-state option for Mannion, as he plays at Phoenix Pinnacle High School. Marquette would also give Mannion plenty of freedom in the backcourt as high-scoring guard Markus Howard could be a recent example of what the Golden Eagles could look to do with Mannion.

It’ll be interesting to see how long Mannion takes to announce from here, as he hasn’t set a decision date or next step in the timeline. One of the top scoring lead guards in the Class of 2019, Mannion should have an instant impact at the college level.

John McCain helped ensure Lauri Markkanen played college basketball

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As the nation continues to mourn the death of Senator John McCain, we are getting more and more stories from people whose lives he touched.

One of those people is Lauri Markkanen, the Finnish-born former Arizona Wildcat that is currently heading into his second season with the Chicago Bulls.

The story goes like this: Markkanen was having trouble getting a visa from the American Embassy in Finland. Knowing that McCain was a big Wildcat fan, the athletic department reached out to their state senator to request some help expediting the process.

“There was some delay in getting him a visa,” McCain told ABC News back in 2017. “Obviously he had to have a student visa and there was a question about whether he was a student or not in Finland. I’d like to tell you it was the hardest struggle I ever had. Actually, we just kind of weighed in and said, ‘hey, how about expediting this’. It was not as big a deal as I would like it to be.”

The rest is history. Markkanen would go on to average 15.6 points and 7.2 boards in his one season in Tucson before getting selected with the 7th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Arizona PF Ira Lee cited for ‘super extreme’ DUI

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Tuesday afternoon it was announced that Arizona sophomore power forward Ira Lee was been cited for driving under the influence on Saturday.

According to the Arizona Daily Star Lee faces misdemeanor charges for failing to yield at an intersection, driving under the influence as a minor (Lee is 20 years old) and super extreme DUI involving a blood-alcohol content above .20. Lee, who had a blood-alcohol level of .215 per the Daily Star, will be arraigned on September 10.

In a release the Arizona basketball program announced that the incident has been referred to the Dean of Students for review and “the Athletics Department is reviewing the incident for team consequences.”

As a freshman Lee served as a reserve behind starters Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic in the Arizona front court, averaging 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.2 minutes per game. With Ayton and Ristic both off to the professional ranks, Lee is expected to be a key contributor in an Arizona front court that includes transfers Chase Jeter (Duke; sat out last season) and Ryan Luther (Pittsburgh), sophomore Emmanuel Akot and freshman Omar Thielemans.

Shaq’s son, Shareef O’Neal, officially signs with UCLA

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Another O’Neal is set to patrol the paint in Los Angeles.

Shareef O’Neal, son of NBA great Shaquille, signed with UCLA on Monday, the school announced.

The younger O’Neal originally committed to the Bruins in February.

“Shareef has made great strides throughout his high school career,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said in a statement released by the school. “He’s an outstanding addition to our incoming class and brings a terrific combination of size, skill and athleticism. We love the length and height of this year’s team, and Shareef is really going to add to that dynamic.

“He has a terrific frame, one that will allow him to continue improving on both sides of the floor. With Shareef, you’re talking about a hard-working young man with tremendous upside, and his presence in our team’s frontcourt is a significant addition.”

There was some speculation that O’Neal may have difficulty being academically eligible this past spring, but his signing should put those concerns to rest.

The Bruins are getting, in addition to one of the sport’s great names, a top-50 recruit who originally committed to Arizona before the Wildcats became embroiled in the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. O’Neal is 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds, and he averaged 27 points per game during his senior high school.

And here are some highlights from Shaq’s LSU days because A) Any excuse is a good excuse to watch Shaq highlights and B) We don’t talk about what a menace we was as a college player enough.

Bracket revealed for loaded Maui Invitational

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The Maui Invitational is a monster.

While the field for the 2018 edition of the event has been known for months, it’s strength and depth was on full display Tuesday when the brackets were revealed, pitting NBC Sports Way Too Early top-five teams Duke and Gonzaga on a championship collision course,

Duke will square off against San Diego State in its opening game while Gonzaga takes on Illinois in its opener on the opposite side of the bracket.

Other first round matchups include Auburn (12th in our preseason poll) vs. Xavier (26th) and a game of unknown-but-talented teams in Arizona and Iowa State.

“Each of the eight teams that step on the hardwood at the Lahaina Civic Center is capable of winning the 2018 Maui Jim Maui Invitational,” tournament chairman David Odom said in a statement. “All 12 games in Maui will help shape the course of the 2018-19 college basketball season, and the team that leaves the island with the Wayne Duke Championship Trophy will have incredible momentum to begin the year. The atmosphere is going to be electric, and we’re looking forward to hosting the teams and their fans in November.”

Simply, this tournament is stacked.

Gonzaga and Duke are going to draw the big headlines, but the rest of the tournament is going to be just as intriguing.

Can Auburn back up its SEC title? What does Xavier look like under Travis Steele? Can Brian Dutcher keep momentum with the Aztecs? What kind of team is Sean Miller going to have? Can Iowa State return to relevance after a last-place Big 12 season? Can Brad Underwood rally the Illini?

So while Chaminade isn’t in the field for the first time since the event’s inception in 1984 (the Silver Swords return on a rotating basis in 2019) and there won’t be any chance of a blockbuster upset, Maui is making up for it with an all-time field.

2018 Mauit Invitational