Luol Deng

7-2 Northwestern signee Chier Ajou cleared by the NCAA

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Northwestern received some good news from the NCAA on Thursday, as 7-2 freshman center Chier Ajou has been cleared by the organization’s Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse.

A native of  South Sudan and cousin of Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng, Ajou is the tallest recruit in the history of Northwestern Basketball.

There were questions back in June when Ajou committed to Northwestern as to whether or not he would be cleared due to concerns regarding his transcript.

With today’s ruling Wildcat fans no longer need to worry about Ajou’s status, and can instead focus on how his addition can help a team that ranked among the nation’s worst in rebounding last year.

Not only was John Shurna the Wildcats’ leading scorer last season, but he was also their rebounding leader as well with an average of 5.4 rebounds per game.

As a team the Wildcats ranked last in the Big Ten in both offensive and defensive rebounds per game, and their rebounding margin of minus-6.6 was the worst in the conference by more than five rebounds.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers opponents were able to corral nearly 37% of their missed shots, and with the Wildcats lacking much in the way of interior size outside of Luka Mirkovic it’s no surprise that Bill Carmody’s team struggled.

Drew Crawford returns for his senior season and will be the focal point offensively, which shouldn’t be too much to ask of him given the 16.1 points per game he averaged last year.

Crawford also grabbed 4.7 rebounds in 2011-12, which is the high among the returnees with guard Reggie Hearn (3.7 rpg) coming in second.

Obviously Ajou will need some time to get acclimated to college basketball, as is the case with many freshmen. But there’s no ignoring the fact that him being cleared takes care of a major need for the Wildcats inside.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Are U.S. collegians leading the next British invasion?

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We all know what a great time Team USA had in London, winning all the games and the gold medals and all. Spain, Australia, Brazil and Lithuania all had memorable moments as well.

But what about the host country? A year ago, there were doubts that the Great Britain team would even be allowed to defend its home turf. The basketball culture that is thriving on the European continent has only slowly crept onto British soil, often brought by African immigrants, and rarely embraced by the general public. Facilities, colleges and local leagues are still poor training grounds for kids who want to play at a high level.

For years, the best British players have come to America to learn the game. Luol Deng (Duke), Pops Mensah-Bonsu (George Washington) and other former U.S. collegians played with pride at the 2012 games. Recent collegians like Matthew Bryan-Amaning (Washington),  Ogo Adegboye (St. Bonaventure) and Ovie Soko (UAB, Duquesne) seem poised to bring the next wave of quality talent to the GB team.

Even though they didn’t fare particularly well during the London Games, Hoopsfix.com is reporting that the GBR national team is rising in the FIBA rankings, moving up from #43 to #23 internationally. A wave of British players has committed to U.S. colleges, with others beginning to filter into the system via prep academies and junior colleges.

We’re used to seeing players listed by their high school affiliations when they appear on college rosters. After the London Olympics, can it be long before we have to get used to names like Barking Abbey?

pictured above: Former Arizona State forward Eric Boateng with Luol Deng

Former Villanova forward Andrew Sullivan named to Great Britain’s Olympic team

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American college basketball will have a strong presence at the 2012 Olympics, and the latest player with ties to the States was named to an international Thursday: former Villanova Wildcat Andrew Sullivan.

Sullivan will be suiting up for Great Britain in London as part of a team that includes NBA players Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls and Pops Mensa-Bonsu of the New Orleans Hornets.

He was born in London and came to the United States to play high school basketball at St. Augustine Prep (N.J.), where he averaged 19.8 points per game as a senior.

Sullivan, now 32, played for four seasons at Villanova from 1999-2003, with his best season coming as a junior when he averaged 5.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

He has played professionally in Europe since leaving Villanova, most recently with the Leicester Riders of the British Basketball League.

Great Britain’s Olympic team will open their games on July 29 against an opponent that is still to be determined. They are part of a difficult group that includes Spain, Australia, China, and Brazil.

Joining Sullivan, Deng, and Mensa-Bonsu on the team will be Kieron Achara, Robert Archibald, Eric Boateng, Dan Clark, Joel Freeland, Kyle Johnson, Andrew Lawrence, Mike Lenzly, and Nate Reinking.

(h/t to VUHoops.com)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Former U.S. collegians join UK olympic bid

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The Olympics will be full of basketball players who attended U.S. colleges. Perhaps more on non-U.S. squads than on Team USA, given that stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James never set foot in college.

Team Great Britain is excited about a chance to defend its home turf as hosts of the event, and the group from across the pond isn’t short on U.S.-seasoned talent. In fact, steel yourself for a blast from the past: remember former George Washington standout Pops Mensah-Bonsu? The big man from Ghana by way of Tottenham is a major player for the UK team, posting 16 points, 6 boards and 4 blocks in a warm-up loss to Lithuania on June 29.

Whether the GB team win a game in London or not, they’ll put some familiar faces on the floor. Ogo Adegboye (St. Bonaventure), Matthew Bryan-Amaning (Washington) and Eric Boateng (Arizona State) all suit up for the Brits, and the team is eagerly awaiting the arrival of former Duke star Luol Deng, who is resting his wrist and will only appear in matches that count this summer.

It’s kind of cool to see players from all around the world get together and play for national pride, including those that got a little training on U.S. soil before heading back to play for their national teams. Be sure to tune in and watch the games, not just to watch the U.S. all-stars dominate (?), but to welcome back some familiar faces from around the globe.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor and a new site called World Basketball Project.

Northwestern lands 7-foot-2 native of South Sudan

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Northwestern finished last season as, quite possibly, the worst rebounding team in the country.

According to Kenpom, they were 319th in the country if offensive rebounding percentage, which bested their spot as the 327th best defensive rebounding team in the country. That’s just not good, and it doesn’t help that both John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic have used up their eligibility.

Some help is on the way, however. TCU transfer Nikola Cerina guarantees that the Wildcats will have another big man with a name that makes him sound like a bad guy from the Bourne Trilogy, while 6-foot-11 freshman Alex Olah also joins the team.

But over the weekend, Northwestern made their biggest addition — literally — of the offseason.

Chier Ajou, a 7-foot-2 center that spent last season at St. Thomas More in Connecticut, will join the program next season. It’s not guaranteed that he will play next season, however. According to the Chicago Tribune, Ajou’s moved to the United States in December of 2008 and the early portions of his transcript at difficult to decipher. He’s still waiting for clearance from the NCAA on his academic eligibility.

Ajou will be one of the most interesting stories in college hoops next season. He’s a native of the South Sudan and related to Luol Deng, Ajou Deng (who played at UConn and Fairfield) and Deng Gai (who played at Fairfield and spent time on the Piston’s roster).

I bet that family has some intense pick-up games.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

UK Futures team features US college stars

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Basketball has long been a truly international sport. Some nations have been more successful in implementing the theories and practices of good ol’ Dr. Naismith than others, of course. The United Kingdom would be one of those less assertive roundball non-dynasites, but for how much longer?

With the 2012 Olympics set to begin in London, British basketball is on the rise. The national men’s team, under the leadership of Chicago Bulls guard Luol Deng, is preparing to engage in a rather quixotic — yet proud — quest to protect their turf this summer.

Perhaps more importantly, the basketball establishment in Britain has a unique opportunity to promote the sport to younger players, in an attempt to secure the future of hoops in the United Kingdom. To that end, they’ve hired former NBA player and Kansas Jayhawk Paul Mokeski to coach the Great Britain Futures team. British hoops site Hoopsfix.com posted some of Mokeski’s hopeful comments recently:

“I am excited and honoured to be the head coach of the GB Futures team. This will be my third year with the GB program and the experience has been very rewarding. The Futures programme is very important in the development of young players and gets them ready for the transition into the senior squads. This year the Futures program is the beginning of our preparation for the Olympics in London this summer.”

If you don’t happen to remember Mokeski’s college career (it was the 1970s, after all; it’s quite possible Mokeski himself doesn’t recall every detail), there’s a more recent connection to US college hoops. Former US college stars Matthew Bryan-Amaning (pictured), Ovie Soko and Ogo Adegboye will star on the team alongside lesser-known UK-bred talents.

In fact, the UK’s relationship to, and hopes for, basketball are incredibly similar to what we see between the US and soccer. If England and associated countries wish to continue to send their best players overseas to face top competition, that can only be good for the talent pool in college hoops.