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Five-star guard Ashton Hagans enrolling at Kentucky after graduating year early

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Kentucky received additional reinforcements for the 2018-19 season on Friday as five-star guard Ashton Hagans graduated high school a year early with the intent to head to Lexington for next season.

The 6-foot-4 Hagans is considered by many recruiting analysts to be a top-ten national prospect in the Class of 2019 as he gives the Wildcats three five-star recruits at lead guard for next season. The Georgia state Player of the Year as a junior this past season, Hagans joins a crowded Kentucky backcourt that includes sophomore Quade Green and fellow incoming freshman and McDonald’s All-American Immanuel Quickley.

While the juggling of minutes is going to be a major storyline for head coach John Calipari this season, the addition of Hagans gives Kentucky even more lineup flexibility than they had before. Because Hagans has good size and defensive ability, he could be used to play alongside the smaller Green, giving the Wildcats a two-guard look that would have more defensive intensity. Playing Quickley and Hagans together would give Kentucky a bigger two-guard lineup that would have a chance to be pretty strong defensively.

And, of course, Calipari could opt to go with some three-guard lineups with other off-guards like Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro to give Kentucky a tough perimeter attack.

Handling minutes and egos will be something to watch for in Lexington this season, but Calipari has handled this sort of situation with a Final Four appearance before. It’s hard to say if the Wildcats will try to play another platoon type of system like we saw in 2014-15, but if they end up getting graduate transfer forward Reid Travis, they might have the personnel to give it a shot.

Top of 2018 draft shows evolution of NBA

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We all too often think and talk about small ball completely wrong.

The strategy that has revolutionized basketball over the last decade — shoutout to the 7 Seconds or Less Suns — is unfortunately named. It conjures up images of a guard-heavy lineup with wings sliding down the positional scale to man the frontcourt. When we talk about small ball, we think of pint-size (by NBA standards, at least) shooters around a 6-foot-7 Draymond Green at center.

Play small, go fast, get buckets.

The problem with that line of thinking, though, is that small ball really has little to do with size. It’s a name that labels the byproduct of the aim of a style of play. Small ball isn’t about size. It’s about skill.

Small ball is about putting as much skill on the floor as possible. It’s about maximizing shooting, playmaking and versatility of both the offensive and defensive variety. Small ball is a means to an end, with the goal being having as technical proficiency and adaptability in the lineup as possible.

Now, what do players who can shoot, switch and sprint the floor usually look like? They’re guards or 6-foot-7 wings repurposed as frontcourt players.

If you want to play with shooting, skill and versatility on the court, you go small not out of philosophy, but out of necessity.

But maybe not any more.

As the 2018 NBA draft looms next week, it’s increasingly clear that small ball is increasingly becoming supersized with as many as six of the top seven selections potentially being centers, the heavy majority of which project as so-called modern bigs.

The “unicorns” we’ve celebrated in the last half-decade — Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo — are becoming decidedly less rare. Or at least the archetype they helped create is ushering in a new generation of players who will try to replicate their success while having the size and skill combinations that make such long-term projections not entirely unreasonable.

FULL SCOUTING REPORTS: Deandre Ayton | Mo Bamba | Jaren Jackson | Marvin Bagley

A 7-footer who handles the rock, blocks shots, switches one-through-five and makes threes is no longer a guaranteed generational player, but rather a piece that unlocks the rest of the roster to maximum versatility and skill.

Those types of players don’t populate every roster and they are in the highest demand by NBA franchises, but no longer does a team need to be drafting in the top spot to have a shot at such a big.

Just look at this year’s mock drafts.

Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marvin Bagley III, Mo Bamba and Michael Porter Jr. all project to be among the first players selected next Thursday and are all 6-foot-10 or taller with the skill sets and physical frames that allow them to anchor small ball lineups, or at least that’s what NBA franchises are hoping and banking on.

And that doesn’t even include Wendell Carter Jr.

Look at the presumptive top pick, Ayton. At 7-feet and 243 pounds with arms that look like they’ve been photoshopped to appear on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine, he’s got one of the most imposing frames that college basketball has seen in recent years. Ayton’s strength is phenomenal, but it’s his feet that make him so tantalizing.

He moves with the agility, quickness and effortlessness that belies a player that is, quite simply, a massive human being. Ayton has the size and physicality of a traditional big man. He’s a high-level rebounder, finishes at the rim and has the physical tools that allow NBA scouts to tell themselves he’ll be a better rim-protector than his block rate would indicate. His real appeal, though, is the prospect he can switch a one-five pick-and-roll, is potentially a devastating rim-runner and projects as pick-and-roll big who can pop or dive to wondrous results.

Ayton is at the top of draft boards because scouts believe that he can competently do everything Draymond Green can while inhabiting David Robinson’s body.

That’s much the same thing that has Jackson and Bagley projected in the top-five, slotted behind Ayton because they’re not quite as physically intimidating but still possess some combination of the athleticism, wingspan, agility and level of skill that has front offices dreaming of them fitting well into small ball lineups. Porter is a mystery after essentially missing all of last season, but he fits that same mold.

The outlier here is Carter. The 6-foot-10, 260-pounder is by no means a plodder, but he’s much more in the mold of a traditional big. He rebounds, protects the rim and is comfortable with his back to the basket. The question, though, is can he defend the pick-and-roll or will he be susceptible to switches that will play him off the floor? Post play is probably become somewhat underrated as it’s possible to stress defenses from the inside to create opportunities for the outside, but it’s increasingly de-emphasized.

If teams are looking to zig while the rest of the league zags, Carter would seem to be an option. If he can improve his footwork and extend his range, he could well fit into modern NBA offenses. The fact that he’s further behind in those areas, though, is why he’s generally considered the least of the best available big men.

Which brings us to Bamba.

While Ayton continues to be the conventional wisdom at 1 and Jackson’s combination of frame and skill entices front offices, the former Texas big may be the most intriguing prospect with the highest ceiling in this draft.

The 7-footer has a wingspan of 7-feet-10 inches and a standing reach of 9-feet-7.5 inches, which eclipse The Stifle Tower himself, Rudy Gobert. That height and length didn’t go unutilized in Austin as Bamba showed himself to be an elite rim protector (13.2 block percentage) and excellent rebounder (28.2 defensive rebounding percentage). Shot-blocking and rebounding translates, and Bamba measurements suggest he’ll be able to do both at the next level.

Then there’s his agility. He moves extremely well both as a rim-runner and laterally against guards. Given his length, he doesn’t have to be perfect when he’s switched on to small guards, but just stay within shouting — well, swatting — distance. Given what we saw from him last year, he seems entirely possible he’ll be capable of that going forward.

Bamba slightness and 3-point shooting percentage (27.5) along with questions about his physicality have depressed his draft stock, but those hurdles seem clearable. Bamba has what no other prospect in this class – or maybe any other – doesn’t with his size and length. Even among unicorns, Bamba stands out.

The 2018 NBA draft is revealing what we mean when we talk about small ball. To make it work, you need players that can switch and shoot. You need speed, athleticism and length. For years, those combinations came in smaller packages, but increasingly it’s becoming supersized as small ball becomes the preeminent way to play and the skills that are prized and necessary to employ it are now being taught to and honed by bigger and bigger players.

Small ball has become the bible for NBA franchises, but the label describes the book’s cover, not its substance.

John Calipari, Kentucky meet Triple Crown winner Justify

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In the state of Kentucky, basketball and horse racing are king.

Two passions of the Bluegrass state came together on Wednesday as John Calipari and the Kentucky men’s basketball team had a chance to meet recent Triple Crown winner Justify.

Taking some photos and videos on Twitter, the Wildcats got to spend time with the already legendary horse as they are hoping that some of his greatness rubs off on them for the upcoming season.

Auburn bolsters point guard depth with addition of J’Von McCormick

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Coming off of a season in which it won 26 games and a share of the SEC regular season title, the Auburn Tigers have enough talent to once again be a player both within the conference and nationally in 2018-19. However, depth at the point guard position was a bit of a concern even with starter Jared Harper back for his junior season.

Tuesday afternoon the Tigers received a needed boost to its depth, as Lee College (Texas) point guard J’Von McCormick announced that he will be joining the Auburn program. The 5-foot-11 McCormick, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game as a sophomore.

Leading Lee College in both points and assists, McCormick shot 42.8 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 64.8 percent from the foul line.

Despite leading scorer Mustapha Heron’s decision to transfer to St. John’s, Auburn will still have two returning starters in the backcourt as both Harper and Bryce Brown are back after entering the NBA draft without hiring an agent. Also factoring into the perimeter rotation will be VCU transfer Samir Doughty, senior Malik Dunbar and junior forward Danjel Purifoy.

Purifoy, along with Austin Wiley, missed all of last season due to the FBI investigation that rocked college basketball and will have to sit out Auburn’s first nine games of the 2018-19 season before regaining eligibility.

Even with those options — Doughty has the versatility needed to fill multiple roles on the perimeter — adding another player who can man the point was something Bruce Pearl and his staff needed to do this summer if possible. Adding McCormick means that Harper, who played 30.6 minutes per game last season, will have additional help in handling the point guard responsibilities.

And given the depth that expected SEC contenders such as Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee boast, Auburn could ill-afford to go into the season with just one bonafide option at the point.

LeBron to produce documentary on ‘exploitative’ NCAA

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LeBron James, his longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter and Steve Stoute, the CEO of United Masters, teamed up to produce a documentary “illuminating the complex rules of amateur athletics in America and showing how they affect uncompensated athletes and their families.”

Title “Student Athlete”, the documentary, which will debut on Tuesday, October 2nd on HBO, will features stories on a number of collegiate athletes, including former Illinois and Bradley basketball player Mike Shaw and current Kentucky center Nick Richards. It will also feature Silas Nacita, a former walk-on at Baylor that was homeless at one point while trying to walk-on for the Bears.

“This is an incredibly important story about the institutional denial of basic human rights for these student athletes,” says Carter, CEO of SpringHill Entertainment. “When Steve Stoute brought us this idea, it was a perfect fit for the kind of stories we want to tell at SpringHill. We’re excited to work with one of the best human rights storytellers in Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy to help people see and feel how this issue impacts the lives of those living it.”

“The NCAA blinded by revenue goals is turning student athletes into full-time employees,” said Stoute. “This documentary is incredibly important as it debunks the myth that student athletes are being fairly compensated by receiving scholarships and a valuable education. In fact, the demands put on these students by this oppressive system makes it impossible for them to get the education they deserve. The time is now to end this false narrative and reveal the truth of this exploitation.”

Michael Porter Jr. had a physical, will send results to every team after holding ‘pro day’

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Michael Porter Sr. provided an update on the status of Michael Porter Jr.’s back during an interview with Missouri radio station KMOX on Sunday morning.

Since leaving Missouri, Porter Jr. has moved to Chicago to train and be closer to his agency, Priority Sports, who has an office in the city. Last Thursday, Porter Jr. underwent a physical that was performed by the Chicago Bulls’ medical team. This Friday, he is going to be hosting a pro day in Chicago that is open to every team that wants to see Porter Jr. workout, and next week he is expected to have another day where the teams picking in the top ten can again see him and inspect his back.

Porter Sr. said that every team in the NBA will be sent the results of the physical that was done by the Bulls’ doctors.

“Everybody is going to get a chance to take a look at him, everybody’s going to get a chance to see his medical information,” Porter Sr. told KMOX.

Porter Jr. played in just three games and a scrimmage as a freshman at Mizzou, opting to have surgery to repair an injured disk in his back. Once thought to be a contender for the No. 1 pick in the draft, the 6-foot-10 combo-forward now looks like he is more likely destined to be picked in the back end of the top ten. That is due to the concerns over his back injury, which, when combined with the intel coming out of the program that said that he wasn’t always a model teammate, has made the 19-year old the most fascinating and difficult prospect to project in this year’s lottery.