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Aaron Torres’ Take

Five Thoughts on Duke’s Opening Game in Canada

These are the supposed “slowest days” on the college hoops calendar – but man, we fans must have done something right, because the college hoops Gods are smiling upon us! That’s right, less than 72 hours after Kentucky wrapped up their four-game tour of the Bahamas, Duke opened up a three-game trip in Canada on Wednesday night.

And seriously, whether you love Kentucky and hate Duke or the exact opposite (I’m guessing I know where most people reading this stand) admit it, it’s good to have college basketball back on our TV’s, isn’t it?

It sure is, and after Kentucky laid down the gauntlet with a four-game bludgeoning in the Bahamas last week, Duke returned volley with a solid 86-67 win Wednesday night in their opener in Canada. The victory wasn’t as impressive on paper as the wins that Kentucky picked up last week, but credit should be given to the Blue Devils who got a solid win, against a good team (more on that coming) without two of their best players. Both Cam Reddish and Tre Jones sat out the game with minor injuries, meaning that Duke was down two starters in the victory.

So what did we learn in Wednesday’s game? Thankfully, I’m here to tell you. As one of 11 people in America with an ESPN+ account (shout out to the 7-day free trial) I figured I’d share a couple thoughts.

Here are five takeaways from Duke’s opening night win, and what you need to know about the Blue Devils going forward.

The team they played was legit:

Of all the questions that I got while discussing the game on Twitter (follow me on @Aaron_Torres if you’re somehow not already), the most prevalent one was “How was the competition?” After watching Kentucky dominate grown men last week I’d say that it wasn’t quite as good as most of the teams the Wildcats played last week – but make no mistake Ryerson is a solid squad.

For those who aren’t familiar with Canadian college basketball (and if you’re not, shame on you!!) they are considered the second best college program in Canada, and while that doesn’t sound like much, it’s actually more impressive than you’d think. The No. 1 team in Canada is a school named Carelton, which has actually played and beaten both Ole Miss and Cincinnati in the last few weeks. And get this: Each win was by more than 20 points. These Canadian schools can play, even if you’ve never heard of them.

If anything, I would compare the skill level of Ryerson to that of a really good Atlantic 10 or Mountain West type team. No, they probably couldn’t compete night-in and night-out in the ACC or SEC, but they would still probably be a fringe bubble team, capable of winning a game or two if they got to the NCAA Tournament. They had real players, a couple of which were definitely good enough to play at the high-major level (that included one kid who apparently committed to Ryerson over UConn – a fact that made me want to vomit).

Therefore, while this was a game that Duke should have won, it was still a solid victory none the less.

Zion Williamson is the real deal:

If you just look at a box score you’d see that R.J. Barrett was the leading scorer for the Blue Devils on Wednesday night. But if you watched the game, you know that Zion Williamson was the star. He finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, with two MONSTER dunks thrown in for good measure.

What was maybe most impressive is that Williamson performed well, even despite Ryerson implementing a game-plan that virtually everyone in college basketball will use this season. Not wanting to get embarrassed, Ryerson played off Williamson, trying to force him to beat them with the three-point shot. Well he did that by hitting three three-pointers in the first half. Even more impressive was the fact that at a certain point he just decided to go down low and fight for rebounds – and he grabbed a couple simply by jumping right over dudes. It really was a sight to see.

I know Williamson is a lightning rod player, one that plenty of people have doubts about beyond his dunks. But on Wednesday he lived up to the hype.

Duke is once again going to really struggle with depth issues:

Listen, as good as Williamson and Barrett were, it wasn’t all rainbows, sunshine and bad dye jobs for the Blue Devils on Wednesday night. And to me, the biggest problem with the Blue Devils will once again be depth.

Look, I get that Reddish and Jones were out, and Alex O’Connell (who is sporting a heck of a new haircut) was limited after the first few minutes, but it really does look like once again this team will still be limited by depth. Outside of the four freshmen, only O’Connell, Marques Bolden and Javin Delaurier look like they’re ready to play against the better teams on Duke’s schedule.

And while some would say “seven guys are more than enough in college basketball” I do believe it’s something to keep an eye on.

For one, the Blue Devils don’t have a steady point guard behind Tre Jones (although sophomore Jordan Goldwire looked solid in limited minutes) and the offense struggled to run without him at times. Two, it really is dangerous to play with so few dependable players in college basketball. It only takes one injury or a night full of foul trouble for your whole season to go up in smoke.

Duke’s starting five is as talented as anyone in the country. What worries me is what happens when a couple of those guys aren’t on the floor.

Poor Marques Bolden hasn’t changed

This was unquestionably the most disappointing part of the whole game: Now in year three, Marques Bolden looks… well, exactly like Marques Bolden has for the last two seasons. He still has little feel for the game and looks completely lost every time he steps on the court.

I know that at a certain point we’ve got to stop feeling bad for him and let him own up to his lack of development as a player. But at the same time, it should be a warning to every other big-time high school recruit: Make sure the “fit” is right before you commit to a school.

November 6th can’t get here soon enough

Look, it’s only August. We’re still a long way from the start of formal practice, from the first poll being released, and – yes – the first game of the season. But one thing is abundantly clear: Kentucky vs. Duke will be THE game of the first few weeks of the college basketball season. Whether these two teams are ranked No.’s 1 and 2 or not isn’t what’s important. What is important is that these are the two most high-profile teams in college basketball and both are absolutely loaded going into the season.

We have plenty of time over the next four months to break down every aspect of this game.

But just know one thing: November 6th can’t get here fast enough.

Grading Each Kentucky Player’s Bahamas Performance

Grading Each Kentucky Player’s Bahamas Performance

Well folks, we survived. After four-and-a-half full months without college basketball (oh, the humanity!) we finally got a little hoop over the last week with Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas. And after four games, well, the gauntlet has been thrown down for the 2018-2019 season.

That’s because after a four-game run in which Kentucky absolutely bludgeoned four professional teams from across the globe, there is no doubt: Kentucky – a team which most believed was the preseason favorite coming into the 2018-2019 year – somehow looked better than even the most optimistic fans could have possibly imagined. A trip which was supposed to expose this team’s holes and weaknesses and give them plenty to work on in the coming months, instead did the opposite: It showed that Kentucky has no major holes and that this is one of the deepest, most skilled teams of the Calipari era in Lexington. It also showed that there is no single reason (short of a team-wide outbreak of typhoid fever) that they shouldn’t be in Minneapolis on the final weekend of the season competing for a national championship.

Yes, that’s right, for all the excitement of the off-season, the Bahamas trip showed that maybe we didn’t give this team enough hype entering the season.

Anyway, now a few days removed from the trip, I decided to go ahead and hand out some “grades” for the Wildcats players, while also explaining what I saw, what I liked, and what needs work.

Just know one thing: You’re going to see a lot of high grades. After four-straight games of double-digit wins, there frankly isn’t that much to pick apart.

Tyler Herro (A+++++++)

Yes, as a teacher, my typical grading scale is “A+” to “F” but after Herro’s performance in the Bahamas I couldn’t help but make an exception. He wasn’t just an “A+” player but something well beyond that. Frankly, the only reason I stopped at seven “pluses” is because the key got stuck on my computer.

Yes, Herro was that good.

The simple truth is that Herro was the revelation of the trip, a player who came in with plenty of hype and – like so many of his teammates – exceeded that. In the matter of one week he went from a guy that most UK fans hoped would get a couple buckets off the bench to one that is now being compared with Rex Chapman, Malik Monk and Devin Booker as one of the best wings to ever come through the school.

And if we’re being honest, Herro has earned that praised. Hyped throughout his career as a “shooter” who would add three-point range to this squad, Herro showed that he might already be one of the best all-around scorers college basketball – and no, that isn’t hyperbole. How many guys in college basketball could have done what Herro did against four teams stocked with the best professionals across the globe? Especially considering that he did it on relatively few shots.

As a matter of fact, that was the most impressive thing for Herro in the Bahamas: Despite leading the team in scoring at over 17 points per game, he let the game come to him. He finished the trip shooting 57 percent from the field (23 of 40), a staggering number for a player who does most of his work from 15-feet or beyond. In the process he showed that he isn’t just a “shooter” but an athletic scorer, with the ability to get buckets from pretty much anywhere on the court. There wasn’t one thing you would have wanted to see from Herro that wasn’t on display this weekend.

Point being, there is SO much to like about Herro’s game. And there’s a reason he’s already being compared to Chapman, Booker and so many others.

P.J. Washington (A+) 

When it comes to the NBA Draft process, I rarely get too into what a player “should” do. When it comes to making an NBA Draft decision there are simply too many factors at play, be it a player’s family situation, their age, or simply whether they like school or not. But with Washington though, I felt different. Yes, he was projected as a potential second round pick in this past June’s draft. But it really did feel like if he could just improve a few small things (specifically ball-handling and three-point shooting) he could move his way well up draft boards and easily into the first round.

Well apparently, Washington listened to me (OK, probably not) because every single thing an NBA scout would have wanted to see from Washington, he displayed over the course of four games in the Bahamas. The 6’8 sophomore finished as Kentucky’s second-leading scorer (14 points per game) and averaged a cool 7.5 rebounds – a number which probably would’ve been higher if not for Reid Travis. More impressively though he proved to be a much more complete player than he was last season, hitting 3 of 7 shots from behind the arc and initiating the offense on the fast-break at times as well.

But you know what I loved most about Washington’s play in the Bahamas: He became (along with the next guy on this list) the unquestioned emotional leader of this team. He set the tone early with physicality and toughness, slapped away opposing player’s shots after the whistle blew and always seemed to have his teammate’s back when a scuffle broke out.

Understand, it’s one thing for a team to have as much skill as Kentucky does. But when they have the toughness to go with it, that’s a lethal combination. And it’s a toughness created by P.J. Washington.

Well, P.J. Washington and…

Keldon Johnson (A+) 

Quick question: Is it too late to name myself the President of the Keldon Johnson fan-club? If not, let me know. I’m already getting t-shirts printed up and buttons made. I also booked the reception hall down the street for our first meeting next Tuesday. It’s a pot luck kind of deal, so feel free to bring a small dessert or something.

In all seriousness, I don’t think there are very many words I can use to describe just how much I enjoyed watching Johnson play this weekend. A player who was already hyped as a Top 15 prospect and maybe Kentucky’s best long-term NBA prospect somehow surpassed realistic expectations, as a tornado on the court, a guy who got after it on the defensive end, while providing the ability to score from all three levels on the offensive end. He also threw down a couple dunks that were so violent, small children shouldn’t be allowed to see the replays because they might have nightmares.

Like this one, for example. Parents, hide the kids.

Most of all though, you know what I loved about him? He played with an intensity that is rarely seen from a basketball player anywhere, let alone a college freshman. He was all over the court, yelling and screaming and getting in the opposing player’s faces, screaming after big dunks, clapping his hands after big defensive stops and slapping the ball in disgust when he’d get fouled going in for a layup, clearly mad that he didn’t finish a play that was impossible to finish.

Ultimately, it’s easy to see why Johnson has been described as a “dog” by so many of teammates, and it really does feel like the intensity that he and Washington brought every night was infectious with his teammates. It’s something you can’t put a price tag on once the season begins, as Johnson will be the guy that finds a way to fire up everyone on the roster, even on nights when the natural emotion and intensity isn’t there.

Let’s just say, there really isn’t anything not to like about Keldon Johnson – and yes, I apologize for using a double-negative, but I’m just that fired up!

I want to be Keldon Johnson when I grow up.

A Handful of Thoughts as Kentucky Reaches the Midway Point of its Bahamas Trip

Sophomore Nick Richards continued to roll, finishing with 10 points.

As hard as it is to believe, we have reached the halfway point of Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas. Man, where does the time go?

(Cue the slow, sad violin music).

In all seriousness though, now two games into this stretch, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say – My goodness does this team look good. Seriously, as good as I thought this team might be, they have been way, WAY better. Whenever a bunch of 18 and 19-year-old college kids can absolutely run train on a group of grown men like the Wildcats did on Thursday night, it makes you wonder what they’ll do against college teams with players their own age.

Still, with the trip now half done, it felt like a good time to reflect and share some thoughts on what we’ve seen so far.

So with that, what have I liked through two games in the Bahamas? Here are a few things.

Tyler Herro

So yeah, I’m going to start with Herro. Of course I am going to start with Herro – like every recap here at KSR the last few days has – you know, since he has been the breakout star of this event so far. On Thursday, not only did Herro drop 22 points, but did so on a highly efficient 7 of 10 shooting from the floor.

So yeah, this guy has been good. REALLY good. And the coolest part is that he isn’t just a shooter, like some hyped him up to be. Instead, what I have really enjoyed watching is him display an all-around game. This is a guy who can score at all three levels, and also has a really good feel for the flow of the game. When he catches the ball, he instinctually knows whether to pull up for a three, take his defender off the dribble, or pass the ball down low to the post.

Beyond just the box score however, what I’ve loved about Herro is his fearlessness and poise. What’s been so incredible to see is that throughout this event it feels like just about everyone on Kentucky has been hesitant or nervous at times, even veterans like Reid Travis, P.J. Washington and Quade Green. Not Herro though. From the first minute of the first game he has come out and said “I don’t care how big this stage is, I’m ready.”

Finally before we move on, one other thought on Herro: The last time I saw this kid play was at the Nike Hoops Summit back in April. For those of you who may remember, Herro played by far the fewest minutes in that game for Team USA, even though several of the team’s other wing players (like Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford, Keldon Johnson and Louis King) were out with injury.

Following the game I asked the coach of Team USA whether Herro was injured or if there was a reason he played so little, and the coach’s response was (and I’m not exaggerating), “It wasn’t about everyone getting equal time. We were trying to win the game.”

I wrote about it here, but in case you forgot, the U.S. did not win that game. Call me crazy, but I feel like having Herro on the floor might have helped.

Sophomore Nick Richards is real, and he is fantastic:

Shout out to my buddy Drew Franklin, who at some point decided he was all in on the “Sophomore Nick Richards” hype. I haven’t talked to Drew, so I don’t know why exactly he decided that this was the mountain he was going to climb, but credit to him. I thought he was crazy.

Well boy was I wrong, as Richards has been the single biggest revelation at this event. The simple truth is that while I could have seen a scenario where Tyler Herro blew up in the Bahamas (although I would have never predicted it) Nick Richards developing into a low-post force overnight is something I could have never imagined. At all. Truthfully, my biggest fear with Richards was that he became another statistic in Lexington, a guy that got lost in the shuffle at Kentucky, never found his role and elected to either transfer like Sacha Killeya-Jones or take his chances as a pro like Wenyen Gabriel.

Instead, there he was in the Bahamas on night one dropping a cool 23 points and looking like a terror on the offensive and defensive ends. What I most like about Richards’ performances so far is that – as a lot of others have pointed out – he is playing with more confidence than he has in the past. Last year, it seemed like the second that something went wrong for Richards, he would drop his head, mope and wouldn’t be heard from the rest of the game. Now, to his credit, he isn’t letting one bad play turn into two.

There is something else with Richards that is worth considering here: We need to remember that not all players develop at the same rate. Richards might have a birth certificate that says he’s 20-years-old, but he is still relatively new to the sport. He isn’t a kid who has been playing AAU ball since he was 12-years-old, but literally never played a competitive game until he was 16.

Credit to the Kentucky staff for sticking with him and to Richards for sticking with himself. Dan Dakich said it the other night and I agree: If he keeps playing like this, Richards will end up a lottery pick.

Even despite his age, Reid Travis is still a work in progress

So a few months ago when Reid Travis elected to leave Stanford and P.J. Washington was still deciding whether or not to come back to college, I made what I thought was a pretty innocent comment, which ended up causing an uproar in the college basketball media. I said that with all due respect to Travis, if I had to choose between having P.J. Washington back for a second year, or Reid Travis as a grad transfer, I would take Washington.

Now as it turns out, Kentucky got both. But it doesn’t change the fact that most of the media thought I was absolutely insane when I said that. Seriously, look at the mentions in the tweet below. And of course, as usual, I was right.

Look, this is no knock on Reid Travis, or what he did at Stanford. You don’t make back-to-back All Pac-12 teams if you’re not talented. At the same time, I also think we’re seeing that there’s a reason Travis is still in college and not playing in the NBA: He’s not there yet. He’s still a bulky, power low post player, whose game isn’t very refined once he steps more than five feet from the basket. Understand that’s not a knock on him – he’s REALLY good from five feet in. But that’s also the reason he’s still playing college basketball.

Still, that’s also what makes Travis so interesting to me: Even though he’s a fifth-year senior, I really do believe that Travis’ best basketball won’t be played until February or March of this year. I have faith that the Kentucky staff is going to continue to drill him to bring out a more complete game, be it ball-handling, three-point shooting etc.

It’s weird to say that a player so old won’t peak for a few more months. But that’s where I think we are with Travis.

A couple quick thoughts on the point guards

Since these are more short thoughts, I’ll bullet-point all the point guards together.

Quade Green: I loved his bounce back game on Thursday. It was well-reported that after a 1 for 11 performance the first night (in which John Calipari actually came down from the stands to yell at him to shoot more), Green went to the gym late at night, and it showed off in a big way Thursday. He went 4-4 from the field and looked like a completely different player.

As good as Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans are, this team will need Green. And he’ll be up for the challenge.

Immanuel Quickley: To be blunt, I didn’t realize Quickley was as, well, quick, off the dribble as he’s shown in two games.

He and Ashton Hagans are going to be deadly when they are on the floor together.

Speaking of which…

Ashton Hagans: While he’s made some typical freshman mistakes (mostly playing too fast) on the offensive end of the court, my goodness is this guy a terror defensively. The great thing about having Hagans on a roster like this, is because he won’t be asked to play 35 minutes a night (like he might have if he had gone to another school) he can put in 100 percent on the defensive end, make two or three plays over a five-minute stretch, then come out when he’s winded. In those couple minutes on the court though he will absolutely create chaos for the other team.

This is a guy SEC point guards are NOT going to want to see this season.

Finally, seeing half the team shoot attend an informal shootaround at 11:30 p.m. should be a scary sight for the rest of college basketball

Look, I know at times that we can all get a bit hyperbolic, and make something big out of nothing. But when I see half the team showing up at midnight to get more shots up, after blowing out a group of grown men, I can’t help but think: “Wow, this team could be special.”

It’s only August and it’s way too early to make any definitive statements. But when you have a team THIS talented, that also appears ready to work THIS hard, that’s a scary sight for the rest of college basketball.

And it should be a good sign of things to come.

Not just now, but straight March and (maybe) early April.

The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E68: Bahamas Recap + Corey Brewer

The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E68: Bahamas Recap + Corey Brewer

It’s an action-packed episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast, as Aaron is joined by NBA champion and two-time NCAA champion Corey Brewer joins the show. He and Aaron discuss his winding career, national championships at Florida and time with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season.
But before Corey, there’s actual basketball to talk, plus a little football, with topics including:
Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas: The Wildcats have played two games, and Aaron is blown away by what he has seen so far. He explains why Tyler Herro is proving all his doubters wrong, and why Nick Richards has been the single biggest revelation of the trip. Aaron also explains why one freshman besides Herro has really impressed him – especially on the defensive end of the court.
The NCAA makes a bunch of rule changes: Aaron reacts to the big, sweeping changes in college basketball – that aren’t actually big or sweeping. He explains why rules like “players can now have agents” and “players can return to college if they go undrafted” aren’t exactly what they seem, and the one big rule that actually does matter.
Idiots questioning Alabama football’s schedule: Finally, Aaron goes in on all the haters who say Alabama plays a “soft” schedule because they don’t play road games. Aaron gives some facts to explain why that’s the dumbest narrative in all of sports.
Next, Aaron welcomes on Corey Brewer – who played last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, to discuss his NBA career and time at Florida. The guys break down the following:
His early days: Corey explains took a unique path to the NBA, after growing up on a tobacco farm and running a garbage route with his dad. He explains how that drove him to work hard at basketball and instilled a work ethic that he still has to this day.
His time at Florida: Corey goes in-depth on Florida’s back-to-back runs with the Gators. He explains what allowed he and his teammates to click, and what went into their decision to return to school even after winning a title – the answer will surprise you. Also, what was it like to play against “peak Greg Oden” and were the 2007 Gators the last great team in college basketball?
Playing with the Oklahoma City Thunder: Finally, the pair discuss Brewer’s 2018 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He explains why Russell Westbrook was one of the best teammates he’s ever had, and why he wasn’t surprised that Paul George returned to OKC this off-season. Also, does he ever see Billy Donovan returning to college basketball?

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

Today’s episode is brought to you by:

The (Actually Accurate) SEC Basketball Preseason Power Rankings

On Monday, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein made headlines when he declared that Kentucky is the third best team in the SEC entering the 2018-2019 college basketball season. In Rothstein’s defense, I truly think that he believed what he said, and didn’t place Kentucky third simply to get attention. Also in his defense, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

In my defense however, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say: “I reeeeeeeeeeealllllllly disagree with that opinion.” Please understand, I’m not saying that as someone who works for KSR. I say that as someone with common sense.

The simple truth is that Kentucky enters the 2018-2019 season with by far the most talent in the SEC, and also with more experience than usual. I get the concept that Tennessee returns virtually every key piece off last year’s team which won the SEC regular season championship, setting up the whole “you’ve got to beat the champ, to be the champ” narrative. The problem is, this isn’t never-never land, where snazzy catchphrases carry weight, but instead the real world, where size, talent, athleticism and skill trump teams with good, but not elite talent like Tennessee. There is a reason that virtually every preseason poll outside of Rothstein’s has Kentucky at No. 1 or No. 2 in the country: They have overwhelming talent, with experience to boot.

Anyway, that is all just a long-winded way of me saying that those SEC preseason power rankings feel wrong. And since I am pretty much the foremost expert on all things SEC basketball – or at the very least, the only person that was predicting a historic 2017-2018 season for the conference at this time last year – it only seems appropriate that I weigh in.

After putting out my initial power rankings on Twitter today, here is my updated, impossible-to-argue-with, 2018-2019 SEC Power Rankings.

1) Kentucky: Again, I get the idea that Tennessee won the regular season conference title and returns everyone of substance. I also remember them losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Point being, lots of teams can win big in the regular season based on coaching and system. But in March, when it matters most, talent trumps all.

Well entering 2018-2019, Kentucky has by far the most talent in the league, and frankly, the most in all of college basketball. They have a 10-man rotation that includes nine Top 40 recruits and basically eight McDonald’s All-Americans (by technicality, Ashton Hagans wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, but only because he reclassified). Unlike previous seasons they also have experience, with three guys returning off last year’s team who played meaningful minutes, as well as a two-time All-Pac 12 performer in Reid Travis arriving in Lexington.

At this point, there is no obvious weakness with the 2019 Kentucky Wildcats. And considering that Vegas has them tabbed as the favorites to win the national championship, they are the unquestionable favorites to win the SEC.

2) Auburn: Again, it’s hard for me to truly “criticize” anyone for sharing their opinion (like Rothstein did today) because I share plenty of unpopular opinions myself. For example, while most people probably think that Auburn will take a step back next year after losing second-leading scorer Mustapha Heron, I actually think they’ll be better.

The simple truth was that while I love Heron (he is a Connecticut kid like me), Heron was also a ball-stopper and someone that hurt the flow of the Tigers’ offense rather than helping it. With better ball-movement, flow and spacing, look for even bigger seasons from Bryce Brown and Jared Harper (who averaged 16 and 13 points respectively last year) who both made All-SEC last year. And the additions of Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley (who were suspended as part of the FBI probe) will only make the Tigers more balanced.

Bruce Pearl’s club legit has Final Four potential.

3) Tennessee: If #VolsTwitter wants to get worked on this pick, so be it. I stand by it.

Again, I get the argument that Tennessee returns basically everyone off last year’s SEC regular season co-champs. But in getting smoked by Kentucky in the SEC title game and then losing early in the NCAA Tournament to Loyola (IL), it kind of proves that maybe they overachieved a bit in the regular season, and that when the games mattered more, their lack of pure talent showed through.

More importantly, my bigger concern about Tennessee is what I listed above: How much better can they really get? The Vols have a bunch of third and fourth-year players who weren’t very highly-ranked recruits, and credit goes to the Tennessee coaching staff for developing the heck out of them. However, at a certain point there’s only so much developing you can do, and talent kind of taps out. I wonder if we’re about to see that this year with Tennessee.

I don’t expect the Vols to be bad, per se. But just because they return a bunch of key pieces off last year’s team, I don’t necessarily think that makes them the SEC favorites either.

4) Mississippi State: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This Mississippi State team profiles a lot like Texas A&M at around this time last year. As you might (or might not) remember the Aggies were a team which just barely missed the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and returned their whole team in 2018. It ended with A&M not only returning to the Big Dance after a one-year hiatus, but making it to the Sweet 16.

Well, in essence, that’s Mississippi State this season. Last year the Bulldogs were probably good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but were doomed thanks to an embarrassing out of conference slate. This year, Ben Howland’s club returns its top six scorers off that team and welcomes in McDonald’s All-American Reggie Perry. Barring something catastrophic, the Bulldogs will make the NCAA Tournament. The bigger question is how far they’ll go once they get there.

5) LSU: In one of the weirdest statements I will every type, there are few things in life I’m more irrationally excited about than LSU basketball coming into next season. Thanks to a Top 3 recruiting class nationally, the Tigers will have the second most talented roster in the SEC behind only Kentucky. They also have the players who I believe should be the leading candidates to win SEC Player of the Year (Tremont Waters) and SEC Freshman of the Year (Emmitt Williams) entering the season as well. Williams has “NBA Lottery” type potential.

Ultimately, what is most intriguing about this roster is the boom/bust potential. With so much talent, the Tigers are good enough to finish second or third in the league. But they also have one of the youngest coaches in college basketball and a roster where virtually everyone is a freshman or sophomore. Therefore, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they could completely underachieve as well.

Still, sign me up as having the Tigers take home a whole bunch of wins, and finish towards the top of the standings. A run to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is absolutely conceivable.

(By the way, LSU thead coach Will Wade joined the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast a few weeks ago. You can hear his thoughts on the 2018-2019 team by clicking here)

6) Florida: I do believe there’s a big drop-off after the first five in the SEC, but also believe there are a couple NCAA Tournament caliber teams below them. And it starts with the Gators. They return four of their top six scorers from last year and welcome in a loaded recruiting class, including Canadian point guard Andrew Nemhard. He could be one of the biggest freshman surprises not only in the SEC, but all of college basketball.

More than anything though, this is a bet on Mike White. In year one, he took the Gators to the Elite Eight, and last year Florida was a play or two from the second weekend of the tournament as well. Is there anyone in college basketball who gets more out of his players, while also receiving less acclaim than White?

7) Alabama: Entering the 2018-2019 season, the Crimson Tide are quietly the best team in the SEC that no one is talking about. While they do lose Collin Sexton they return virtually everyone else. In total, nine of their Top 11 scorers are back from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, meaning that the drop-off without Sexton shouldn’t be as steep as everyone is expecting. They also add Tevin Mack, who was Texas’ leading scorer two years ago before getting kicked off the team and ultimately transferring.

8) Vanderbilt: The buzz around Vanderbilt this season is both real and fantastic, thanks to the arrival of Top 10 prospects Darius Garland and Simi Shittu. I’m not quite sure Garland is the long-term prospect many people view him as (I for one don’t see him as a one-and-done type guy), but I do think he’ll be a darn good college player who will get the Commodores to a few NCAA Tournaments before his career is all said and done.

9) South Carolina: Frank Martin is back, baby! Well, not quite. But with leading scorer Chris Silva returning and a loaded freshman class, South Carolina should be closer to the middle of the pack in the SEC than the basement the way they were this past season.

One name to keep an eye on for the Gamecocks: Freshman A.J. Lawson. He was a late addition to the roster, but has the size and athleticism to one day play in the NBA. His skills aren’t totally there yet. But he’ll do one or two things a game that make you say “Woah!”

10) Arkansas: Yes, Daniel Gafford is the most dynamic player in the league – but my questions are with the pieces around him. The Hogs did lose six seniors off last year’s team, including an all-senior backcourt of Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford.

However after some careful consideration (and strong nudging from Hogs fans on social media) I decided to move them up a few spots from where I originally had them ranked when I put out my power rankings on Twitter this afternoon. The backcourt should be stabilized with the addition of junior college transfer Jalen Harris, and the freshman class has a bunch of wildly underrated pieces, including Ethan Henderson and Isaiah Joe.

11) Missouri: Mizzou is a lot like Arkansas – I love the front-court pieces with Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter, but the question is, who is going to get them the ball? Virtually every key guard either graduated or transferred out of the program in the last year, and the team’s reinforcements are transfers who won’t be eligible until next season. It’s a bridge year in Columbia, but the Tigers will likely take a major step back.

12) Ole Miss: Four of the top six scorers on this roster are back, and should be better coached than they were last year with Kermit Davis now in charge. Plus, let’s not forget that even in a disappointing 12-20 season the Rebels did pick up some solid wins, including victories over the likes of Florida, Alabama and Missouri.

13) Texas A&M: Aggies’ fans were upset that I had them ranked 14th out of 14 teams in my initial tweet, so to appease them, I decided to move them up… one whole spot! Who says I can’t be reasonable?

In all seriousness though, there just isn’t very much talent on this roster, with Robert Williams, D.J. Hogg and Tyler Davis all electing to go pro early off last year’s Sweet 16 team.

14) Georgia: I really don’t get the Tom Crean hire. I just don’t. And I don’t think the Bulldogs will be much better this coming season when you consider that they lost their best player (Yante Maten) and that this team actually played well for most of the season under Mark Fox. A new coach and not very talented roster has me concerned for the Bulldogs this season – and probably beyond as well.

Eight Things To Watch Out For When Kentucky Heads to the Bahamas

Well folks, it seems impossible but it really is true: College basketball season is officially back!!

Ok, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. I guess by technicality, the season doesn’t actually begin for four more months.

Still, while tip-off of the first regular season game is still a ways away, we will still get a tiny taste of the season ahead when Kentucky travels to the Bahamas for a four-game foreign tour starting next Wednesday. Their long-awaited tour will give us the first glimpse of what I believe should be the No. 1 team in the country entering the preseason, a group that has as much depth, talent and versatility as anyone in the country.

Yet even with all that talent, the Wildcats still have plenty of questions and there are certainly plenty of things that fans and media members alike should be on the look out for next week.

What are they? Here are seven things to keep an eye out for:

What will the opening night starting lineup be?

Look, we can all be honest with each other: The first starting lineup in the Bahamas is no indication of what could come this season. Things will change between now and the opener with Duke in early November, and they will definitely change between now and next March.

Still, aren’t you a tiiiiiiiiiiiiny bit curious to see who John Calipari rolls out in his first starting lineup in the Bahamas? Remember, even if it isn’t a “be-all, end all” indicator of what will come in the season ahead, it does mean something. Calipari isn’t bringing his team a thousand miles from campus to lose a bunch of games after all.

Therefore it will be interesting to see what lineups he rolls out and how they all together. It’s especially interesting since it feels like nothing is definite. Sure, it feels like P.J. Washington will be a starter and it’s hard to imagine Reid Travis coming off the bench. But outside those two is anything set in stone? Heck, are those two even set in stone?

It doesn’t seem like it, and that is only the beginning of the questions about this team. The next biggest one seems to be…

Which point guards play where – and when? 

Figuring out how the entire roster fits together is the biggest puzzle piece for the Wildcats entering the season. But isn’t the point guard position a smaller microcosm of the bigger team picture? I mean, how often does a team have the “problem” of trying to figure how to divvy up minutes among three McDonald’s All-American caliber point guards?

The answer is “never.” Which is what makes the point guard derby especially interesting.

And ultimately what might be even more interesting is not only who plays, but who plays when, where and with who? Quade Green proved that he was capable of playing both on and off the ball last season and – if I’m being completely honest – it feels like a lot of folks have forgotten about just how good he was to start the year. How good can he be at full-strength and with an extra off-season under his belt? And with that experience, how often will Green handle the ball and run the offense? How often will he play off the ball? And when Green isn’t in the game or handling the ball, how ready are Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley to step in run the offense and get others involved?

There are so many “position battles” with this particular Kentucky squad that they feel more like a football team than a basketball one. And the most interesting battle definitely comes at the point guard spot.

Like It Or Not, Penny Hardaway Is Establishing Himself As A Real Threat in Recruiting

Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsLik

It’s not often that John Calipari ends up on the wrong side of a player’s recruitment, but that’s exactly what happened on Monday. That’s because at about 4:00 p.m. ET, D.J. Jeffries, one of two players who was committed to the Wildcats 2019 recruiting class, decided to decommit from the Wildcats, re-open his recruitment. It is the first time since John Calipari arrived at Kentucky that he has had a player decommit after initially committing to the Wildcats.

As soon as the news became official, it immediately set off an avalanche of speculation. Some wondered whether Jeffries was concerned that the Wildcats recently started recruiting a handful of guys at his same position (most notably Dontaie Allen and Kahlil Whitney). Some also wondered whether the possibility exists that Jeffries is interested in reclassifying into the class of 2018, and playing college basketball this season. If that’s the case it wouldn’t be realistic at Kentucky.

But more than anything else, one narrative, and one name, is most closely associated with Jeffries’ decision to decommit from Kentucky. That name is “Penny Hardaway,” a man who served as Jeffries long-time AAU coach and is the new head coach at Memphis. Connect a few dots, and it seems pretty clear that based on the timing of Jeffries’ decision (remember, Hardaway wasn’t the Memphis head coach when he committed to Kentucky) that this move could ultimately open the door for him to wind up playing for the Tigers. Nothing is certain, but the fact that a handful of recruiting gurus including 247 Sports Evan Daniels have already made a “crystal ball” pick for Jeffries to Memphis, makes it seem pretty likely that this is how this story likely ends.

Ultimately, only Jeffries knows the reason behind his decision on Monday, and only time will tell if Memphis is his college basketball landing spot or not. But this news does reiterate one thing that I’ve both written and discussed on my podcast throughout the last few weeks: After watching Penny Hardaway on the recruiting circuit the last few weeks, I truly believe that he is going to be a real force going forward on the recruiting trail. Not just with kids from Memphis or his former AAU program, but with many of the best players from all over the country.

Now before we go too far here, it’s important to note a few things. One, I’m not saying that Penny has all of a sudden become college basketball’s best recruiter overnight, and that John Calipari, Coach K and Bill Self need to give up on ever trying to get a five-star kid again. That is definitely not what I’m saying, and those coaches, as well as the Sean Miller’s, Roy Williams’s and Tom Izzo’s of the world will still get their fair share of big-time recruits. I’m also not saying that this recruiting surge will go on forever, especially if Hardaway doesn’t start showing results once the games tip-off this winter.

But in the short-term? I was blown away by Hardaway’s presence on the recruiting trail these past few weeks. And I truly believe that he could end up as a thorn in the side of the Calipari’s and Coach K’s of the world, if not an outright, equal competitor.

To fully explain what I mean, let’s go back to two weeks ago at the Adidas Summer Championships near my home in Los Angeles. When I got there, I fully expected to see Hardaway in the building and milling around – and I expected him to mostly follow around the guys he knew from his time as an AAU coach the last few years. And when he got to the gym, he did just that. James Wiseman, playing for Hoop City Elite, took the court first. And in the least surprising news ever, Hardaway (along with Kentucky assistant Joel Justus and a handful of others) was courtside, along with his lead assistant Mike Miller. It only made sense. Hardaway has known Wiseman for years and coached him at the high school and AAU levels.

So again, that wasn’t surprising.

What was surprising though, was what happened next. Hardaway stayed at the same court to watch Matthew Hurt, a consensus Top 10 prospect, who – prior to this summer – had no previous ties to Memphis or Hardaway. He has since added the Tigers to his short list however, a group that includes the bluest of blue bloods like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and North Carolina.

Then, after Penny was done watching Matthew Hurt play, you know he did next? Went across the gym to watch Jalen Green, the top player in the high school class of 2020 take the court. Like Hurt, Green – who is from Fresno, California – has no ties to Memphis or Penny. But that clearly hasn’t stopped Hardaway from making him a priority going forward.

That’s also what made things so interesting to me. Maybe I’m completely over-analyzing everything, but it looked to me like this was Penny giving his manifesto for the “Hardaway era” in Memphis. While he can’t say anything to recruits, it was clear that his unofficial message was that his plan is to go big-game hunting, that to steal a term John Calipari used when he arrived at Kentucky in 2009, that he is looking to bring “the best of the best” to campus.

And to be blunt, that’s not really normal in recruiting circles, especially for a first-year head coach. I found it interesting that other first-year head coach (like Louisville’s Chris Mack and UConn’s Danny Hurley) are largely recruiting guys that they had previous relationships with dating back to their previous. Heck, even a guy like Coach K wasn’t as aggressive as Penny. As I wrote a few weeks ago, he actually got up and left the court when Wiseman arrived, a clear sign that he was unofficially waving the white flag in Wiseman’s recruitment.

But Penny, he’s going after everyone. Guys he knows. Guys he doesn’t. He doesn’t care. And I for one love that aggressiveness. I have no idea if it’ll work, but give the man credit for trying. He knows he’s only going to get one shot at a big-time head coaching job, and it’s clear that if he’s going to go down, he’s going to go down his way, going after the best high school players in America.

Again, only time will tell if this works. Heck, only time will tell if he can convince even one really big-time recruit to come to Memphis. Remember, just because Jeffries decommited on Monday doesn’t make him a lock for Memphis, and it’s the same with Wiseman or any other prospect with ties to Penny or not. It also doesn’t guarantee that Penny will win actual games on the court if he gets these guys, or that he’ll develop them into future NBA prospects as well as Calipari, Coach K, Bill Self or any others will. That will also be the ultimate litmus test for Hardaway. It’s not what he does in April-July on the recruiting trail. It’s what he does from November-March when it matters most.

But college basketball – like all sports – is better when there’s competition at the top, when there’s new blood battling the old-guard. And that’s who Penny Hardaway is right now. The new guard.

Yes, he’s a long, long, LONG way from competing John Calipari and Coach K for one or two kids at the top of the recruiting rankings, let alone all of them.

But it’s clear that he’s willing to try.

And D.J. Jeffries’ de-commitment may be the first indication.

Everything You Need to Know About New Kentucky Target Nico Mannion

Under Armour

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: At Kentucky, recruiting never stops. The simple fact of the matter is that when you can lose anywhere from “a handful of guys” to “your entire roster” every single year at draft time, you have to cast a wide net in recruiting season. Just as soon as you think you’ve got a guy who will be at UK two or three years, he ends up as a one-and-done, signing a $150 million deal at 21-years-old.

Yes, I’m talking to you, Devin Booker. And yes, I’d be glad to get you my Venmo user name if you have a couple thousand to spare (winky face emoji).

Therefore, it’s no surprise that new names are always popping up in recruiting for Kentucky, and the latest is Arizona high school guard Nico Mannion. The five-star point guard recently reclassified to the class of 2019, and just as he got set to announce his final handful of schools, Kentucky and North Carolina got into the mix. Neither school has offered yet, but there is seemingly enough interest where Mannion is going to wait a bit to put out that final five.

So who is Mannion exactly? Well, it just so happens that today is your lucky day. In addition to the resident college basketball insider around these parts, I am also pretty plugged into the West Coast AAU scene, and have known about Mannion for years and interviewed him several times (including once just a few weeks ago). Few people are more qualified to tell you a little bit about him, the kind of player he is and can be, and what schools fit in where in his recruitment than I am.

Here are a few things you need to know about the 6’3 guard:

He’s a recent addition to the class of 2019

As mentioned off the top, Mannion was long considered one of the top players in the class of 2020 – until just a week ago when he announced his plans to reclassify. It was no secret this was coming, with his father going so far as to say that this was his final summer on the AAU circuit weeks ago. Mannion has already won a high school state championship and was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, so at this point there isn’t much to prove at the high school level. Add in the fact that he was born in 2001 – making him an original member of the class of 2019 – and it only made sense to move things up a year.

And that is exactly what he did last week. After quietly working behind the scenes to get his schoolwork in order, Mannion made the announcement on July 20th, and is now listed as the No. 17 player in the class of 2019 according to 247 Sports.

He is also the No. 1 rated point guard in his new class, although that is a tiny bit misleading, since others ahead of him like Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey are listed as combo guards. Both are obviously primary ball-handlers who can play the point.

He has good bloodlines

Just watch Mannion it becomes pretty clear that he’s got good genes – the kid is crazy athletic and can jump out of the gym. And the facts back that up. His father Pace played in the NBA for six seasons and his mother was a pro volleyball player in Italy. His parents actually met when Pace was playing overseas in Italy after his NBA career concluded.

Therefore, it makes sense that Mannion got his basketball acumen from his dad and his crazy hops (seriously, he jumps out of the gym) from his mom. But the cool thing is, his parents – who both achieved a great deal of athletic success on their own – never pushed him into hoops. He gravitated towards it naturally.

Sports Illustrated actually did an extensive profile of him a few years ago that got into that dynamic.

Mannion has international experience

Mannion actually took the Karl-Anthony Towns route through international basketball. In the same way that Towns was eligible for the Dominican national team because of his mother’s roots, Mannion was eligible to play for Team Italy. And he actually spent part of the summer playing for their Senior National Team in June.

I actually spoke with Mannion shortly after the trip a few weeks ago, and he raved about what the experience had brought to him. From playing with pros, to learning how to eat, train and take care of his body, it was an experience that he seemed to enjoy.

It’s also one that will only help him as he enters his final season of high school basketball.

His AAU program has ties to Kentucky

Mannion plays for West Coast Elite, one of the most prominent programs in all of AAU basketball, and one of the dominant teams on the Under Armour circuit. It’s a program which has put a number of players into major colleges including Ira Lee (Arizona) and Miles Norris (Oregon) amongst many others.

It’s probably worth mentioning – at least for this particular audience – that they have a guy at Kentucky too. Some guy named Jemarl Baker, who, after sitting out this past season is expected to play a big role with the Wildcats this coming year.

West Coast Elite is also home to Top 10 2019 prospect Josh Green, who Kentucky previously showed interest in. However, after offering Kahlil Whitney last week, it appears as though they’ve cooled on Green.

What is Mannion’s game like?

I watch a lot of AAU basketball, and I’ll say this: There aren’t many kids on the AAU scene who are tougher and more competitive than this kid is. What I love about Mannion is that he plays hard every game – regardless of crowd, opponent or what coaches are watching. What I especially love about him is that when he goes up for a dunk, he doesn’t try to just flush it – but instead, literally tries to end someone’s life.

No, seriously. Watch the Twitter video I linked below. I think he really did end that dude’s life.

In terms of his actual game, I had trouble coming up with a comparison. The easy one would be Donte DiVencenzio, for well, obvious reasons. Still, that seems to easy, and so therefore, let me give you another one. How about Eric Bledsoe? He has that crazy athleticism, has a frame with room to add muscle and plays with that chip on his shoulder every single day.

Mannion is a few inches taller, but I like that comp a lot.

What is he like off the court

Let me just put it to you this way: I’ve interviewed a lot of guys in the NBA who aren’t as poised and put together as Mannion is at 17-years-old. He’s mature beyond his years, and when I interviewed him, frankly, I thought I was talking to someone twice his age.

Whatever school gets him is going to have a great player on the court, and seemingly an even better person off of it.

So where does his recruitment stand?

Based on numerous conversations I’ve had with people all over the college basketball world (AAU people, coaches recruiting him, etc.) here’s what I can tell you: As of about two weeks ago, he was set to cut his initial list of 10 to five. Then Kentucky and North Carolina got in the mix, and all bets were off.

Still, at this point, it still does feel like Arizona is the team to beat. They are the home-state school and have essentially been recruiting him the longest. His dad has publicly said that he wants Nico to visit both Duke and Villanova, who have each offered. Duke seems to be mentioned more regularly, but with the way Villanova can use multiple point guards on the court at once (like Jalen Brunson and DiVencenzio last season), it leads me to believe they’re in better shape than most realize.

And don’t sleep on USC. They already have a pair of five-star big guys (Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu) committed, and they are going to sell Mannion on playing alongside them.

With the additions of North Carolina and Kentucky however, it feels like its as wide open as its ever been.

So will the new schools be real players?

It’s tough to say. On the one hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mannion waited until the spring to make a decision – just so he knows exactly what the coaching staff and roster will look like when he gets to campus. Still, even if he waits until the spring to commit, he seems intent on cutting his list to five soon. Will either Kentucky or North Carolina come in with an offer before he cuts his list? Or will they wait too long? It’s tough to say, especially at Kentucky, where they already have three point guards on the roster this year and another combo guard headed in, in 2019 (Maxey).

My hunch is that if both don’t come in with an offer soon, it simply might be too late.

KSR’s “The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast”; Featured on “Around the Horn”

KSR’s “The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast”; Featured on “Around the Horn”

What was your Tuesday like? A little trip to the office, feigning interest in your coworker’s relationship drama, “forgetting” to reply to an e-mail from your boss – turning on ESPN and seeing KSR prominently featured?

Just a typical Tuesday – at least in KSR-land, where KSR’s “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast” was prominently featured on ESPN’s “Around the Horn” Tuesday afternoon. The topic came from Aaron’s interview with Enes Kanter last week, when Enes – among many topics – discussed NBA “super teams.”

Here is what Enes had to say on the Warriors, and whether they are ruining the NBA:

“They are very good. Very, very good. They aren’t doing anything illegal. It’s like a chess game. They move the right piece and then they win it all. Everybody else can do it.

“[But] I wish it wasn’t like this. Because now you can already [know] who’s going to win. Who’s going to play for the East-West Championships [conference finals].

 “That’s it. There are five teams, Houston, Lakers, Golden State, Philly, Boston, that’s it. And there aren’t any other teams.

“People are saying they’re kind of ruining the league, I can a little bit agree with that.”

The “Around the Horn” crew then went on to debate whether what Kanter said had merit and… well, it’s all really a blur from there. The audio is above, but it cut off shortly after the topic was introduced on the show.

Still it highlights what a phenomenal interview it was with Kanter who was truly open and honest about everything – including his time at Kentucky, getting screwed by the NCAA, his early thoughts on Kevin Knox and the Knicks, and why yes, super teams are ruining the NBA.

To listen to the show, you can download it by clicking here for iTunes or through Google Play here.

Enes Kanter: Kentucky would have “100 percent” won the national championship if eligible

Enes Kanter: Kentucky would have “100 percent” won the national championship if eligible

Former Kentucky practice star and current New York Knick Enes Kanter had quite the journey to get where he is today. After coming over from Turkey, Kanter had a back-and-forth battle with the NCAA, who eventually declared the 6-foot-11 center ineligible for receiving money as a professional athlete back home.

Even without Kanter, the 2010-11 Wildcats made it to the Final Four before falling to Kemba Walker’s Connecticut Huskies, who went on to win the title.

For Kanter, the team, and the Big Blue Nation as a whole, it only makes you wonder what could’ve been.

Our very own Aaron Torres had the opportunity for a sit-down interview with Kanter about his time at Kentucky and the NBA, where that exact topic came up.

If Kanter was eligible? Kentucky would have another banner, “100-percent.”

Check out the transcript of the entire conversation, followed by the link to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast:

On what the fans at Kentucky meant to him:

I remember even when I couldn’t play at Kentucky, the whole state was doing ‘Free Enes’ signs everywhere. The cups, the flags, everything, that was awesome. That shows how much that the people around love you. And that was awesome for me because I came from Turkey. And for Americans to just respect you that much, it was like ‘You know what? I’m not going to Europe to play basketball. I’m staying right here.’

His fight with the NCAA:

It was tough because I was 16-years-old turning down a million dollars, a million dollars to come and play NCAA basketball.

What happened:

[They, the club, paid] expenses [that it].

It was tough for a 16-year-old kid turning down a million dollars to come here and play college basketball. And then when they say ‘You can’t play college basketball’ it was so frustrating for me.

First, they said ‘you can practice with the team.’ And then they said ‘You cannot even practice with the team anymore.’ The NCAA said ‘no more practicing with the team.’ They made me ineligible permanently.

His fight with the NCAA:

It was still a process.

*** We even told the NCAA, ‘let me sit my first year and play my second year.’ Yes [I was willing to stay a second year]. I told them [that]. And then they said ‘you cannot even practice with the team anymore.’ So Kentucky hired me a special coach and I was working out with him by myself. It was so frustrating I remember.

*** Then the news came out. I woke up and it was on ESPN, ‘Enes Kanter, permanently ineligible. He can never play college basketball ever again.’ It was so frustrating. I came here to play college basketball.

*** And then I sat down with Coach Cal, and Coach Cal told me ‘hey if you want to leave, you can leave to Europe and go play somewhere. But if you want to stay, we are your family.’ And then I said ‘Coach, I want to stay, but I cannot even practice with the team, how am I going to stay?’

So they made me a student assistant coach. I was a coach. I was a 17-year-old coach, 18-year-old coach. I think I was maybe the youngest coach in NCAA history. So they made me a coach and Coach Cal and all the coaches said ‘this is your game. Every practice is your game. So go as hard as you can, try to get ready for the draft.’ Because the NCAA said ‘you’re never going to play.’

I was an assistant coach, so I could practice.

I remember all my buddies were out there playing basketball, and I was down there sitting on the bench taking notes as an assistant coach. Taking notes. It was so frustrating. I had to go to the draft because I couldn’t play.

His entire journey:

Even before that, I tried to go to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. They told me ‘you’re a professional, go somewhere else. Then I went to Mountain State in West Virginia. Then the same, thing. I stayed there two or three weeks and they said ‘Go somewhere else.’ Then I came to Simi Valley, California, prep school. Rules are different here so I could play here.

Couldn’t play high school, couldn’t play in college and then finally I got drafted in 2011, I was the third pick because I killed it in the combine and everything. And then I remember a week later the news came out, there’s a lockout. So no high school, no college, no NBA. I was like ‘they don’t want me to play basketball in America. Americans, don’t want me.’

Would they have won the 2011 national championship if he could play?

For sure. 100 percent. We went to Final Four, we lost to UConn. We even beat Ohio State with Jared Sullinger. I definitely think [we would have won it all]. And we still talk about it today. Doron [Lamb] came to see me in New York, and we were like ‘Man, if I had played we would have won the national championship.’ I love my teammates.

You can easily listen to the podcast on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

As Kentucky watches closely, there are no major updates on Matthew Hurt’s recruitment

Photo by adidas

LOS ANGELES — With the second session of the recruiting calendar under way, college basketball coaches are back watching AAU basketball, and over the last couple days John Calipari has been camped out with Joel Justus in Los Angeles. Between Adidas and Under Armour events, there are no shortage of prospects to see, from the Cats’ top priority James Wiseman (playing with an Adidas sponsored team this weekend) to teammates Josh Green and Nico Mannion on the Under Armour circuit. Green has interest from UK, and Mannion could as well after reclassifying to the 2019 class on Friday.

However, it seems like in addition to all those other guys, Calipari’s interest in Minnesota forward Matthew Hurt has picked up exponentially over the last couple weeks. After arriving Thursday afternoon, Coach Cal has bounced all over LA to watch Hurt at every stop, as Hurt played at the Under Armour event Thursday night and returned to the court at the Adidas event Friday afternoon.

After also watching Hurt last weekend in New York it’s clear Hurt is a priority for Coach Cal. Although Hurt is taking it in stride seeing all these coaches courtside to watch him.

“I’m trying to focus on the game, and helping my teammates,” Hurt said on Wednesday night, when asked if it was fun to play in front of so many big-name coaches. “That’s what’s important.”

Calipari wasn’t in the stands Wednesday (he was in Milwaukee) but Hurt did leave a memorable impression for the coaches who were there, including Justus, as well as a handful of big-name head coaches such as Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Penny Hardaway. The 6’10 forward showed a diverse offensive skill-set, which included an array of nice moves towards the basket, as well as a deep three-point shot, and also hit a buzzer beater to clinch his team’s first win. Following that game he admitted he was rusty after traveling cross-country, and backed that up with a more impressive 19-point effort Thursday.

In terms of his recruitment, there has been strong buzz for a while that Kansas is the perceived leader, but Hurt remained steadfast when speaking with KSR that his recruitment remains wide-open (for the record, KSR’s T.J. Walker has said that he believes the Wildcats are in good shape in the Hurt recruitment).

According to Hurt, nothing has changed in his recruitment. No teams have gained or lost ground, and he will set up visits once AAU season wraps in a couple weeks.

“I’m trying to cut it down after AAU,” he said. “No visits set up yet.”

A Couple Takeaways After Watching James Wiseman on Wednesday Night

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LOS ANGELES — It was an up-and-down couple days for James Wiseman at Peach Jam last weekend. Coming into the event it was a near consensus that Wiseman was one of two players (along with Vernon Carey) who should be considered the top player in the high school class of 2019. Yet after playing good but not great at Peach Jam (he averaged 16 points and 5.8 rebounds over the course of that weekend), some called into question whether Wiseman should be considered at all for the top spot.

Well, if Wiseman heard those whispers, he showed – beyond a reasonable doubt – on Wednesday night that it is way too premature to remove his name from the conversation of “the best player in high school basketball.” After electing to switch AAU teams (his normal squad, the Bluff City Legends, finished their season last weekend) Wiseman arrived at the Adidas Summer Championships in Los Angeles Wednesday night and put on a show everyone in attendance from coaches, to fans and yes this writer for KSR.

Still, despite appearing to play with a chip on his shoulder, Wiseman said that wasn’t the case at all.

“Really I don’t [feel like I have anything to prove],” Wiseman said following the game. “I feel like I played hard at Peach Jam. I think I showed everything, my offensive game, everything.”

An official scorer from Adidas said that Wiseman finished with 20 points and nine rebounds on Wednesday night, but watching him in person it felt like a much more dominant performance. Beyond just the raw numbers though, Wiseman showed off a skill-set that fits the profile of a player who many consider to be the No. 1 player in the country and a potential future No. 1 pick in the draft.

Over the course of a couple possessions, Wiseman did everything from hit a deep three, to put back a monster dunk, with a beautiful up-and-under move in the paint. Defensively he tore down a couple big rebounds and slapped away a block shot in those same few possessions. Even in a gym where there was other elite talent (consensus Top 10 prospects like Matthew Hurt and Trendon Watford were also in the building), Wiseman stood out as by far the best player at the event (for those wondering, 2020 big man Evan Mobley was probably the closest behind him).

What will be interesting to see is what comes next in Wiseman’s recruitment. Wiseman has claimed all along that his recruitment remains open, and reiterated that Wednesday night, telling me that he plans to release a new “Top 8” schools soon. Still, the consensus seems to be that there are only two really contenders in his recruitment, Kentucky and Memphis, and the crowd on Wednesday night seemed to indicate that. Kentucky assistant Joel Justus was there (multiple sources told KSR that John Calipari is expected in today) and Memphis’ Penny Hardaway and assistant Mike Miller were there as well.

Maybe even more interesting, was who wasn’t there. Although Wiseman said that schools like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Vanderbilt have reached out to him (in addition to his top two), outside the contingent from Memphis and Kentucky, as best I could tell, only North Carolina’s Roy Williams seemed to be there explicitly for Wiseman. Kansas didn’t appear to have a coach in the building (although maybe I missed them). And in a wild twist, no one from Duke watched him either. That is especially telling, considering that both Coach K and assistant Jon Scheyer were not only in Los Angeles, but at the same court earlier in the night to watch Matthew Hurt. All they had to do was literally not move from where they were, and they could have seen Wiseman play a few minutes later. Yet they were gone by the time his game tipped off.

Understand, that is a knock on Coach K, but instead, feels to me like an indicator of where Duke believes they stand in Wiseman’s recruitment.

Even though Wiseman claims that Duke has been in touch, if the Blue Devils were seriously pursuing him, I find it hard to believe that Coach K wouldn’t be courtside, especially since he was already in the building. Some will argue that Duke has prioritized other big men including Vernon Carey and Isaiah Stewart and that’s fair, but let’s be honest, it’s not like Duke hasn’t recruited multiple guys at the same position before (like R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson this year, for example).

Therefore, seeing both Coach K and Scheyer leave once Wiseman took the court can only lead me to one conclusion: They don’t believe they have a real shot at him. To which I ask, when was the last time that Duke basically punted on even trying to recruit the best player in high school basketball?

Those are the times we’re in however and – as has been reported by everyone – it appears as though Wiseman’s recruitment will ultimately come down to Kentucky and Memphis when it’s all said and done.

In the meantime, Wiseman doesn’t seem particularly worried about recruiting, or much else for that matter.

“I just want to keep working hard,” he said when asked about his plans for the rest of the summer. “And just keep getting better.”

If Wednesday was any indication, he is well on his way to doing just that.

Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 61: Mega-Recruiting Recap with T.J. Walker + Corey Evans

Aaron Torres Sports Podcast Ep. 61: Mega-Recruiting Recap with T.J. Walker + Corey Evans

It’s a new week and with it a new Aaron Torres Sports Podcast – and after the biggest recruiting weekend of 2018, Aaron brings in two of the biggest experts to break it all down. First, it’s KSR’s T.J. Walker, then’s Corey Evans.

After Aaron breaks down Day 1 of SEC Media Days and the new Final Four sites announced, he turns to T.J. The guys do a deep dive on the following subjects:

James Wiseman: Wiseman is the biggest name in recruiting circles and Aaron gives you the inside scoop on everything you need to know. Does either Kentucky or Memphis have the edge in his recruitment? Is it possible he can reclassify to 2018? Also, has Vernon Carey passed him as the best player in this class?

Vernon Carey: With Carey impressing folks across college basketball the last few weeks, is it time to bump him to No. 1 in the recruiting rankings? Also T.J. explains why he believes that Kentucky is in better position with him than most realize.

Cole Anthony: And finally, is there any “news” on Cole Anthony? Is there any way to know where he’s leaning? And does Kentucky have a chance? Also, T.J. discusses his new podcast which will be released soon.

Next up, national recruiting expert Corey Evans joins the show after a busy week in Atlanta. He discussed the following with Aaron:

Dontaie Allen: Allen was the fastest-rising star of the weekend. What kind of player is he and what allowed him to have success in Atlanta? Also, will Kentucky offer? When? And how quickly will Allen accept if they do?

News and Notes from Around the Rest of Atlanta: After an extensive talk about Atlanta, Corey wraps up by discussing other news and notes from the Under Armour event. What are his thoughts on Top 10 prospect Josh Green and his AAU teammate Nico Mannion? Could they be a package deal? And could USC – yes, USC – finish with a Top 5 class in the country or even No. 1?

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

Changing AAU Basketball Will Hurt, Not Help College Basketball

© Robert Deutsch | USATSI

Over the last week few days, some of the biggest name writers in college basketball (including our buddy T.J. Walker) have descended upon Peach Jam, the biggest AAU event in the country. And over the last few days virtually every single one of them have written the same article, about how the NCAA’s proposed changes to the July college basketball recruiting period are awful and will ultimately hurt the sport. CBS’s Gary Parrish wrote about it here. NBC’s Rob Dauster did the same here. I encourage you to check out both articles.

Now before we get into the meat of this article, let’s first explain what the rules changes are for those of you who might not have been paying attention.

Under the current model, coaches have a handful of select weekends (mostly in April and July) when they can be out on the road recruiting, mostly by attending AAU tournaments. However, after the FBI probe last fall, the NCAA became worried about the influence of sneaker companies (mainly Nike, Adidas and Under Armour) on the recruiting scene and decided that they’d like to alter the July recruiting period. They’d do away with the sneaker-organized events (like Peach Jam, the Under Armour event in Atlanta etc.) and instead host regional camps run by the NCAA. The best players at each camp would then advance to a national, All-Star type camp later on in the summer.

Again, the ultimate goal would be to reduce (though not completely eliminate) the role that sneaker companies play in recruiting. In theory, fewer sneaker-run AAU events mean less control of players by AAU coaches and handlers, which in theory means less shady business in recruiting. Putting aside the dumb stereotype that all AAU guys are bad people (something that couldn’t be furthest from the truth) let’s simply look at the idea of running All-Star camps instead of summer tournaments. Because the simple truth is – that as Parrish and Dauster explained in their articles – it’s an awful idea, one that not only does little to actually help even the best players, but instead will actively hurt hundreds and hundreds each and every year.

To explain why, it starts with the simple premise of understanding what “AAU basketball” is, a simple concept that Condoleezza Rice and the people put in charge of “changing college basketball” never really understood.

For starters, “AAU basketball” is much more than just a few events run by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, where the best players play in front of college basketball’s biggest name coaches. Sure, that’s part of it, which is why you saw John Calipari and Bill Self and Sean Miller hopping from event to event this week. However, that’s only part of it.

First off, “AAU basketball” often starts at ages as young as six or seven-years-old. Secondly, even at the highest levels (for 17 and 18-year-olds) it’s not as though it’s only the best players playing for the biggest name coaches while wearing Nike or Adidas. Instead, for every one Peach Jam, there are dozens of tournaments played by mostly low and mid-major recruits, for low and mid-major coaches.

As a matter of fact, while so many other college basketball writers were at Peach Jam this week, your favorite writer (me!) was actually at one of those events. It was called the “Pangos Premiere 80 Event” in Los Angeles, and I can tell you this: There were no John Calipari’s or Sean Miller’s sitting in chairs on the baseline, nor were there any James Wiseman’s or Cole Anthony’s on the court. Instead, there were a few Pac-12 assistants and mostly coaches from schools that you never hear or unless they make the NCAA Tournament out of one-bid leagues. I didn’t see any “Kentucky” or “Michigan State” polo shirts, but did see plenty of “Northern Colorado’s” and “San Francisco’s.”

And on the court, there were, frankly, a bunch of players who you’ll probably never hear of unless they get their “One Shining Moment” in a March down the road. There was Gabe Toombs, a powerful wing player from Utah who – after an extensive Google search – doesn’t even have a 247 Sports recruiting page. There was Andrew Graves, a 6’10 forward who told me that his only offer was Utah State – at least until the Utah State coaching staff got fired this spring. Now he’s not quite sure who is recruiting him. There was a kid named Demetrius Calip who threw down a monster dunk that left the whole gym shook (including me, who can be seen in the freeze frame with my right hand in the air)… but has seemingly no big offers.

And really, the Pangos Premiere 80 is what AAU basketball is about. It’s not about the 8-10 kids every year who we know will be lottery picks. It’s about the hundreds who are fighting for a single scholarship offer in hopes they might be able to continue their careers and get a free education. That’s what the Rice Commission didn’t understand and why their proposed change would be a disaster. Fewer events mean fewer opportunities for kids to be seen. Many of the kids at the Pangos Premiere 80 might not have even been invited to the proposed regional camps, and many others certainly wouldn’t have advanced to the second and third stages where more college coaches can see them.

To use an example more close to home, how much has the July evaluation period helped someone like Dontaie Allen, who is seemingly picking up a couple new offers every hour? You think it’s hurt him by going to Atlanta for the Under Armour event? On the flip side, even as good as he is, you think agents and shoe reps are surrounding him like vultures trying to funnel money to him? Don’t be ridiculous.

As a matter fact, most kids are a lot like the Gabe Toombs and Andrew Graves and Dontaie Allen’s of the world, guys just hoping for a chance to impress college coaches and earn a scholarship.

It’s something that the Rice Commission and the NCAA don’t fully understand.

It’s also who will be most impacted if these proposed rule changes go into place.