Henry Ellenson to Marquette: Golden Eagles Land 5-Star PF Prospect

The Marquette Golden Eagles college basketball program scored a major coup Thursday with the commitment of elite power forward prospect Henry Ellenson.

According to ESPN.com’s Reggie Rankin, Ellenson has decided to join head coach Gene Wojciechowski’s team starting in the 2015-16 season:

The 6’10″, 230-pound big man is listed as a five-star prospect and the No. 10 overall player in the class of 2015 by 247Sports. Ellenson is also the No. 2 prospect in the state of Wisconsin, so Wojciechowski did well to keep the 17-year-old phenom close to home.

Wojciechowski made the jump to Marquette after several years as an assistant at Duke when Buzz Williams took the head coaching job at Virginia Tech. His presence is already being felt, and ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman views Ellenson as a signature acquisition:

Per Rankin, Ellenson was drawn to Marquette for many reasons, including a chance to play alongside his brother, Wally.

I felt Marquette was a place where I could make an immediate impact. I feel that I will have an opportunity to play multiple positions and show my versatility. Also, I was the most comfortable with the coaching staff and a chance to play with my brother was something that was always big to me.

In the wake of the Big East’s overhaul, it is a conference that is very much up for grabs in the coming years. If Ellenson develops as expected, he could be the linchpin that leads Marquette to glory.

The fact that Ellenson chose Marquette over elite programs such as Kentucky and Michigan State speaks to the notion that the Golden Eagles could be on the verge of a golden age.

Wojciechowski still needs some time to mold the program to his liking, but Ellenson is clearly an ideal starting point.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Could the NBA’s New TV Deal Help the Cavaliers Land a 4th Superstar?

The NBA‘s new TV deal will mean a higher salary cap in a few years, which could help the rich get richer throughout the league. Could a bigger cap help the Cleveland Cavaliers add yet another star to their already formidable Big Three?

Howard Beck joins Stephen Nelson to weigh in on the topic in the video above.

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Watchability: Can Spurs land sequel?

Tim Duncan may be in his last season, but that doesn’t mean he can’t grab a sixth ring.

      
 

 

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Jawun Evans to Oklahoma State: Cowboys Land 5-Star PG Prospect

Oklahoma State received a major boost to its 2015 recruiting class thanks to a commitment from highly coveted point guard Jawun Evans.

Reggie Rankin of ESPN.com reports the Cowboys edged fellow finalists Illinois and USC in the race to land the rising star out of Dallas. He also passed along comments from the program’s newest commit, who said the style of play was a key factor.     

“The style of play at Oklahoma State fits more with the way I already play with my travel team … and that will make the adjustment easier,” Evans said. “I like to push the pace and I am great on defense. I will pick up my teammates when they are down. Be a leader.”

Evans is a 5-star prospect who ranks just outside the top 20 nationally for the class of 2015, according to 247Sports‘ composite rankings. The outlet, which rates him as the No. 8 prospect in its own rankings, notes 18 different programs showed interest in the backcourt general before he made his decision.

The thing that stands out most with the Justin F. Kimball High School product is his quickness. He plays the game fast, but doesn’t look out of control. It’s a delicate balance that he’ll likely have to redevelop once he reaches the college game.

Garrett Tucker of HoopSeen is bullish about the point guard’s chances of success, in large part due to his ability to get up and down the floor:

Aside from that, Evans already displayed advanced scoring ability on the offensive end and a defensive work rate that championship teams need from their point guard. From a raw talent standpoint, he’s the complete package, which is why he was given the 5-star distinction.

In terms of taking his game to the next level it starts with continuing to add variety on the offensive end. He likes to attack the rim to score or dish out to open shooters, but learning to score consistently against elite interior defenders will be a learning process.

He also figures to add some bulk to his frame. At 6’0” and 165 pounds, he doesn’t have great length. So he’ll have to add some strength in order to play with the same level of ferociousness on both ends of the floor. Oklahoma State will hope he can do that without sacrificing any quickness.

All told, the outlook is very bright for Evans. Cowboys fans will hope his arrival helps spark a recruiting boost in the months ahead.

 

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Jalen Coleman to Illinois: Illini Land 4-Star PG Prospect

Illinois’ already-strong early recruiting class for the 2015 season got another boost Tuesday with the addition of 4-star point guard Jalen Coleman.    

Coleman made the decision official with an announcement on Twitter, proclaiming that he was excited to win championships and secure his academic future:

According to Shannon Ryan of The Chicago Tribune, Coleman was also considering UNLV before ultimately deciding on the Fighting Illini. 

He was also considering UNLV but sealed the deal with Illinois after visiting the campus last weekend.

The four-star recruit, an Indiana native who plays for La Lumiere School in Indianapolis, is ranked No. 33 nationally by 247sports.com. He’s the highest rated player secured by Groce. 

Coleman’s commitment is another coup for third-year Illinois head coach John Groce. After missing the NCAA tournament last year with a 20-15 record, the Illini are moving in the right direction. They have already secured three major recruits. 

Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago was particularly complimentary of Groce’s recruiting efforts thus far before throwing in a not-so-sarcastic comment about his previous work at Ohio University:

According to 247Sports’ composite rankings, Illinois now ranks sixth overall in recruiting. Ohio State is the only Big Ten team ahead of the Illini in the site’s rankings.

Coleman ranks as the No. 33 overall recruit and the No. 7 point guard nationally per 247Sports’ composite system. The other big-time commits to the school are small forward D.J. Williams and shooting guard Aaron Jordan. 

With the Big Ten adding Maryland and Rutgers this year, the competition in the conference is going to be even more intense than normal. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska were all tournament teams last year, while Indiana figures to be better next season. 

Illinois figures to be in the NCAA tournament mix very soon coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons and Groce being able to make his mark on the program entering his third year as coach. Coleman’s commitment is the latest sign that things are looking up for the Illini. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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Rex Pflueger to Notre Dame: Fighting Irish Land 4-Star SG Prospect

The allure of staying close to home is often too much for elite prospects to pass up. Not so much, apparently, when you’re Rex Pflueger.

The 4-star guard surprised many by committing to the University of Notre Dame on Thursday, turning down multiple high-profile offers on the West Coast. The move was first reported by CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello:

Pflueger, a 6’5″ shooting guard out of the famed Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, was expected by most experts to stay within the friendly confines of his home state. 247Sports’ Crystal Ball projections gave him a 75 percent chance of landing at San Diego State, while USC was the only other school listed as a legitimate possibility.

Pflueger also had offers from California, Connecticut and Florida, among others. He is Mike Brey’s third commitment in the 2015 recruiting class, joining 3-star forwards Matt Ryan and Elijah Burns.

The Fighting Irish were considered the 37th-ranked class nationally before Pflueger‘s signing, so he should vault them well into the 20s.

In late August, Pflueger explained to Christian McCollum of Irish Sports Daily why Notre Dame was a finalist. “The whole situation going on there with the players and the system and how it fits my position. Also how great of an institution it is along with its great history of winning. Notre Dame has always been in there,” he said.

As a junior, Pflueger impressed college coaches with a solid all-around game. He averaged 12 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game while helping push Mater Dei to a national No. 2 ranking.

The giant campus is considered one of the best high school programs in the nation, and Pflueger should take an even bigger step forward as a senior.

Pflueger played his first two years of high school basketball at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano.

The real draw of Pflueger‘s game comes from a maturity beyond his years. He’s a heady off-guard who handles the ball well and rarely makes mistakes within the offense. He’s excellent at slashing to the basket and has a natural feel for when he should kick it outside.

While a good shooter, Pflueger made only 43 threes last season and could stand to extend his range with more consistency at the next level.

It will also be interesting to see how he handles ACC competition from an athletic standpoint.

Nonetheless, this is a coup for Brey at a time when his 2015 class was starting to look a little weak. Composite rankings at 247Sports have Pflueger as the No. 113 prospect nationally and the 14th-best player in the state of California.

Given how hard local schools—especially San Diego State—pushed him to commit, this will be a nice little feather in the Irish cap. Let’s see if Pflueger‘s commitment creates some momentum in South Bend, Indiana.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter @tylerconway22.

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Mickey Mitchell to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star SF Prospect

College basketball prospect Mickey Mitchell has decided to take his talents to Columbus, Ohio.

Again.

Mitchell, who is a 6’7” and 210-pound small forward and 4-star prospect according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, announced the news via Twitter on Thursday:

Mitchell originally committed to Thad Matta and the Ohio State basketball program early in the recruiting process. However, he decommitted to be closer to his family in a similar fashion to his brother Mike, who actually transferred out of the Buckeyes’ football program in the past to be closer to the family in Texas.

Despite the decommittment, Mitchell took a visit to Ohio State’s campus to take in the football game against Virginia Tech. The atmosphere with more than 107,000 people packing the stands and even LeBron James on the sidelines must have made an impression, because he is back in the fold.

The Texas native is ranked as the No. 104 overall player, No. 16 small forward and No. 10 prospect in the state, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and strengthens what is already a loaded Ohio State 2015 class.

Mitchell is incredibly versatile and athletic and can play multiple positions. He will attack the rim off the dribble and can hit from beyond the three-point line, but his most appealing trait on the floor may be his ability to hit teammates with precise passes. He can even play point guard if needed.

Matta now has point guard A.J. Harris, shooting guard Austin Grandstaff, center Daniel Giddens and Mitchell on board for 2015. It was a top-five class on 247Sports before Mitchell committed again, so look for the Buckeyes to challenge for the No. 1 spot.

Grandstaff actually commented on the visit Saturday that included Mitchell, via Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors:

“I spent a lot of time with the guys on the team. Everyone was really cool, really great guys. I’m happy I got to spend a lot of time with AJ too, because he’s going to my point guard, so we need to get on the same page starting early.”

Mitchell clearly enjoyed spending some time with the guys on the team as well.

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Where Should Los Angeles Lakers Turn Attention to Land Another Star?

Failed endeavor after failed endeavor has grounded the Los Angeles Lakers in foreign fashion, delaying their transition from superstar-seeking project to championship heavyweight, handicapping their ability to figure out what happens next.

So, what happens next?

Somehow, someway, the show must go on. The search for a post-Kobe Bryant-era cornerstone must continue.

 

Lessons Learned

The Lakers have spent the better part of three years (unsuccessfully) engineering future direction.

Chris Paul was their future (2011), until former NBA commissioner David Stern decided he wasn’t. Dwight Howard was their future (2012-13), until he left for Houston, unwilling to endure Bryant’s company any longer

Cap space—once an accessory—soon became their future. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, among others, could all be sold on Los Angeles lore and absorbed via financial plasticity the money-burning Lakers rarely enjoyed. 

Sure enough, those options gradually—yet quite suddenly—ebbed into nonexistence. James rejoined the Cleveland Cavaliers. Anthony re-signed with the New York Knicks. Love followed James.

Grand plans came undone. 

But they are not dead.

Desperate for star power outside a 36-year-old Bryant, the Lakers’ pursuit of clarity plows on, their needs obvious, their next move uncertain.

Immediately, the Lakers have assembled an engaging placeholder consisting of promising and proven talent that creates hope—however false or exaggerated—without compromising the cap flexibility that has become essential to moving forward.

“I’m going to walk into our locker room the first day of our meeting and say, ‘I want to win a championship,’” head coach Byron Scott said of his team, per the Los Angeles Daily NewsMark Medina. “I don’t want us thinking it’s fine if we just make the playoffs or think we have no shot at making the playoffs.”

Upbeat approaches to right now change nothing. Championship contenders serve stability. Flush with expiring contracts, dry of long-term building blocks, the Lakers haven’t constructed a core they plan on keeping intact much longer.

According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, in fact, they already have eyes on outside players capable of expediting their rebuild: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.

Both can become unrestricted free agents next summer. Dragic holds a player option for 2014-15—which he will almost surely decline—while Bledsoe’s empty foray into restricted free agency could compel him to sign his qualifying offer, play through next season and join his teammate on the open market come July.

Signing both is a long shot, but Bledsoe-willing, Stein does believe at least one will be primed for the taking:

If Bledsoe signs the qualifier, furthermore, you can pretty much bank on him leaving Phoenix as soon as he gets the chance, because players don’t take that sort of gamble and then bury the bad feelings months later to re-sign with the incumbent team. And that would naturally increase Dragic’s leverage in the process, because Phoenix simply couldn’t stomach losing its two most valuable players, who both happen to play what is routinely regarded as the most important position on the floor in the modern NBA.

Notice where the Lakers are turning here rather than whom—Bledsoe and Dragic—they’re specifically turning to: free agency.

Trades can accelerate reclamation ventures. The Lakers themselves thought they had done just that in 2012 by landing Steve Nash and Howard. 

Similar, inroad-paving alternatives might even be available now.

Fox 10′s Jude LaCava said the Phoenix Suns would be open to moving Bledsoe while making an appearance on Fox Sports 910 Radio. Jay King of Mass Live also unearthed video—since taken down—of ESPN Boston’s Jackie MacMullan reporting that Rajon Rondo wanted to be traded, which Boston Celtics president Rich Gotham has refuted:

Why, with rumors of disgruntled stars aflutter, are the Lakers seemingly focused on 2015 free agency and the waiting it ferries?

For the same reason they were never threats to snag Love before free agency: assets.

Impromptu fortune-turning trades remain unrealistic. The Lakers’ trade bait is limited to rookie Julius Randle, expiring contracts and the 2015 lottery-protected first-round draft pick they received from the Houston Rockets.

While that might be enough to make something happen, it falls strikingly shy of star-worthy.

There is only free agency, in all its complications, for the Lakers.

 

The Course

Targeting stars at will is easy.

Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap, along with Rondo, Dragic and possibly Bledsoe can reach free agency next year. LaMarcus Aldridge, Love and James can as well, but their returns are viewed as formalities. 

Offering contracts on the fly is something the Lakers can do, yet there’s more to it. The market must dictate their actions.

With players such as James and Love presumably off the board, next year’s free-agent pool lacks that one-player turnaround. Gasol will be 30, Jordan isn’t the build-your-championship-contender-around-me type and Dragic, Rondo and Bledsoe aren’t No. 1 options for title-ready teams.

Finding that top-10 or top-five power—someone who can really push the bill—will take additional patience. Another year’s worth. As in 2016, when Kevin Durant is slated for free agency.

Turning attention to him isn’t foolproof, but retired New York Post columnist Pete Vecsey does see merit in waiting. Said Vecsey on CLNS Radio in August, as transcribed by Lakers Nation:

I say if Durant goes anywhere I look for him to go to the Lakers because they’re going to have a tremendous amount of money to give him. Kobe will be on the way out at that point and they won’t have anybody. A guy like him might want to start with the Lakers, or maybe he might want to go a team where he can win a championship.

Planning for Durant won’t take absolute restraint. There is money for the Lakers to spend before 2016. They have only four players under guaranteed contract beyond next season, and Bryant’s lucrative extension comes off the books once Durant enters the free-agent fray.

Self-control would have to be displayed through caution and deliberate activity. 

If the plan is to make a run at Durant, chasing someone of similar ilk—or rather, position—makes little sense. Spending too freely also jeopardizes any potential cap room.

That should eliminate the Lakers’ desire to sign a top-tier center. 

Rare—near-imaginary, even—is the powerhouse constructed around a big man. They come overpriced and play a position that isn’t conducive with aging. 

Pursuing a wing scorer of any kind should be equally taboo. In addition to a possible play for Durant, the Lakers would still have Nick Young and Bryant. Exhausting funds on another shooting guard or small forward  would create expensive overlap.

And put that way, the Lakers already seem to be looking in the right place: at point guard.

Neither Jeremy Lin nor Nash represents a long-term solution. Summer 2015 will be packed with point-guard talent, which, amid the rise of dominant floor generals, has become exceedingly affordable.

Bledsoe isn’t landing the max deal Stein says he’s seeking for a reason. The contracts Isaiah Thomas (four years, $27 million) and Kyle Lowry (four years, $48 million) signed this summer highlight the NBA’s embarrassment of point-guard riches.

Bringing in a starting, star-level point guard should, in theory, cost the Lakers less than any other substantial move they can make. And that, in turn, should ensure Durant remains a realistic target nearly two years from now.

 

Same Plan, Different Execution

More waiting is hardly standard for the Lakers—especially following two years of struggle, and especially as Bryant’s career clock ticks on. But adjusting their approach to fit the landscape of what they need and how they’re trying to get it is necessary.

“Despite the slew of teams which, like the Suns, have adopted a more asset-oriented approach to building a contender,” writes Bleacher Report’s Jim Cavan, “the Lakers aren’t about to mess with the formula that’s worked: Get the big names, the rest will take care of itself.”

To get the big names, the Lakers must wait. Not like they have since 2011, when one name, one move was supposed to solve everything, but differently.

No one player will ride into Los Angeles within the next year ready to save the day and morph the Lakers into a team qualified to go much further than Bryant can carry them. That player won’t be out there before 2016. If he is, he’ll be available by trade, and the Lakers won’t have the asset clout to acquire him.

Attention must be turned to a two-year plan rather than instant gratification. Between now and 2016, the Lakers shouldn’t be zeroing in on one player, restricting their options to a lone savior who isn’t there.

Chase a talented point guard, build the roster up and then, in 2016, try to finish what began years ago. 

Swinging and missing on Paul, Howard, Anthony, James and Love should act as the Lakers’ ultimate lesson. Battling against the clock isn’t always possible or smart. 

Sometimes, when the alternative would entail rushing headfirst into oncoming, potentially lasting mediocrity, it’s best to plan and hope in accordance with it.

 

*Contract and free agency information via ShamSports.


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Juwan Morgan to Indiana: Hoosiers Land 4-Star PF Prospect

The Indiana Hoosiers basketball program is trying to re-establish itself as a national power, and it took a major step in the right direction Wednesday.     

Zach Osterman of Indy Star reported that Juwan Morgan is heading to Bloomington as part of Indiana’s 2015 class after picking the Hoosiers over Vanderbilt in a ceremony in his hometown in Missouri.

Morgan’s AAU coach Rodney Perry commented on Morgan’s decision, via Osterman:

“He really liked (IU) coach (Tom) Crean, but the other thing that stood out was the players he could potentially play with, as well as the facilities. He wants to major in broadcasting, and they have a new broadcasting facility that they’re building right now too.”

The chance to play right away at a historically elite program like Indiana certainly helped lure Morgan to Bloomington as well.

Osterman threw in an interesting note at the end of the report for those worrying about what this latest commitment means for scholarship numbers: “Indiana does not have any scholarships open currently for next season. But Crean and his staff have always been willing to oversign to stay ahead of potential program attrition.”

Morgan is listed by 247Sports’ composite rankings as the No. 87 national prospect, No. 18 power forward and No. 2 player in Missouri for the class of 2015. Among the other schools that recruited him were Vanderbilt, Creighton, Missouri, Iowa, Washington and Stanford.

It is no wonder that so many programs were after his services.

Listed at 6’8″ and 220 pounds, he has an ideal frame with the potential to add even more strength.

The power forward is comfortable inside the paint and can unleash an array of post moves on opponents with the ball in his hands. What’s more, his shooting range extends to mid-range (and occasionally behind the three-point line), and he is a solid shot-blocker who will protect the rim for Indiana.

He is also capable of getting out in transition because of his athleticism.

Morgan will likely contribute right away as the Hoosiers battle in the Big Ten in the 2014-15 season.

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Jalen Brunson to Villanova: Wildcats Land 5-Star PG Prospect

The Villanova backcourt just improved significantly. On Wednesday, 5-star point guard Jalen Brunson announced his decision to join the Wildcats, according to Rob Dauster of CollegeBasketballTalk:

Villanova landed their third commitment in the Class of 2015 on Wednesday afternoon as Chicago native Jalen Brunson announced that he will be playing his college basketball for the Wildcats.

Brunson is a five-star recruit that is currently ranked as the No. 15 prospect in the class by Rivals, but he may actually be the best point guard in the country. He’s not as quick as Jawun Evans and he’s not as talented of a scorer as Isaiah Briscoe, but he’s a strong, left-handed leader that knows how to run an offense and can make plays off of the dribble when it is needed.

This ends the speculation surrounding where the 6’2″, 180-pound Lincolnshire, Illinois, product will begin his college career. A highly sought-after recruit, the lefty has the ability to facilitate, run a team and shoot with precision from the perimeter. On Monday, Eric Bossi of Rivals.com announced the two schools remaining in contention for Brunson’s services:

Now that we know which college the guard will attend, what exactly does he bring to the table?

Brunson has the ability to get his teammates involved right out of the gate. An unselfish player and great ball-handler, he routinely makes intelligent passes, creating shots all over the floor. An extremely well-rounded player, his prowess as a shooter has been prominent on many occasions.

One such occurrence was during the summer with USA Basketball, earning a gold medal in the under-18 FIBA Americas. The guard spoke of his experience, and his upcoming decision, during an interview with Mike Helfgot of the Chicago Tribune:

I give this summer for experience an A-plus. I got so much experience playing internationally and had a great summer paying with my AAU team (Mac Irvin Fire). I experienced a lot of different playing styles and different people. Playing-wise, I think I played pretty well.

It feels good. There’s a lot of weight off my shoulders, but I still have a big decision coming up. It’s a not a decision for four years, it’s a decision for the rest of my life, so it’s real big.

He’s produced some gaudy numbers over the last two seasons with Adlai Stevenson as well, via The EYBL Circuit:

Brunson’s performance against the nation’s No. 1 Whitney Young, featuring Jahlil Okafor, in the Illinois state tournament may be the best example of his ability to take over a game. Brunson put his team on his back, racking up 56 points in the contest, and despite losing by a score of 75-68, he was given a standing ovation at the game’s end:

The shooting ability and ankle-breaking moves on display in that game are only two of the many reasons why Brunson will be a solid starting point guard on the collegiate level. Combined with solid on-ball defending and a high basketball IQ, we should expect to see him produce for the Wildcats right away.

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