College Basketball Nation: LeBron James

When LeBron James was an 18-year-old NBA rookie, he averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds in 39.5 minutes per game. It was by far the worst season of his career -- by the time he was an NBA "sophomore" he was well on his way to putting up legendary season splits -- but it was more than enough confirmation that the dude should never, ever have been forced to step foot on a college campus. It would have been insane and silly. Awesome, too, of course, particularly for Ohio State fans. (I mean, can you imagine that dude playing college basketball?) But mostly just silly.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Bob Donnan/US PresswireMike Krzyzewski, left, has a special relationship with LeBron James from to their days with the U.S. Olympic squad.
So, no, James should never have played in college. I'd say his career has worked out pretty well as it is.

That said, guys who jumped straight to the pros did miss out on a few things beyond the carefree fun of a college campus. Most notably, perhaps -- and this is something Steve Kerr argued effectively this spring -- they miss out on the unique form of mentorship that comes from a truly vaunted college coach. Everyone's experiences are different, but there's no question a truly legendary college coach can command a level of respect, credibility and even fear that a lot of the nation's most talented players often (but not always) fail to experience until they get to the college level. This is not enough of an argument to justify forcing someone as talented as James to go to college for eight months, but it is a worthwhile point all the same.

Proof enough, perhaps, is this story in Tuesday's Miami Herald, in which James and his Miami Heat teammates discuss the relationship James has formed with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski since the two first competed together at the start of Coach K's USA Basketball tenure. Over the past seven years, Coach K has apparently taken on the same role Indiana coach Tom Crean fulfills for Dwyane Wade, as a type of surrogate basketball mentor:
“[Krzyzewski] understood him and Kobe [Bryant] and those other guys who didn’t go to college,” said Wade, who was with Team USA in 2006 and ’08. And if you can pick one college coach to play for, obviously, Coach K tops that list for many. They took their relationship personal; he pushed him. And [James] didn’t get that experience. You can tell they both really loved it.”

James and Krzyzewski have stayed in contact over the years, with James crediting Coach K for helping him mature into a vocal leader with Team USA. [...]

“We have a great relationship,” James said. “We’ve been together since ’05, and our relationship has grown every year. I’ve grown from a young man into a man into a leader of that team. He’s helped me develop that. I give a lot of credit to him.”

That's interesting in and of itself, I'd say. But another angle is what it does for Coach K's Duke ability to recruit.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has made his relationship with Jay-Z and William Wesley and (by proxy) LeBron James no secret, because it provides a recruiting advantage. The Olympics have inarguably provided Coach K with a similar trump card. He didn't necessarily need one; before 2005, he was already Coach K. But when you can say that you've coached the world's greatest (and wealthiest, and most famous) basketball players to two gold medals, and that you took a key role in helping the world's greatest basketball player become who he is today, you have something truly unique to offer the promising 17-year-olds of the world. That kind of endorsement resonates. Heck, it blows minds.

Oh, and on the lighter side, here's Coach K's story about the first time he met James:
“He is a massive human being. And a gifted athlete. Those guys all have tattoos like crazy,” Krzyzewski said. “In one light moment, he had his shirt off in the locker room, and I said, ‘chosen one?’ And he said ‘yep.’ And I said, ‘I think I’m going to get one of those.’ And he look at me and leaned over and says ‘No, coach, there’s only one chosen one.’”

Even if you don't care about the whole mentorship thing, or the bonus recruiting angle, you now have a mental image of Coach K with a "Chosen One" tattoo on his back. So, you know, you're welcome.
The Afternoon Links are (intermittently) back, and they are exactly what they say they are. Some days will bring more than others. This is the offseason, after all. If you have a link you'd like included, your best bet is to hit me on Twitter. You can also e-mail your link to collegebasketballnation at gmail.com, or use the submission form here.
  • The Sporting News's Mike DeCourcy reminds us this summer is the first during which players enrolled in summer classes will be allowed to participate in two hours of coach-supervised skill instruction per week. (This is a helpful reminder in and of itself; I had totally forgotten about this rule.) As such, Mike prescribes "summer jobs" to a handful of players seeking to make the leap from good to great, including UCLA's Josh Smith, whose overriding goal should be what Louis C.K. once famously phrased "be less people."
  • Our old friend Diamond Leung caught up with Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis on the possibility of future mind-blowingly awesome Carrier Classic-type events, and the news was promising: "There is nothing solidified," Hollis told Leung. "We’re looking at the possibility of something in '13 in Florida. It’s difficult to tie one of those billion-dollar warships down two years in advance, but if we did so, we’d want to take it to Florida." Among the possible opponents Hollis listed was Notre Dame, and I agree with Mr. Norlander: Notre Dame may not be the most high-profile opponent ever, but when we're talking about a basketball game on an active U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, it doesn't really matter how high-profile the opponent is. (I'd watch the Jesuit boys school Jeff Van Gundy constantly references on NBA broadcasts, provided they were playing on an aircraft carrier. More aircraft carrier!)
  • When Kendall Marshall broke a scaphoid bone in his right wrist during the NCAA tournament, there was talk -- just talk, but it was loud enough -- about the possibility that Marshall could return to the Tar Heels in a week or less. As it turns out, that was never even remotely possible. In an interview with the IMG Academy, Marshall revealed that while his wrist is nearly 100 percent, "... what people didn’t know is that I also fractured my elbow." Marshall has been limited in his draft prep, but is hoping to be ready for full contact at the June NBA draft combine.
  • One of the defendants implicated in the San Diego basketball point-shaving scheme plead guilty Thursday in San Diego to conspiracy to commit sports bribery, conduct an illegal gambling business and distribute marijuana. He faces up to five years in prison and is one of 10 defendants involved in the case, and the whole thing is probably still going to get worse before it gets better, if that's even possible.
  • Kansas guard Elijah Johnson and Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder may be rivals on the court, but they have at least one thing in common: Both are currently recovering from surgeries (Johnson on his knee, McGruder on his foot) undertaken this spring after the conclusion of the 2012 season. Both were limited in their movements in a Memorial Day camp in Kansas City, but both appeared in good spirits, and Johnson is already talking about taking over for senior guard Tyshawn Taylor as his team's primary ballhandler next season: “That’s how I want to embrace it,” Johnson said. “I feel when they get down to the last couple seconds in the game, I want everybody to look at me and feel comfortable. I don’t want people to look at me and not know what kind of mood I’m going to be in tonight. I want my teammates to know that every night I am trying to take them all the way as far as I can, further than we went last year and try to be positive in any situation.”
  • Pat Summitt will receive the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama today -- the highest honor the president can bestow upon a civilian -- alongside Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison and a batch of other noteworthy folks. Well-deserved, to say the least.
  • Hot off the ESPN.com presses: Myron Medcalf laments and analyzes the latest nonconference scheduling trends, in which more and more schools are determined to avoid on-campus matchups in favor of exempt holiday tournaments and other less risky and less costly events. Andy Katz talked to coaches about the art of nonconference scheduling; it's a great look at the motives at work. (My bit on the rivalries I'd love to see survive conference realignment and remain as nonconference games came earlier in the day.) And in case you missed it over the weekend, Dana O'Neil chronicled the efforts of ESPN analyst Sean Farnham to create Hoops From Home, "a nonprofit organization that will bring free basketball camps coached and run by current and past NBA stars to the children of military personnel living on bases all around the world." Dig in, enjoy, you know the drill.
  • Non-college basketball break: There was the 32 and 13 line he put up, another in a lengthening list of amazing 2012 playoff performances, as well as the general athletic disadvantage a hobbled Heat team had over an even-more-hobbled Celtics squad, but it wasn't until LeBron James started laughing at Kevin Garnett's tough guy act that I knew the Celtics had no chance to win this series.
  • Basketball break: Joss Whedon wrote for "Roseanne?" True story! As someone who was 10 years old in 1995, it's easy for me to forget just how popular Roseanne was in the 1990s. But then I watched the first three seasons of "The Larry Sanders Show" on Netflix, and that helped me sort of figure it out. Speaking of which, "Larry Sanders" is the ultimate '90s pop-culture time capsule, from which I have learned two things: The ties were terrible, and the '90s were really weird. That's pretty much it.
Partially inspired by TrueHoop's excellent HoopIdea series, College Basketball Nation humbly presents Change the Game, a weekly discussion on the game we love and the ways it could be made better. And nothing is off the table.

Last week, we took a look at the always-controversial block/charge call. This week, Myron Medcalf examines the aspects of the NBA game that have negatively influenced college basketball. On the flip side, Fran Fraschilla takes a look at the good things college basketball coaches and players have picked up from the pro game.

Midway through the third quarter of the Miami Heat’s 105-93 victory over the Indiana Pacers Thursday night, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy proclaimed that the Pacers had been “iso’d to death by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.”

Somewhere in America, a college player recognized the individual maneuvering of the NBA all-stars as confirmation of his own offseason growth as a one-on-one threat.

That’s just one way that the next level has had an adverse impact on the collegiate level. Too many college squads have abandoned the offensive sets that separate Division I basketball from the NBA and structure the game so that it’s executable for amateurs still absorbing the fundamentals. Organized offenses have been replaced by an influx of isolation plays, a direct influence from the next level.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyIsolation plays like this one for LeBron James of the Miami Heat are the norm in the NBA, but often are ineffective at the college level.
There is only one LeBron James, but that doesn’t stop Division I players with a fraction of his ability from attempting to emulate him and other NBA standouts.

Isolation reigns. And that’s a problem.

It’s an issue because it strips Division I offenses of their fluidity.

The NBA’s stars can freestyle because they’re elite athletes who don’t necessarily need a motion offense to get to the rim. Yes, the NBA offensive sequences occasionally commence with a designed play. But when the ball goes to James, Wade, Kobe, you know what’s coming.

Those guys can score against any individual defenders in the world without much assistance from teammates.

Similar attempts at the Division I level, however, tend to involve poor shot selection. Too many plays end with a quick shot, an off-balanced drive or a tough jump shot – plays that only work for a few, special athletes. I don’t think that’s the goal for most college programs.

But that doesn’t stop players from pursuing the one-on-one plays that are the result of next-level thinking. It’s a troubling trend.

One coach told me that players accept contested shots as just a natural part of the game. And I think that’s attached to the isolation dilemma. There’s a sense of drama that comes with luring a defender and driving past him or shooting over him. But it’s not always necessary. Open looks come from the offensive sets that are properly executed. Too many college players, however, favor one-on-one scenarios based on what they’ve watched on TV the previous night.

But that’s not the only challenging byproduct of the NBA’s influence on the collegiate level.

There is also the issue with versatility. Players rarely sign off on the positions that are listed on their official bios.

Are you a shooting guard?

“Nope, I’m a combo. I can play both guard spots.”

Really?

Are you a true center?

“Nah, I can play a little wing, too. I don’t like to limit myself.”

I understand the mission. More versatility increases NBA potential. But again, most players won’t get to that level and they’re wasting their time trying to play four positions when they can barely manage one.

There is one Dirk. One Kevin Garnett.

But at the college level, a 6-7 center that commits to the position can succeed. The gritty rebounder has a place. The pure point guard is necessary. The sharpshooter off the bench can help his squad win a title.

There is certainly a give-and-take when you have guys who want to make money in the future and coaches who know most of their players need extensive work on the basics before they’re ready to earn that paycheck.

But there’s nothing wrong with trying to master one role. It always makes sense to add more wrinkles such as expanded shooting range. But the coaches I talk to want their players to focus on the tasks that helped them earn their scholarships.

The NBA has fueled this emphasis on offensive players at the collegiate level. And I think NBA officiating has affected the quick whistles against helpless NCAA defenders trying to stop them.

Breathing on James might prompt a foul call in the NBA’s upcoming Eastern Conference Finals. There’s this unwritten rule about protecting offensive players. It’s really hurt the game.

And that’s trickled down to the collegiate level, too.

Defenders don’t have many options when refs blow the whistle on the inadvertent contact that’s the natural result of two players vying for position in a live game.

I know the rules on fouls.

Per the NCAA rulebook: “A player shall not hold, push, charge, trip or impede the progress of an opponent by extending arm(s), shoulder(s), hip(s) or knee(s) or by bending his or her own body into other than a normal position or by using any unreasonably rough tactics.”

But I think NCAA officials should take a hard look at the limitations placed upon collegiate defenders due to foul calls that penalize them for competing.

No, I don’t believe a guy has the right to go Dexter Pittman on an offensive player and get away with it.

I do, however, believe in fair, physical play that offers offensive and defensive players a true opportunity to engage in competition.

The NBA has lost that. It’s a very soft game now.

And the college game has followed its lead with rulings that favor offensive players.

I think the college game has benefited from the pros in a multitude of ways, too. But they’re two different platforms. And they should remain separate.

But let’s get rid of the derivatives from the NBA that don’t help the college game.
Dwyane Wade's relationship with IU coach Tom Crean is well-established. Crean coached Wade during his breakout seasons at Marquette from 2001 to 2003, the latter of which included a run to the Final Four and a junior season that established Wade as a top-five pick in 2003's legendarily loaded NBA draft. (The top five picks that year went like this: LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Wade. Chris Kaman was drafted No. 6. Oh, Darko. Poor, poor Darko.) The two have remained close since, but both have busy schedules, and not much occasion to spend quality time.

Wade found such an occasion this weekend. On Thursday, in a 95-74 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Wade became the first player since Eric Snow in 2001 to record five or more turnovers and five or or fewer points, rebounds and assists (min. 35 minutes), according to ESPN Stats and Information. Wade was stymied in ways we rarely see, ways that I have to admit (as both a Bulls fan and someone who kind of hates the way Wade plays, all pump-fakes and sprawling appeals for fouls and half-limping walks to the free throw line) were thoroughly satisfying to watch.

Wade
Michael Hickey/US PresswireDwyane Wade dunks home two of his 30 points Sunday against the Pacers.
But they didn't last for long. Wade submitted an excellent performance in Sunday's crucial 101-93 win at Indiana, with 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists. (James, meanwhile, went for 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine dimes, one of the most incredible playoff performances you will ever see.) What changed? Wade had fluid drained from his knee, so that surely helped. But he also made a stop in Bloomington, Ind. to talk shop with Crean, which he discussed in his postgame news conference Sunday:
“I really spent time with a mentor of mine, a father figure and had a long day and long hours of just conversation, just talking about a lot of things,” Wade said. “So it was great for me to just get away and kind of get that energy that I needed from him.”

Naturally, at least one photo of Wade and his former coach on the floor at Assembly Hall has surfaced. The association is a positive one for Indiana, obviously; as John Calipari at Kentucky has shown, few things are more attractive to young recruits than a relationship with established NBA stars like Wade and James. Even better, Crean had film footage of Wade's made and missed shots, so the visit was a tangibly productive one, too.

In any case, the most surprising thing about all of this is what Wade wore to Bloomington. As you can see in the linked photo, Wade is wearing a Heat windbreaker with khaki pants. There is nary a pastel suit or fuschia pocket square to be seen. Given the man's sartorial track record, I have to say I'm pretty disappointed.

(Hat tip: Inside the Hall)


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Deshaun Thomas exited the postgame press conference that followed No. 2 Ohio State’s 85-63 victory over Duke on Tuesday night, NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade escaped Value City Arena through a nearby loading dock.

The duo watched Thomas and Co. destroy the fourth-ranked Blue Devils in the most marquee matchup of this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge. When James and Wade arrived, photographers scurried like paparazzi on a red carpet.

“I saw them,” said Thomas, who scored 18 points. “It was great motivation to show off for them because they show off for us all the time on TV.”

But LeBron and D-Wade weren’t the headliners on this night.

Under the brightest lights of the young season, Ohio State embraced the moment and destroyed a team that just won the prestigious Maui Invitational, handing Duke its most lopsided nonconference loss in the regular season since 1995.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James, Dwyane Wade
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThe stars were out in force in Columbus on Tuesday, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Buckeyes weren’t distracted by the frenzy that preceded the game -- fans had camped outside the venue for days and there was legitimate buzz in a city and on a campus dominated by football and the arrival of new coach Urban Meyer.

Competing while two NBA All-Stars sat courtside obviously didn’t rattle them, either. And more importantly, Duke’s threats of 3-balls and aggressive interior defense never moved beyond the planning phase due to Ohio State’s execution.

The Buckeyes put together the most defining performance of the 2011-12 season and legitimized all the “Ohio State is the best team in America right now” kudos that will follow.

OSU nailed a ridiculous 59 percent of its shots -- a mere 57 percent from beyond the arc. Beyond the box score, however, the Bucks had the backbone to crush a vulnerable opponent when the opportunity arose. That’s the DNA of a champion.

They turned a 26-17 edge with eight minutes to play in the first half into a 19-point halftime lead.

“This basketball team is tough," said Jared Sullinger, who scored a team-high 21 points. "That’s pretty much our motto: mental toughness and physical toughness, and we showed that today."

Against Ohio State’s defense, Duke played like a claustrophobe stuck in a trunk.

Freshman Austin Rivers scored 22 points, but threw away about a half-dozen opportunities because OSU wouldn’t let him finish at the rim. Seth Curry called a timeout on his team’s first possession with Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith Jr. swarming him. It was a sign of things to come.

A Blue Devils team with a 46 percent success rate from long range before Tuesday’s game hit just 3 of 15 on this night.

A Blue Devils defense that gave up just 61 points in its Maui final victory over Kansas gave up 47 to Ohio State -- in the first half.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the fatigue from last week’s trip to Hawaii played a role in the Blue Devils’ struggles.

“I thought Ohio State played a great game against us. They were a fresher team,” he said. “I thought our team played tired.”

But getting whipped for 40 minutes will wear down any team.

Despite losing 3-point ace Jon Diebler, versatile performer David Lighty and shot-blocker Dallas Lauderdale to graduation, these Buckeyes might have more potential than last season’s squad, which won 34 games but was knocked out as a 1-seed in the Sweet 16.

They’re more athletic, and with the evolution of Thomas and sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, they’re more versatile on both ends of the floor.

Craft alone held Duke’s guards to four points on 2-of-8 shooting and four turnovers. Thomas entered the game shooting 28 percent from beyond the arc, but connected on 2 of 4 treys Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteJared Sullinger contributed 21 points and eight boards against the Duke frontline.
In the first half, former Ohio State stars Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Evan Turner and Michael Redd were introduced at midcourt. Oden, Cook and Conley formed the nucleus of Ohio State’s 2006-07 team, which lost in the national title game to back-to-back champion Florida.

Sullinger said he’s learned from predecessors who fell short of their national championship dreams.

“You just gotta keep your composure,” he said when asked what it will take for this year’s team to fulfill its potential.

Ohio State is as balanced as any team in the country. And with a stud point guard, a consistent wing (William Buford scored 20 points) and a big man like Sullinger, the Buckeyes appear to be as well-equipped for March Madness as any squad in the country.

But coach Thad Matta would like to erase the preceding sentences. The hoopla is premature, he said during his postgame delivery.

He said he’s paranoid about praising his team too early because that’s what happened just before Turner broke his back during the 2009-10 season.

Plus, the program suffered a backlash last season, when Matta’s team won its first 24 games but ultimately ended in disappointment in the NCAA regional semifinal against Kentucky.

Perhaps that’s why he dismissed any comparisons to the 2006-07 team.

“No. Honestly, I don’t. You had some veteran players, you had some seniors,” Matta said when he was asked if he saw any similarities between this season’s team and Oden’s squad.

That team, however, was led by freshmen. This season’s Buckeyes are guided by three outstanding sophomores.

“That team would do things in practice that I had never seen before,” Matta added later.

Well, how many times has a top-five Duke team taken that kind of a beating? Duke’s 63 points and three 3-pointers were both season lows.

“I still think this team has so far to go,” Matta concluded.

The latter is understandable for a coach who doesn’t want young players to get overconfident. And based on the multiple years he’s had where in-season success failed to match postseason projections, Matta's refusal to get too excited about the victory makes sense.

But Matta can’t completely disregard what happened here at Value City Arena. His young roster dominated a previously unbeaten Duke team in every area of the game.

That doesn’t guarantee any success in the future. But as of now, it’s undeniable proof that the Buckeyes are as good as, and probably better than, any team in the country.

“What can I say -- this basketball team is something special,” Sullinger said.

He probably shouldn’t convey that thought to his coach.

But most who watched Tuesday’s game would agree.

Stanford remakes McDonald's commercial

October, 19, 2011
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With a nod to the iconic McDonald's commercial featuring Larry Bird and Michael Jordan that has since been remade by Dwight Howard and LeBron James, Stanford big men Dwight Powell and Josh Owens put their acting skills to work to promote the Cardinal's upcoming scrimmage.

Matching each other dunk for dunk, the two played for a burrito much like the NBA stars played for a Big Mac and fries. Some of the dunks showed off their athleticism. Others were physically impossible like the shots Bird and Jordan claimed to make in the commercial.

Hilariously, Mark Madsen, who led Stanford to a Final Four appearance, makes a cameo at the end in playing the role of Bird as he takes a big bite of the burrito and says, "Thanks for lunch!"

Madsen has grown closer to the program since returning to campus to pursue his MBA and was invited along as a guest on the team's preseason tour of Spain, where he did everything from rebound on shooting drills to helping load the team bus. He's also developed a relationship with his fellow Stanford students and has been impressed with the team.

"Based on what I saw in the games, and it was only six games, this was a group that came together and really learned how to play with each other," Madsen told the team's website. "The word chemistry is a common word in sports and we all hear it. I really think a lot of chemistry was developed on this trip, not only on the court but also off the court."

That's good news for Stanford on the court as it attempts to rise up in the Pac-12. A number of players were involved in the making of the commercial, so it's also a positive sign for Stanford to see the team coming together and having fun.

Isiah Thomas brings NBA stars to campus

September, 30, 2011
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In support of Isiah Thomas, the Miami Heat's Big Three are coming to the Florida International campus to play.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will host the South Florida All-Star Classic, with proceeds going to the foundation in honor of the FIU coach's late mother.

"This will be a great event for FIU and the South Florida community," Thomas said in a statement. "We are thrilled that some of the world's greatest basketball players will put on an entertaining show here at FIU. It's also fulfilling to know that this is being done for a good cause. I can't thank LeBron, Dwyane and Chris enough for helping put this together."

Also expected to play in the exhibition, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel?
The game, organized by Miami Heat forward LeBron James, is scheduled to also include teammates Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. Also scheduled to attend are NBA rivals Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Amare Stoudemire, Russell Westbrook, Jamal Crawford, John Wall, Rudy Gay, Jonny Flynn, Eric Bledsoe, Lou Williams, Wesley Matthews and free-agent center Eddy Curry, as well as former Heat players Dorell Wright and Caron Butler.

Last offseason, Thomas was left in an awkward position when he was forced to backtrack on accepting a consulting position with the New York Knicks that was to have allowed him to coach at FIU as well. The attempted move raised questions about the commitment Thomas was showing the college game.

But at least with this star-studded affair put together for Thomas, it's a reminder of how the NBA connections that Thomas has can be used to shine a light on FIU, which last season finished with an 11-19 record.

"It is exciting to be able to bring an event like this to South Florida," FIU executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia said in a statement. "It is also great to see all of these NBA superstars come together for a great cause here at FIU."

LeBron James plays pickup at Kentucky

September, 14, 2011
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John Calipari's relationship with LeBron James is no secret, nor is it anything new. But it does remain a huge competitive advantage.

High school basketball players may not universally like LeBron James -- the dude's Q rating hasn't exactly been thriving in the past 12 months -- but you can bet each and every elite high school basketball talent wants to be the next LeBron. They want the dominating talent, the massive shoe contract, the immediate success, the Beats by Dre headphones, all of it.

Which is why tweets like the following are like little miniature recruiting bombs. Who doesn't want to play late-night pickup basketball with the most talented player and most famous player in the world? Late Tuesday night, LeBron posted the following message on Twitter:
Just got done hooping at UK with the team, and alum Rondo, @EBled24 @boogiecousins! Great run! #BigBlueNation

In case you're not good at deciphering (or Googling) Twitter handles, that's Boston Celtics point Rajon Rondo, as well as fellow Kentucky alumni Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins, one-and-done players on 2010, Kentucky's first season under Calipari. That sounds like a really fun pickup game.

It's also a handy little recruiting tool. If you come to Kentucky, you might get the chance to play pickup basketball with ... these dudes! It's undeniably cool. Calipari doesn't even have to say anything. The snowball effect does the work for him.

And sure, this exact scenario isn't something Kentucky can replicate on a regular basis; unless I'm missing something, this kind of contact would be illegal if James and the rest of the NBA's players weren't currently mired in a lockout. But James can always attend Kentucky games. He can have a presence near the program. The more he does, the more high school players will take note.

As if Calipari needed any more help recruiting. I mean, it's almost unfair.

Casper Ware captures MVPs, NBA attention

August, 26, 2011
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Long Beach State has reached the championship game of the Big West tournament for the past two seasons. They lost both times and fell short of the NCAA tournament. Still, Casper Ware isn't looking back.

"I can't cry about it or be sad about it," said Ware, who will get one final shot at reaching the NCAA tournament as a senior. "I just have to use it as motivation.

"It's a whole new season. Our goal is to get to that final game and win it."

So the reigning Big West player of the year set out this summer and showed off his game after a season in which he averaged 17.2 points. That has resulted in another MVP award at the Drew League, where he consistently put up 30-point games.

Summer league basketball is just that, as coach Dan Monson cautioned. It's also a good sign that Ware has done it alongside some top NBA players and gotten their attention, according to Gazette Newspapers.
He dropped 43 points on a team that featured NBA ballers DeMar DeRozan, Ron Artest and Steve Blake. He scored 33 points while playing on a team with LeBron James, impressing James so much that the NBA MVP asked Ware to teach at his camp the next weekend. He played against or alongside Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Austin Daye, and more, consistently flummoxing top-tier talents and drawing praise from Twitter feeds to asphalt arguments.

Two weeks ago, the respect he's garnered took an interesting form, when he brought DeRozan, the Thunder's James Harden, and 2010 number one draft pick John Wall into the Pyramid to play hoop during an Open Gym session. Ware said it was good for him and his teammates to get a look at how the best in the world play, and didn't mind hearing that video of All-Stars in the Pyramid may one day help the school's recruiting cause.

That's certainly some pretty good company, and if it gives Ware confidence going into the season, it's great for a Long Beach State team looking to get over the hump.

Long Beach State duo assists LeBron

July, 25, 2011
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The signature moment of LeBron James' surprise summer league appearance on Saturday at the Drew League in South Los Angeles was when the Miami Heat superstar flew down the lane unimpeded and threw down a windmill dunk that promptly brought the house down.

The guy who had the assist on the play was Long Beach State forward Edis Dervisevic. After the play, 49ers teammate Casper Ware, the reigning Big West player of the year, couldn't help but crack a smile at the sight of it.

From Gazette Newspapers:
"It was a fun experience," said Ware via text on Saturday. "The best summer memory." Ware didn’t get a chance to talk to James, who was mobbed after the conclusion of the contest, a 96-90 win for their team, but his game did some talking of its own. Ware dropped 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals, and says he had a pair of assists to James. LeBron finished with 30 points 7 rebounds and 7 assists.

Not only did Ware get to showcase his skills alongside LeBron, but Dervisevic must have gotten one of the great thrills of his life when he scored off an old-fashioned two-man pick-and-roll play with King James and got fouled.

That's why you play in pick-up games sometimes. You never know who's going to show up.

James' appearance was made possible by Baron Davis, who served as guest coach for the Cheaters II team while a standing room-only crowd watched in wonder. According to ESPN Los Angeles, the police even had to order the doors to the gym shut so people wouldn't block the exits.

Davis is active in the Los Angeles community, and James wanted to give back as well.

"Myself and B.D., we don't do anything for the cameras," James said afterward. "It's all about giving back to the inner city, giving back to these kids."
Thomas Robinson's summer just keeps getting better. The KU forward dominated for large stretches at the Chicago Nike Skills Camps in June against some of the best forwards in the country; he flashed the kind of athleticism and rebounding ability that makes you sit up in your chair and take notice. NBA scouts at the camp no doubt felt the same way.

Robinson's next stop on the camp summer tour came at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, last week. After another impressive performance, Jay Bilas and Fran Fraschilla both left the camp singing Robinson's praises. That would be exciting enough. As it turns out, though, the Jayhawk might have earned the respect of James himself. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Robinson "held his own" against LeBron, even if, as Robinson admits, the NBA All-Star wasn't exactly going all-out:
“LeBron wasn’t playing full speed,” Robinson, KU’s 6-foot-10, 240-pound junior from Washington, D.C., said modestly in an interview Wednesday in Allen Fieldhouse. “I’m pretty sure he could turn it up another notch.”

“He said himself I was strong, so that was a compliment,” Robinson said of the 6-8, 250-pound Miami Heat veteran. “He was cool, way down-to-earth, even more than I thought. I really respect him.

“He’s tweeted me and told me to keep working. I told him I will. I told him to talk for me. I’m trying to make some noises here. He said he will, so I mean hopefully he will,” Robinson added of James singing his praises this upcoming season.

The "noises" have been made. Robinson was an object of curiosity at the beginning of the summer. He was excellent in limited time as a sophomore, but because the Jayhawks relied so heavily on the Morris twins for low-post minutes -- and because Robinson's season was so deeply affected by the sudden loss of his mother in January -- there were questions whether the junior had what it took to dominate in the low-block as the centerpiece of a Kansas offense. Some of those questions will linger until we get deeper into the new season, until Robinson shows he can adapt to greater defensive focus, score with his back to the basket, and facilitate for teammates when double-teams inevitably come.

But if you were wondering about his talent, well, that conversation is over. Dude can play. Even LeBron James thinks so.
Last year, I was watching a late-season Ohio State game with my buddy Paul. Paul, like myself and many in our demographic, is a college basketball shorts enthusiast. Paul was impressed by the subtle changes in OSU's uniforms from one year to the next, and he told me that he was considering getting a pair of those shorts despite his lack of Ohio State fandom. (That's just how the college hoops shorts game works, kids.)

"Wait a second," he said. "Do you know what that little logo is on the leg?"

"Yeah," I said. "It's the LeBron James lion."

"Oh, right," Paul said. "Never mind."

Love him or hate him, Ohio State has been sponsored by LeBron James for years now -- you have to wonder if, given the past year, this sponsorship has started to rankle Buckeyes fans -- and the much-maligned superstar's sponsorship outfit appears to be picking up steam. On Friday, the Miami Sun Sentinel reported that the Hurricanes have signed a deal with James's arm of the Nike empire, which will be providing the school with uniforms and warm-ups, you know, all of the other things college hoops teams need to play college hoops.

The extension isn't limited to James' new hometown (ahem) Hurricanes. According to the Sun Sentinel, the Kentucky Wildcats are also reportedly getting in on the action. This likewise makes some immediate, gut-level business sense. John Calipari has touted his ties to LeBron James in the past (James showed up for a Wildcats game at Rupp Arena last season) and has built a program tailored to elite one-and-done hyper-talents, the kind of players who are seeking NBA-level success as quickly as possible. No player is more symbolic of that ability than James, who excelled in the league as a preps-to-pros rookie unlike any player before him.

But isn't LeBron James unlikable and unpopular? Isn't he some cautionary tale about teamwork, determination and accomplishment? Hasn't his brand taken a hit? Among the average sports fan and even the general public, yes, even as James's No. 6 Heat jersey led the league in sales this season. (America is weird. That's my only explanation here.) But among 17-year-old aspiring NBA hoopsters, James is probably about as popular as he ever was. I have a feeling most of them won't share Paul's feelings about that lion logo.

Of course, in case you thought you were going to be able to make the first late game "shrinkage" joke about the new uniforms, I'm here to tell you that the Louisville Courier-Journal's Eric Crawford has beaten you to it. Better luck next time, everyone.

Beware foreign substances on the court

March, 8, 2011
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Baby powder and pie aren't substances normally found on the basketball court, but they somehow found their way there and even impacted the action in recent games.

In Monday's CAA tournament championship game at the Richmond Coliseum won by Old Dominion, VCU guard Ed Nixon slipped on the floor while going in for a breakaway layup and fell. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, it was due to Old Dominion mascot Big Blue using baby powder as part of his act before the game.
The officials allowed play to continue, and the Monarchs hit a 3-pointer on the other end, leaving Rams coach Shaka Smart incensed at what he called a "five-point swing."

Old Dominion's mascot had tossed the powder into the air before the game in an imitation of LeBron James. The cleaning crew made a hasty attempt to remove the powder before the game, but used a mop that didn't help the situation.

After a five-minute delay, the powder was gone and the game resumed.

In a game last week between Utah State and host New Mexico State, pie was the culprit for a player falling on the court, according to The Herald Journal. New Mexico's Pajama Party theme that night involved fans being allowed onto the court for a halftime pillow fight, and according to the paper, someone brought pie.
It's a small miracle [Utah State guard Tyler] Newbold didn't have a serious injury after going down twice when he ran into some pie that hadn't been cleaned up.

"I don't know what it was," Newbold said. "It didn't look wet, but there was a play where I slipped twice on the same possession. It hurt my elbow. It was really slick."

Portland channels its inner LeBron James

February, 17, 2011
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Portland plays second-place WCC team San Francisco tonight at home in a game that has even more regular-season title implications after conference-leading Saint Mary's lost in upset fashion last night.

In advance of the game, the Pilots have released this promo, playing off LeBron James' controversial Nike "Rise" commercial. In this version, Jared Stohl asks, "Should I lead the nation in 3-point shooting for a second time...Seriously, what should I do?"

Forlorn Cavs fans turn to Cleveland State

December, 16, 2010
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If there's a good basketball team in Cleveland, it's Cleveland State coach Gary Waters who has it, as the Vikings are the only 12-0 team in Division I college basketball.

With the LeBron-less Cavaliers in last place in their division, that's apparently giving fans just another reason to turn their attention to the Horizon League hopefuls.

"The Cavaliers have 'Cavaliers' across their chest," Waters told WEWS-TV. "We have Cleveland on our chest. So we represent Cleveland also."

As one fan at the Wolstein Center told the station, "What's the Cavs' record and what's the CSU record?"

Another said: "We have an undefeated team here, so people should definitely come out and support us and forget about LeBron and get over him."

The Vikings face their largest challenge of the season when they go on the road to play West Virginia on Saturday afternoon, with the Cavs playing at home later that evening.

But even with Cleveland State in Morgantown, W.Va., fans will be able to follow along since Fox Sports Ohio is excitedly televising the game.

After all, if the Vikings can pull off a win there, it'll be a game definitely worth witnessing.

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