College Basketball Nation: Luke Babbitt

Nevada football success helps basketball

October, 1, 2010
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Boise State isn't the only WAC team that's soon to be off to the Mountain West and also getting a recruiting boost from its top-25 football team.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that while the Nevada football team has gotten off to a 4-0 start, basketball coach David Carter has been on the recruiting trail finding that people these days are more able to recognize the school.
"When I was in Illinois, all the guys were saying, 'Your team's quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) is awesome! How do you say his name?'" Carter said via telephone from the Seattle airport Thursday afternoon. "I told them, 'We just call him Kap.'"

After beating BYU last weekend, the Nevada football team popped into the national rankings Sunday for the first time in 62 years.

"Being ranked in the Top 25 is huge," Carter said. "I was in Wisconsin after we beat Cal and I go into the gym and all the kids are saying, 'You guys have a really good football team.' We weren't ranked yet, but they knew about us, and that's always a huge advantage. Anytime you can get that kind of attention, it's great for your program."

Carter sent Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson to the NBA draft and responded by bringing in plenty of newcomers this season to fill the void.

Only entering his second season as coach, Carter also seems to have the momentum going for his program. Anything the football team can do to help is just an added bonus.

Nevada adds to collection of new faces

July, 19, 2010
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Nevada might not have the big-name players next season after Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson were selected in the NBA draft, but coach David Carter has an exceptionally large number of new faces that could fill the void.

The latest candidate is Devonte Elliott, a power forward who signed a national letter of intent with the program way back in November 2008 but has finally been cleared academically by the NCAA to play, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. The paper also recently reported that Elliott has grown an inch to 6-foot-10.

"Devonte is a talented, versatile player who can do a lot of things on the court and should help us immediately," Carter said in a statement.

Ellott becomes the second Southern California recruit from that class to recently gain eligibility, as freshman guard Jerry Evans didn't enroll in school until January and gain NCAA clearance until March.

Nevada also will have two high-major transfers available next season with guard Malik Story from Indiana and former Duke forward Olek Czyz expected to be available midseason.

Oh, and then to top it all off, the Wolf Pack has a six-player recruiting class coming into the program headlined by Deonte Burton, ESPNU's No. 44-ranked shooting guard.

Fifth WAC early entrant to stay in draft

April, 29, 2010
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A San Jose State player has declared for the NBA draft and is expected to forgo his senior season, according to a team spokesman, and it's not Adrian Oliver.

Forward C.J. Webster, who averaged 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds and at 6-foot-9, 255 pounds has been a load in the pant, is set to pursue a pro career. That he missed a game in February while his fiancee gave birth to a baby girl was apparently a factor in the decision.

Webster follows Nevada's Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson, Fresno State's Paul George and New Mexico State's Jahmar Young as the WAC players who have decided to stay in the draft.

WAC loses fourth player to NBA

April, 23, 2010
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Fresno State forward Paul George is staying in the draft after hiring an agent, according to the Fresno Bee. It's no surprise given that when George tweeted his initial decision to declare, he indicated that ending his college career was a likely scenario.

But the final decision does mean that even before the deadline to test the waters has passed, all four players -- George, Nevada's Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson, and New Mexico State's Jahmar Young (forcibly?) -- have hired or announced their intentions to hire agents.

And for the conference? That means a tremendous loss of talent that certainly won't help in getting the league two NCAA tournament bids once again.

Yes, steady-as-ever Utah State could dominate once again, but beat writer Tony Jones also sees a lack of star power:
There's (Troy) Gillenwater, San Jose's Adrian Oliver, Tai Wesley, and who else? The league was brimming with next level talent this past season. Not so much in the year to come.

Luke Babbitt's decision to leave wasn't easy

April, 20, 2010
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Nevada forward Luke Babbitt got emotional cleaning out his locker last week. The decision to leave school after his sophomore season was so excruciating that he slept on it and waited until Tuesday to make a formal announcement.

That's what Tom Maurer, Babbitt's coach at Galena High in Reno, told me today. Maurer wouldn't reveal Babbitt's decision Monday because at that point, the 20-year-old star still could have changed his mind.

"He's way too nervous. He's way too uptight right now," Maurer said yesterday. "I can just read his body language. This is going to be the toughest decision in his life. If he goes to the NBA, that changes dramatically. If he comes back, he’s a hero.

"He's in turmoil with himself emotionally."

The 6-foot-9, 225-pounder, who won the WAC player of the year honors and showed off his polish by averaging 21.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, ultimately made a calculated business decision that he was ready to fulfill a lifelong goal and go pro.

"He’s always been very good about working out with different guys, playing on different AAU teams," said Aubrey McCreary, one of Babbitt's long-time, NBA-caliber trainers. "He’s always been good about exploring all the opportunities."

The decision wasn't made without careful consideration of a variety of factors. It was leaving behind the Reno community that was the toughest to take.

Not too long ago, Babbitt had decided that to stick with that comfort zone. As a highly-recruited high school kid who back then kept his hair short, Babbitt had to nervously call Ohio State coach Thad Matta to say he wouldn't be following through on his verbal commitment so he could stay closer to his family and build a hometown program with childhood friend and point guard Armon Johnson.

However, the closest he got to the NCAA tournament was as a freshman when Nevada fell in the WAC title game to Utah State. Now, with former Nevada coach Mark Fox long gone to Georgia and Johnson recently going out for the draft, Babbitt is taking off as well.

He leaves as the Wolf Pack's first All-American (honorable mention from the Associated Press) since Nick Fazekas and with the school record for most points in a single season.

The NBA likes Babbitt, according to ESPN Insider's Chad Ford Insider, who believes the skilled left-handed scorer is a likely first-round pick. The consensus, as Ford himself concedes, is that there really is no consensus on where Babbitt might be picked.

But those who know Babbitt, an ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American, say the shy star sticks to listening to those within his tight inner circle. (No conformist, he once skipped out on prom with his girlfriend to play ball instead.) In recent days, Babbitt huddled up with family rather than let in any outside influences.

"Luke doesn’t buy into any of that," Maurer said. "He’s going to buy into his faith. He’ll buy self-reflection."

Finally, nearly a month after Nevada's season-ending loss in the NIT, the school sent out a press release Tuesday afternoon announcing Babbit's decision. It included a prepared statement from Babbitt who said he did a lot of praying and information gathering before coming to his decision.

A second press release sent out an hour later by the team spokeswoman said Babbitt would not be available to the media until "he has a chance to sign with an agent and get a few things squared away."

Weeks of turmoil, it appears, are finally coming to an end.
With Gordon Hayward gone, there are very few prospects still to declare for the NBA draft. Kyle Singler is one of them, but he says his brain is still "scrambled." There are already well over 50 underclassmen declared for this year's draft Insider, though some of them will drop out before they select an agent. Of that group, the only big names we're still waiting on -- other than Singler, obviously -- are Georgetown's Greg Monroe and Nevada's Luke Babbitt. Oh, the suspense.

What's the impact here? Simple enough. Babbitt scored 21 points and grabbed about nine rebounds a game for the Wolf Pack this year; if he leaves, Nevada -- having already lost guard Armon Johnson -- would suffer a bit of a rebuilding project after an already disappointing 2009-10 in the WAC. Babbitt isn't necessarily a lock to leave. He's a fringe first-round pick that could fall to the second round if things take a bad turn, and as a sophomore, Babbitt's in no real hurry to get into the draft before that ever-scary potential 2011 lockout.

Greg Monroe, on the other hand, is a lottery pick. Again. After Monroe's freshman campaign, in which a clearly gifted but incomplete Monroe shined for the Hoyas, most assumed he would come out, be a lottery pick, and make his one-and-done money. Not so much. He stayed. He improved. He didn't get injured. And though Georgetown didn't end its season on a high note, it's hard to say the big man made a bad decision.

But this year? Monroe is a lottery pick again. Georgetown would love to have him back, no doubt, but at some point your financial future has to take over, doesn't it? Will Monroe really sit this one out again? The longer he waits, the more likely the answer is yes. Now that would provide some suspense.

Scouts know the way to San Jose

February, 26, 2010
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Back-to-back 35-point games have vaulted San Jose State's Adrian Oliver up to third in the nation in scoring at 23.3 points per game.

NBA scouts are definitely taking notice because it just so happens that during those two games, they've been out in full force at the Event Center checking out Seattle's Charles Garcia on Monday and Nevada's Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson last night. Even Suns general manager Steve Kerr was watching.

Oliver told me Monday that the presence of scouts hasn't affected him much, but you have to believe there's a part of the junior guard that's thinking, "I'll show you."

Also in San Jose, another player who (kind of) got noticed by scouts on Monday was Seattle's Taylor Olson.

Who?

The 5-foot-10 guard, after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer, runs down to the other end of the floor to give a flying chest bump to Spencer Hawes, a former Seattle-area high school rival who plays for the Sacramento Kings.

Hawes attended the game in part to catch up with his former Washington teammate Oliver, but after celebrating with Olson, he smiles broadly and flashes Olson's jersey number to the NBA officials sitting at the press table.

Check him out.

Scouts, who have the toiling in anonymity thing down, surely got a kick out of that one.

Naismith Award nominees down to 30

February, 24, 2010
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The Atlanta Tipoff Club, which awards the Naismith each year, has narrowed its preseason list of 50 "watch" players down to the much more manageable 30 -- what it calls its midseason candidates list, even if, on Feb. 24, the whole "midseason" thing is a bit of a misnomer. But that's beside the point. The point is that we have 30 players to mull over now. True, most of the list won't even crack consideration for the final player of the year award, which is almost certainly going to go to Ohio State's Evan Turner or Kentucky's John Wall. But the tally is fun to look at anyway.

One minor quibble: The list of 30 manages to include six ACC players -- just one behind the Big East's leading seven -- without including Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney, who happens to be leading the conference in scoring with 20.2 points per game for a 21-5 Tech team that's overcome its horrid nonconference schedule to (probably) play its way into the NCAA tournament. Nothing against Al-Farouq Aminu or Gani Lawal or Sylven Landesberg or Trevor Booker but it's hard to see how you could include those four and leave Delaney off the sheet.

Anyway, the full list is after the jump. Other quibbles? Let's hear 'em in the comments.

(Read full post)

Where things stand in the WAC

February, 17, 2010
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Shortly after a stunning WAC-opening win against defending champion Utah State, New Mexico State forward Wendell McKines went on his blog and called out the team's fans for being "frontrunners" and failing to pack the house.

McKines eventually apologized for that and his arrest on a warrant for unpaid fines, but also wrote, "I really feel like something special is going to happen this year."

Lo and behold, attendance is up in Las Cruces as the Aggies have won seven of eight following McKines' online meltdown, are sitting only a game behind Utah State in the standings and could be the sleeper of the conference tournament.

The Aggies' high-powered offense features five players who average double figures, led by guard Jahmar Young (20.9 ppg). McKines (11.7 ppg) and forward Troy Gillenwater (15 ppg) both began the season academically ineligible, and their returns have sparked the team.

Louisiana Tech started 5-0 in conference play, but eventually fell back when New Mexico State completed the season sweep last week at home in front of 5,549 on an unlikely play -- Hernst Laroche's game-winning jumper with 1.1 seconds left.

That leaves perennial postseason team Utah State at the top and gives New Mexico State at least a shot to make itself heard down the stretch.

Top Players


Paul George, G/F, Fresno State, So. -- How good he George? After missing four games with a severely sprained ankle, he dropped 30 on New Mexico State in his first game back last week.

Luke Babbitt, F, Nevada, So. -- The 6-foot-9 lefty leads the WAC with 9.6 rebounds per game and can score from all over the court, averaging 21.6 points per game.

Armon Johnson, G, Nevada, Jr. -- Johnson is the reigning WAC player of the week after scoring 23, including the game-winning bucket against Idaho, and leads the conference in assists.

Who's Hot

Adrian Oliver, G, San Jose State, Jr. -- The transfer from Washington poured in 28 points on Saturday against Utah State, the most by an Aggies opponent this season.

Mac Hopson, G, Idaho, Sr. -- In the three games since being suspended for a curfew violation, he's scored in double figures and had 20 in Saturday's win at Fresno State.

Magnum Rolle, C/F, Louisiana Tech, Sr. -- The 6-foot-11 transfer from LSU by way of the Bahamas has been especially dominant on the offensive glass.

Who's not

Hawaii -- Second-leading scorer Dwain Williams has been suspended indefinitely, and fourth-leading scorer Jeremy Lay is set to undergo season-ending hernia surgery, as the Warriors have lost seven straight.

Boise State -- The Broncos haven't won this month, but hope they can have better luck with upcoming nonconference opponents Cal State Bakersfield and UC Davis.

Idaho -- The Vandals' one-point loss to Nevada last week left coach Don Verlin declaring his team was no "doormat," complaining about the officiating and earning a reprimand from WAC conference commissioner Karl Benson.

Key games to watch

Feb. 20 -- Louisiana Tech at Northeastern: Utah State lost in Boston in November, so it'll be interesting to see if the Bulldogs can steal a BracketBuster win there.

Feb. 25 -- Nevada at San Jose State: Oliver and Babbitt, the conference's top two scorers, square off in what could be a high-scoring affair three nights after Oliver goes up against Seattle's Charles Garcia.

March 6 -- New Mexico State at Utah State: This could be the deciding game for the regular-season championship, but Utah State is riding a 21-game conference winning streak at the Spectrum.

While you were sleeping

January, 14, 2010
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Defending WAC champion Utah State outlasted Nevada 79-72 in overtime on Wednesday night in a rematch of last year's conference tournament final in Reno.

Aggies coach Stew Morill was jubilant in the moments after the game, with his team getting its groove back after opening conference play with losses to New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech.

Jared Quayle scored 21 points, making clutch 3-pointers for Utah State.

Nevada star Luke Babbitt had 26 points and 12 rebounds, but the Wolf Pack ran out of gas after leading by 10 with seven minutes left in regulation. Nevada scored only three points in overtime.

Inside Thursday's box scores

December, 18, 2009
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Five things to know from Thursday's action:

1. Tasmin Mitchell continued his torrid stretch with 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting in LSU’s 63-60 squeaker over Nicholls State. This marked the fourth straight game that Mitchell has scored 24 or more points. In the month of December, he’s averaging 25.3 ppg and 10.5 rpg. Only Morgan State’s Reggie Holmes (28.0 ppg) has a higher scoring average this month. By the way, Mitchell also played the full 40 minutes without committing a turnover.

2. For a year and a half, Denzel Bowles toiled on the bench for Texas A&M. Last December, the Virginia native transferred closer to home and picked James Madison. Suiting up for the Dukes for just the second time on Thursday, Bowles scored more in that one game (37) than he did in 17 career games for the Aggies (29). He finished with 37 points (17-of-25 FG) and added 15 rebounds in the Dukes’ win at Gardner-Webb. His point total is the eighth-best in school history and no JMU player has scored more in a game since 1993. Bowles is the first D-I player with 35+ points and 15+ rebounds in a game this season.

3. Watch out, ACC fans. Something in Solomon Alabi has clicked. He entered the month having never scored more than 17 points in a game. After Thursday, he has gone over 20 points in three of the last four games. On Thursday, Alabi tied a career-high with 22 points in Florida State’s 76-72 win over Auburn. He entered the month averaging 9.9 ppg and 6.1 rpg. In the four games since the start of December, he’s averaging 19.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg, while shooting 71.8 percent from the field. The 7-foot-1 Nigerian is also shooting 85.4 percent from the free throw stripe, good enough for fifth in the ACC.

4. Brandon Fields knocked down the game-winning trey in Nevada’s 73-70 win over Eastern Washington, but the game was yet another showcase for sophomore Luke Babbitt. He finished with a season-high 29 points, falling just a point shy of his career-high. Babbitt (19.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg) is one of only seven D-I players averaging at least 19 points and 10 rebounds. Of his 43 collegiate games, he has scored in double figures in 40 of them. With 747 career points, no active sophomore has more points than Babbitt.

5. Paul George does more for Fresno State than Paul and George did for the Beatles. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but the Bulldogs sophomore fills up the stat sheet on a nightly basis. In Thursday’s 68-57 win over UC Davis, George finished with 14 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and a block. He even added 8 turnovers and 4 personal fouls. No zeros in the box score for this guy. George leads Fresno State in scoring, rebounding, steals, turnovers, personal fouls, minutes, 3-point field goals, free throws and free throw percentage. He’s currently on pace to be the first player to average 8-plus rebounds, 3-plus assists, and 3-plus steals since Charlotte’s Eddie Basden in 2004-05.

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