NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Jameel Warney

By Kevin Sweeney

After an outstanding 4 year career at Stony Brook, power forward/center Jameel Warney is looking to make the next step in his basketball career in the NBA.  Here’s how I grade his various attributes:

Size: D+
Strength: B+
Inside Game: B
Outside Game: D-
Rebounding: A-
Passing: C
Defense: B
IQ: B+

Strengths

Warney is a hard-working kid with a high motor, a great feel for the game, and a well-developed post game.  The 3-time America East Player of the Year continued to improve his numbers each season despite facing constant double and triple teams.  He was one of the best shot-blockers in the nation this season, swatting more than 3 shots per contest. He is already strong enough to fight with NBA bigs in the post.  With Warney, a team receives a guy who will come in right away and compete while constantly looking to improve his game.

Weaknesses

Unfortunately for Warney, you can’t teach height.  His 6-8 frame is very undersized for a guy who does most of his damage in the low post.  For him to flourish in the NBA, he will need to develop better touch from mid-range.  NBA centers would eat Warney alive due to his height, and power forwards would likely be much more athletic.  He’s a classic “tweener”, making his path to an NBA roster a difficult one.

NBA ComparisonsQuincy Acy/Tyler Hansbrough/Zach Randolph

Warney compares favorably to each of these players. Acy, who is just 6-7, has developed a reputation around the league for his toughness.  Hansbrough, the former North Carolina star, is also undersized, and has been unable to develop the outside stroke that would allow him to become a starting caliber player in the NBA.  For Warney to reach the level of Randolph, it would take a ton of work and the right coaching staff.  Randolph has developed his outside shot, and has become on of the better players in the league.

Outlook

While I don’t anticipate Warney being drafted, I expect that he will receive invitations from multiple organizations to play for their summer league team.  A strong performance there would likely earn him a training camp invite.  The road to an NBA roster will be a long one, but I think Warney has a chance to work his way to the NBA or earn a great living playing in Europe.

VCU Receives Commitment From Transfer Issac Vann

By Kevin Sweeney

Rising sophomore guard/forward Issac Vann gave his commitment to Will Wade and the VCU Rams on Thursday evening. Vann will have three years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 season. 

The 6-6 Vann had a standout freshman campaign for Maine. He scored 16.4 points in just 17 games in his lone season with the Black Bears. Vann appeared to be on his way to America East stardom, but decided that he wanted to play at a higher level. Once he announced that he was leaving, the suitors came in bunches. He received interest from Siena, Iona, Fordham, Saint Joseph’s, UCONN, Manhattan, and La Salle, among others. 

It appeared that Vann had cut his list to UCONN, Iona, and Saint Joseph’s, but things changed quickly. Vann’s visit to UCONN was cancelled, opening the door for VCU.  A visit was quickly set up, and just a day after the visit, Vann committed. 

For the Rams, Vann profiles as an athletic wing who could blossom a star. He is long, athletic, and can shoot the 3. If he adds more strength, he will become more versatile and have the ability to play the 2,3 or 4. He fits well in the “Havoc” full-court pressure that VCU is known for. 

“I like their style of play as they play fast and get up and down the floor quickly,” Vann told Pat Lawless of MADEHoops. “I definitely think they fit into my game well.”

Vann joins a strong incoming class of 2016 for VCU. That class includes 4-star small forward De’Riante Jenkins as well as 3-star shooting guard Malik Crawford. 

5 Studs, 5 Duds from the Portsmouth Invitational

By Kevin Sweeney

Each year, 64 of the best seniors in college basketball gather in Portsmouth, Virginia for the Portsmouth Invitational. For many of these players, it is a make-or-break weekend for their professional careers.  With lots of NBA scouts, as well as representatives from many European teams, in attendance, the tournament gives players a chance to demonstrate their abilities against difficult competition.

This year, a tightly contested tournament ended in thrilling fashion, as Roger Brown’s Restaurant used a huge comeback led by tournament MVP AJ English to knock off Norfolk Sports Club 85-83.

Here’s a look at some of the studs and duds of the weekend in Portsmouth:

Studs:

AJ English (Iona)- This weekend, it was important for English to show scouts that he was capable of being a point guard in the half-court.  English passed that test with flying colors. In 3 games, English had 20 assists and just 8 turnovers.  He controlled his team, taking control when the game got tight in each of his team’s final 2 games.  Despite playing against many high-major players, English appeared to be one of the fastest players in the tournament.  Overall, he averaged over 17 points, 6 assists, and shot a ridiculous 65% from downtown.  This weekend should certainly boost English’s hopes of hearing his name called during the NBA Draft.

Ryan Anderson (Arizona)- Anderson was dominant down low for Roger Brown’s Restaurant.  He averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per game.  He was a steady performer all weekend, recording a double-double in all 3 games he played.  I was impressed by Anderson’s versatile offensive game, as well as his ability to clean the glass. His ability to score from everywhere on the court is something that NBA scouts will salivate over.

Bryn Forbes (Michigan State)- In his 3 games in Portsmouth, Forbes verified what we already knew: he can flat-out shoot.  A knock-down shooter at Michigan State, Forbes showed he could dominate even without Denzel Valentine to give him good looks, making aver 4 3’s per game in route to being the tournament’s leading scorer.  He averaged over 20 points per game, and he was the only player to do so. In today’s NBA, a shooter like Forbes will be coveted by scouts.

Dorian Finney-Smith (Florida)– The former Florida standout had a strong weekend in Portsmouth.  He averaged 18 points and nearly 10 rebounds for K&D Rounds, leading them to a 3rd-place finish.  I could certainly see Finney-Smith being a sleeper at the next level.  His guard skills, combined with his size and rebounding ability, make him an interesting player.  With NBA talent evaluators all looking for the next Draymond Green, I could see Finney-Smith being their answer.

Isaiah Miles- (Saint Joe’s)- A year ago, no one would have seen this performance coming.  Miles had scored just over 10 points per game in his junior season, but was limited by being overweight.  This past summer, however, Miles changed his body, and his game took a huge step forward.  He scored over 18 points per game, earned All-Conference honors, and a trip to Portsmouth.  This weekend, he put on another strong showing, averaging 19 points per game for Cherry Bekaert.  Hopefully, he can continue this momentum in pre-draft workouts.

Honorable Mention: Abdel Nader (Iowa State), Retin Obasohan (Alabama), Tre Demps (Northwestern), Nick Faust (LBSU), Matt Costello (Michigan State)

Duds:

Kyle Collinsworth (BYU)- Collinsworth’s shortcomings were exposed this weekend.  The former BYU standout seemed like a man without a position.  He was ineffective as a point guard, with more turnovers than assists, and struggled to score, averaging just 4 points per game without making a 3.  He is certainly a unique talent, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game despite playing as a guard, but scouts will have a tough time overlooking this performance.

Justin Sears (Yale)-  It seemed necessary that Sears demonstrate the ability to play outside the paint this weekend.  He struggled with this task, scoring just 4 points per game.  While he held his own in the paint, averaging over 6 rebounds per game and leading the tournament with 2.7 blocks per game, Sears will be seen as undersized by NBA scouts.  In order to fulfill has NBA aspirations, Sears will have to expand his outside game.

Maodo Lo (Columbia)- It wasn’t a great weekend for the former Columbia star.  Lo’s shot was ice-cold throughout the tournament.  He shot just over 26% from the field and converted on just 3 out of his 13 3-point attempts. Lo was overshadowed by his teammate and former Old Dominion star Trey Freeman, who led the tournament in assists per game. I see Lo as a guy who will have a great career in Europe.  Lo, who is from Germany and has played for the German National Team, should receive tons of interest from German clubs.

Prince Ibeh (Texas)- Despite having prototypical size for an NBA center, Ibeh struggled this weekend.  He scored the fewest points of any player in tournament and wasn’t a real factor on the glass.  The enigmatic Ibeh has plenty of talent, but lacks the skill of many big men and has had issues with effort in his college career.  His size and athleticism will allow him to keep getting opportunities, but he will need to capitalize on one of them if he wants to have an NBA career.

Shonn Miller (UCONN)- The former Cornell and UCONN star, Miller failed to showcase his unique skillset this weekend.  At UCONN, he was used as a small-ball center and as a power forward.  This weekend, however, Miller struggled.  Another undersized big man, Miller struggled on the perimeter and was unable to hold his own on the glass.   After a great season at UCONN, this wasn’t the performance Miller was looking for.

 

Horizon League Contenders Await Word on NBA Draft Prospects

By Kevin Sweeney

We may be more than 7 months away from the beginning of the 2016-17 regular season, but the upcoming seasons for Horizon League contenders Valparaiso and Oakland already hang in the balance.

After incredibly successful junior seasons, Valparaiso forward Alec Peters, as well as Oakland’s Kay Felder, the reigning Horizon League Player of the Year, have decided to test the waters of the NBA Draft this spring. With the new guidelines in effect allowing players to return to school after declaring for the NBA Draft if they choose not to hire an agent, more and more players are entering to see what the market might be for their services.  Peters and Felder are taking advantage of this rule, as they have entered but have not signed with agents.

While this rule is a huge advantage for the players, it places tremendous pressure on the coaches of these teams.  First off, they have to save a scholarship for the player, should they want to return.  However, if the player hires an agent late in the process, it may be too late to use that scholarship for the upcoming season.  It could take away the chance for the coach to bring in an impact transfer or recruit who could help his program right away.

It’s one thing for the likes of Duke and Kentucky to have to play this waiting game, as they bring in impact freshmen every year and are used to having to reload right away.  However, for mid-majors like Oakland and Valparaiso, it is a much more difficult process. Felder and Peters are each players through which their entire team’s offense runs through.  It becomes very difficult for the coach to plan for the upcoming season.

The opinions of Felder and Peters are wide-ranging.  Felder’s diminuitive 5-9 frame hinders his draft stock, but his electrifying speed and shooting as well as excellent passing ability has helped him earn plenty of looks from NBA scouts.  Felder has indicated that he would like to hire an agent and, judging on this Instagram post, doesn’t plan to return to school.

However, poor play at the combine or an untimely injury could lead Felder to want to return to school.

For Peters, things are wide open.  He could hire an agent and hope to be drafted, graduate and transfer to a bigger school, or return for his senior season at Valparaiso.  He is an enticing prospect because of his exceptional 3-point shooting (44%) despite being 6’9″.  He projects as a tall small forward, or a stretch 4.  I think his value to NBA clubs lies in his ability to play the 4. The new generation of “small-ball” being played in the NBA looks for power forwards with good rebounding skills, the ability to guard multiple positions, and a knock-down 3-point shot.  Peters possesses all of these skills.  Should he elect to return to Valparaiso, he would be playing under a new coach, as assistant Matt Lottich will be elevated to head coach, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.  He replaces Bryce Drew, who recently accepted the Vanderbilt vacancy.

Overall, these players face an incredibly difficult decision.  They can leave, and take the million-dollar paycheck that may be at the end of the tunnel, or they can return to school in hopes of improving their draft stock and reaching the NCAA Tournament.  Personally, I wonder what else these 2 players have to prove at this level.  They have been such accomplished players at their respective programs, and one can only score so many points per game.  However, a guy like Buddy Hield, who seemed destined to be a second round pick had he entered last season despite being the Big 12 Player of the Year.  Just a year later, Hield is projected to be a top-10 pick.  Hopefully, whichever decision these 2 players make winds up being the right one as they attempt to achieve their childhood dream: to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova Crushes Oklahoma to Reach National Championship 

By Kevin Sweeney

Four months ago, the Oklahoma Sooners blew out Villanova in Hawaii. 

Today, the story was much different. 

Villanova dominated Oklahoma from start to finish, winning 95-51 in the largest blowout in Final Four history. The Wildcats held national player of the year candidate Buddy Hield to single figures for just the second time all season. 

Early in the contest, the Sooners hung in with the Wildcats. A hook shot by Jamuni McNeace gave Oklahoma a 17-16 lead with 12:34 to go in the first half. However, the Wildcats responded with a 12-0 run to take control in the game. It was Josh Hart who led the way for Villanova in the first half, scoring 15 points and snatching 3 rebounds. He was a factor on the offensive glass and defended well when matching up with Hield.  A lay-in by Hart gave Villanova a 16 point lead, Oklahoma’s largest deficit of the season, with 4:10 to play in the half. A 3 by Hart with under 5 seconds to play gave the Wildcats a 42-28 lead into halftime. 

In the second half, things went from bad to worse for the Sooners. Going into the half, it seemed imperative that Oklahoma get Buddy Hield more involved in the game. He scored the first bucket of the second half, but was held in check the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Villanova continued to light it up from the field. In the beginning stages of the half, the Sooners stuck around, but Villanova pulled away in the middle stages of the half. The Wildcats went on a remarkable 25-0 spanning more than 6 minutes to take turn the contest into a complete rout. From their, the game slowed down, with both teams allowing players who normally see very little time get in on the action, with the Villanova fans jubilant and the Oklahoma fans in absolute shock. 

Villanova advances to take on either Syracuse or North Carolina in the National Championship Game on Monday night. Oklahoma will have to retool next season, losing Hield, as well as other senior leaders Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. 

Jim Engles Hired as Head Coach at Columbia

By Kevin Sweeney

NJIT head coach Jim Engles has reportedly agreed to become the new head coach at Columbia University, according to multiple media reports. He replaces Kyle Smith, who recently took the head coaching job at University of San Francisco. 

In his time at NJIT, Engles pulled off one of the most remarkable rebuilds in all of college basketball. He inherited a program coming off of a winless campaign, yet quickly returned the team to respectability. He also helped in engineering the team’s move into the Atlantic Sun Conference, giving the team the potential to reach the NCAA Tournament, a goal that seemed impossible when he took over the program. The Highlanders won 20 or more games in each of the past 2 seasons, reaching the CIT semifinals in both seasons. He recorded an overall record of 111-139 in his 8 seasons with the Highlanders. 

Engles has experience working at Columbia. From 2003-2008, Engles worked as an assistant coach under current Boston University head coach Joe Jones. 

At Columbia, he inherits a team coming off of a 25 win campaign capped off by a CIT Championship run. However, Columbia loses its top 3 scorers from this year’s team. He will rely on the front line duo of Luke Petrasek and Jeff Coby to help ease the transition into a new era of Columbia basketball. 

It will be interesting to see the effect of the coaching change on the incoming recruiting classes of both teams. Hiring from within could help NJIT hold onto its recruits. 

Potential candidates that have been mentioned for the opening include NJIT assistant Brian Kennedy and former Pitt assistant Brandin Knight, a New Jersey native. 

Strong Second Half Leads George Washington Past Valparaiso

By Kevin Sweeney

A balanced attack and a dominant second half helped George Washington capture the 2016 NIT Championship, beating Valparaiso 76-60. It is the first postseason tournament championship in program history. 

After a whirlwind regular season that featured impressive wins and troubling losses, the Colonials were left with on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament bubble. However,  from the start of this NIT run, George Washington played spirited basketball and proved that they belonged in the field. However, to earn the championship, the Colonials had to face a 30-win Valparaiso who was still smarting from an NCAA Tournament snub of its own. 

The teams traded blows in what was a very even first half. After a 3-pointer by Alex Mitola gave the Colonials an early 9 point lead, the Crusaders responded, using a 12-3 run to even the score at 24 with 5:23 to go in the first half. However, the Valparaiso faithful held their collective breath as second leading scorer Keith Carter left the game with just over 5 minutes to play with what seemed to be a foot injury. Neither team shot the ball effectively in the first half, as both teams shot under 40% from the field. The half ended with the Colonials leading 32-31. 

Carter returned to the game to start the second half, but George Washington seized the momentum. A 3 by Matt Hart have the Colonials a 12 point lead with 12:26 to play. From their, George Washington kept control, maintaining a double-digit lead the rest of the way. For the Crusaders, nothing seemed to flow offensively. Leading scorer Alec Peters scored just 2 points in the second half, and no player for Valpo scored more than 6. On the other hand, George Washington got hot, with senior big man Kevin Larsen leading the charge. He scored 11 of his game-high 18 points in the second half, knocking down 6-6 from the line in the half. 

Each team concludes its season with the confidence of a deep tournament run. However, both squads will have a lot of holes to fill. George Washington loses 3 of its top 4 scorers, while Valparaiso loses Carter. The Crusaders do return Horizon League Player of the Year Alec Peters. However, in a day in age of college basketball with lots of transfers and impact freshman, expect both teams to be good again next year.