Categories
Popular Culture

College Basketball Cards: Your Ultimate Guide

Before diving in to the world of college basketball cards, let’s quickly talk college hoops. The home of storied programs, dedicated fanbases, and the greatest tournament ever created.  Every year, millions of fans fill out brackets and watch the future of basketball battle it out for a chance to cut down the net.  We’ve seen these teams turn into dynasties, and we also get a glimpse at the early greatness of some of the best to ever play the game.

Recently, we’ve seen the modern student-athlete be able to market themselves far more than in years past.  The NCAA’s new NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) rules enable players to partner with brands and capitalize on their abilities.  And thankfully, these new guidelines have resulted in some major moves in the hobby.

In June, Topps and Fanatics announced an array of new deals that would give them exclusive rights to many major D-1 programs and players starting in 2023.  This means we would be able to own licensed cards of future stars before they sign an NBA or WNBA contract.  However, college basketball cards have existed long before NIL deals or these recent acquisitions.

So today, we will give an overview of everything you need to know about college basketball cards.  We’ll showcase the companies making college trading cards today as well as the memorable sets of the past.  We will also try to offer some insight into the future of the college hoops market.

Let’s jump right in!

Who Currently has the Rights to Make College Basketball Cards?
1. Panini
CardLadder

At the present time, Panini is the only company making collegiate products that include licensed logos.  They began making sets like Contenders Draft Picks and Prizm Draft Picks in 2015. This has extended their production to higher-end boxes like Immaculate, National Treasures, and Flawless.  These releases, which are always filled with the highest quality, typically do not come out until after the NBA Draft.  While many still open and enjoy these boxes, the allure of collecting a player’s card whilst in college has yet to be captured.

By using the same designs and technologies that brought Panini to the forefront of the hobby, they’ve made some memorable cards for college hoopers.  Take, for instance, the Zion Williamson 1/1 Game Day Ticket Auto shown above, which sold for $4,800 last year.

2. Topps/Fanatics
eBay

Now we will delve into some companies who are creating college b-ball cards without logos.  The first, and most newsworthy as of late, is Topps/Fanatics.  Fanatics acquired Topps back in January, sending the hobby into a frenzy of predictions.  After acquiring the sports card giant, Fanatics CEO said in a statement that “Their iconic brand, commitment to product excellence, and passionate employees worldwide will allow us to immediately serve our league and players’ association partners and our fans.” And that branding has already been implemented into NCAA cards and collectibles.

Their first basketball release, 2021-22 Bowman University, utilized the iconic “Bowman 1st” set to highlight the premier talent in college hoops.  It featured autographs of top draft picks, including Gonzaga standout Chet Holmgren.  They also engineered some really neat insert sets for the product, including the “Big Kahuna” card of young phenom Mikey Williams shown above. With major Power 5 programs like Kentucky giving over licensing rights next year, it will be interesting to see what Topps/Fanatics can create next.

3. Leaf
Leaf

Another company known for its vast autograph checklist is Leaf.  Products like Leaf Metal Basketball give collectors a chance to find on-card autos at an affordable price. Sometimes, they are even able to secure autographed cards of prospects before they can be found in licensed products.  Take this Jabari Smith Orange Cracked Ice Auto for instance, which sold for $460 in June.  Smith currently does not have any pack-issued autos from Panini or Topps, so this card gives an early chance to invest in a top draft pick from 2022.

4. Onyx
eBay

Finally, companies like Onyx also offer an alternative to higher-end collegiate products.  While they are still unlicensed, they secure big names for their autographs, and their sets have unique designs and appeal.

Which Companies Have Made College Basketball Cards in The Past?
1. Upper Deck
eBay

For many years, Upper Deck releases a variety of premier products that featured players in their college uniforms.  This arsenal of beloved sets included Exquisite Basketball, SP Authentic, and the mythical Precious Metal Gems.  Because the Upper Deck name is so revered in the hobby, these cards still bring a heavy premium at auction and are highly desired.

It is worth noting that Upper Deck still produces college basketball products in a very limited capacity.  They have maintained the autograph rights to stars like Darius Garland, who has an Exquisite RPA in 2020 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions.  However, since Goodwin Champions is a multi-sport product, we did not include UD in the same category as Panini and Topps.  Regardless, their presence in the college card market is well documented and still in demand.

2. Press Pass
eBay

Press Pass, a company most known for its racing card production, made some college basketball sets at a crucial time in the hobby.  Autographed cards of Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Vince Carter are heavily collected to this day.  The brand continued to manufacture college cards into the 2000s, but these gems from the late 90s classes remain the most popular.

3. Classic
ebay

Finally, we have the now-defunct Classic cards, which were primarily made in the early 1990s.  Their most sought-after basketball card is an early rookie of Shaquille O’Neal, which is one of the few to capture him in his LSU Tigers jersey. Most of these cards failed to retain their value due to the mass production that plagued the junk wax era.  But their clean and simple design still transports the collector back to a different time in basketball history.

Predictions for the Collegiate Card Market?

So what are college hoops releases going to look like in the future? As Topps can implement more logos and branding into its Bowman University product, we could see college cards transition into a way of prospecting future stars.  This is a very popular way of collecting in baseball, as people pay quite the premium for Bowman 1st autographs. It could also prove to be a good method of investing in a player if you truly believe they will be successful as a pro.  

We could also see the collegiate market serve as an inexpensive alternative to pro-uniform products.  This year’s Bowman University hobby box retails at only $120, yet it comes with 96 cards and 2 autographs per box.  For comparison, the recent 2021-22 Prizm Hobby Basketball drop went for around $1,300.  Obviously, Prizm and other flagship releases are regarded more heavily, but that doesn’t mean you cannot pull amazing hits out of college hobby boxes. Just check out this Chet Holmgren gold auto below, which sold for over $800 in June.

eBay

Finally, we can see the collegiate card market remaining strong just based on the immense fandom college sports has.  Millions of students, alumni, and lifelong followers gravitate toward their school’s athletics every year, generating millions in revenue.  It isn’t a wild thought to imagine fans wanting a card of their star point guard before they hit the pros.  And with Topps inking more and more NIL deals, there’s no limit to how players and teams can be utilized on cards.

Do you collect college basketball cards? Let us know @CardTalkPod on Instagram and Twitter!

Categories
Sports Sports

How Kansas Commit Ernest Udeh Jr. Can Help The Jayhawks Repeat

The defending NCAA champions are only getting better. Ernest Udeh Jr., a top 25 prospect in the class of 2022 from Orlando, Florida, will be suiting up for the Kansas Jayhawks next season. The 6’10” center was mulling offers from schools like UCLA, Texas Tech, and the University of Florida until ultimately deciding to make the jump to Lawrence, Kansas. Udeh joins fellow McDonald’s All-Americans Gradey Dick, and M.J. Rice at Kansas, solidifying them as a top ranked recruiting class this off-season. 

“The Fans can expect, first and foremost, the chemistry,” Udeh told the media at the McDonald’s All-American game. “Being here with these guys and knowing them before committing, the chemistry is going to be really good. Just going into next year with all our focus, we’re trying to win every game and be the best group in this class.”

<code><p class = "instagram-media">https://www.instagram.com/p/CV3oDm_FrBl/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading</p></code>

Udeh jr., is your prototypical big. He excels at defending the paint and is always primed to grab extra rebounds on either end of the floor. His ambition to play on the boards gives Udeh Jr. a number of second chance baskets every time he steps on the floor. Possessing a 7’2” wing-span, he has ample time to make adjustments on the defensive end, which regularly leads to blocks. 

On the offensive end, Udeh Jr., is a lethal lob threat. Whether it’s catching the ball off the rim or soaring through the air for an alley-oop slam, you will see plenty of Ernest Udeh Jr. at the rim. There is room for him to improve shooting the basketball. Udeh Jr. doesn’t have a reliable mid-range game, but that is somewhat typical for high-school big-men. If he can find a way to engineer a cool jumper, Ernest Udeh Jr., could transform into one of the best bigs in the country. 

The Jayhawks undoubtedly have big expectations next season coming off a national championship. A stacked recruiting class and the confidence of knowing that your program can actually win it all, Kansas is looking to be just as lethal next March. It’s not crazy to think Kansas could be the first repeat national champions since the University of Florida in 2006-07.

Categories
Sports Strength

The Best NCAA Basketball Players in the Transfer Portal

The 2022 NCAA Tournament may have just ended, but the arms race to prepare for the 2023 iteration is already in full swing. With the NCAA allowing transferring players to play immediately and granting an extra year of eligibility across the board starting last year, nearly 1100 players are looking to switch teams. Increasingly, transfers are becoming an integral part of team building—it’s hard to imagine Kansas winning the title without Remy Martin or North Carolina making the championship game without Brady Manek. Here is a sampling of the best players that the portal has to offer.

Johni Broome, Center, Morehead State:
Getty Images

Last season, the 6’10 sophomore was the third best shot-blocker in the country, rejecting 3.9 shots per game. To wit, Broome is no clumsy defensive specialist—his 16.8 points per game led his team. An unheralded three-star recruit in high school, Broome is now one of the most coveted players in college basketball as Gonzaga, Auburn, Texas Tech, Alabama and Indiana are all in pursuit. 

Fardaws Aimaq, Center, Utah Valley:
Getty Images

Last year, a rebound-vacuuming big man entered the portal and then proceeded to win every major National Player of the Year award at his new school. Could Aimaq do the same this year? Although Aimaq lacks the pedigree that Oscar Tshiebwe had at West Virginia, the 6’11, 245-pound Aimaq was startlingly productive last year for the Utah Valley Wolverines. A two-time Western Athletic Conference first-teamer and defensive player of the year, Aimaq averaged 18.9 points and 13.6 rebounds per game last season. Unsurprisingly, he’s a top target for nearly every major school, with Arizona, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Kentucky, Houston and Texas all interested in him. 

Nijel Pack, Shooting Guard, Kansas State:
Getty Images

While there are 1088 players in the portal and counting, Nijel Pack might have the most impressive resume of them all. A Big 12 first-team selection last year, Pack is a fearsome scorer and playmaker—his 17.4 points per game ranked third in the conference and were the most of any underclassman. In addition to entering the portal, Pack also declared for the NBA Draft, but it’s unlikely that he will be selected. 

Andre Curbelo, Point Guard, Illinois:
Getty Images

At his best, Curbelo might be on the shortlist of the best returning point guard in college basketball. The 2020-2021 Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman, Curbelo is a dazzling playmaker, able to manifest his own imagination onto the court so thoroughly that even the most outrageous passes seem preordained. As a sophomore, though, injuries limited Curbelo to just 19 games, in which he may have been the most destructive player in the Big 10. Still, Curbelo has a litany of power conference suitors because of his immense natural talent as well as the possibility that he will be more productive once he’s untethered from a high-usage big man like Kofi Cockburn.

Terrence Shannon Jr, Shooting Guard, Texas Tech:
Getty Images

Everybody on this list is a great college basketball player; Terrence Shannon Jr. has the distinction of potentially being a great NBA one too. After emerging as one of the star players for Texas Tech in 2020-2021, Shannon was shunted more towards the periphery last year, sacrificing shots to accommodate an influx of transfers. In a new setting, Shannon should be able to showcase the athleticism and budding ball skills that have made him such a productive college player and NBA prospect.

Doug Edert and Daryl Banks, Guards, St. Peter’s:
Getty Images

You know these guys—Edert was the breakout star of the NCAA Tournament, thanks to his clutch shooting and glorious ‘stache; Daryl Banks catalyzed the Peacocks’ first round upset by dropping 27 points against Kentucky. Interestingly, Edert and Banks have entered the portal just a week after head coach Shaheen Holloway left St. Peter’s to take the Seton Hall job. Makes you think. 

LSU Basketball
Getty Images
Getty Images

As of right now, the LSU Tigers are more of a zen koan than a real squad—if a basketball team has no basketball players, are they still a basketball team? Facing potential sanctions, LSU saw all 13 of their players from last season opt not to return to Baton Rouge. As part of this mass exodus, highly regarded players like SEC All-Freshman team guard Brandon Murray (10 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game), former five-star recruits Efton Reid (6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 19.6 minutes per game), Adam Miller (missed last year with an injury), and Giannis Antetokounmpo with a jump shot Shareef O’Neal are all leaving the program. 

Antonio Reeves, Shooting Guard, Illinois State:
Getty Images

More than just about anybody in the portal, Reeves is a bucket; he’s the only potential transfer who averaged more than 20 points per game last year. Upon entering the portal, Reeves received immediate interest from big programs such as Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Texas Tech and Nebraska. 

Categories
Sports Strength

Nick Smith Jr Is Lethal In Transition

Cultivating a winning culture in a locker room is an age-old dilemma that coaches have been struggling with since the beginning of time. Getting your players to buy-in and put everything they are into that sport is no small feat. Eric Musselman, the head coach of the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team, has created that environment in just two short years. In-turn, Musselman has captured the hearts of some of the best recruits in the country and built the top three recruiting classes in the country. The highest ranking of those recruits being a home-town kid by the name of Nick Smith Jr. Smith is the sixth ranked player in his class, and for good reason. 

Nick Smith Jr. is a 6’4” shooting guard out of Jacksonville, Arkansas. What makes Smith so great is what he is able to do in transition. As soon as he gets the ball off of a defensive rebound, Smith is immediately running in transition with rarely anyone being able to keep up. At the McDonald’s All-American game in late-March I was able to witness his speed and IQ on the break in person and it was spectacular. He also participated in the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest, which saw him as the competition’s runner-up. Smith will be a perfect fit to an Arkansas scheme that is hell-bent on running and getting out in transition. 

<code><p class = "instagram-media">https://www.instagram.com/p/CbuyOkpuVhR/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading</p></code>

Nick Smith Jrs. talent has been apparent from a young age. When Smith was just a ninth grader in high school, Musselman was right there recruiting him in his first year as the Arkansas head coach in 2019. Musselman is now seeing that recruitment effort come to fruition as Smith gears up to attend Arkansas this fall. Smith is looking to add to an already explosive lineup with his cunning speed and knack for getting to the hoop on the break. I asked Nick Smith Jr about what it’s been like to watch Arkansas make deep run’s in March the last two seasons and he detailed that experience saying:

“It’s been pretty fun, you know, watching the state of Arkansas and in general just having a good time watching, and you know Arkansas winning. I feel like winning in each and every sport has been fun, the past two years, especially for coach Mussleman and the program, and you know next year the guys we got coming in, we just got it going and just work hard in the summertime you know. it’s not guaranteed we’re gonna make it to the elite 8 next year, but at the same time we have to have that same mindset that we could win a national championship and that’s what we’re gonna try and do.” – Nick Smith Jr.

As the one-and-done becomes ever more prevalent as each season passes, it’s not crazy to say that Nick Smith Jr. could be on an NBA floor in just a year’s time. Under the guidance of Coach Musselman, the ceiling is the roof for Nick Smith Jr. I can’t wait to see what he and the rest of Arkansas’ stacked class can accomplish this upcoming season. The future is bright for Arkansas, and especially for Nick Smith Jr.

Categories
Sports Strength

A Conversation With Standout Oregon Commit Chance Gray

Earlier this week the top-ranked high school basketball players in the country took to the court to showcase their abilities in the annual McDonald’s All-American game. Chance Gray, a 5’9” guard, who will be taking her talents to the University of Oregon this fall, turned heads all weekend with her outstanding play. Gray has a DEEP bag of tricks. She’s capable of stringing together a flurry of dribble moves, has a silky smooth jump shot, and can easily finish at the rim.. At the McDonald’s game this week Gray found most of her success on the three-point line, which may be a sign of things to come next season. We had the opportunity to chat with Chance Gray during media day and here was our conversation.

<code><p class = "instagram-media">https://www.instagram.com/p/Cb0x8JSulJS/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading</p></code>

ONE37pm: You were able to play last season with your father Carlton and sister Amber on the coaching staff. What did that mean to you to have them right there on the sidelines for every game?

Chance: It meant a lot to me just because those are the people who inspired me and taught me the game. My dad has pretty much been my coach since I started training, and my sister was a McDonald’s All-American. Just to follow after them and be able to be coached by them, it was the best feeling for my last season.   

ONE37pm: Your sister Amber was a former McDonald’s All-American, what kind of things have you been able to learn from her and her experience as she’s already been through the circuit of high school basketball?

Chance: She’s taught me a lot mostly on the mental side. Just to stay in it, stay focused and don’t get distracted by outside things. Just to keep myself going through the ups and downs, especially times with my dad or anything like that, so she definitely inspires me. 

ONE37pm: Your former AAU teammate at Sports City U and fellow McDonald All-American Grace VanSlooten is also committed to the University of Oregon. What does that mean to have someone familiar with you and your style of play also attending Oregon next year?

Chance: Me and Grace bonded right from the jump. We’ve been playing AAU with each other for three years, now another four years at Oregon together next year. She’s definitely someone I knew I wanted to play with in college. Great person on and off the court. We bond well. She’s really funny, we have our little inside jokes, so she’s a really cool person to be around and I’m really glad I get to spend four years with her. 

ONE37pm: I know that you have plans on pursuing law school in the future, what has it been like trying to balance basketball with academics?

Chance: My parents embedded the student comes first in student-athlete just from the start when I was younger. It’s gotten easier as I’ve gone on and gotten older just to stay organized and stay focused. I’m gonna major in English and probably attend law school after.

Categories
Sports Strength

Duke Commits Shine At The 2022 McDonald’s All-American

On Tuesday, March 29th, the future of men’s basketball took the floor at Wintrust Arena to showcase their talents in front of 8,261 fans. The top 24 ranked men’s hoopers in the class of 2022 absolutely put on a show for the city of Chicago. This class is extremely well rounded with some of the most athletic high-school athletes the game has seen. In a game littered with high-flying alley oops and perfectly timed full-court passes, the East was able to defeat the West in a 105-81 contest. Here is what you missed at the 2022 McDonald’s All-American men’s game.

MVP – Dariq Whitehead – 13 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists

There were a number of incredible performances throughout the game, but no one was more consistent and took a bigger leap than future Duke Blue Devil Dariq Whitehead. Whitehead was able to knock it down from deep going 3-7 beyond the arc, all while nearly dropping a triple-double. The most shocking part is that Whitehead isn’t a traditional point guard but was tasked with carrying out the role this weekend by his coaches. Whitedhead explained in the post-game press conference: “I had no intentions of coming here and playing point guard, when we got here and coach Bosley said “you’re playing point guard”, I was like, what do you mean i’m playing point guard? He said you have to, and you know, me being a team-player and always wanting to win, that’s something I had to do for my team.” Dariq Whitehead went above and beyond this weekend and undoubtedly earned his MVP award.

Best Defensive Performance – Dereck Lively II – 3 blocks, 4 rebounds

The best defender of the night goes to #1 prospect and future Duke Blue Devil, Dereck Lively II. Lively is a 7’2” center with an excellent wing span and a knack for getting in position to jam it home on defenders. In an early sequence during the first quarter it looked like Nick Smith Jr. had beat him to the rim, but Lively was able to get back in position and swat the layup attempt. Lively was also perfect from the field hitting all five of his shots, with a majority of those coming off alley-oop passes. Duke is getting an untamed rim protector in Dereck Lively, and the rest of the NCAA should be afraid.

Breakout Player – Mark Mitchell – 19 points, 3 rebounds, 8/13 shooting

The breakout performance of the night goes to another future Duke Blue Devil in Mark Mitchell. Mitchell is a 6’9” forward who plays fiercely inside. Mitchell is keen at backing down defenders and finishing at the rim, but expanded his range for this game. He was able to knock down two threes and shot 62% from the field. Mitchell’s 19 points were tied for a game high with future Nova’ Wildcat Cam Whitmore. The future is bright for Duke and it looks like they are going to continue their winning ways.

There may be no consensus #1 recruit in this class, and that’s because the talent overall is at such a high level. Every player on the court could be a lottery pick in the next two years and for good reason. This class is littered with some of the most athletic boy’s in recent history and that talent will translate beautifully on the collegiate stage next year.

Categories
Sports Strength

Future UCLA Bruins Shine At McDonald’s All-American Game

On Tuesday, March 29th, the future of women’s basketball took the floor in an exhibition to showcase the top talent in the class of 2022. This was one of the most well-rounded groups of McDonald’s All-American we’ve seen in recent years and the box score backed that up. The East team was able to get out to an early lead and never looked back, beating the West team 95-75. There was plenty of action and highlights so here are the best moments from the game.

Co-MVPS
Kiki Rice 17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds – Gabriela Jaquez 17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists
(Via Golin and MCDAAG)

There were a number of stand-out performances, but no two players had a more stellar night than future UCLA teammates Gabriela Jaquez and Kiki Rice. Jaquez was constantly racking up rebounds and nearly secured a double-double with 9 rebounds. She also led the West in scoring, knocking down two threes en-route to a 17 point performance. Kiki Rice was able to put in 17 points as well, but did it with cunning efficiency shooting 70% from the field. It looked like there were five Kiki Rice’s on the floor at one point as she did everything from facilitating teammates to grabbing boards. Both women expressed their deep gratitude for being selected as McDonald’s All-Americans after the game, a true showing of the maturity these athletes possess at such a young age. The Bruins have a very bright future ahead of them.

Best Defensive Performance
Ashlyn Watkins – 3 blocks, 6 rebounds, 1 steal

Without a doubt the best defensive performance of the night was future Gamecock Ashlyn Watkins. The winner of the previous night’s dunk contest, Watkins was a force to be reckoned with in the paint. She constantly was challenging driving opponents which resulted in 3 blocks and was active on the board grabbing six rebounds. South Carolina is getting a fierce defender in Watkins and the SEC will find that out soon.

Breakout Player
Ta’Niya Latson – 15 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block

The breakout performance of the night goes to the #1 ranked guard in the class of 2022 and future Seminole Ta’Niya Latson. Latson is a quick guard who finds great success at the rim. Tonight she was able to expand her range and knock down two threes. Of her fifteen points, Latson shot 50% from the field, 67% from three, and didn’t miss a single shot from the free-throw line. Latson even tallied a block and did this all in only thirteen minutes.

Overall this was an incredible weekend for the future of women’s basketball. NCAA women’s basketball is getting one of its most outstanding classes next year, and it will only help grow the game. These girls have the potential to elevate women’s basketball to a whole new level on a national scale and I am honored to get to witness their greatness in person.

Categories
Sports Strength

McDonald’s All-American Monday Night Recap

On Monday, March 29th, the future of basketball took the stage for the first night of events at the McDonald’s All-American Powerade Jam Fest. The opening night of events showcased a skills challenge, three-point contest, and dunk contest similar to the structure of the NBA’s Saturday night all-star event. Here is our recap of the 2022 high school basketball all-star event.

Girls Skills Challenge Round 1

The skills challenge for the girls consisted of four competitors. The first-round matchup saw future Wildcat Paris Clark go up against future Bruin Gabriela Jaquez. In a tight race, both girls got to the final three-point shot at the same time but Clark was able to knock it down first and advance. The other half of the bracket saw Stanford commit Indya Nivar face off against future blue devil Ashlon Jackson. Nivar was able to get out to an early lead and secure the win by making her first three-point attempt.

Girl’s Skills Challenge Championship Round

The championship match was set and Paris Clark faced off against Indya Nivar for the right to be named the girl’s skill challenge champion. In the championship round Nivar shot out of the gate to an early lead weaving through the Powerade obstacle course, but Clark was able to tighten the gap by the last shot. Clark’s efforts weren’t enough however, and Indya Nivar took home this year’s skills challenge for the girls.

Boy’s Skills Challenge Round 1

The first round of the boy’s skills challenge saw Duke commit Mark Mitchell go up against UCLA commit Amari Bailey. Bailey was a little slow out of the gate weaving through the Powerade obstacle course, and Mitchell took advantage, winning this round handily. In the second matchup we had Villanova commit Cam Whitmore compete against future Razorback Anthony Black. Black got out to a fast start and it looked as though he would come out on top, but Whitmore just elevated to another level to sprint back into it. Whitmore would ultimately advance.

Boy’s Skills Challenge Championship Round

The boy’s championship round was set and Cam Whitmore would face off against Mark Mitchell. Mitchell got out to an incredible start and it was all over from there. Mitchell was able to get to the final three-point shot first and knocked it down on his first attempt, crowning him this year’s boy’s skills challenge winner.

Girl’s Three-Point Contest

The three competitors for the girl’s three-point contest were Oregon commit Chance Gray, Notre Dame commit K.K. Bransford, and Ashlon Jackson who also participated in the skills challenge. Ashlon Jackson made her lethal three-point shooting known, dominating the competition with the highest overall score of the night securing 18 points. The loudest the arena got all night was easily when Jackson got to her last two racks and started knocking down a string of shots. It was incredible to see all the other McDonald’s All-Americans get on their feet and support Jackson down the stretch of the competition.

Boy’s Three-Point Contest

The boy’s three-point contest saw Baylor commit Keyonte George, Kansas commit Gradey Dick, and Duke commit Dariq Whitehead. Keyonte George took an early lead and put up a score of 12 points. Gradey Dick started hot, knocking down a flurry of shots on his first two racks. Dick lost energy towards the end though and his shots began to fall short, securing Keyonte George the win. I asked Keyonte George after the event if he was nervous once Gradey Dick began knocking down shots or if he knew he had it in the bag and George told me:

Keyonte George

I thought Gradey was gonna rack it up… you know, he missed a couple shots, and then I was able to win

Dunk Contest

The dunk contest this year had six total participants. The four boys participating were Dillon Mitchell, Chris Livingston, Nick Smith Jr., and Jordan Walsh. The two girls participating alongside the boys were Ashlyn Watkins alongside Ayanna Patterson. There was a litany of perfect dunks awarded a 60 score by the panel of judges. Distancing themselves from the rest of the field, Smith Jr., Watkins, and Mitchell advanced to the final round. Ashlyn Watkins secured this year’s dunk contest with a powerful alley-oop jam off the backboard. Watkins became the second winner of the dunk contest for the girls in back-to-back years, a truly outstanding achievement.

Categories
Sports Strength

A Day Practicing With The 2022 McDonald’s All-American’s

It’s 5:00 am and the sun hasn’t risen. My phone alarm begins blaring and immediately my fight or flight kicks in. Do I hit snooze and go back to sleep or roll out of bed? I had no option, it was time to get up. I groggily arose and dragged myself into the shower before heading to the McDonald’s All-American practice yesterday morning on March 27th. I have never covered any event in-person, so it’s no exaggeration when I tell you I was painfully anxious. As I make my 35 minute commute into the beautiful city of Chicago my anxiety slowly dissipates and by the time I’m in my seat my nerves have shifted to excitement. I look to my left and see a single file of chairs with around 40 scouts occupying them. I turn my head to the right and am met with the same image. That’s when the sudden realization hit me of the real type of pressure that’s on these 18 year old kids every time they step in a gym. 

I don’t think “18 year old kids” is the right way to describe the 48 men and women selected to participate in this high school all-star event because they are far from kids. Most weekends these athletes are traveling the United States showcasing their skill to scouts and media at different camps, so this is just another walk in the park for them. I was blown away by the motors that these athletes possessed. We watched for two straight hours as they ran drill after drill. I don’t think we as media and fan’s really take the time to think about how much work these athletes really put in and the sacrifices they have to make to get to this level. 

To get to this level you also have to possess the highest level of competitiveness. I enjoyed watching the girls practice because a lot of their drills had them competing against each other to avoid a punishment. Each side of six girls on their half of the gym had to hit six three pointers, and if they did first the other half would have to do push ups. One of these drills came extremely close and as the coaches whistled that the farthest side won, I saw future University of Tennessee forward Justine Pissott playfully but adamantly contest that they had won. The drive to win even a normal drill like that is what separates these athletes from the rest of the country playing basketball at their age. 

Even with the pressure of having a gym packed with media and scouts as you take every shot, the most prominent thing I saw was the smile on these athletes’ faces. Everyone protruded a sense of gratitude to be there and were more than happy to share that excitement with their teammates. I watched as guys like Dereck Lively II who will be a Duke Blue Devil and Chris Livingston a future Wildcat laughed and interacted as they gave each other advice. It’s that type of humility that shows the bonds and relationships athletes form with their graduating class. 

<code><p class = "instagram-media">https://www.instagram.com/p/CbmAtr4gBtD/?utm_source=ig_embed\u0026amp;utm_campaign=loading</p></code>

I leave this practice with a new perspective on basketball players and young athletes in general. These athletes have never really had a break. The second they reach a national audience for their abilities on the court they are thrusted into this media and basketball circus that is almost never ending. The respect and admiration I have for these athletes has never been higher and I am so grateful for that experience. 

Categories
Sports Strength

The Arizona Wildcats Could Change College Basketball Forever

The surest way to grok the Arizona Wildcats’ dominance this year isn’t on an NBA Draft big board—although Arizona has at least two probable first round picks) Nor is it by scanning a KenPom or Bart Torvik statistical table—although Arizona has sparkling advanced metrics. Instead, you just have to watch them. Unbound from Sean Miller’s formally glum brand of basketball, Arizona has morphed into an uncharacteristically explosive team under first year coach Tommy Lloyd; the former Gonzaga consigliere has his team playing at the seventh-fastest tempo in the country as a key aspect of their offense, which also ranks seventh. Even if the whole enterprise feels somewhat precarious because of the team’s collective youthful insouciance, who cares? Disciplined, boring flex offenses are for teams who don’t have Kerr Kriisa or Bennedict Mathurin. During any Arizong game, the team’s confidence is so potent and electric that it practically crackles in the air. The boys: they’re buzzing. 

Offensively, Arizona plays with a sense of vectored momentum—they produce a ceaseless rimward surge. This season, Arizona combined to shoot 57.6 percent on two pointers, the fifth best mark of any team. Despite playing at a breakneck pace, Arizona isn’t an especially prolific three-point shooting team—Mathurin and Kriisa are the only two players to attempt more than 100 threes this season. Accordingly, Mathurin functions as their go-to scorer, since he’s the only Wildcat who can steadily create his own offense on the perimeter. While Mathurin, a top eight prospect in next year’s draft, will probably not reprise this role in the NBA, he’s devastatingly effective in college. Averaging nearly 18 points per game, Mathurin combines an elegance of movement with a jolting athleticism; he glides through traffic with long, handsome strides and then decapitates a big man with a dunk. Against TCU in the second round of the Tournament, Mathurin pieced together the best performance that anybody has had all year; his game-tying pull-up three-pointer could become the defining moment of the tournament if Arizona wins it all.  Ask his teammates and they’ll tell you he’s the best player in the country. They’re probably right.  

In the frontcourt, Arizona is the rare potent offense that opts to play two non-shooting big men together. Whereas Purdue (perhaps Arizona’s closest contemporary as a high-octane power-conference team) platoons their dominant bigs to get more shooters on the floor, the Wildcats let the 6’11 Azuolas Tubelis and 7’1 Christian Koloko share the court. The two big men’s subtle differences make them an ideal tag team to thrive in tight confines. Tubelis is a canny ball-handler who specializes in catching the ball in the negative spaces in the midrange that his guards create and then attacking the rim off a dribble or two; in essence, he’s Lloyd’s new version of Drew Timme. Conversely, Koloko is a massive, athletic center who declares dominion over the rim on both ends of the court—he led the Pac 12 in both dunks and blocks. Since Arizona lacks a true slashing threat outside of Mathurin, Tubelis and Koloko provide rim pressure for their guards by proxy; the mere suggestion of Tubelis or Koloko catching the ball on their way to the rim is enough to bend a defense out of shape. 

In a purely empirical, standings-based sense, there’s no real difference between winning a game 85-80 or doing so 54-49. After all, a win is a win, or whatever it is that coaches say. As such, college basketball has been plagued by a kind of anti-basketball worldview, one where coaches win by making games as mucky and brutish as possible. And it works! Texas Tech, Arkansas, Houston, Villanova, Providence and Iowa State have ridden this gunky wave to the Sweet 16. Arizona is the antidote, the rare bright spot of beauty amidst a world of artless, results-focused cynics. Simply by loosening up, Arizona transformed last year’s forgettable—and mostly forgotten—17-9 team last into a one-seed and Final Four contender, a 33-3 megalodan who made a power conference their own personal feeding tank. Just as Lloyd imported Gonzaga’s philosophy and fundamentally transformed the Wildcats, Arizona could serve as a blueprint for the rest of the sport. In this sense, Arizona is so special because they’ve become the best team in college basketball by actually playing the best basketball.