There are a lot of reasons why players commit to Louisville. It’s a well-respected academic institution, Rick Pitino is a Hall of Fame head coach with a resume for developing talent that few in the country can match and they provide the opportunity to play against the best on a nightly basis. The one prevailing reason that consistently draws top-tier recruits there, though, is the belief that if they succeed they will end up in the NBA.
Through two years, Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell did everything necessary to make his aspirations of becoming a professional reality. He excelled as a role player his freshman year and won a national championship. As a sophomore, he exploded and became one of the best power forwards in the country, averaging 14 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.3 blocks. He was projected to be a lottery pick almost unanimously across all of the preeminent mock drafts. There was a chance that he could have slipped past the top 14, but he was a surefire first-round pick, one highly unlikely to be on the board past 20.
Yet, shockingly, Harrell decided that he wanted to return for his junior season.
“I felt like I had some more things to work on,” Harrell told Basketball Insiders. “I felt like I wanted to go into the NBA more prepared than what I was already. I felt like my skill set could be higher than what it was. I felt like I could be way better than I was in the post this previous season. I felt like going back to Louisville was the best move for me.”
As elated as Pitino was by Harrell’s decision, teams looking for a power forward in the middle of the draft were disappointed. He may lack the perceived upside of a Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh, three freshmen power forwards who all went in the top 10 of the 2014 draft, but Harrell was poised to handle the transition to the NBA better than all three initially.
At 6’8, 240 lbs. with a 7’3 wingspan, great athleticism, above average quickness and a motor that never comes off of the highest gear, Harrell was one of the most NBA-ready prospects eligible for the draft. He would have made an impact from day one, especially on the glass and defensive end of the floor.
Defensively, Harrell is the equivalent to a premiere middle linebacker in football. He’s the leader on that end of the floor, constantly communicating with his teammates, making sure they know where to be and that he’s there to help them. His 1.3 blocks per game don’t indicate just how much of a force he is at deterring shots. Unlike some shot blockers who simply camp around the rim waiting for someone to attack them, Harrell is aggressive in contesting shots all over the floor.
At the 2014 adidas Nations camp, which features some of the top high school and college talent from across the globe, there were multiple occasions where his coaches were telling him to be careful. They were worried about how much he was hitting the floor and all the contact he was creating. However, Harrell doesn’t know any other way to play.
“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder,” Harrell said. “There’s been a lot of guys ranked above me. I don’t criticize what the scouts have to say about my game, I just work. I use that as motivation for me. I go into every game with a chip on my shoulder. When I’m on the floor I feel like there’s nobody on this floor that’s going to outwork me.
“I’ve just been coming in here showing that I’m a hard worker. I play on both ends of the court. I’m not really out here to showcase or show coaches that I’ve been working on this or that, that’s going to come within the game. I’m not coming out here and impress the guys with things that I couldn’t do in my game before. I just come out here, play hard and try to do everything to put my team in a position to win.
“I’ve been working on my post moves a lot, a lot of different aspects of my game. I have showcased a couple of things here, putting the ball on the floor, getting to the basket. There’s a lot more of my game that hasn’t been shown.”
Expectations are going to be high for Harrell going into what will likely be his final year of college. He can’t just come in with the same 14 points and eight rebounds a game that he averaged last year if he’s going to improve his stock and crack the top 10 – the ideal result from his decision to stay an extra year.
That likely wouldn’t even be enough to keep Louisville in the mix for a national title. He has to take that next step forward in his development and become a featured option. The opportunity is there for him with the departure of Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, who averaged a combined 30.5 points a game last year, to carry a big load offensively.
Averaging closer to 20 points a game would do a lot for Harrell’s stock and have teams looking at him as more than just a hustle guy whose impact will be primarily on one side of the floor. His ultimate goal, though, is to walk away with his second national championship, and putting up Russ Smith numbers isn’t the key to achieving that.
“We gotta be that top defensive team,” Harrell said. “Offensively, we have guys who can score the ball at every position on the floor. We gotta be that defensive standout team, that team that [makes others say], ‘Hey it’s hard to score on Louisville. We’re going to Louisville we have to prepare for this, we have to prepare for the press, the halfcourt defense.’ We’ve got to be that defensive team.”
The decision to stay around an extra year has proven to be costly for a lot of NBA hopefuls like Harrell in the past. Yet, given the tenacity and effort he plays with, the situation waiting for him at Louisville and the fact that he’s beyond NBA ready, it’s hard not to feel like the odds are stacked in his favor for this decision to end up paying off for him.
Ballmer Officially Takes Over Clippers: The Los Angeles Clippers announced that the transaction in which Steve Ballmer purchased the Los Angeles Clippers closed today following the entry of an order by a California court confirming the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the team.
The NBA Board of Governors previously approved the sale and Mr. Ballmer is now the Clippers Governor.
“I am humbled and honored to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers,” Mr. Ballmer said. “Clipper fans are so amazing. They have remained fiercely loyal to our franchise through some extraordinary times. I will be hard core in giving the team, our great coach, staff and players the support they need to do their best work on the court. And we will do whatever necessary to provide our fans and their families with the best game-night experience in the NBA. I look forward to meeting our fans at our STAPLES Center Fan Festival on Monday, Aug. 18 at 12:30 pm PT.”
“This is an amazing new day in Clippers history,” Clippers President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Doc Rivers said. “I couldn’t be more excited to work together with Steve as we continue to build a first-class, championship organization. I am already inspired by Steve’s passion for the game, his love of competition and desire to win the right way and I know our players and fans are going to be inspired as well.”
Ballmer, Doc Rivers and Clippers players will be in attendance at a Clippers Fan Festival that will be open to the general public on Monday, Aug. 18 at STAPLES Center at 12:30 p.m. PT.
P.J. Tucker Suspended: Phoenix Suns’ forward P.J. Tucker has been suspended three games without pay for pleading guilty to driving while under the extreme influence of intoxicating liquor, in violation of the law of the State of Arizona, the NBA announced today.
Tucker’s suspension will begin with the first game of the 2014-15 NBA regular season.
Report: NCAA Announce New College Basketball Policies
The NCAA adopted a sweeping series of policy and rules changes Wednesday that it hopes will clean up college basketball, which has been engulfed by an FBI investigation and other corruption over the past two years.
Among the significant changes that were adopted by the NCAA’s board of governors and Division I board of directors are allowing elite high school basketball recruits and college players to be represented by agents who are certified by the NCAA; allowing eligible underclassmen to enter the NBA draft and return to school if undrafted; introducing more rigorous certification requirements for summer amateur basketball events; and imposing longer postseason bans, suspensions and increased recruiting restrictions for coaches who break rules.
“These changes will promote integrity in the game, strengthen accountability and prioritize the interest of student-athletes over every other factor,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We remain committed to promoting fairness in college sports and creating an environment that will champion the success of student-athletes.”
Source: Mark Schlabach of ESPN
NBA Daily: Junior Robinson: “Size Doesn’t Matter”
Junior Robinson talked to Basketball Insiders about the Pro Basketball Combine, his athletic family tree and that killer on-court fearlessness.
At just 5-foot-5, Junior Robinson is easily one of the shortest players to go through the draft process in some time. But after four successful seasons at Mount Saint Mary’s, Robinson refuses to let his height define him as he reaches for the next level in his ever-evolving basketball journey.
In May, Robinson was invited to the Pro Basketball Combine, an opportunity for the collegiate star to prove himself on a big stage ahead of the NBA Draft. But even with a solid showing in both the testing and scrimmage stages of the audition, Robinson is expected to go undrafted this month. Still, there remain plenty of avenues — starting with summer leagues and two-way contracts — for Robinson to head down.
For now, however, he’s happy for the chance to compete and prove himself one more time.
“It was fun, I’ve had a great time so far, I’m here to have fun as well as try to make a name for myself — as the rest of these guys are,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “I think I played well, I didn’t make a lot of shots, as many as I wanted to, but, at the end of the day, I think I did well.”
Robinson, who led the Mountaineers to 18 wins in 2017-18, has undergone the type of transformation front offices specifically scout for. After averaging 8.2 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman, Robinson grew into his game, role and responsibilities. He would finish his collegiate career pulling down 22 points and 4.8 assists per game instead, a scoring tally that was good for 16th-best in all of Division-I. For somebody that often faced defenders more than a foot taller than him, shooting 44.6 percent from the field — and a workable 38.8 from three-point land — this year is a testament to Robinson’s willingness to adapt and survive.
“I had to find different ways to do different things, I’m not jumping over guys like 6-foot-9 — so I had to find a way to score around, over, or, you know what I’m sayin’,” Robinson said. “I had to do a lot of things to just improve my game inside, outside, ball handling, everything had to improve in order for me to be where I am today.”
Today, although accomplished, the odds are still stacked against Robinson. To date, only Earl Boykins and Muggsy Bogues have reached the NBA at 5-foot-5 or smaller. Bogues averaged 7.7 points and 7.6 assists over 14 NBA seasons, while Boykins himself enjoyed 13 — but those are two of the greatest exceptions, not the rule. Currently, the league’s shortest players are Kay Felder, who only played two games in 2017-18, and Isaiah Thomas, both standing at 5-foot-9. Of course, Thomas, a more recent success story, was the No. 60 overall pick in 2011 and has parlayed that opportunity into two All-Star appearances and a top-five MVP finish last season.
But when he was asked what exactly he’s looking to prove these days, Robinson’s answer was compelling.
“That size doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as you have heart and you’re willing to compete and give it your all every day — what’s height got to do with it?” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “All my life, I’ve been told I’m too small, I’m too short or that I’m not gonna be able to play with bigger guys. At some point, that phrase and all those have to go away, you just have to be a basketball player.
“And that’s what I try to prove — that I’m just a basketball player like the rest of these guys.”
Over his four seasons in Maryland, Robinson collected a handful of impressive individual outings — but perhaps none more so than the show he put on against Loyola back in early December. During a slim five-point victory, Robinson logged 39 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals on 4-for-7 from long-range. No matter your size, that’s an achievement worth acknowledging — and Robinson made a habit of putting in big performances like that all season. When Robinson scored above his season average (22), the Mountaineers were 11-4, a mark that accounted for 61 percent of the university’s wins last year.
Where Robinson went, so did Mount St. Mary’s.
Watching Robinson, even from afar, is a treat. There’s certainly something to be said for the league’s hulking, mammoth rim-rattlers, but Robinson’s craftiness and clever play can be just as enthralling. Utilizing pump-fakes, feints, floaters and his reckless abandon, Robinson frequently excelled at creating scoring chances out of very little. Any NBA franchise that gives Robinson an extended look this summer will find a hard-working, determined scorer — traits he credits to his uber-athletic family tree.
“My parents are pretty athletic,” Robinson said. “My mom played at Elon and went overseas and played in Germany. My dad was really athletic, he could do any type of dunk at like 5-foot-4. It’s in my genes as well, it’s also a competitive thing — I wanna be the best I can be. I wanna be just as good as these guys or be on that pedestal. For me to be able to come in here and play with them, it’s great for me.”
For now, nobody is quite sure what the future holds for Robinson, but he’ll likely get his shot to go headlong at looming seven-footers soon enough. His fearlessness has been a staple for Robinson since he arrived at Mount St. Mary’s in 2014 — get knocked down, get right back up. As he tells it now, Robinson knew he had to be unshakable to make the next level, slowly honing those killer instincts and shifty offensive moves. What we’re left with now, effectively, is a very talented 22-year-old scorer that spent last season as a legitimate Division-I force to be reckoned with.
But to him, Robinson’s unparalleled fearlessness is all just another day at the office.
“I think was I was nine, I went up and a kid knocked me over and I realized: It’s not going to kill me, so why not?”
And the rest is history.
NBA Daily: Egor Koulechov: Three Schools, Five Years, One NBA Dream
At the Pro Basketball Combine, Egor Koulechov talked about his overseas journey, his extensive collegiate history and what it was like leaving home to chase a dream.
“Do you want the beginning, or do you want the condensed version from when I got to the states?”
When Egor Koulechov was asked to describe his worldwide basketball journey at May’s Pro Basketball Combine, he laughed before responding. After all, it’s a story he’s told a hundred times before — so what’s one more? In pursuit of reaching the summit of his NBA dream, Koulechov grew up grinding overseas before attending three stateside colleges in five years.
While he’s facing an uphill battle from here, Koulechov refuses to give up on it just yet.
As Koulechov, 23, recounts it now — albeit in an abridged, rapid-fire version — he lived in Volgograd, Russia until the age of six, then his family moved to a Neve Ur, a kibbutz in northern Israel. At 14, Koulechov relocated from home and played for two separate academy clubs, Maccabi Rishon LeZion and Wingate, as he progressively fell further and further in love with the game. Subsequently, Koulechov told his parents he wanted to play basketball in the United States, so he packed up and stayed with a host family alone for the following two years.
“I remember when I was sitting on that plane when I left my parents, that’s when it kind of hit me,” Koulechov told Basketball Insiders. “I’m not going to see my parents every day anymore, I’m not going to be home, I’m going to have to take care of myself. . .
“It’s just been an incredible journey, to be honest, I’ve met so many people, but it’s such a big adjustment, I remember, at 16, I struggled with it for a little bit.”
From there, Koulechov enrolled at Arizona State, where he averaged just 3.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14 minutes per game as a freshman. Smartly, the Israeli-Russian transferred to Rice University, sat out a season in accordance with NCAA rules and then took a massive step forward. In his second season at Rice, Koulechov pulled down 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 47.4 percent from three-point range. All of sudden, he was back on the map.
“Then, last year at Rice, I had a decision to make, whether I wanted to go pro or would I want to do a grad year,” Koulechov said. “I was kind of in between and decided to give this thing one last go-around to stay in the States and give myself the best shot of making my dreams come true — that’s why I went to Florida for one year.”
This past spring, Koulechov wrapped up a graduate transfer season at the University of Florida, where the 6-foot-5 guard tallied 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds over 30.6 minutes per game. He started in all 34 games for the tournament-bound Gators, using his innate playmaking abilities and solid shooting marks to take advantage of smaller defenders. During Florida’s first-round victory over St. Bonaventure, Koulechov took in a team-high 20 points along with six rebounds — all season long, he was the team’s most consistent contributor. Although it wasn’t enough to get Koulechov to the NBA Draft Combine, he was more than happy to compete in the Pro Basketball Combine instead.
“It was awesome, honestly, I haven’t done workouts like that in front of teams, I haven’t had any NBA workouts, I have some lined up later — but this was good, this was a good experience,” Koulechov said. “It’s honestly a little nerve-wracking at first, when you kind of have all those people watching you there shoot, kind of a little tense, but once you start getting used to it and getting in the flow, it’s kind of easier.”
More likely than not, Koulechov will go undrafted later this month — but with private workouts, multiple summer leagues and two-way contracts ahead of him, he’ll get plenty of chances to prove he belongs. Even as he works from behind the eight ball, the modern league thrives on three-point shooting, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that Koulechov, a career 39.5 percent marksman in college, could certainly catch on with the right franchise.
But his capable combine performance helped him exhibit far more than just his long-range abilities.
“Toughness, shooting, rebounding, defense, all those things — the 3-and-D thing that’s been going around a lot,” Koulechov said. “That’s kind of what I try to portray and show those guys, but it’s just how I play. It’s not like I try really hard, it’s kind of coming natural.”
Of course, it hasn’t been an easy road for the overseas dreamer — but it’s only served to make him even stronger. Unlike most NBA prospects, Koulechov was never a highly sought-after high school prospect, nor was he chased by five or six elite collegiate programs either. And yet, he still sacrificed everything to come stateside and compete for an opportunity. Now, he stands closer than ever to the big leagues, but he almost didn’t make it here.
During that challenging season at Arizona State in 2013-14, Koulechov couldn’t stop the doubts from sneaking in.
“[I felt like giving up] many times, many times,” Koulechov told Basketball Insiders. “But after my freshman year, I was kind of like: ‘Wow, why do I need this?’ Why when I could just go back home, play pro and make decent money? But I like to think of myself as mentally tough, and I know a lot of Israeli players who came through college and came for one year and then they left — everybody leaves after one year.
“I kind of wanted to be tougher than that. I didn’t want to be just another guy that tried it and went back to the same old thing, so that’s what I really wanted to get out of it.”
He’s not wrong either, and the current list of Israeli-born NBA players is a short one. Outside of the Indiana Pacers’ T.J. Leaf — born in Tel Aviv — and Omri Casspi, who was cut by the Golden State Warriors in early April, Israeli representation remains low. Koulechov’s passion for his hometown has motivated him through years of ups and downs — but following that stellar second season at Rice, he knew he had to keep reaching for his decade-long goal.
“If I did go back to Israel, I’d have to do military service, so this right now is me trying to make it to the NBA so I can represent Israel and give them another player,” Koulechov said. “That’s my dream, that’s always been my dream since I started playing basketball at 13. So that’s why I stayed here for another year.
“I could’ve been playing pro after one year of college or even before that — but this has always been my dream so I’m just trying to give it my best shot.”
After recapping his lifelong journey up until this point — a path that took him to three countries and three colleges before the age of 22 — Koulechov paused, smiled and said: “That’s the condensed version.”
And if Egor Koulechov has his way, his story is far from over.