South Australians in the NCAA.. preseason tracker & the case for them to be March Madness bound
Updated: Apr 13
In this article we update you how the South Australian 2017 freshmen in the Division 1 NCAA are going in their preseason, after speaking with them and their coaches. We are also using our forever accurate "crystal ball" of predictions to assert why we think each of their programs (Stanford Cardinal, TCU Horned Frogs, Quinnipiac Bobcats and Albany Great Danes) will compete in the NCAA tournament in the coming years.
When producing content we have unique insights beyond what you can get the mainstream Australian media. We know the athletes, have coached them and know what makes them tick, their outstanding team qualities and toughness, how much work they put in. We have put in time, undertaken a lot of research in understanding the conferences these players will compete in, emerging schools and the direction of their new programs. In all cases when the players were recruited we also had the opportunity to get to know coaching staff, what they were about, their future plans for their programs and where each player could fit in.
Should our predictions once again come to fruition, all these men achieve this success by making the NCAA Tournament, then it will be the largest number of South Australian born male athletes in history to play in the same NCAA tournament. A great outcome first and foremost for these men and their teams but also indirectly for basketball in South Australia.
BLOG: Link: History made in South Australian Basketball - FOUR Athletes Commit to NCAA Div 1 Men's programs in the 2017 class. It has never been a better time to be an elite player coming through South Australia, with an international focus on talent in our state thanks to these men. Earlier this year we announced that an unprecedented 4 men from the state had committed to division 1 college programs in the same class. We predicted this would happen years ago and it did. We now expand out our review and predictions to see how they are going in their freshman preseason and put the case forward for their programs going to the NCAA tournament in the coming year or so.
Along the lines of our talent identification processes, content production and resources we are also proud to announce that Tony Casella has recently agreed to join our growing team. Tony is the current Premier League men's coach, with the Sturt Sabres, the club I'm currently at, and the majority of our featured athletes are from. Tony has decades of high level experience in the state of South Australia. He spent 4 years as our U20s State Head Coach for South Australia, winning 3 medals at national championships over that period. He was Assistant coach with our state's pro-NBL team, the Adelaide 36ers for 2 years. He has been a key person that has had a positive impact on current NBL players such as Peter Hooley, Brad Newley and Adam Doyle both through the state program and at club level. He has excellent networks nationally, internationally, in the NBA, has attended NBA summer league, meeting with many experts in the NBA. He is currently doing a course through TPG Sports Group on Professional Scouting (see previous blog on this program https://goo.gl/DcCrdk), studying and being mentored by League insiders. Tony will head up a new section analysing professional prospects and a new area will be setup on this website in that space.
We want to highlight to readers how big The Tournament or March Madness, as it is also known, is by putting forward some numbers:
The 2017 NCAA Tournament was played to a sold out crowd of over 70,000 people at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
The American Gaming Association estimates that around $9.2 billion worth of bets are expected to be made by the end of this year’s tournament, a $200 million increase from last year. (from http://fortune.com/march-madness-by-the-numbers/)
By the time we crown a champion on Monday, around 70 million brackets would have been completed, and that number is expected to eclipse the number of voters for any single candidate in this year’s elections, whether it’s Republican front-runner Donald Trump or Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton. (from http://fortune.com/march-madness-by-the-numbers/)
In 2017 March Madness had the largest TV Viewership in over 20 years. In final nationals from Nielsen, Monday night’s North Carolina-Gonzaga championship game averaged 23 million total viewers, up 30% from last year’s championship game. The game peaked with 26.1 million viewers from 11:15-11:30 p.m. Additionally, NCAA March Madness Live recorded 98 million live video streams during the NCAA Tournament, up 33% over last year. The National Championship game garnered 4.4 million live video streams, an all-time record for the title game.(http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/tv-ratings-ncaa-championship-game-tar-heels-cbs-1202022251/)
VIDEO: Cool footage from the NCAA tournament in 2017 - it is big and we hope to see as many young athletes out of South Australia compete at this kind of level in the coming years.
The key factor at play consistently across the board is 3 of the 4 featured athletes have committed to programs where highly respected coaches are early in their tenure, looking to build a winning program. The exception to that being Brent Hank, at U of Albany, who joins the respected Coach Brown, with over 15 years coaching the program, where he has very credibly won the American East Conference in 5 years out of the past 10 years.
Here is a team by team breakdown for each prospect:
Isaac White @ Stanford in the Pac-12
PICTURED: Link to bio.
There is a fair bit of hype around Stanford this year and with hype comes more expectations. The coaching staff are in their 2nd year at the program and hoping to build something special. Their recruiting was extremely professional, their reference checking extensive and thorough and they were up front and honest throughout the whole process, which was an extended one, as we would expect from school like Stanford. For Isaac and his basketball, it was "we definately have a need for your skillset and if you prove yourself to be good enough you will play". We also listened to the Stanford commentators in the recruiting process and finding that they had almost no players under 6'5'' and needs for players that could score from beyond the arc. Now Isaac is quite a few months in and ready for the season begin he is more than loving his time on the farm, "I've settled in better than I ever could've imagined. The saying that "people make a place" couldn't be more true. I've felt at home ever since my visit, and I really cannot think of something I would change."
PICTURED: Maples arena, Isaac's new homecourt. Looking to sellout many games this coming season.
Many months later, well into preseason, and Isaac is proving to be everything Stanford hoped for so far. Rankings are rankings, especially when it comes to freshmen, but he was recently ranked by Fox Sports as the 2nd best Aussie College Freshman for 2017 and by Pick and Roll as the 4th best, but the focus for Isaac now is to get the season started and to help his team succeed. Coaching staff have consistently stated in interviews and in communications with us that Isaac has more than lived up to expectations, fitting perfectly into the Stanford Invested, Tough, Selfless culture. We've seen some footage from the Stanford practices and Isaac more than looks at home, set to grow and be an important contributor in his freshman year with the Cardinal. He has also set a myriad of preseason shooting records at the program already. Here is what Assistant Coach Adam Cohen had to say recently:
"We are 14 practices in and Isaac is doing so well. He is doing great in our culture! He is about all the right things!!!!"
Isaac continues to focus to focus on getting better, consistently developing his game; "Over the preseason I've worked on my D quite a lot. I've also just worked on getting my shot off faster, and finding crafty ways of contributing offensively, especially against longer guys that I'll see in the Pac-12 etc"
PICTURED: Stanford's 2017 freshman class is the most highly touted one they've had in years. Photo from gostanford.com
In addition to Isaac they have other really good freshmen coming in. This incoming class is ranked by 247 Sports as the 14th best recruiting class in the nation. In addition to that potential NBA prospect and All American prospect Reid Travis has secured another year of eligibility, we are hearing a lot of great things about senior Dorian Pickens who will step up, last years top redshirt freshman Kodye Pugh now has 4 yrs of eligibility left. We think that Isaac was under ranked by outlets in the States, as international prospects often are. Likewise it is likely the other international recruit Oscar Da Silva (Germany) was also under ranked. A more accurate ranking of these 2 prospects would have extended their class upwards into the top few freshmen classes in the country. Clever recruiting by the Stanford staff to recruit under the radar international talent like this. They certainly did their homework.
Stanford have set their sites high for an at large tournament bid this season. They have been ranked 4th in the Pac-12 By CBS Sport's Matt Norlander, if this comes to fruition would inevitably see them head to the Tournament in Isaac's freshman season. It will be interesting to see if NCAA sanctions come down on fellow Pac-12 programs in Arizona and USC given the current FBI investigations into them and their staff and how that effects these programs in future years. Cohen stating of their chances this year and what they hope to achieve "We feel like we have a great blend of youth and experience with our current roster. We have versatility, shooting and toughness. We are excited to get started". Isaac continues from Cohen's thoughts; "I think you could ask anyone in our team, and you would receive the same answer. We are here to win. I believe we have the pieces to beat every team we face, we will need to find a way to consistently put these pieces together. Our recruiting class has received a lot of media attention and hype, and I'm sure our team will at times receive some criticism, but in all honesty, our team focuses on ourselves only. We know what we are capable of, and we know we can take our season deep into March, we needn't listen to irrelevant opinions, of those who don't see the day-in and day-out of what Stanford basketball truly is. I'm excited, and we are ready to go."
Their non-conference schedule includes games against elite programs University of North Carolina, University of Kansas and then they will compete in what is touted as the biggest preseason tournament in the history of college sports, the PK80. We will now soon enough if the program can emerge into the powerhouse we think they can.
Video: We have those goosebumps too with the season now to tip off.
Jacob Rigoni @ Quinnipiac in the MAAC
Pictured: Link to bio.
The best predictors for us on how this program will evolve is the coaching staff. We had a number of conversations with new HC Baker Dunleavy early in the recruiting process and we were thoroughly impressed. Not only that we had gotten to know Anthony Goins (Asst) whilst he was at Yale and thought he was one of the most impressive recruiters we had dealt with whilst he was there. We had also been lucky to get to know Shaun Morris (Asst) a little during his time at Boston University and appreciated his thoroughness in leaving no stone unturned to find talent. Months later Jacob has been on Campus since around July and could not be happier;
"Coach Dunleavy and our entire staff have made me feel right at home and a place I love being in, they believe in what I can do on the court and how I fit into the Quinnipiac basketball style of play, and off the court they genuinely care about us all which has made this a smooth transition."
One of the things that really impressed us was that in our conversations with the staff the fact they had watched so much tape on Jacob, could adequately breakdown his strengths and weaknesses and how he would fit into Coach Dunleavy's systems. For us, when helping prospects, this kind of insight is something we really look for from coaching staff as we want to make sure schools know exactly the type of kid they are recruiting and how they will fit. Jacob epitomises the "continuous improvement" mindset of all our South Australian prospects, stating:
"I feel as if we have improved in multiple areas of the game from our competitive practices, individual skill sessions and watching film. The patient approach our coaches have has allowed us to grow through our struggles and develop together.." Coach Dunleavy joins the Bobcats off the back of 7 years as the Assistant and Associate Head Coach at the powerhouse program of Villanova. Villanova won the national championship in 2015/16, under one of the top coaches in America in Jay Wright. Interesting to hear Coach Wright recently speak about Dunleavy, on Jon Rothstein's podcast, and the significant impact he had on the program as the Associate Head Coach. Wright talks about Dunleavy's incredible basketball IQ, possibly developed by the fact he grew up in an "NBA household", the ownership he had over the Villanova dynasty, being there is a player from day right through to their emergence into the national powerhouse today as the Associated Head Coach. The Dunleavy family is a big name in American basketball. Father Mike Snr is currently Head Coach University of Tulane and had many years playing and then coaching in the NBA, coaching multiple teams to the playoffs. His brother Mike Jnr has been in the NBA for over 10 yrs and will suit up for the Atlanta Hawks this season. The MAAC is seen as an East Coast stop off for emerging coaches into high major programs. This may well be the case for Dunleavy but we at are excited to know he will be the Head Coach for at least the 4 years Jacob is a player there, working together to bring the program up. Here is what the Coach Morris told us about Jacob in the preseason;
" Jacob will be a big part of our program this season. He is a great kid that has come in and been one of our hardest workers since he got here this summer.
As a staff we love his skill set , basketball IQ, and toughness. He has really improved his 3pt shot and picked up our defensive principles. We are very excited to have him in our program for the next 4 years !"
We have seen Dunleavy begin to make his mark with an overhaul of playing personnel and bringing in guys that fit the culture and playing style he wants to implement. Jacob is loving his time at the program so far, his game as a high IQ, team driven, versatile player fits Coach Dunleavy's style perfectly.
PICTURED: Jacob and Coach Dunleavy strategising emerging the program into a MAAC contender.
The MAAC tends to be conference where teams emerge rapidly and come and go. The MAAC will be winnable for Quinnipiac in a shortspace of time, who in recent years have struggled to put together a winning record. Coach Morris states their case;
"We have a very special university that is growing and growing, and we believe our program is moving in the same direction.
Our staff did a great job finding guys this spring that were all about our vision, and wanted to be part of getting Quinnipiac to the NCAA tournament. We are striving to get better and better each day and recruit high level people to join our program.
From a basketball standpoint, Coach has put in a system that the players love and they are picking up more and more each day. We want to play hard , play together , play smart, and play with pride. ".
Dunleavy's recruiting power, national networks, name in the American basketball culture will see him recruit elite talent. His, and his staff, work ethic, strong desire to build success around a proven system and culture. They've made a great start by recruiting Rigoni, who is clearly excited to get things underway:
"I believe that if we continue to have the attitude of coming in and getting better each day and being excited about the process, whilst playing hard, smart, together and with pride, as our coaches preach, then we can achieve some special things.
I am excited for our season to begin and to compete for Quinnipiac University!"
VIDEO: Quinnipiac first practice, Jacob is #25.
Lat Mayen @ TCU in the Big12
PICTURED: Link to Bio
A younger brother of one of our state's Centre of Excellence (CoE) scholarship holders came back from Canberra after seeing Lat play and workout to say "Lat is amazing now". My comment back was "that is what an NBA prospect looks like". Lat is working to a plan and time will tell if this prospect can achieve that plan. Red shirting this year should not change his timeline too much in a program which is emerging to be be a great one like TCU. David Patrick, a household name in Australian basketball circles, gave us some insights on Lat's progress in these early stages
"Lat has been tremendous from day 1 in the class room and off the floor . In day 2 he had our team conditioning test, which he smashed less than 48 hours of the plane . A lot of that endurance comes from what he has to do at the COE and his training in Adelaide.
Lat has put on 12lbs of muscle in a short span, because of our nutrition center on campus , and our strength program. He is progressing well in the classroom, which is not easy for any freshman. "
The TCU coaching group are in their 3rd season now, with Head Coach Jamie Dixon at the helm. At one stage during the recruiting process David Patrick (DP) was talking with myself and other local coaches Scott Butler and David Ingham. I confidently, maybe a little arrogantly asked DP a question; "DP, Lat has so many schools after him why would he want to go to TCU". His answer went something like "Janx it is like this. Coach Dixon is on a multi-million dollar a year deal, one of the most respected coaches in the country, our stadium seats 8,500 and often sells out, we are regularly playing in nationally televised games, we will go to the NCAA tournament, and go deep, but in very simple terms for you. When we go to a game we don't catch a bus like you guys, we don't even fly in a commercial airline. We generally charter our own jet. That is how big this is.". My reply "ohhhhhhhhhk then", thinks to self; this is big time.
Upon some further research DP was right and one of the things that was intriguing was the level of respect Coach Dixon has across America, since he rebuild Pitt into a contender in the Big East Conference conference, with a 328–123 win/loss record during his time there.
Not only that, when you look at DP you begin to understand that behind the scenes he has recruited, worked heavily with quite a number of our Aussies in the NBA, including Patty Mills, Dellavedova and Ben Simmons. David Patrick consistently stakes his reputation on bringing Aussies in and those Aussies continuing their development into the best talent the country has produced. This trend is something he is hungry to continue with Lat and other Aussies (Kuot Noi from NSW is also there) at TCU.
David Ingham our state's High Performance Manager took kids from our state's high performance program to TCU for a visit and comments on how good the facilities are, how professional the program is and for an athlete everything is laid out perfectly.
In just their 2nd year TCU had a huge win late in the year vs one of the best teams in America, Kansas Jayhawks, during the Big 12 conference championships.
VIDEO: TCU defeats Kansas Jayhawks.
They then went on to win the NIT, beating Luke Schenscher's (link to previous blog by Schenscher) former school, Georgia Tech, who compete in the one of the other power conferences, the ACC.
VIDEO: TCU wins the NIT. And in these clips they do it to their own song.
Add their 2017 recruiting class which has been ranked by Scout.com as the 26th best in the country and what is looking like another bumper crop of recruits for 2018 we see TCU not only going to the tournament but going deep.
The pre-season coaches poll surprised some observers with TCU being ranked 3rd in the Big 12, after not being ranked higher than 8th since the program entered the Big 12. DP asserts that their chances of success are great too; "
All of this is on paper (janx: when talking of the preseason hype about the program) , now we have to go out and play the games . Our talent level, after only being here one year , is very good, and we have great kids . Our advantage is we are an older team , with our top 7 guys retiring , so if we stay focused and take it one game at a time , we have a chance to have a special year .
The buildup and excitement for Lat's commencement in 2018/19 will be immense this coming season, but David Patrick has even made comparisons to his Godson he coached at LSU, Ben Simmons, from the perspective of versatility; "
Lats ability to shoot the basketball and his versatility, will allow him to play in multiple positions for us . From the 2-4. Like Ben Simmons , it's hard to label him as one particular spot, cause he can guard anywhere on the floor . We lose our senior 3 man in Kenrich williams , so there will be a lot o minutes open up on the wing for Lat.
This year of development will have him ready to contribute right away, the same way it helped our other Aussie in Kouat Noi."
We agree with the poll and DP, with back to back top recruiting classes coming in, a strong showing in their preseason international tour in Australia in August (Link to tour announcement: https://goo.gl/gCzbJW), and continued to development of their roster, media outlets are ranking the program in the upper end of the extremely tough, big time conference of the Big 12. And in 2018/19 Lat will be ready, hungry and better than ever - look out!
PICTURED: Lat Mayen a product of the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence program where Lat's development was taken to another level in preparation to him becoming a high major prospect.
Brent Hank @ U of Albany in the America East Conference
University at Albany led by Coach Will Brown has been to the NCAA Tournament in 5 of the past 10 years. During this time Aussies, such as Adelaide born and current NBL player with Melbourne United, Peter Hooley, have been a major part of the success of this dominant, America East Conference program (see previous blog Peter did for us here: https://goo.gl/wvncy4).
Coach Brown's tenure has been over 15 years at Albany, a very rare length of time in college basketball. We feel that coaches with a longer tenure tend to look at program quality and long term values rather than winning in the short term. Albany is consistent with this where they value education heavily, but still obviously have the chance to win the America East Conference each year. We spoke to Assistant Coach Josh Pelletier who told us;
"We have quality student athletes that above all else value an education and we have the opportunity to win the championship every year! Besides all of the winning on the basketball court we also have the most All-Academic team selections in the history of our conference. We are very proud of this as well."
Albany coaches report that Brent is generally ahead of where they expected him to be in his freshman year and in trial scrimmages so far he has been in the rotation. Albany has a lot of talent in Brent's position and Brent is patiently learning and developing, making the most of every opportunity he gets in this powerhouse program of the American East Conference. Assistant Coach Josh Pelletier told us the following of Brent's pre-season:
"Any freshman faces a big adjustment when coming to play college basketball but for Brent he has handled this adjustment quite well. Since his arrival on campus in June he has improved daily because of his work ethic and his willingness to do whatever it takes to become a better player. Brent came in with the size and the strength to compete at the division 1 level and continues to polish his all around game. As a coaching staff we have stressed to Brent to become more aggressive offensively and we will continue to work with him on this. I would say Brent has adjusted quite well to the daily rigors of practice, lifting, 5 classes a semester, study hall, team travel, and everything else that involves being a successful division 1 basketball player. His preseason has been a success up this point."
Brent has the opportunity to get better every day at Albany going up against a number of seniors in his position, Pelletier goes on;
"Besides receiving a quality education Brent choose to come to Albany to win. Brent is a winner! This program has a long history of winning and in one way or another Brent will be a big part of that this year and his remaining 3 years here at Albany. Each day in practice Brent goes up against three seniors in our front court, two of which are fifth year seniors. The experience and success that these three have had on the basketball court are what we envisioned for Brent during the recruiting process and since his arrival on campus it has become evident to us that we can get him to that point. Brent has more than competed each day with these three veteran players that are 23, 23, and 22 years old respectively. As a coaching staff we watch film of practice daily and also have practice stats. It is obvious that Brent has a chance to be a good player for us. Whether or not that shows during games this year is TBD but he has some tremendous physical attributes that we have not had in this program in a few years now. Since roles are not defined for this season yet I cannot truly predict what his role will be but I believe he will help this program during his time at Albany. "
For Brent, he is enjoying the day to day and getting better each and every week;
"I felt preseason went really well. Training everyday with more experienced and stronger guys really helped me improve in all areas of the game, offensively and defensively. "
This year Albany has been picked 2nd in their conference but Coach Pelletier (Asst) believes the team is better than last year and therefore have a real chance to go 1 better than their 2nd placed finish in the AEC last season. We asked Coach Pellitier how the program has sustained success as it has in the America East Conference;
"We are able to recruit high character kids from good families. We also have 4 Albany alums on staff (myself included). These are just a few of the aspects that contribute to the family environment we have created in our basketball program. This has been a major point of emphasis with our recruitment of Australian players as well. Each day we talk about family and break every huddle by saying "family.”
It is a family environment that breeds success. Every Aussie that has come through our program now either has a highly successful job or is playing pro basketball. They all also played in at least one NCAA Tournament, most played in two, and in the case of Sam Rowley and Peter Hooley they played in three."
We can't wait to see Brent to do the same as his Aussie predecessors. That is get an education, have some great success oncourt, making his mark on the program and go on to a successful professional career.
PICTURED: Brent has already experienced what it is like to play in a high major venue after his team, U of Albany, played West Virginia in a preseason exhibition game.