Jon Lopez for NikeThe race will continue for No. 1 Marvin Bagley III at Peach Jam.
The three-week sprint known as the July live period begins on Wednesday, marking the first of three five-day stretches when college coaches travel around the country to observe 2018, 2019 and 2020 prospects. Arguably, the biggest event of the month is the Nike Peach Jam, which takes place over the next five days in North Augusta, South Carolina. Virtually every college program in the country will have at least one coach in attendance; what will they be focusing on? 1. Marvin Bagley III: Because there’s very little debate about who’s No. 1 in 2018, there hasn’t been as much buzz surrounding the top of the class as there has in past years. However, Bagley (No. 1) is the top target for several of the nation’s blue bloods. His final six is UCLA, Arizona, Duke, USC, Kansas and Kentucky, but he’s not anywhere close to a decision. He’s reportedly expected to visit Duke this month, but the Blue Devils aren’t considered the clear-cut favorite to land the star recruit. UCLA and Arizona are hoping to keep him out west, while Kentucky has been in a good position for a long time. Kansas watched him often in the spring, and USC is also making a late push. Expect representatives from all six schools to be at his games this week. 2. Individual matchups: There’s no Andrew Wiggins vs. Julius Randle or even DeAndre Ayton vs. Bagley matchup on the docket, but there’s still some intriguing head-to-head battles to watch. Bagley has a couple of intriguing matchups, notably against five-star Missouri commit Jontay Porter (No. 10) and hard-playing five-star forward Emmitt Williams (No. 12). Two skilled top-10 forwards will go at it when Bol Bol (No. 4) faces Simi Shittu (No. 9), while elite wing forward Cameron Reddish (No. 3) and five-star small forward Louis King (No. 16) could have a matchup against five-star small forward Keldon Johnson (No. 13) if Reddish and King’s Team Final outfit wins their play-in game on Wednesday afternoon. We won’t get a point guard battle between Darius Garland (No. 11) and Tre Jones (No. 19), but Garland goes up against Cole Anthony (No. 11), who is in the conversation for best point guard in the 2019 class. Recent USC commit Taeshon Cherry (No. 20) will get an early start on Pac-12 rivalries when he battles against Arizona commit Shareef O’Neal (No. 18). In fact, the play-in game between Team Final (Reddish, King) and Nike Team Florida (five-star 2019 prospects Vernon Carey Jr., Trendon Watford, Balsa Koprivica) could feature the most five-star prospects. 3. Star power: Expect to see the heavyweights come out for several players this week. Reddish will be a primary target for Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari, while Jay Wright will also watch him as Villanova remains in the running. Don’t be surprised if UCLA keeps an eye on him, as well. Bol Bol had a long list of coaches tracking him in the spring -- before his rise to No. 4 in 2018. Bill Self and Kansas were on him heavily for the past few years, but Kentucky has made a strong push since the spring. UCLA is also involved. Darius Garland and Tre Jones have interesting recruitments developing. The Blue Devils have courted both players to be their next point guard, but they are unlikely to get both. There’s been some Vanderbilt buzz for Garland in recent weeks, while Indiana watched him closely in the spring. Jones is the younger brother of Tyus Jones, so there are Duke ties there. But UCLA is also targeting him closely, while Minnesota and USC are pushing.
Jay WrightRich Schultz/Getty ImagesJay Wright and Villanova will join Duke and Kentucky in pursuit of Cameron Reddish.
4. Spring breakout players: A long list of players boosted their stock plenty during the April live period and have seen their recruitments increase considerably. Expect several of those players to attract close attention from coaches who extended offers to them over the past two months, as well as from new coaches looking to see if they can get involved. Noah Locke (No. 80) averaged 18.2 points and shot 49.5 percent from 3-point range on the EYBL circuit, and went on an unofficial visit tour in recent weeks, checking out Notre Dame, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Virginia Tech. The Wolverines have some momentum entering the live period, with Xavier right behind them. Jalen Carey (No. 55) took advantage of his big spring and immediately cut his list to 10 schools in early May: Syracuse, Notre Dame, Florida, Indiana, UConn, Kansas, Temple, Miami, Rutgers, Seton Hall. The Jayhawks picked up some buzz shortly after offering Carey, but Syracuse and others are also heavily involved. Will Richardson (No. 82) might have picked up more offers than anyone during the April live period, and his recruitment hasn’t slowed down. Alabama and Georgia made a push in the spring, while Xavier is also in the mix. UCLA recently started recruiting him, too. BONUS: Reggie Perry: He won’t be at Peach Jam, but a few hours away at the Adidas Gauntlet Finale in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Perry (No. 17) will attract plenty of attention. The five-star forward from Georgia is going to be one of the most-watched prospects during the first live period, after decommitting from Arkansas last week. There will be higher-ranked players, but because Perry committed to the Razorbacks last August, other coaches haven’t truly evaluated or watched him in a year. Expect some bluebloods to take a look, as well as pretty much the entire SEC. It should also be mentioned that Zion Williamson (No. 2) will be playing a short drive from his South Carolina home. The most popular high school basketball in the country already attracts huge crowds. On Williamson's home turf, it could reach unprecedented levels.

You never know who you’ll meet in Los Angeles.

Just ask UCLA's men's basketball squad.

As the team gathered for its first workout of the summer Monday morning, players gasped when rappers Kanye West and 2 Chainz, who were playing with their group in a private area curtained off from the rest of the gym, walked over to greet them and pose for photos.

West, who is married to social icon Kim Kardashian, is arguably the most popular rapper in the world. And 2 Chainz, whose real name is Tauheed Epps, recently released the album "Pretty Girls Like Trap Music," which ended last week at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 behind Lorde's "Melodrama."

“I think the players were pretty fired up,” UCLA spokesman Alex Timiraos said. “I think they were pretty excited.”

And it all happened by chance.

The Bruins primarily practice at Pauley Pavilion while construction continues on their new practice facility, which is scheduled to open in August.

This week, however, a Nickelodeon event has locked up Pauley, so the team ventured to the nearby Wooden Center, an auxiliary gym where West and 2 Chainz played with a private party Monday morning. Per Timiraos, a UCLA assistant broke the ice and asked West and 2 Chainz if they’d talk to the players.

On Instagram, 2 Chainz, who averaged 2.8 points per game for Alabama State in the mid-1990s, thanked UCLA men’s basketball “for letting me and [Kanye] ball out at the court today.”

But some affiliated with the program (jokingly) weren’t thrilled with the interaction.

Ex-Bruin Bryce Alford, who went undrafted but signed with the Golden State Warriors to play on their summer league team, tweeted a photo of his father, Steve Alford, with West and joked that he worries the encounter might go to the UCLA coach's head.

Krzyzewski/CalipariAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesMike Krzyzewski and John Calipari, the country's top recruiters, will create a stir wherever they are this summer.
Hopefully college coaches across the country are enjoying their Fourth of July weekend -- because the rest of the month is a sprint filled with long flights, crowded gyms, rental cars and very little sleep. July is the most important month on the college basketball calendar for recruiting, with teams looking to fine-tune their 2018 target board and getting a jump-start on the 2019, 2020 and even 2021 classes in some cases. There are three live periods over the next few weeks: July 12-16, July 19-23 and July 26-30. While the three major shoe companies have events that will draw the longest list of coaches, there are dozens of independent events around the country. And coaches will be at each one of them, either looking for their next commitment or babysitting a longtime target. Get ready for a whirlwind three weeks with these storylines: 1. Marvin Bagley III keeping the rest of 2018 at arm's length Looking back at the past several classes, there has generally been some sort of battle for the No. 1 spot. The Class of 2016 had Harry Giles looking to hold off Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson, while last season saw Michael Porter Jr. make his big move to pass DeAndre Ayton in July. Can anyone go past Bagley in the coming weeks? It's unlikely. On the Nike EYBL circuit, Bagley was dominant in the spring, averaging 25.8 points, 14.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. Chasing Bagley are Zion Williamson (No. 2), a highlight-reel dunker; Cameron Reddish (No. 3), a smooth and versatile perimeter player; Bol Bol (No. 4), who had one of the best springs of anyone; and Romeo Langford (No. 5), the best guard in the class. All four are terrific players, but none has a legitimate case for the No. 1 spot right now. There's more of a debate for No. 2 at this point. Arizona, Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas, Duke and USC all watched Bagley in April. Expect more of the same this month.
Vincent Cole for AdidasZion Williamson probably won't catch Marvin Bagley III for the top spot in the ESPN 100, but he'll put on a show for recruiters.
2. New-coach buzz Plenty of eyes will be on coaches at new programs. Several of those coaches spent April getting their feet under them and developing a target list, but July is when we will see their real targets. Archie Miller (Indiana), Patrick Ewing (Georgetown), Chris Holtmann (Ohio State) and Will Wade (LSU) are among the more intriguing coaches to track as the month begins. Miller is swinging for five-star guards Darius Garland and Langford, but is also making the Midwest a priority with the likes of Race Thompson, Jerome Hunter, Robert Phinisee and others. Ewing has had to answer plenty of recruiting questions, and that won't change anytime soon. So who he targets and what he prioritizes will be key developments of the month. Holtmann only took over at Ohio State a few weeks ago, but he has looked to make quick inroads. He hosted recent decommit Dane Goodwin on an official visit over the weekend, and has his eyes on Hunter, Talen Horton-Tucker and others. Wade has positioned LSU well for high-level prospect Nazreon Reid and landed Javonte Smart Friday., with Darius Days also high on the target list. Expect Wade to be seen early and often for the big names, especially after Reid visited this past weekend. 3. John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski When Calipari or Coach K walk into a gym, whispers start, heads turn, tweets are immediately sent out. That's just how it is on the recruiting trail nowadays, where Duke and Kentucky have finished 1-2 in some order in each of the past four recruiting class rankings. So when Calipari and K are seen at a player's games multiple times in one weekend this month, we'll start to see the hot boards for the Wildcats and Blue Devils take place. Things can change drastically from the beginning of the month to the end of the month, but there's some early word on which players each school wants. They are both competing for most of the top players in 2018, including Bagley, Williamson, Reddish and Langford. Kentucky is in great shape with five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley and made strong moves for Bol Bol in the spring. At the point guard spot, Duke has zeroed in on Garland and Tre Jones. The Blue Devils also offered a variety of players in the spring, including David McCormack, Emmitt Williams and Jairus Hamilton. Things will get clearer very soon. 4. Who will break out? Plenty of recruiting stories center on a player breaking out in July and earning dozens of high-major scholarship offers. Malcolm Brogdon, this season's NBA Rookie of the Year, had a huge performance at the Nike Peach Jam in the July before his senior year of high school, then committed to Virginia not long after, and the rest is history. Kyrie Irving had very few coaches watching his summer games before the July between his sophomore and junior seasons. Last summer, Alex O'Connell (Duke), Lance Thomas (Louisville), Darryl Morsell (Maryland) and Wabissa Bede (Virginia Tech) were among the players to take advantage of the increased exposure and become clear-cut high-major players. Programs that were in good shape with under-the-radar players before July go into the month hoping their targets won't perform well; they don't want the player's stock to rise in front of big-name coaches.
Jon Lopez/NikeDarius Garland is currently the top-ranked point guard in the 2018 class.
5. Point guard battles Trevon Duval was the clear-cut best point guard in 2017, until Collin Sexton closed the gap late in the process. But going into July, there is a legitimate conversation for the best point guard in 2018. Garland is atop the rankings entering the month, but Quickley and Jahvon Quinerly are right behind him. Tre Jones closed the gap considerably during the spring. Javonte Smart has plenty of natural ability, and Devon Dotson, Ayo Dosunmu and Elijah Weaver had very strong springs. Quentin Grimes is considered more of a 2-guard in the rankings, but several schools are recruiting him as a point guard. Coby White (North Carolina), Courtney Ramey (Louisville) and Brandon Williams (Arizona) already committed to schools, but they’re in the top 50 overall too. There will be matchups between several of these players at one point or another in July, so we can settle the debate. Colleges will look on with piqued interest, too. Point guard dominoes on the recruiting trail are right around the corner.

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If Louisville has to forfeit its 2013 national championship as a result of NCAA rules violations, the Cardinals would end up making the wrong kind of history.

No Division I men's basketball title has ever been vacated.

Final Four appearances have been stripped -- 11 in all. John Calipari is the only coach to have led two separate programs ordered to vacate a Final Four appearance: UMass (1996) and Memphis (2008). In quite a twist, Calipari now coaches at Kentucky, the bitter rival of coach Rick Pitino and the Cards.

Until now, perhaps the most famous Final Four that was vacated belongs to the Fab Five at Michigan. Both runner-up finishes in 1992 and 1993 were vacated as a result of a wide-ranging improper-benefits scandal that involved booster Ed Martin, superstar Chris Webber and several others.

For even more context about just how rare it is for teams to be forced to vacate national championships, consider that only one football title at the FBS level has been vacated: the 2004 BCS national championship that belonged to USC. The NCAA handed down myriad punishments after deeming that star Reggie Bush accepted improper benefits. Bush was stripped of his Heisman Trophy, 30 scholarships were docked, the school served a two-year postseason ban and its 2005 BCS national championship game appearance also was vacated.

In that case, USC appealed the harsh NCAA sanctions. The NCAA denied that appeal.

Louisville said Thursday it plans to appeal its own NCAA sanctions, hoping to keep its 2013 championship banner in the rafters. Among the many sanctions handed down, the NCAA wants any game vacated that involved an ineligible student-athlete from December 2010 to July 2014.

Chuck Smrt, who is handling Louisville's defense of the allegations, said 108 regular-season games and 15 NCAA tournament games are in question -- including the 2013 national championship game. Louisville made another Final Four appearance in that span, in 2012, and that could be vacated as well.

The accompanying chart, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, shows nine of the most notable NCAA championships vacated.

Incidentally, the 2007 men’s track and field championship was vacated by Florida State due to NCAA sanctions in 10 FSU sports as part of an academic cheating scandal that involved 61 student-athletes. Football coach Bobby Bowden and the football team were forced to vacate 12 wins, including the 2006 Emerald Bowl victory over UCLA.

Though Florida State has technically made 35 straight bowl appearances, the NCAA doesn’t recognize the game in 2006. Therefore, the NCAA recognizes Virginia Tech as the program with the longest active bowl streak (24). If Florida State’s bowl game had not been vacated, it would be tied with Nebraska for the longest bowl streak in college football history.

The 2018 class is starting to come into focus as we put the 2017 class behind us and inch closer to the all-important July live period. Schools are hoping to close on some prospects before the period begins, while others are planting seeds for a commitment flurry in the month of August. It’s still early in the process, with only five of 23 five-star prospects off the board and only two schools with more than one ESPN 60 prospect in the fold. Which schools have done the best work early, and which schools have a lot of work to do in the coming months?

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Chris HoltmannAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarOhio State's Chris Holtmann was recruiting some Ohio prospects while at Butler.
Barring a Tom Izzo departure, the state of recruiting in the Midwest -- more specifically, the Big Ten -- couldn’t have undergone bigger changes than it did the past three months. The three biggest schools in three basketball states -- Indiana, Illinois and Ohio -- changed head coaches, and with that comes a renewed focus on recruiting in the region. Whenever there is a coaching change in a state with a heavy basketball presence, there is talk about keeping the best players home. When Josh Pastner took over at Georgia Tech, he had to focus on the Atlanta area. Ditto for Shaka Smart at Texas and Mike Hopkins at Washington. But to have three huge coaching changes in a 300-mile radius in the Big Ten doesn’t happen every spring. Adding to that, all three outgoing coaches were on the hot seat due, in part, to recruiting.

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Only four schools have been in the top 12 of recruiting class rankings in each of the past three seasons. There’s Duke and Kentucky, which have finished 1-2 in some order in the rankings in each of the past four classes. There’s Arizona, which has finished in the top seven for seven years running.

The fourth? Not Kansas. Not UCLA. Not North Carolina.

It’s Florida State.

Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsM.J. Walker could be the Seminoles' top scorer next season.

And five-star senior M.J. Walker’s announcement on Wednesday that he was picking the Seminoles over UCLA, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Ohio State moved Florida State’s class to No. 8 in the country and ensured the Seminoles would once again have one of the nation’s top incoming freshman classes.

Coach Leonard Hamilton has long had a reputation as an elite recruiter, consistently getting Florida State -- and before that, Miami -- involved with five-star prospects. Florida State has had 10 players selected in the NBA draft since 2004, including four first-round picks. The Seminoles had a top-10 recruiting class in 2008, a top-20 group in 2010 and 2011 and a top-40 class in 2014 -- before the recent three-year run. They just missed on Andrew Wiggins in 2013, not backing off even when Kentucky and Kansas made him a priority.

Walker’s commitment marks the third consecutive class in which Hamilton has reeled in a five-star prospect. Walker follows in the footsteps of Dwayne Bacon in 2015 and Jonathan Isaac in 2016.

The Seminoles have done it by heavily working Florida and Georgia. Bacon and Isaac were both in-state prospects that the Noles got involved with early in the process, while Malik Beasley -- and now Walker -- are Georgia natives. Assistant coach Charlton Young has deep ties to the Atlanta area, while fellow assistant Dennis Gates was the lead on Isaac and helped on Bacon.

Given the early-entry decisions of both Bacon and Isaac, Hamilton badly needed to land Walker. Florida State made him one of its top targets early in the 2017 recruiting cycle, but Walker took his recruitment slowly. He took one official visit in the fall, and it was to Tallahassee. The early signing period came and went without a commitment, though. The longer his recruitment lasted, the further it was since his visit, and other schools began making their moves for Walker. UCLA, Virginia Tech and Ohio State all got him on campus in the past few weeks, while hometown Georgia Tech hosted him several times.

Florida State suffered a difficult recruiting blow earlier this month, when five-star Kevin Knox shocked the recruiting world and chose Kentucky over the Seminoles, Duke, North Carolina and Missouri.

The Seminoles couldn’t let it happen again.

Florida State is coming off a 26-win season that ended in disappointing fashion, going 8-7 in the final two months of the season and losing by 25 to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Bacon, Isaac and double-figure scorer Xavier Rathan-Mayes all left early and signed with agents, while starting center Michael Ojo and sixth man Jarquez Smith ran out of eligibility.

When Knox went elsewhere, it looked as if the Seminoles would lack the scoring punch of the past couple of seasons. Walker solves some of those issues. He’s a big-time offensive player who will immediately become one of the perimeter shooters on the team. Walker will have to shoulder most of the scoring load right off the bat, as there is only one player -- Terance Mann (8.4 PPG) -- returning who averaged more than 5.5 points per game.

There’s now reason for optimism at Florida State, though. Former ESPN 100 prospects CJ Walker and Trent Forrest will likely move into starting roles in the backcourt, while Mann will also take on a bigger role. Hamilton focused on the frontcourt in his 2017 class, with ESPN 100 shot-blocker extraordinaire Ikey Obiagu and four-star forwards Raiquan Gray and Wyatt Wilkes entering the fold. Center Christ Koumadje, at 7-feet-4, also took strides as the season progressed and will at least anchor the defense alongside Obiagu.

A step back was inevitable for Florida State without its top three scorers from last season, but Walker’s commitment gives the Seminoles a chance -- and also reaffirms Hamilton’s status as one of the top recruiters in college basketball.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY SportsDuke was in trouble at the point guard spot -- until Trevon Duval's commitment bailed it out.
Mike Krzyzewski didn’t have any other options. Trevon Duval or bust. When Frank Jackson announced last week that he was signing with an agent and keeping his name in the NBA draft, Duke was left without a point guard for next season.

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ESPN 100 point guard Trevon Duval announced his commitment to Duke on Monday morning via the Players' Tribune. Here's a look at what the top-ranked lead guard in the 2017 class will bring to Durham.

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Jon Lopez/NikeMarvin Bagley III has offers from West Coast powers UCLA, Oregon and Arizona, as well as the nation's elite programs like Duke and Kentucky.
It's still very early in the 2018 recruiting cycle and every team discussed below is still recruiting prospects in the 2017 class or transfers for next season. So the true target boards for the powerhouses of college basketball won't be firm until after the July evaluation period, when coaches hit the road for three weeks in the summer to watch prospects. But after tracking coaches during the April live period and seeing offers that went out shortly after last weekend, here's a very early look at the main 2018 targets for six of the biggest recruiting powers:

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Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsKevin Knox is poised to be a matchup problem at the college level.
Kentucky became the first school to have six five-star prospects in one recruiting class last weekend, when top-10 prospect Kevin Knox committed to the Wildcats. It caught many industry people off-guard, because Kentucky already has a couple of similar forwards committed and because Duke, Florida State and even North Carolina were receiving more buzz than the Wildcats. But that’s John Calipari for you.

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Kentucky head coach John Calipari landed his sixth 5-star recruit from the 2017 class on Saturday when ESPN 100 SF Kevin Knox committed to the Wildcats. Here's what the Tampa, Florida native will bring to Lexington.

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Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY SportsWhichever school lands 2018 prospect Marvin Bagley III will set itself up nicely for the future.
The Class of 2018 officially took center stage the past two weekends, as college coaches across the country flocked to Virginia, Indianapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, New York and elsewhere to map out their recruiting boards. The April live periods are generally the time where focus turns from the outgoing seniors to the rising seniors, so we’re going to take a break from tracking the remaining unsigned 2017 prospects to give a brief intro to the elite 2018 prospects -- and which schools have the early inside track.

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When Ben Howland was fired in 2013 and the UCLA coaching job opened up, Arizona's Sean Miller had a vested interest in seeing who got the position. And as coach of one of the Bruins’ biggest rivals, Miller feared the possibility of one particular guy getting the job, sources told ESPN: Lorenzo Romar. Miller told people close to him that a move by the then-Washington coach to Westwood would make it tough to recruit the state of California. This spring, Miller didn’t wait to see if anyone snatched up Romar when he was fired in March after 15 seasons in Washington. Rumors began circulating at the Final Four in Phoenix, and it became official on April 15: Arizona was bringing on Romar as an assistant coach. He replaced Joe Pasternack, who took the head-coaching position at UC Santa Barbara.
Lorenzo RomarEthan Miller/Getty ImagesLorenzo Romar's West Coast recruiting connections will only help Arizona's recruiting efforts.
The public reaction wasn’t overwhelming. It was a high-major program hiring a former head coach who hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2011. In basketball circles, though, this was a massive move. “It’s tough,” one Pac-12 coach said. “Arizona already owned the West Coast, and now they’re getting Romar.” “Arizona is about to smash the West Coast in 2018 and 2019,” one AAU coach from the West added. The knock on Romar was his lack of wins and the fact that he made only six NCAA tournament appearances in 15 seasons -- and zero in the last seven -- despite getting so much talent. But that’s irrelevant now. It’s the talent Romar has consistently recruited that will make him a major asset in Tucson. Before leaving Washington in March, Romar had recruited a top-five 2017 class to Seattle. In fact, since 2007 (when ESPN’s recruiting database started), Romar had a top-40 class in seven of the last 10 classes. He recruited 12 ESPN 100 players, including five-stars Abdul Gaddy, Tony Wroten Jr., Nigel Williams-Goss and Markelle Fultz. He had another four ESPN 100 prospects in the 2017 class, including No. 1 overall prospect Michael Porter Jr., before it fell apart after his departure. Twelve Washington players were selected in the NBA draft during Romar’s tenure, including nine first-rounders. In Fultz, the Huskies will likely have the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft. Fultz will be the third lottery pick since 2012 that Romar recruited to Washington. Romar, a native of Compton, California, has been one of the top recruiters in the country since his days as an assistant under Jim Harrick at UCLA. He recruited the likes of Toby Bailey, Tyus Edney, J.R. Henderson and others to the Bruins. “Everybody knows him in Compton, everybody knows him in L.A.,” one longtime West Coast AAU coach said. “Parents and grandparents of players played ball with him, played pickup with him. They all know him.” Romar built a reputation on winning over families and the adults around a prospect, and that won’t change at Arizona. In fact, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported when Romar was hired that he helped convince Allonzo Trier to return to Tucson -- because of the relationship Trier and his mother had with Romar. “He really gets in with parents on non-basketball things,” the longtime AAU coach said. “He has a very strong religious reputation that people gravitate toward. He always had a reputation as a players’ coach, a guy people can relate to. He had NBA pedigree. He was perceived by a lot of parents as more than a coach, as a father figure, a mentor.” “Folks will trust Romar. He is a trustworthy man,” another AAU coach added. “He is honest and upfront, no bulls---. You could feel comfortable knowing your son was at Washington.” The scary thing is that Arizona was already one of the premier recruiting programs in the country, with seven consecutive top-seven recruiting classes under Miller. Pasternack, whose spot Romar is filling, played a major part in that -- especially in California, with the Oakland Soldiers and other AAU programs -- which makes Romar’s hire so important.
Allonzo Trier Jed Jacobsohn/NCAA Photos/Getty ImagesOne of Romar's first recruiting wins was keeping Allonzo Trier in Tucson.
“He’s going to be well-respected and accepted because of who he is,” a Pac-12 assistant coach said. “Miller needed Romar for that reason alone, to make the relationships work. He gives Arizona a fresh face. He has a way with relationships.” No one is saying this is going to be a long-term move, and Romar might get a head-coaching job again next spring or in 2019. But when you combine Romar’s relationships with Miller’s ability to close recruits and the East Coast recruiting acumen of fellow assistant coach Book Richardson, it makes beating out Arizona for top recruits over the next couple of years a daunting task. The Wildcats are also well on their way to another top-tier class, with five-star prospects Shareef O'Neal, son of Shaquille O'Neal, and Emmanuel Akot already committed in 2018. “Arizona wasn’t struggling to recruit,” one Pac-12 coach said. “If you’re a top kid on the West Coast, you’re looking at Arizona anyway. Is he now going to give him a chance to get kids from Seattle? Absolutely. He’s going to help. But at the end of the day, Sean Miller was getting five-star recruits without Lorenzo Romar.” With Romar in the fold, though, that shows no sign of slowing down.

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Since defeating top-seeded Villanova in the 2015 round of 32 (thereby making a certain Wildcat piccolo player weep), NC State has compiled a 31-35 record. That, not surprisingly, was judged insufficient by the powers that be in Raleigh, and coach Mark Gottfried was let go after six seasons.

Now former UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts is in charge. Keatts apprenticed as an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville, and the 44-year-old then led the Seahawks to a 54-14 record over the last two seasons. UNCW played a relatively fast tempo and forced opponents to commit a high number of turnovers.

Can the Wolfpack play that same kind of style? Certainly, but first Keatts needs players -- or at least he needs to know which players he'll have.

Rob Carr/Getty ImagesKevin Keatts went 72-28 in three seasons at UNC Wilmington.

For example, NC State's waiting to see whether it will have the services of Ted Kapita and/or Omer Yurtseven. Both players were freshmen last season, and both have put their names in for the NBA draft without hiring agents.

Kapita averaged just 13 minutes a game coming off the bench in 2016-17, but his 14-point, 10-rebound effort (in just 19 minutes) in NC State's memorable win at Duke left many observers thinking there could be more here than meets the stat sheet. Meanwhile, Yurtseven was widely expected to be a one-and-done prospect a year ago. He could remain in the draft, of course, but if he plays as a sophomore the 7-footer will at least give the Wolfpack good size in the post as well as an occasional blocked shot.

Speaking of wait-and-see, the program has applied for a sixth year of eligibility for Terry Henderson. The 6-foot-5 guard missed virtually the entirety of 2015-16 with an ankle injury after transferring to Raleigh from West Virginia. If he returns, he'll give his new head coach a seasoned veteran who can score from either side of the line.

So much for the unknown. Here are the knowns, relatively speaking: Abdul-Malik Abu and Torin Dorn will, apparently, be back. Abu is a three-year starter who at 6-8 showed a good deal of promise on the offensive glass in his first two seasons. Dorn is a 6-5 guard who started strong last season after transferring from Charlotte but then made just seven 3s in 18 regular-season ACC games. Lennard Freeman also returns after redshirting last season due to injury.

In addition to Abu, Dorn and Freeman, Markell Johnson will be back for the Wolfpack. Johnson could inherit the role of point guard from the now-departed Dennis Smith, or perhaps the sophomore will share that assignment with incoming freshman Lavar Batts. The 6-2 in-state prospect committed to NC State just days after Keatts took the helm.

Lastly, Baylor transfer Al Freeman will be eligible next season as a graduate transfer. In his junior season Freeman lost his starting role in February, but a career 37-percent 3-point shooter who draws fouls and converts 83 percent of his free throws could be just what a rookie head coach needs in the tough ACC.

Not that scoring alone will solve every NC State problem. In each of the past two seasons, the team has suffered from a chronic lack of defense. In 2016-17, ACC opponents scored a whopping 1.18 points per possession against this defense, easily the highest such number in the league. Opposing offenses made no less than 43 percent of their 3s against NC State in ACC play, so don't be surprised to see the Wolfpack defense make a big improvement in that department thanks mostly to a regression toward normalcy.

Keatts arrives in Raleigh with a reputation for defense, and he'll have every opportunity to show it's justified. Moreover, the cupboard certainly isn't bare -- if nothing else there's more experience here than what Josh Pastner had in his first season at Georgia Tech -- and a big improvement on last season's 4-14 ACC finish looks like an entirely feasible objective. The Keatts era has begun.