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Bradley Beal's Rise A Credit To Unique Blend Of Talent, Maturation

For Bradley Beal, the progression of his talent and skill only needed to balance a properly structured upbringing. His parents and brothers had carefully sculpted a maturity beyond his years, reminding him of the people whom he’d require in life’s quest for intellect. From the moment Beal entered the lives of the Washington Wizards, everyone knew this was a neatly constructed person, a grown man relishing the challenge to conquer his tasks with an inner peace on who he is.

“Listen to your elders,” Beal’s parents and older brothers would tell him. So, he has, whether it is a former assistant in Sam Cassell as a rookie up until last season, veteran players who come and go and, sometimes begrudgingly, the honest and unyielding voice of Randy Wittman.

“You can learn a lot from all the coaches and the vets, so I’m all ears,” Beal says. “When you have a guy in Sam who’s scored 15,000 plus points in his career and who had a successful career, you have to listen to him. He’s won championships before, he’s a coach now, and a great mentor. I even watched him a little bit growing up.

“My family’s always instilled that in me, listening to elders. I’m really family-oriented. Watching my older brothers growing up and everything they’ve been through, all the adversity we’ve been through, that always humbled me. Humbled me, motivated me, to be the best that I can be.”

Beal’s best had been recognized as one of the NBA’s best young shooting guards, and now his best is one of the top at the position outright. While Wall came in the league onto a misfit cast of players, using experience and grueling offseasons on his craft to discover his space, Beal had the luxury of a sureness to him and a more refined roster. So many transactions on and off the court, so many lessons only the league’s competition provides, but Beal’s personality has forever been to stay honest to the grind of the sport, try to obliterate opponents and let that sink in with them.

And nothing has changed.

Beal swears the only business on his mind is the work, the day-to-day improvement, and work has been good. Beal and John Wall join Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the NBA’s best backcourts across the country’s coasts. As league executives believe in Beal’s ability to command a maximum salary extension, the Wizards have made clear around the NBA that they’ll do whatever necessary to secure Beal’s long-term deal, sources told RealGM.

So, yes, Beal heard of Thompson’s maximum-level extension with the Golden State Warriors before the season, but he simply shrugs his shoulders. Nothing changed here, Beal promises.

“Money never will change who I am,” Beal told RealGM. “I kind of distance myself from the business part because when you get too caught up in money, it takes your mind off why you really play the game. I play for the love of it. I’m not going to think about contracts or any of that. If that [max] contract is what it is, then it is what it is. But it’s not going to change who I am. Money never will.

“Now, I definitely want to be an All-Star. Who doesn’t? But I don’t set too many crazy, extravagant goals for myself, and the ones that I do, I hold them close to my heart and make sure I focus and lock in.

“We have a solid core here. It’s going to be important for us to keep this core together moving on down the next couple years, because we have something special here. We got a taste of the playoffs, and now we have bigger hopes in mind. Our aspirations are bigger now.”

Beal has played as the sixth man in three games back from a fractured left hand, but his wind and performance stamina have returned and reclaiming his spot in the starting lineup is near. Even as his floor game and passing vision improve, Beal wants more out of himself.

As a team, these Wizards remember hastened shots in the second round series loss against the Indiana Pacers and spent the summer and training camp drilled about the value of each possession, about draining the energy of the defense for quality shots.

“Our ultimate goal is taking care of the ball and moving the ball,” Beal says. “Whenever we move the ball, we usually get whatever we want. Some defenses don’t like to play for 24 seconds. We’re going to do whatever it takes to wear defenses down. We have to continue moving the ball. The least we can do is get a shot up.”

Around Beal, 21, veterans are passionate in the process of a regular season. The 35-year-old Rasual Butler has persevered and produced for an NBA role again. Down the roster, Glen Rice Jr.’s role has been marginal, but the Wizards’ front office has no plan to move the 23-year-old and believes in his ability to produce when given increased minutes. Some of the vets will go through the normal adjustments and trials -- the pain of injury here and there -- but Paul Pierce has been unafraid to become animated in the faces of Wall and Beal while the season is still young.

Pierce will hit critical shots for the Wizards this season, and he’ll strut to the bench and remind everyone his stature.

“They don’t call him, ‘The Truth’ for no reason,” Wall said.

“Paul can adjust to our team on the fly, like that,” Beal said, snapping his fingers.

“This group, this season, is mature,” Wittman said, “and Paul has been a leader throughout his career.”

Washington is one of four teams with a legitimate chance to land out of the Eastern Conference and into the NBA Finals, and that is on Beal’s mind. So much jostling for money in the league, and Beal has shown everyone he doesn’t bask in the sentiments of a contract as much as he basks in its allowance to take care of family, its ability to work and ball. From trying times to a contending team, Bradley Beal has been the perfect co-star for John Wall and these Wizards, fresh of talent and his own sense of self.

Holiday Tournaments Are Underway

2K Sports Classic

Iowa lost to Texas and Syracuse, two teams ranked in the preseason Top 25. Losing those types of games doesn’t make Iowa a bad team. But based on the Hawkeyes frontcourt strength, I thought they would have a chance for at least one victory. Unfortunately for Iowa, their guards were ice cold in the two games in New York:

Player

FGM

FGA

Anthony Clemmons

2

11

Mike Gesell

3

15

Josh Oglesby

3

12

Peter Jok

1

4

Trey Dickerson

1

6

Mike Gesell is certainly one of the bigger culprits. As a former Top 100 recruit, a junior like Gesell is supposed to emerge as one of the team’s leaders. Instead his ORtg has plummeted from 106 to 82 in the early going. Oglesby is also ice-cold, as the 40% shooter last year hasn’t been hitting. But Oglesby has always been a bit of a streaky shooter.

The big surprise to me is that Anthony Clemmons is getting so much playing time. Based on his recruiting ranking out of high school, Clemmons has the least upside of Iowa’s guards. And I’m rather shocked that Jok and Dickerson aren’t getting more playing time.

Dickerson was one of the main reasons my model had Iowa so high in the preseason. JucoRecruiting.com had Dickerson in its JUCO Top 10, and I thought he might be an impact player for the Hawkeyes. So far that hasn’t happened. It’s way too early to draw any real conclusions, but so far most of Jucorecruiting.com’s top prospects have been a bit disappointing:

Leading that list is Arizona’s Kadeem Allen. Instead of becoming a major scorer, Allen is redshirting. Meanwhile Baylor’s Deng Deng, New Mexico’s Jordan Goodman, and Kansas St.’s Stephen Hurt have played relatively sparingly, particularly in their team’s biggest games.

LSU’s Josh Gray was supposed to be the super-scorer, but in his first big matchup against Old Dominion he was no match for ODU’s Trey Freeman. Sam Cassell Jr. seems to be UConn’s 4th guard, and after a 2 for 9, foul-filled performance in the Puerto Rico TipOff title game, he isn’t moving ahead in the rotation.

Oregon’s Dwayne Benjamin is shooting a pedestrian 6 of 18 on his 2’s so far, which isn’t good for a big man. But in fairness, Oregon needs his size more than anything, and Benjamin has avoided trouble while grabbing a fair share of rebounds. Memphis’ Trahson Burrell has only played one game, though he did look good. Oddly Memphis doesn’t play its second game until Monday.

The one elite JUCO player that has lived up to the hype is Auburn’s Cinmeon Bowers. Bowers is averaging 16 PPG and 14 RPG so far. That is a bit aided by Auburn’s tempo, but even the tempo free stats look solid. Bowers has an ORtg of 106 while using 29% of his team’s possessions, and an offensive and defensive rebounding rate of 18 and 35 respectively.

Coaches vs Cancer

Duke has participated in a holiday tournament for 10 straight years, won eight of those tournaments, and finished second twice. I could run the table again that shows how Mike Krzyzewski is the best coach in the world before January 1st, but you’ve seen it before. Right now, the Blue Devils have looked nearly invincible. Let’s see where they stand after the trip to Wisconsin in early December.

Hall of Fame Tipoff

Notre Dame vs Providence might have been my favorite game of the season so far. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Providence’s LaDontae Henton aren’t on too many NBA watch lists. They were both three star prospects out of high school. But they’ve become college stars, and on Sunday both players played like they deserve a larger spotlight.

Grant showed an unbelievable ability to both drive to the basket and pull-up with a soft touch. And Grant’s step-back three pointer with the shot-clock winding down with 2 minutes left felt like a dagger. But Henton, on his way to a career high 38 points, would not be denied. Henton posted up, he hit floaters, he hit threes. And with time running down, Henton got to the line and sank the game-winning free throws.

Winning this tournament was huge for Providence. A year ago, the Friars had to win the Big East tournament to feel safely in the NCAA field. This year, with two early wins over likely bubble teams, they’ve already done a ton to build their resume.

The flip side of that is Florida St. which went 0-2 in this event. With Florida St. losing to both UMass and Providence, two teams projected on the bubble teams in the A10 and Big East, Florida St. can’t afford to simply finish 9-9 in the ACC. The good news is that the Seminoles will have a lot more chances against quality teams in ACC play. The better news is that freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a breakout game on Sunday in his first start. But those losses to bubble teams are going to sting all year.

Puerto Rico Tipoff

Texas A&M has to be very frustrated that Danuel House wasn’t cleared sooner. The Houston transfer played for the first time on Sunday and dominated New Mexico. A&M lost by just two to Dayton on Thursday, and if House had been available, I wonder whether A&M would have won this whole event.

But A&M still has some chemistry issues to work through. I’m starting to wonder if House’s arrival might be the end for Davonte Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald who shot just 29% on his threes last season, is shooting 24% from the floor this season. But it isn’t the shooting percentage that bothers me, it is the shot-selection. Fitzgerald makes a basket and then thinks he can just jack up a random three on the next possession. Now that they have a number of talented scorers, head coach Billy Kennedy needs his players to work together to make sure the team doesn’t waste any more possessions. Last year Texas A&M had the 267th ranked offense in the nation. A&M had some talent limitations, but they shouldn’t have been that awful. Now that A&M has upgraded its overall talent level, Billy Kennedy’s job is to find the right rotation and make sure the right players are taking the majority of the team’s shots.

Meanwhile, UConn rolled out its four-guard lineup as expected in this event. By my unofficial math, Daniel Hamilton played 16 minutes at the 4-spot in the championship game. But his 8 turnovers (among the team’s 19) and the team’s inability to make threes doomed the Huskies. The purpose of the four guard attack should be to spread the floor and attack the basket, but we didn’t see enough of that for UConn to win.

And that was a very good sign for Bob Huggins and his West Virginia team. Huggins has traditionally been an elite defensive coach, but West Virginia couldn’t stop anyone last year. Shutting down the defending national champions shows his defense may be back.

Charleston Classic

We saw in this tournament exactly why Big Ten teams are going to hate their trips to Happy Valley this year. If the Nittany Lions are down eight with four minutes left, they actually like their chances of winning the game. Penn St. was in this situation a lot last year, and with a veteran squad they completely believe they can out-execute in the late-game situation. They nailed the comeback against Charlotte but lost in double OT. They nailed the comeback against Cornell and won. And they even survived against USC (though the comeback happened earlier in that game).

Penn St. probably isn’t very good. A good team would fend off Charlotte, Cornell, and USC a little earlier. But the Nittany Lions won’t be down 15 at home very often. And if the score is close, it doesn’t hurt to give DJ Newbill the ball and hope.

Miami FL rolled and won this tournament easily, crushing Drexel, Akron, and Charlotte.

Was this Really an Upset?

One of the problems with tracking college basketball closely is that lots of “surprising” outcomes no longer feel like major upsets. Case in point: Last Monday, Daniel Leroux and I recorded a podcast and I noted that without Alex Murphy (who will be eligible in December), Chris Walker (who was still suspended) and Dorian Finney-Smith (who was injured), Florida was going to struggle at home against a Miami FL. It might have been a Top 10 upset according to the ticker, but it really wasn’t that monumental when you looked at the rosters.

Had Florida lost at home to Louisiana Monroe, that would have been a lot more epic. But again, Florida was without three players. While Walker dressed, Eli Carter was out with injury. Florida just isn’t a Top 10 team right now. Perhaps when the roster is all together, they will live up to preseason expectations. But few teams could play without three key rotation players and still perform at the highest level.

The more disturbing trend for Florida might not be those game scores, it might be that Kasey Hill hasn’t taken a step forward since last season. Despite being the #11 recruit last season, Hill posted an ORtg of just 99 last season. That was largely driven by his poor eFG% of just 43%. But this year, he’s started off even slower. He’s just 3 of 24 on the season, without a made three.

Are These Upsets Truly Surprises?

Creighton, Indiana and Rhode Island may not be locks for the NCAA tournament, but I had them all in the Top 100 this spring. And it is always hard to win on the road against a Top 100 squad.  Oklahoma, SMU, and Nebraska may have lost on the road to these teams, but we shouldn’t blow these close games out of proportion. In January, these types of upsets, where upper-tier NIT teams upset ranked teams will happen every day.

In March we tend to focus on wins over Top 50 squads, but the committee puts a lot of stock on wins over teams ranked 51-100 too. Ken Pomeroy has argued that the emphasis should really be on road wins over these teams, and that’s probably fair. Indiana is going to be a completely different team at home and on the road. At home, you’ll see outcomes like the SMU game where the Hoosiers are knocking down threes at a high clip, and where the crowd feeds the team’s defensive intensity and causes a lot of turnovers. But Indiana won’t be the same team on the road, particularly if the threes aren’t falling. Road games against Top 100 teams are brutal.

Notes

-Even if those outcomes didn’t cause my jaw to drop, Marquette’s home loss to Omaha did. New head coach Steve Wojciechowski is learning that it is hard to teach a team to play fast and play quality defense at the same time. And certainly, Marquette lacks size in the paint. But the Golden Eagles can’t give up 1.28 points per possession at home to a low-level D1 team.

-Georgetown’s Joshua Smith had 12 and 11 rebounds in his last two games. It’s pretty sad when you feel the need to praise a player for his performance against Texas A&M CC and Robert Morris.  But after Smith’s defensive rebounding rate was a paltry 9% last year, even this effort is noteworthy.

-Maryland Terrapin Watch: We haven’t seen enough of Melo Trimble to know if he’ll star at PG this year, but it is worth noting that through 3 games, transfer Richaud Pack has a 21% assist rate. Pack wasn’t necessarily known as a passer prior to Maryland, so this development is worth watching.

Zags Could Finally Be Sweeter Than Sweet

Mark Few has built a mid-major powerhouse at Gonzaga since taking over the head coaching role back in 1999. The Bulldogs have qualified for every NCAA Tournament with Few at the helm, but have faced scrutiny over the past few years due to the inability to advance past the Sweet 16. While it’s early in the season, Few’s squad looks poised to break the trend and push for a deep postseason run.

Gonzaga has started the year 3-0 with wins over Sacramento State, SMU, and Saint Joseph’s. None of the contests have been even remotely close, as the Zags topped their opponents by an average of 38 points per game. SMU is the only ranked opponent Gonzaga has seen, but the Bulldogs dominated from start to finish in a 72-56 win.

For the Zags, it all starts with the play in the backcourt. Seniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. are experienced leaders that can shoot the lights out. Pangos had a big day with 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and three steals against SMU. He was 6-of-11 from the field and nailed 5-of-8 attempts from three-point range.

On Wednesday against St. Joseph’s, it was Bell Jr.’s turn to ignite the scoring column. He posted 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting including a blistering 5-of-7 display from behind the arc.

“I love coaching him,” Few said of Bell Jr. after the game. “I wish I could be coach him for the rest of my life. He’s just an absolute joy. He’s absolutely the most consistent guy as far as effort and mood.”

The sweet-shooting backcourt will provide plenty of spacing throughout the season. Pangos is averaging 13.0 points and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 68.1% from the field and 58.3% from three-point range. Bell Jr. has made at least two three-pointers in every game this year and is shooting 47.8% from the field and 47.4% from deep. He’s also performed well on the defensive end. The duo may be the best shooting backcourt in the country and will give opponents fits all year long. They may lack ideal size, as both are listed at 6-foot-2, but there’s no doubting their overall impact on the game.

On the wing, USC transfer Byron Wesley is the perfect compliment to Pangos and Bell Jr. The 6-foot-5 senior averaged 17.8 points per game at USC last year and provides a slashing skill set. He isn’t a major shooting threat, as he’s 0-of-3 from deep this season, but has still averaged 9.3 points per game on 44.4% shooting. In addition, he’s contributed 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game early on. Wesley made the move to Spokane to join a winning program and it’s evident early on that he’ll make any contributions necessary to make his final collegiate season a success. He impacts the game on both ends of the floor and will be another vital piece.

In addition to Wesley, Few has another transfer making an impact. Former SEC Sixth Man of the Year Kyle Wiltjer spent his first two seasons at Kentucky, but decided to make the move to Gonzaga and sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. He’s a sweet-shooting 6-foot-10 forward that provides a mismatch offensively. Wiltjer is averaging 11.7 points per game this season while shooting 5-of-11 from three-point range.

“I think I’m a good passer and I shoot the ball well, so I think I can just play off that,” Wiltjer said after the Sacramento State win. “If I can continue to get better down in the post, I think it will be tougher for teams to guard with the more things I do.”

Wiltjer may not bring a physical defensive presence down low, but his ability to spread the floor adds another dynamic weapon to Few’s offensive attack. With so much shooting available, teams will have a tough time helping off any particular defender.

Down low, 7-foot-1 junior Przemek Karnowski brings the interior presence. At 288 pounds, he gets good positioning in the post and can score with hook shots or mid-range jumpers. Karnowski started every game for the Bulldogs last season and adds even more experience to the starting lineup. He’s averaging 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game this year. While he isn’t the most athletic big man you’ll find, Karnowski is a savvy player in the post.

Off the bench, the Zags have a pair of talented freshmen already showing promise. Lithuanian power forward Domantas Sabonis, the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, adds toughness and rebounding down low. He’s scored in double figures in all three games thus far and has shown the ability to create his own offense on the block. Sabonis oozes with upside since he is so athletic and beats his man down the floor consistently. He’s averaging 12.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game already while shooting 66.7% from the floor. Sabonis is a nice complementary piece off the bench, as he is a better rebounder than Wiltjer and Karnowski. He’ll see plenty of action this season since he can play either position up front.

Fellow freshman Josh Perkins will also play a critical role in the rotation as a 6-foot-3 guard that can play either spot in the backcourt. He’s a good ball handler that sees the floor well but his size will also allow him to play off the ball. Perkins has added 8.3 points and 3.3 assists off the bench and has a bright future ahead.

Senior Angel Nunez, a 6-foot-8 forward that previously played at Louisville, and junior Kyle Dranginis, a versatile 6-foot-5 guard, will also see minutes. They’ll be good glue pieces off the bench. Gonzaga will add even more firepower when former Vanderbilt guard Eric McClellan becomes eligible. He averaged 14.3 points per game for the Commodores before he was dismissed due to a violation of university policy. He’ll become eligible in December and will give add another scoring option in the backcourt.

Gonzaga has so much talent on the offensive end that opposing coaches will have a nightmare game planning against them. If opponents take away the outside shooting, Sabonis and Karnowski are talented post players that can feast inside while Wiltjer is improving in that area. Doubling the post will open up the shooting for Pangos and Bell Jr. Even with an off shooting night, Wesley can put the ball on the floor and attack. There’s so much variety that shutting down one particular player will not get the job done.

“We’ve been continuing to share the ball on the offensive end and find the guy that has the right matchup or where we can get the best shot,” Few said on Wednesday. “That’s a good recipe.”

Defensively, the Zags have been just as impressive. They limited St. Joseph’s to just 10 first half points on 3-of-28 shooting. While they don’t switch on many defensive possessions, the Bulldogs rotate well and help when necessary.

“I loved how we came out especially on the defensive end and we sustained it pretty much for that whole half,” said Few. “It had to be one of the better – if not best – defensive halves we’ve ever played. I thought we challenged pretty much every shot they took in the half and they came in as a pretty good rebounding team. We did a nice job choking that off.”

Gonzaga will have a heavyweight matchup with Arizona on December 6th that should give a better indication of where the Bulldogs stand. With a West Coast Conference schedule in store, this game could be a crucial piece to the seeding puzzle in March.

While a Sweet 16 appearance is a major accomplishment in itself, critics will undoubtedly question if the Zags can break through and finally make that push to the next level. With the way the Zags have played early on, they don’t only look ready to take a small step forward, but possibly make a giant leap into the national title hunt.

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