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Health Comes Before Hoops

by - Published April 18, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

BASELINE TO BASELINE

Go coast to coast with a roundup of news from across the nation.

When forward Emmanuel Negedu transferred to New Mexico, he figured he had a fresh start ahead after heart problems at Tennessee. While with the Volunteers, he entered a sudden cardiac arrest in 2009. He had the all-clear to play, barring any more bad news. But more bad news struck in December 2010 when he a bad reading on a defibrillator, according to Diamond Leung of ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog. And that means Negedu’s playing career is through, though he’ll remain on scholarship to complete his degree as a Lobo.

Washington State fans are holding their breath that Klay Thompson won’t follow junior DeAngelo Casto to the NBA after the Cougar forward announced that he’ll enter the draft and hire an agent, according to the Associated Press. Casto was Wazzu’s top big man last season, with 12 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

In addition to losing Josh Selby and the Morris brothers to the NBA and Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Mario Little to graduation, Kansas will be without guard Royce Woolridge, who announced he is transferring, according to the Associated Press. Woolridge said he wants more playing time, which he apparently isn’t convinced he’d get in Lawrence despite the roster turnover.

In other transfer news, Loyola Chicago is getting some Big Ten talent in Iowa guard Cully Payne, who will have three years of remaining eligibility, according to ESPN Chicago’s Scott Powers. And sparingly used forward J.J. Richardson is leaving Pittsburgh in search of a better fit, according to the Associated Press.

On the flip side, the Jayhawks could be on the receiving end of a transfer if La Salle’s Aaric Murray picks Kansas over West Virginia. According to Jon Rothstein, the sophomore big man is leaving the Explorers for one of those destinations after averaging 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this past season.

Miami’s coaching search continues, writes the Miami Herald’s Michelle Kaufman, as new athletic director Shawn Eichorst talked to Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter about the position. Eichorst has connections to the state after coming to Miami from Wisconsin, where he was an associate athletic director at the school.

Whoever ends up in south Florida as the Hurricanes’ coach might not bring highly regarded recruit Bishop Daniels to Coral Gables. According to Barry Jackson’s “Sports Buzz” blog at Miami Herald.com, Daniels wants a release from his letter of intent so that he can choose Tennessee or Rutgers. Given that the Scarlet Knights are the only team of the three with a returning coaching staff, that could bode well for Mike Rice’s squad.

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE

You’ve got to feel for New Mexico’s Emmanuel Negedu.

The Lobos sophomore overcame the scare of a cardiac arrest at Tennessee and found a fresh start in Albuquerque. New Mexico is one of the top programs of the Mountain West Conference, especially with BYU bolting for the West Coast Conference.

But it just wasn’t in the cards for Negedu to make an impact on the court. A bad reading on a defibrillator means team doctors won’t clear him to play ever again. It’s just too risky.

Although Negedu must manage his condition carefully, his life is still full of opportunity. The Lobos intend to keep Negedu on scholarship, which will give him the opportunity to earn his degree as a Lobo. And if Negedu has interest in contributing to team activities, the squad should be able to find an off-court role for him.

For players gifted enough to earn a Division I scholarship, the concept of imminent mortality might not be an everyday realization. But Negedu now has a perspective that gives him the opportunity to keep his teammates grounded in the face of adversity and focused on greater goals.

And that’s a perspective that could allow Negedu to make an on-court impact vicariously through the rest of the Lobos.

Freshman Big Man Helps Veteran La Salle Get Back on Track

by - Published January 11, 2010 in Columns

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – La Salle has a veteran team with three seniors and one junior in the starting lineup, along with a senior who would be starting if not for an injury.  This is a season that those following the program could point to as a potential big year if the team grew at the clip they did early on.  Even so, on this team, it’s a freshman who is at least an X-factor and maybe more.

Aaric Murray came in with a good deal of hype.  It’s not often a player as highly-touted as the 6’10” big man comes to a school like La Salle – not with all the Big East schools in the general vicinity who couldn’t miss him in high school.  He was ranked 40th in Prepstars Recruiters Handbook in the class of 2009; Scout.com ranked him 31st.  He got offers from Big East schools, but opted for La Salle.  While he probably would have played a lot of minutes anyway, it became a sure thing when Vernon Goodridge was ruled ineligible by the NCAA in September.

Murray has started all but two games for the Explorers thus far, and has shown plenty of promise in between the ups and downs that can be expected of a freshman.  Even though he wasn’t a baby physically when he got to college like some big men, he wasn’t as physically developed as some older players.  That’s why his coach, while clearly seeing his talent and knowing he can do a lot with him, doesn’t get carried away with what he can do right now.

“Aaric is a really talented kid, but I think everyone underestimates the jump from high school to college,” head coach John Giannini said after Murray helped lead their win over UMass.  “I didn’t see anyone last year in high school that he played against that looked like Hashim Bailey.  I didn’t see anyone that he played in high school last year in the regular season that has the length of (Sean) Carter.  It’s a jump, and those are older guys and bigger guys.”

Murray had a big second half to help the Explorers knock off the Minutemen after trailing by seven at halftime.  After playing just seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, he scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half and also had nine rebounds and four blocked shots.  He was clearly a factor at both ends of the floor, which wasn’t lost on the opponent as well.

“He altered a lot of shots on drives to the basket,” said UMass senior guard Ricky Harris.  “He was long, so he got a lot of offensive rebounds, which helped their team out.  His energy just gave them momentum in the whole second half.”

Giannini said they want to build some things around the young big man, while noting that he’s had his struggles.  Just looking at the numbers game-by-game will show that; after a double-double in his collegiate debut with 16 points and 11 rebounds against Hampton, he had just four points and seven rebounds in the next game.  A double-double against Villanova started a string of four straight double-digit scoring games, but then he had just four points at Kansas.  He had just three at Binghamton.

Clearly, there have been bumps in the road, but a game like Sunday’s can only help.  The Minutemen had become a strong rebounding team in recent weeks, but Murray, Jerrell Williams and reserve Steve Weingarten helped lead the Explorers to a 47-32 edge on the glass.  That helped them to a 19-8 edge in second-chance points as well, and Murray was prominent there as he had five offensive boards.  On several occasions, he tipped in a miss from a few feet away, which isn’t something that comes naturally to most players.

“We planned on Aaric being the kind of player that he was today,” Giannini said.  “This is, frankly, what we need Aaric to do; this is what Aaric needs to do.  It’s great, he’s starting to put it together, he’s starting to figure out the physicality of it and the importance of defense and going for rebounds and posting up stronger.  I think Aaric was really aggressive today, he had good energy, and he’s learning how to play the game at a higher level.”

It doesn’t hurt that Murray is surrounded by a team full of veterans who have been through plenty in their careers.  The current senior class went 10-20 as freshmen, then improved to 15-17 as sophomores thanks in part to a late run in the Atlantic 10.  Expectations were higher last season, and they went 18-13 but couldn’t get above fifth in the Atlantic 10.  With Sunday’s win, they are above .500 and 1-1 in the conference.

Giannini talked about this after the game.  The Explorers, who have been without senior guard Ruben Guillandeaux since the fourth game of the season due to a stress fracture in his right foot, snapped a four-game losing streak with the win.  Giannini reminded his team, especially his veterans, that they’ve been through this before and can get through it just like they did in the past.

“Every year, we’ve hit a little bump of a few games,” said Giannini.  “I told them that after the game, I said, ‘Listen, we’ve gone through some losses every season, and we’ve always responded well.’  You’ve just got to admire kids like that, and it’s true, we tell our guys all the time that basketball reveals character and it builds it.  You go through a hard time, and you don’t quit – you keep trying.  You learn some perseverance and become a better person.”

Over the last few seasons, the Explorers have done plenty of that.  Now, with a freshman big man to help the seniors, they made it through another hard time and hope to be on their way to the kind of season many expected of this veteran team before the season.

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