Entries from blogs tagged with “Jayhawks”

Seventh-round pick Dexter McDonald has unique opportunity in Oakland

Oakland Raiders cornerback Dexter McDonald (21) runs during a rookie minicamp at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Friday, May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Oakland Raiders cornerback Dexter McDonald (21) runs during a rookie minicamp at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Friday, May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Dexter McDonald’s life changed earlier this month, when Oakland snagged him in the final round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

“When I finally got the call it was just a blessing,” McDonald said in a profile posted on the Raiders’ website. “It was a relief. And I was happy to say I would have the opportunity to become an Oakland Raider and join the Raider nation.”

McDonald, a rookie cornerback out of Kansas, took another step in that direction Tuesday, when the seventh-round pick signed with Oakland. Referencing spotrac.com, SilverAndBlackPride.com reported the contract is for four years and $2.37 million.

None by OAKLAND RAIDERS

You can watch McDonald, a Kansas City, Missouri, native, arrive in California, pose for photos and wear his No. 21 Raiders uniform for the first time in a Raiders.com video feature. The 6-foot-1 corner describes himself as a team player with a lot of energy.

“I’m one of those guys who is gonna be the same every day. I’m a physical corner — I’m gonna get on those wide receivers and jam them, disrupt the timing between the quarterback and the receiver to make it hard on them to pass,” McDonald said.

Back in late March, an amazing pro day propelled McDonald into the realm of draftees. The physical, 200-pound corner stood out with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, a vertical leap of 40 and 1/2 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet, 2 inches.

“It allowed teams to see what I was capable of, athletic wise,” McDonald said the day he was drafted.

None by Benton Smith

Now, McDonald can’t wait to prove he can compete at the next level. The 23-year old defensive back finds himself with a unique opportunity, too, playing for and alongside some legendary names. Rod Woodson coaches Oakland’s defensive backs and 18-year NFL veteran Charles Woodson plays safety for the Raiders.

“It’s a blessing,” McDonald said, “and I have an opportunity to be like a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as I can from those guys. And I’m definitely gonna do that.”

Levi Damien of SilverAndBlackPride.com speculated McDonald has a chance to earn playing time as a rookie. Oakland’s starting corners figure to be D.J. Hayden and T.J. Carrie, but the nickel spot is “very much up for grabs,” and the Raiders proved last season with Carrie (also a seventh-round pick) that young guys can work their way onto the field and play crucial roles. Damien also projected McDonald’s size could make him an option at safety eventually.

McDonald and his former KU teammate, Ben Heeney (drafted by Oakland in the fifth round), will play in Kansas City, against the Chiefs, on the final day of the regular season, Jan. 3, 2016.

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Paul Pierce would fit in nicely with Clippers next season

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) reacts in the second half of Game 4 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Washington. The Hawks won 106-101. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) reacts in the second half of Game 4 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Washington. The Hawks won 106-101. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Paul Pierce proved in the 2015 NBA Playoffs he’s still relevant in the league, even with 17 seasons of mileage on his veteran frame.

The 37-year-old small forward from Kansas scored 14.6 points per game and drilled 33 of his 63 3-pointers (52.4%) for Washington in the postseason before Atlanta eliminated the Wizards in the second round, leading Pierce to say his offseason plans would include contemplating retirement.

It turns out those within NBA circles, though, anticipate “The Truth” returning for Year No. 18 — and playing for a different organization.

David Aldridge reported on NBA.com “many around the league” think Pierce will finish his career in Los Angeles, with the Clippers. Though the former Boston star, who also spent one season with Brooklyn, signed a two-year deal with Washington this past summer, he can opt out of the contract and become a free agent again in July if he so chooses.

The Clippers make perfect sense as a potential destination for Pierce. He grew up in nearby Inglewood, California, and won the 2008 NBA championship with current L.A. coach Doc Rivers. Plus, with younger stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin carrying the Clippers, Rivers easily could use Pierce in a reduced role during the regular season — Washington used a similar approach — to save his legs for when they need them the most.

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce (34) hugs coach Doc Rivers after the Celtics defeated the Detroit Pistons, 89-81, to win the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics advanced to the NBA finals with the victory Friday in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce (34) hugs coach Doc Rivers after the Celtics defeated the Detroit Pistons, 89-81, to win the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics advanced to the NBA finals with the victory Friday in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Then again, if Pierce indeed becomes a free agent, who’s to say he wouldn’t join another franchise? Celtics guard Avery Bradley told 98.5 Sports Hub he would love to see his former Boston teammate back in Celtics green.

“To me, Paul is always going to be a Boston Celtic,” Bradley said. “The things that he’s been able to accomplish in his time here, it was just amazing. And I’m pretty sure all the Boston fans would love that, too.”

Boston, coached by Brad Stevens, surprised the league this past season by reaching the playoffs, despite trading away veterans Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics became one of the more competitive teams in the NBA the final three months of the season and won eight of their final 10 games to grab the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Pierce’s former franchise is trending upward, but the current roster wouldn’t contend for a title, even with the addition of No. 34. Boston would need to make a few more moves and bring in an all-star or two before Pierce could return knowing he had a chance to get back to the NBA Finals.

No road to the championship is easy, but for Pierce, returning to Washington or joining the Clippers would provide paths with fewer obstacles.

The Wizards came close to reaching the East finals this season, and his young teammates John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter all showed serious improvement. It’s easy to envision D.C. taking another step forward in 2016. But if Pierce stays in the East, he’ll have to go through his old rival, LeBron James, to reach The Finals.

The Clippers had Houston on the ropes and blew a huge lead in Game 6 of the second round before their season ended on the road, in Game 7, against the Rockets. Even though the West is loaded, L.A. has the star power of Paul and Griffin, who could propel the franchise to an unprecedented Finals appearance in 2016 — especially if the Clippers re-sign DeAndre Jordan and add some more complimentary pieces.

Ultimately, the lack of a supporting cast led to L.A.’s demise. Griffin and Paul had to carry the load so much, the fatigue caught up with them late in the Houston series. Pierce isn’t the same defender he was earlier in his career, so he wouldn’t be the perfect “3-and-D” wing for the Clippers. But he could lessen the offensive burden placed on the shoulders of Griffin and Paul, particularly late in games.

After so many seasons in Boston green, Pierce has become a bit of a hired gun late in his career. Why not make one last run at a championship with your old coach in your home town?

Paul Pierce's 3-point shot chart from the 2015 NBA Playoffs. (Via NBA.com/Stats)

Paul Pierce's 3-point shot chart from the 2015 NBA Playoffs. (Via NBA.com/Stats)

Truthfully, Pierce would look good in a Clippers uniform. With him camping out behind the 3-point line on one side of the court, and J.J. Redick doing the same on the opposite side, imagine the extra room Paul and Griffin (and Jordan?) would have to operate.

And if defenses decide to focus on L.A.’s stars, Pierce will be there licking his lips, waiting to deliver a crunch-time dagger.

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Examining the many offensive skills of future Jayhawk LaGerald Vick

The more you hear about Kansas basketball commitment LaGerald Vick, the more impressive he seems.

National analyst Eric Bossi of Rivals watched the 6-foot-5 guard from Memphis this past weekend in New York and came away claiming Rivals.com needs to move his national ranking of No. 137 up “at least 100 spots.”

In order to get a better idea about Vick as a player, just check out his highlight videos. The 175-pound guard, who reportedly will re-classify and join the 2015 KU recruiting class with Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, plays for Team Thad AAU, and in the past year or so he has put together quite the YouTube résumé.

Three of his scoring reels are posted below. With each one, I included some quick take-aways about what the clips tell us about this multi-skilled guard. Obviously, not everything we see here will immediately translate to college basketball and the Big 12, but there are plenty of promising signs that this previously unheralded recruit could turn into a go-to scorer for the Jayhawks before his days in Allen Fieldhouse are through.

This latest highlight reel from Courtside Films doesn’t capture the correct way to spell Vick’s first name, but it does provide an impressive array of highlights

• Vick can pull up for a 3-pointer off the dribble with ease when his defender leaves his hands down or fails to close out.

• His shooting, strength and ability to finish above the rim all look better now than they did in past highlight videos (shown below).

• When Vick’s man gets low and really tests him on the perimeter, his ball-handling allows him to not only maintain possession but also get creative and find a way to punish his defender.

• He may be a little too reliant on his right hand at this point, but he does go left off the dribble from time to time, and that’s obviously something he can continue to develop.

• No matter where he gets the ball, Vick stands out as an offensive threat in his ability to create better looks for himself, whether that be with a ball fake, jab step, cross-over or hesitation dribble. He appears a real challenge to keep in check.

• By the looks of this highlight reel, Vick is as confident a 3-point shooter as one could hope for. He doesn’t overthink things when he’s open from downtown, he just rises up and lets it fly.

• Finishing in traffic isn’t for everyone. But it looks like Vick enjoys the challenge that taking on multiple defenders provides. Even when the road to the hoop looks treacherous, he doesn’t show any fear.

• It’s just a bad idea in general to leave him open anywhere on the court. He can either pull up for an easy look from behind the arc or speed through driving lanes to the rim.

• Vick often shows creativity in avoiding potential shot-blockers.

• He has a slight frame, but sometimes uses that to his advantage by slithering between defenders.

• If teams decide they want to take away his shooting ability, he could easily turn into a drive-first player on offense.

• Vick is confident and crafty when he gets into the paint, regardless of what kind of defender flies at him. In this aspect, he kind of reminded me of Manu Ginobili in his prime.

• He can play above the rim when he gets a wide-open lane or someone fails to put a body on him on the offensive glass.

• If you make the mistake of crowding Vick on the perimeter he is fast enough off the dribble to blow by you.

• Obviously his jumper is one of his strengths, enabling him to punish defenses if they leave him open (keep in mind many of these highlights come against teams ignoring basic defensive principles).

• Vick will need to clean up his ball-handling when he’s taking on college guards. He is able to play pretty loose in these types of AAU showcases and (in the past at least) carries the ball at times when using his dribble outside.

• The kid has pretty quick hops, and can head skyward in a hurry.

• Vick’s now-you-see-it/now-you-don’t methods of slashing might be the final ingredient that turns him into a big-time college scorer. He can show defenders the rock, then take it away and finish by utilizing the window he just created for himself.

• His cross-over has a strong burst to it and he’s always thinking “attack” when he has the ball in transition.

• Vick can finish with either hand once he has slashed his way into the paint.

• This scoring guard doesn’t just rely on floaters, he takes advantage of angles on the floor and uses the glass well, even six to eight feet away from the rim. Not many guys have so many tricks in their bags.

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Cliff Alexander shows improvements at workout

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) wrestles under the bucket with TCU Horned Frogs center Karviar Shepherd (14) during the first half at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) wrestles under the bucket with TCU Horned Frogs center Karviar Shepherd (14) during the first half at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

After one disappointing season at Kansas, forward Cliff Alexander appears to be making the best of his uphill climb toward an NBA career.

When your college basketball résumé includes such numbers as 7.1 points per game, 17.6 minutes per game and eight games missed due to an NCAA investigation, there isn’t much with which to impress the organizations you’re hoping agree to offer you a contract.

The 6-foot-8 1/2 big finds himself engrossed in the pre-NBA Draft process with his stock in a deficit. As a projected second-round pick, he’ll have to spend the next several weeks wowing coaches and management at workouts to sneak his way into the first round of the June 25 draft, in Brooklyn.

Training in his hometown of Chicago recently, Alexander spoke with Slam’s Rodger Bohn about the challenging road in front of him. He also said his one-season stop in Lawrence wasn’t a total loss.

“I learned a lot of knowledge from Coach (Bill) Self,” Alexander told Slamonline.com. “I learned the history of basketball and was just a sponge to everything that he told me.”

While Alexander often struggled to stay on the floor for Kansas, Self complimented the freshman forward on several occasions during this past season for being one of the more coachable players on the team.

That trait should help the young post player, now that his sole focus turns to showcasing his abilities as a player. Alexander acknowledged in the Slam interview he needs to improve his ball-handling and develop a more consistent jumper. Still, the 239-pound big man thinks he has more to offer, and his best attributes will help his cause.

“I’m going to surprise teams with my physical ability,” he predicted. “I didn’t really get a chance to show that at Kansas. A better Cliff Alexander, that’s all.”

To that point, Bohn reported Alexander looked best during drills that relied on his strength and athleticism, as shown in the highlight video put together by City League Hoops.

The big guy definitely has himself in outstanding shape, so give him credit for that. Probably the most impressive thing about the whole ordeal Alexander went through, which hurt both KU and his standing as a draftee, is that he responded the best way imaginable. It looks like he’s channeled his frustrations into making himself a more appealing player.

Although, Alexander is only putting up practice jumpers in the video — without the pressure and fatigue of in-game situations — those look good, too. The same goes for his footwork, which is one of the many aspects of his overall game he’ll have to continue to develop in order to successfully implement such maneuvers against NBA defenders.

Those finishes at the rim stand out, as well. Alexander isn’t exactly explosive when he leaves the floor, as far as the speed with which he gets to the rack, but he consistently finishes with strength — and throw-downs.

Some have claimed Alexander could only play center in the NBA because of his skill set, and his lack of height makes him undesirable. Actually, what position he plays — power forward or center — will depend solely on a team’s needs and style. In the right situation, he could come off the bench at either position.

In a list of the top 10 power forwards available from NBA.com’s David Aldridge, Alexander ended up just outside, in the realm of honorable mention.

Here are the prospects Aldridge ranks ahead of him:

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky

2. Kristaps Porzingas, Latvia

3. Trey Lyles, Kentucky

4. Myles Turner, Texas

5. Bobby Portis, Arkansas

6. Kevon Looney, UCLA

7. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

8. Jarell Martin, LSU

9. Chris McCollough, Syracuse

10. Jordan Mickey, LSU


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Stock watch: Lottery possible for Oubre, but Alexander seemingly destined for 2nd round

KUsports.com graphic by Janella Williams

KUsports.com graphic by Janella Williams

Now that the NBA Lottery and Draft Combine have concluded, the landscape for the 2015 draft began to come into focus a little more this week.

We know that Minnesota, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia won the rights to picks 1, 2 and 3, but we also now have the exact order for the entire first round. That information is more important to one-and-done Kansas wing Kelly Oubre Jr., than his KU teammate, big man Cliff Alexander, of course.

Since Oubre officially declared for the draft, his name has been thrown out as an option in the later half of the lottery, most often in the 10 to 14 range.

Here’s a look at the order for the first 14 picks, keeping in mind it’s difficult to come up with a scenario in which Oubre would go much higher than No. 8 overall:

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1. Minnesota

2. L.A. Lakers

3. Philadelphia

4. New York

5. Orlando

6. Sacramento

7. Denver

8. Detroit

9. Charlotte

10. Miami

11. Indiana

12. Utah

13. Phoenix

14. Oklahoma City

Who knows which NBA front-office types and/or coaches will become enamored with Oubre’s skill set in the weeks to come, but he said at the combine he wants to prove he is one of the top talents in this rookie class.

Alexander, meanwhile, has much more work to do, just to validate himself as a player who is worth a late first-round pick. Last week he claimed there is more to his game than some may realize.

Many websites posted updated mock drafts with the lottery order in place. Check out where the following sites predicted Oubre and Alexander will end up (some sites don’t include second-round projections).

MOCK
DRAFTS
Kelly Oubre Jr.
projections
Cliff Alexander
projections
NBADraft.net 15th 39th
MyNBADraft.com 15th 38th
DraftExpress.com 10th 41st
DraftSite.com 20th 41st
Chad Ford, ESPN.com 17th N/A
SheridanHoops.com 11th N/A
BleacherReport.com 15th N/A
Sam Vecenie, CBSSports.com 12th 37th
Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com 11th 35th
Zach Harper, CBSSports.com 10th 29th

Kelly Oubre Jr.

Kansas' Kelly Oubre participates in the NBA draft basketball combine Thursday, May 14, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Kansas' Kelly Oubre participates in the NBA draft basketball combine Thursday, May 14, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

— SF, 6-foot-7, 204 pounds, 19 years old, from Richmond, Texas —

Average mock draft position: 14th

Current high: 10th (DraftExpress.com and Zach Harper, CBSSports.com)

Current low: 20th (DraftSite.com)

Stock assessment: Slightly slipping. Oubre hasn’t dropped too far since we last checked in on the mock drafts, two weeks ago. His average position then was 13th, and at 14 he’d still end up in the lottery — and become the 14th player from Kansas to get picked in that range in a span of 16 seasons.

Five of the 10 prognosticators listed above think Oubre will go that early, with Miami and Indiana standing out as popular destinations for the long, lean small forward. Three different mocks sent Oubre to Atlanta, the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed this season.

Toronto, Milwaukee and Utah also could land Oubre, according to some forecasts.

If Miami, which owns the 10th pick, indeed is interested in Oubre, it sounds like he’d be ecstatic to join the organization. As detailed by the Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser, Oubre sat down for an interview with Heat president Pat Riley at the combine.

“It was great,” Oubre said. “He’s a legend who has coached greats in the past, and seeing what he knows about the game of basketball is something I would never take for granted. I listened to every single thing he said. I asked him a couple questions, also, to see if I could pick his brain for things I need to know about my future.

“One of the things that stuck out to me was he said, ‘If you want to play for us, you’ve gotta be in the best shape of your life.’ I like to run and gun. If I’m running, I’m scoring in transition, and that’s what I do best.”

Cliff Alexander

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander chases after a loose ball with Kansas State forward Stephen Hurt (41) during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander chases after a loose ball with Kansas State forward Stephen Hurt (41) during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

— PF/C, 6-foot-9, 254 pounds, 19 years old, from Chicago —

Average mock draft position: 37th

Current high: 29th (Zach Harper, CBSSports.com)

Current low: 41st *(DraftExpress.com and DraftSite.com)*

Stock assessment: Falling. More mocks listed Alexander as a first-round pick last time around, and his average spot has dropped six spots since then.

Only one of the seven above projections that included the second round had Alexander going in the first, and it was 29th overall — the next-to-last pick in Round 1 — to Brooklyn.

Potential second-round suitors for the project power forward included Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia and (again) Brooklyn.

The good news for Alexander is it sounds like he’s entering this pre-draft process with realistic expectations. At the combine, he told zagsblog.com he kind of expected his stock to take a hit because of the way his one season at KU turned out.

One un-named scout told zagsblog.com, though, teams are less interested in Alexander because he has “limited upside” and he would be undersized in the NBA as a center.

“It is a shame that the NCAA ruled him ineligible at the end of his freshman year,” the scout said, “because he really needed at least one more year of college. He is a D-League guy no matter where he gets drafted.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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JaCorey Shepherd learning, growing as a corner with Eagles

JaCorey Shepherd speaks during a football minicamp media availability Friday, May 8, 2015, at the Philadelphia Eagles' NFL training facility in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

JaCorey Shepherd speaks during a football minicamp media availability Friday, May 8, 2015, at the Philadelphia Eagles' NFL training facility in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

When JaCorey Shepherd arrived at Kansas four years ago as a wide receiver, his transition to college football included plenty of teaching moments.

Now that the All-Big 12 cornerback is with the Philadelphia Eagles, who drafted him in the sixth round and this past week signed him to a four-year contract, Shepherd said his initial introduction to the NFL has been less based in instruction. After all, the players are all professionals now, as the 5-foot-11 defensive back pointed out in a video interview for Philadelphia’s website.

But that’s not to say Shepherd's experience thus far has been devoid of learning. At the Eagles’ rookie mini-camp, the corner said, he found himself picking up new techniques at a fast pace. While playing press coverage — something he did at KU, too — he got too “handsy” on a few plays by doing things that were fine in college. He discovered he’ll have to get rid of some of those habits he picked up in his first three seasons of playing defensive back.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Shepherd said, “but I’m good at learning and going with the flow as I get more reps.”

Eagles defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, who just joined the staff this offseason after working for Denver in the same role, wants his corners playing assertive press coverage at the line of scrimmage.

“To actually learn the proper way to press is actually gonna benefit me,” Shepherd said.

Plus, Shepherd knows some guys who just played for Undlin last season, with the Broncos. He brought up their names when asked if he had anybody he could lean on for guidance while finding his way in the NFL.

“Previous corners from the University of Kansas, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, they kind of helped me,” Shepherd said, “and they told me they’ll be there for me if I’ve got a question about the process going forward.”

None by Philadelphia Eagles

Excited that he could graduate from KU and embark on his NFL career this spring, the newly minted Eagle, who can be seen practicing in his No. 36 jersey in the video, said it felt good going “full out” at mini-camp for the first time since suffering a tear in his left hamstring prior to KU’s pro day.

Now Shepherd can just enjoy himself on the field while playing the game he loves.

“It’s a great relief off your shoulders,” he said. “You don’t have to think about that stuff, as far as where you’re gonna be, where you’re gonna end up. You can just go out there and do what you do.”

Shepherd said he can tell Chip Kelly’s staff is comprised of player-friendly coaches, which he likes. Now that he is in the league, the rookie corner wants to make sure he enjoys every moment, because he realizes not everybody gets the opportunity that is in front of him right now.

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LeBron James credits old rival Paul Pierce with shaping his career

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, center, dunks as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, and center Anderson Varejao of Brazil, right, watch during the second half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 97-87, tying the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, center, dunks as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, and center Anderson Varejao of Brazil, right, watch during the second half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 97-87, tying the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Years from now, when basketball fans who have yet to be born learn of LeBron James or Paul Pierce by watching hologram highlight clips of their Hall-of-Fame careers, one small forward will inevitably be linked with the other.

The rivalry between Pierce and James took off in the 2008 NBA Playoffs. Ever since, their one-on-one battles have been a prominent storyline each time their two teams meet.

When Pierce, a 17-year veteran from Kansas, hinted at retiring upon Washington’s elimination from the playoffs this past week, Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes asked James about his old antagonist and their showdowns through the years.

Still in the hunt for this season’s championship with the Cavaliers, James told Cleveland.com Pierce actually helped shape his career.

"Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time," James said. "I knew I had to become much better individually. He's one of those guys."

Playing with the Celtics and Nets, Pierce has faced James’ Cavaliers and Heat in five postseason series. “The Truth” prevailed in both 2008 and 2010, before James went to Miami and won titles in 2012 and 2013.

Now a four-time NBA MVP, James went toe-to-toe with Pierce in a second-round series in 2008 that featured a remarkable Game 7. James put up 45 points, but Pierce scored 41 and the Celtics won in Boston, on their way to an eventual championship.

In 2010, James played what many assumed would be his last game in a Cleveland uniform against Pierce’s Celtics. Cleveland lost in the second round to Boston before James headed south to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

Once the Heat formed its own “Big Three” to counter Boston’s combination of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the playoff showdowns started going James’ way. LeBron and company ended Pierce’s season in 2011, 2012 and 2014 (when Pierce and Garnett played in Brooklyn).

The adversaries could have met again in the Eastern Conference Finals beginning this week, but Pierce’s Wizards couldn’t extend their postseason lives past Game 6 vs. Atlanta — a series that ended with an overtime-forcing 3-pointer from Pierce getting waved off upon further review.

"[When] I first saw it and when he got the ball, I knew it was going in," James told Cleveland.com. "I just know how clutch Double-P is. I knew it was going in, but I didn't know if he got it off in time just because he had to make that extra move to get back behind the three-point line after [Kyle] Korver kind of stepped in front of him."

James, who has a 17-20 record vs. his rival in the regular season and a 17-13 record in the playoffs, knows first-hand what Pierce can do with the game on the line. In the 2012 East Finals, Pierce buried a clutch 3 to put Miami in a 3-2 series hole.

No one knows at this point whether the two adversaries will get another playoff showdown in 2016 to cap the old rivalry.

"I've been competing against him my whole career and our battles that we've had, our differences that we've had,” James told Cleveland.com. “But you know one thing about it, when you face him; you're going to always compete. I wish him the best in whatever he decides to do."

Visit basketball-reference.com for a detailed look at each head-to-head meeting between Pierce and James.

REGULAR SEASON


PLAYOFFS


Check out Boston.com’s Top 5 Pierce vs. James moments


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Ben Heeney’s childhood goals included playing at KU and in the NFL

Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney (51) jogs during a rookie minicamp at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Friday, May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney (51) jogs during a rookie minicamp at an NFL football facility in Alameda, Calif., Friday, May 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Back before Ben Heeney became a star football player at Hutchinson, or an All-BIg 12 linebacker at Kansas or a draft pick of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, he was just a 12-year-old kid who seriously loved football.

In 2004, Heeney laid out his goals for becoming a football lifer by mapping them all out with a pencil and paper. A fifth-round pick in the NFL Draft 11 years later, the linebacker shared the list of goals from his childhood on Twitter.

None by Ben Heeney

Complete with a table of contents, the script for the rest of his life included goals for middle school, high school, college and beyond.

HIGH SCHOOL GOAL

“In high school I want to make varsity on the football team. I want college coaches to come to the games and scout me for the team. I will play hard.”

TRAINING / COLLEGE

“I would like go go to the University of Kansas or a better team in football. My parents went to KU. I want a football scholarship.”

CAREER

“I want to play in the NFL. It would be fun and I would make a lot of money. I would train hard. After the NFL I would like to be the head coach for a college football team.”

Pretty impressive stuff when you consider all of it has come true so far and Heeney still has plenty of football to play before he chases that coaching goal, post-retirement.

The Raiders profiled the former KU star on their website, in a video that includes Heeney going through drills at rookie mini-camp in his No. 51 Oakland jersey.

None by OAKLAND RAIDERS

The new member of Raider Nation said he has quickly adapted to wearing the silver and black.

“Since I’ve been drafted by the Raiders, I can just tell they have the best fan base in the nation,” Heeney said. “People comment on my Instagram and stuff. I’m just really excited to be a part of it.”

Draft class! #JustWinBaby

Draft class! #JustWinBaby by henbeeney

Heeney hopes to break through as an on-field contributor immediately with Oakland, in the upcoming 2015 season.

“I think I bring leadership, and I’m always all over the field making plays,” Heeney said. “You know, I’m just looking to bring that and help any way I can — special teams, defense, put me on offense. I’ll play anything.”

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Paul Pierce contemplating retirement

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) waves to the crowd as he leaves the court after Game 6 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs Atlanta Hawks, Friday, May 15, 2015, in Washington. The Hawks won 94-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) waves to the crowd as he leaves the court after Game 6 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs Atlanta Hawks, Friday, May 15, 2015, in Washington. The Hawks won 94-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The NBA’s new Mr. Clutch, Paul Pierce, caught the basketball with time vanishing in the final seconds of Washington’s second-round elimination game Friday night and drained a contested, fade-away 3-pointer from the left corner.

The Verizon Center crowd exploded, and Pierce’s Wizards teammates congratulated him on sending Game 6 against Atlanta to overtime.

However, upon further review, the ball left the veteran’s fingertips a split-second too late. “The Truth” had not saved the day this time, and the Hawks advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The stunned 17-year veteran from Kansas left the court afflicted with the feeling he let his team down, and, as he told The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, wondering about his future.

“Truthfully, what was going through my mind is, I don’t have too much of these efforts left, if any,” Pierce said. “These rides throughout the NBA season, throughout the playoffs, are very emotional. They take a lot out of not only your body, but your mind, your spirit.”

None by Dan Worthington

Pierce averaged 14.6 points and drained 52.4% of his 3-pointers in the playoffs, but finished what proved to be the season finale with 4 points on 1-for-7 shooting (0-for-2 from downtown). No competitor of Pierce’s caliber would want to walk away from the game on that note, particularly after having a clutch shot waved off, but it’s an option the 2008 Finals MVP finds himself considering.

As Kilgore reported, Pierce has a player option for next season on his contract worth $6 million dollars. Will he take it, extend his late-career sting with the Wizards and play an 18th season?

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” Pierce told The Washington Post.

The veteran revealed the emotions of the season-ending loss in many of his post-game comments.

“It affects not only you, but the people around you,” Pierce said. “Days like this, you go home and you’re around your family, you don’t feel like talking to them or doing anything because of what the game does. It takes a bit out of you.”

Retirement is on the table for the future Hall of Famer now, and Pierce said calling it quits — whether it comes this offseason or down the road — will probably be the hardest thing he ever has to do.

“I’m never going to have no regrets, whether I hang it up now or later,” Pierce said. “I know that people who have been around me all these years know that Paul Pierce came every day, left it out there every day. I know I left everything out there.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Joel Embiid aids Sixers brass at Draft Combine

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid chats up Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on the way to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-64 win over Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid chats up Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on the way to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-64 win over Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Joel Embiid has yet to play a game in the NBA for Philadelphia, but the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft already has dabbled in coaching, scouting and interviewing prospects.

During the final week of the 76ers’ 18-64 season, coach Brett Brown let the one-and-done center from Kansas draw up a play in a timeout.

Thursday in Chicago, Brown and the Philadelphia brain trust had Embiid in tow at the Draft Combine. The 21-year-old 7-footer watched this year’s crop of incoming rookies run through drills and scrimmages and even sat in on interviews with potential draftees.

None by Jeff Goodman

The Sixers’ head coach told the Philadelphia Daily News he thought bringing a young player with the franchise’s decision-makers was a unique and great idea. On-76ers-Meetings-With-Prospects-At-Combine

"He gets a chance to talk to the guys who may be his future teammates,” Brown said. “He gets to listen to the answers to the questions that we ask, whether it be about their character, work ethic, whatever it may be.”

Philadelphia’s coach went on to call the 7-footer from Cameroon the franchise’s cornerstone.

“We want him being involved in our decisions moving forward,” Brown told the Philadelphia Daily News. “We're all in this together, and Jo knows that he is a very big piece for all of us moving forward. The more we can get him involved in everything is just better for everyone. I think this is the first time anyone has done anything like this."

Embiid didn’t attend last year’s combine, which has become common practice for the elite rookies in each class. CSNPhilly.com’s John Gonzalez reported the young big man asked Brown and Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie if he could tag along this week.

“I think that for him to come here to Chicago and share in the selection and opinions of people that we may draft is an impressive quality that he has shown us,” Brown told CSNPhilly.com.

The agenda also included non-combine activities, such as individual workouts and weight-lifting sessions for Embiid, but the highlight of the trip to Chicago had to be sitting in with his bosses as Philadelphia’s contingent interviewed his potential future teammates.

As you might imagine, the participation of Philly's player/coach/scout caught some prospects off guard. But Arizona’s Stanley Johnson told CSNPhilly.com the addition Embiid’s presence helped him feel at ease.

“It was fun because I got to have some dialogue with him,” Johnson said. “Jo Jo is always playing around. You know that.”

The fun-loving big man, Texas one-and-done Myles Turner shared, brought that same approach to his interview.

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“His first question was: Why didn’t you go to Kansas?” Turner said, laughing.

Brown enjoyed every minute of keeping his young center involved as the Sixers put potential draftees on the hot seat.

“I just think it's healthy,” Brown told CSNPhilly.com, “and I think it's got to be accumulative effort that we're putting out there where these guys have a say in the design and the growth of their own program."


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Kelly Oubre Jr. reveals lofty NBA goals at Draft Combine

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) goes hard to the bucket against Texas guard Kendal Yancy (0) and forward Myles Turner during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) goes hard to the bucket against Texas guard Kendal Yancy (0) and forward Myles Turner during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

For Kelly Oubre Jr., leisure time is a thing of the past.

With each passing day, the one-and-done Kansas basketball product inches closer to his NBA dream. The future had to feel tangible this week, as the 19-year-old attended the Draft Combine in Chicago.

Oubre spoke with NBA TV about the pre-draft process and said he has a lot of work to do each day, because he wants to put himself in position to reach his full potential and become an impactful player in the league.

“I’m hoping to show people I’m more than just a basketball player. I’m a student of the game,” Oubre said. “I take pride in showing everybody every aspect of the game.”

The 6-foot-7 wing revealed he studies some of the league’s current greats, such as Houston’s James Harden, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard. Ideally, he’d like to one day emulate aspects of all of their games and be able to score on offense while also standing out as a “lockdown” defender.

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Once a team selects Oubre, who projects as a late lottery pick, he wants to one day be a part of taking that organization to the NBA Finals.

Such sentiments are the types he wants to get across to team executives and coaches in the many interviews he’ll go through, to accompany his workouts, in the weeks leading up to the June 25 draft, in Brooklyn. Oubre knows he will have to demonstrate his maturity and prove he is ready — both physically and mentally.

In Oubre’s one season at KU, his adjustment to a new level of competition didn’t start too smoothly. Bill Self only played him single-digit minutes in five of the Jayhawks’ first seven games. Though ranked No. 6 in the Class of 2014 by Rivals.com coming into college, Oubre didn’t become a permanent starter for Kansas until the 10th game of the season, in late December.

“That whole process was a learning experience for me,” Oubre said. “When I was sitting on the bench at Kansas it was pretty much opening up my eyes (to see) the world doesn’t revolve around myself. I have to abide by a team’s process, and pretty much I did so.”

That rough stretch as a freshman, he added, proved to be a breakthrough event in his evolution as a player.

“I just thank Coach Self and the coaching staff at Kansas for allowing me to learn, because I came in as a highly recruited athlete and he humbled me, pretty much,” Oubre said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be half of the man I am today.”

Although Oubre, who averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in his one season at KU, admitted he could’ve benefited from a second year with the Jayhawks, he thinks the open-court style of the NBA will play to his strengths.

“I just believe I can compete at the highest level,” he said. “My determination and my drive and my work ethic is second to none. I believe that. And I believe I can make a heavy impact at the next level.”

http://instagram.com/p/2HGK6Yqb8x/

College basketball analyst Clark Kellogg offered an assessment of Oubre’s abilities, upon the conclusion of the NBA TV interview, and said the confident young swingman has a bright future if he honors the process of learning and developing.

“I like his stroke,” Kellogg said. “He shoots it easily from deep, and with confidence.”

Kellogg agreed Oubre should be able to take advantage of his athleticism in the open court:

“He can play, it’s just a matter of refining.”

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Oubre understands in order to attain the lofty goals he has set for himself, he’ll have to work maniacally. But he said the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Joel Embiid, had some advice for him about how to approach the weeks ahead.

“He just told me to enjoy it,” Oubre shared. “This is the only time in your life you’re gonna be able to do this, because you’re not getting any younger. So just have fun. I’ll always remember that.”

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— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Ben McLemore shows improvement in Year 2, and stands out in community

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, left, stuffs as Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, right, looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, March 22, 2015. The Kings won 109-86. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, left, stuffs as Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, right, looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, March 22, 2015. The Kings won 109-86. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

It can’t be easy playing for the Sacramento Kings right now.

An afterthought of an NBA franchise since the early 2000’s and the glory days of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, the Kings haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006. They went through another lackluster season (29-53) in 2014-15, marred by an organization-inflicted coaching carousel that forced the players to take the floor under three different leaders: Mike Malone (fired), interim Tyrone Corbin and late-season hire George Karl.

Amid all that, somehow, second-year shooting guard Ben McLemore found ways to improve.

The Kansas product mostly struggled through his rookie campaign, but looked more comfortable in Year 2. McLemore again played in all 82 games for the Kings, but unlike the previous season, when his role changed a few times, the 22-year-old high-flyer started every game.

Accordingly, the 6-foot-5 guard showed improvements in his shooting percentages and scoring.

Ben McLemore
statistical comparison
G GS Mins. Pts FG% 3% FT% Rebs. Asts. Stls. TOs
Rookie (2013-14) 82 55 26.7 8.8 37.6% 32% 80.4% 2.9 1.0 0.5 1.2
Sophomore (2014-15) 82 82 32.6 12.1 43.7% 35.8% 81.3% 2.9 1.7 0.9 1.7

Perhaps the best news for McLemore? He finished the season in impressive fashion.

His April included 20-point performances against Utah, Oklahoma City and Denver, and he put up 24 points in Sacramento’s season finale, vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.

In his final nine games of the season — under the team’s presumably longterm coach, Karl — McLemore trended upward, averaging 16.2 points, 3.6 boards, 3.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers and 1.8 steals in 33.5 minutes. In April, he made 49.1% of his field goal attempts and 35.4% of his 3-pointers.

Karl has gone on record as saying no one on the team is untradeable, but if McLemore keeps showing new wrinkles, progress and improves defensively, he could be the kind of piece the Kings want to keep around for the long haul.

Just as impressive as his improvement on the court, though, have been his contributions to the people of Sacramento. The Kings named him the winner of their Oscar Robertson Triple-Double Award, given to the player who “exemplifies excellence on the court and in the community.”

Since joining the ranks of the best basketball players on the planet, McLemore has helped out not only in his NBA city, but also in his hometown of Wellston, Missouri.

“When I was growing up, my family didn’t have much, so it’s always been extremely important for me to give back and help wherever and whenever I can,” McLemore told the Kings’ website. “I cherish the opportunity to be a role model for young kids and to give back to Sacramento and the community in which I grew up in Missouri. I’m honored to receive this recognition named for an NBA legend and great humanitarian.”

McLemore also became one of the finalists for the league-wide Community Assist Award.

His nonprofit organization, All 4 Kids, provides meals for underserved and low-income youth and families in Wellston and surrounding communities.

Things weren’t easy for McLemore growing up, and it’s obvious he hasn’t forgotten that.

“Now it’s our time to provide for those who dream bold, too,” the young guard said.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Paul Pierce offers insight on crunch-time heroics

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, in headband, celebrates with his teammates after Game 3 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Washington. The Wizards won 103-101. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, in headband, celebrates with his teammates after Game 3 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Washington. The Wizards won 103-101. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

From the man who brought you, “This is why they brought me here.” …

Paul Pierce presents: “I called game.”

“The Truth” beat the buzzer — and Atlanta — Saturday night by banking in a contested game-winning jumper as time expired.

With the Hawks’ Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder defending Pierce, the 17-year veteran from Kansas got off as tough a crunch-time shot as you’ll find, and got the lucky bounce off the glass to give Washington a 2-1 lead in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

ESPN reporter Chris Broussard asked Pierce afterward if he called bank on the absurdly difficult winner. The cagy forward thought about it a second before answering with his one-liner, “I called game,” and walking away.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT8PziyuIqc

Pierce, of course, made himself a household name with his playoff performances in Boston (see: his 2008 NBA Finals MVP award), before playing the past two seasons for Brooklyn and the Wizards.

None by ESPN Stats & Info

As much as trash-talking and bravado have become a part of Pierce’s NBA persona, he takes his role as a trusted clutch player seriously. He wrote about “Making the Big Shot” for The Players Tribune, a pro-athlete focused website for which he is a contributing editor.

“Whenever I’ve been put in a situation where the game is on the line and I know that the ball will be in my hands, I’ve always tried to visualize how I want everything to play out,” Pierce wrote. “Having a positive mindset helps me relax during high-pressure situations.

“Visualize. Execute.”

As many big moments as the 10-time all-star has played a part in through the years, Pierce singled out a regular-season game-winner from 2010 against New York as one of his most memorable.

The Celtics and Knicks had a nice little rivalry brewing, and New York’s fans didn’t mind constantly reminding Pierce about how little they thought of him.

“I remember that it was a tie game and we were in a timeout going over the play,” Pierce wrote for The Players Tribune. “All I could think about was breaking the heart of every Knicks fan in that building.”

Pierce said the play called in a last-second situation might ask him to do any number of things before the ball leaves his hands, but he finds ways to adjust when things inevitably break down and force him and his teammates to improvise.

“While I always picture the ball going in prior to the play, I don’t really know what I’m going to do beforehand to make that happen. Sports aren’t scripted,” Pierce pointed out. “The great players thrive on their instincts.”

Pierce continues to do that in Washington this postseason. The Wizards enter Monday’s Game 4 against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta, with a 6-1 playoff record. Washington’s elder statesman is averaging 15.6 points, and 4.0 rebounds, hitting 51.4% of his shot attempts and 52.1% of his 3-pointers now that the lights are brighter and each moment is bigger.

“Whenever I win a game in that fashion,” Pierce shared of clutch heroics, “I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. My adrenaline is through the roof and my heart is beating out of my chest. It is the ultimate basketball high.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Raiders coach Jack Del Rio: Ben Heeney ‘plays with his hair on fire’

Blessed to be apart of this organization #RaiderNation

Blessed to be apart of this organization #RaiderNation by henbeeney

For the first time in his life, Hutchinson, Kansas native Ben Heeney is in California.

The Bay Area is the former Kansas linebacker’s new home now, thanks to the Oakland Raiders, who took him in the fifth round of the NFL Draft.

Heeney thought heading into this past Saturday he might end up down in Tampa Bay or with one of the other handful of organizations with which he had the most pre-draft contact. But he landed on the opposite coast, in part, because he grabbed the attention of Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio.

Some say real recognize real. Well, linebackers recognize linebackers, too.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Del Rio — the former Vikings, Cowboys, Chiefs and Saints linebacker — received a text from an old teammate. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur, Oakland’s coach said the message read something like: you have to check out Ben Heeney.

Kansas University linebacker Ben Heeney jumps during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Indianapolis.

Kansas University linebacker Ben Heeney jumps during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Indianapolis.

“So it kind of piqued my attention and (I) started watching him in the drills; of course he had that crazy hairdo going at the Combine,” Del Rio said. “We get back and start watching the tape, and the guy is all over the place. He flies around, makes plays, very productive, has a great mindset in terms of special teams and linebacker play. We’re excited to add him.”

Clearly, the Raiders coach sees potential in the KU standout.

“He plays with his hair on fire,” Del Rio said.

Heeney arrived out west Thursday, and a Raiders video production crew greeted him and his KU teammate, seventh-round pick Dexter McDonald, at the airport.

“I just tweeted out that I landed in Oakland, and the fans are crazy,” Heeney says in the video posted on the Raiders’ website. “They continue to just show me love.”

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Oakland’s rookie mini-camp begins today for Heeney, McDonald and the rest of the Raiders’ draft picks and undrafted hopefuls.

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Kansas O-line coach using Twitter to his advantage with video clips

Kansas run game coordinator and offensive line coach Zach Yenser works with the line during practice on Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kansas run game coordinator and offensive line coach Zach Yenser works with the line during practice on Tuesday, April 14, 2015 by Nick Krug

Zach Yenser doesn’t claim to be on the cutting edge of social media usage, nor the inventor of some fantastic, never-before-seen concept. But Kansas University’s new offensive line coach and run-game coordinator knows what he likes and what works when it comes to using Twitter to his advantage.

Of late, like all of head coach David Beaty’s assistants, Yenser has been hitting the recruiting trails hard. You can tell by checking in on his tweets.

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During spring football, when the former Cal and Louisiana Tech assistant could most often be found on KU’s practice fields or in the offices at the football complex, he used Twitter from time to time to highlight the work and technique of his offensive linemen.

While examining and critiquing video footage from practices, Yenser would grab his phone, take a video of something he liked and make it a Vine he could tweet out to his followers.

“It’s just a way to publicly recognize your guys up front,” the O-line coach said. “People watch the offensive line and are like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, ya know. Fun.’ I tell my guys, ‘The only way you’re gonna get noticed is if you give up a sack.’ Nobody knows what you do.”

Yenser hopes to educate and put a spotlight on his big men in the trenches when he sends out a highlight to the masses — an idea the coach said he stole from Penn State O-line coach and run-game coordinator Herb Hand, who started posting short clips as a Vanderbilt assistant.

Former Kansas tight end Jordan Shelley-Smith became the first Jayhawk to show up in one of Yenser’s videos. The coach liked the footwork he saw from his junior left tackle.

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Of course, Yenser received positive feedback from his players upon debuting the idea. He could tell they appreciated the love, and said it goes back to the core of his interaction with the linemen. He tells them: “We’re in it together. I’m here to serve you guys.

“If they take that and listen,” he added, “we’ll all get better.”

Senior center Keyon Haughton and sophomore guard Junior Visinia also starred in Yenser’s tweets this spring.

None by Zach Yenser

None by Zach Yenser

The concept brings some added benefits with it, too.

“I think recruits like it,” Yenser said. “I think a lot of people like just to see what’s going on.”

The O-line clips also provide the KU assistant with another avenue for discussions with high school coaches. He gets questions from them about how he teaches certain techniques, and prep coaches also tweet out some of the clips for their players to see.

Yenser said whenever he has time while watching video footage, he’ll throw a clip up and tweet it out. He can tell how much the idea is working every time he posts a new one, looking each time for the ultimate sign of praise:

“How many retweets and likes can you get?”

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Stock watch: Early draft projections vary on Kelly Oubre Jr. and Cliff Alexander

KUsports.com graphic by Janella Williams

KUsports.com graphic by Janella Williams

For the second year in a row, two Kansas basketball freshmen have left the program as one-and-done college players to chase their professional dreams and enter the NBA Draft.

Unlike in 2014, when Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid both proved to be top-three picks, it isn’t easy to project where Kelly Oubre Jr. and Cliff Alexander will go in the two-round, 60-pick extravaganza on June 25, in New York.

Between now and then, the two Jayhawks have almost two months worth of workouts, interviews and pondering in front of them, as they try to improve their draft stock and anticipate the day that will set them off on their NBA journeys.

The NBA Draft lottery, which determines the order of the top 14 picks, isn’t until May 19. Only Oubre has a shot to land in that range, it appears, and there is no guarantee he will get picked that soon.

Here are the 14 teams that missed out on the playoffs, and their odds for obtaining a top-three draft pick in the lottery, courtesy of Tankathon.com. Remember, the better a team’s odds, the less likely said franchise will be a landing spot for Oubre.

Minnesota, 64.3%

New York, 55.8%

Philadelphia, 46.9%

L.A. Lakers, 37.8%

Orlando, 29.1%

Sacramento, 21.5%

Denver, 15.0%

Detroit, 9.9%

Charlotte, 6.1%

Miami, 4.0%

Indiana, 2.9%

Utah, 2.5%

Phoenix, 2.2%

Oklahoma City, 1.8%

Some mock drafts out there have Oubre, a wing, as a late lottery pick. None of the prognosticators think Alexander, a post player, will sniff that range. Check out some various projections:

MOCK
DRAFTS
Kelly Oubre Jr.
projections
Cliff Alexander
projections
NBADraft.net 11th 35th
MyNBADraft.com 10th 30th
DraftExpress.com 12th 27th
HoopsHype.com
(1st round only)
11th N/A
DraftSite.com 21st 54th
Chad Ford, ESPN.com
(1st round only)
9th N/A
SheridanHoops.com 11th 27th
NetScoutsBasketball.com 24th 29th
BleacherReport.com 13th 25th
Sam Vecenie, CBSSports.com 10th 32nd
Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com 11th 30th
Zach Harper, CBSSports.com 8th 26th

Kelly Oubre Jr.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) heads to the bucket against Iowa State guard Bryce Dejean-Jones (13) during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015 at Hilton Coliseum.

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) heads to the bucket against Iowa State guard Bryce Dejean-Jones (13) during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015 at Hilton Coliseum. by Nick Krug

— SF, 6-foot-7, 204 pounds, 19 years old, from Richmond, Texas —

Average mock draft position: 13th

Current high: 8th (Zach Harper, CBSSports.com)

Current low: 24th

Stock assessment: Oubre’s 9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 44.4% shooting in his one season at Kansas don’t scream lottery pick, but it looks like he has a serious chance of landing in the top 14.

He struggled to adjust to the college game initially at KU and didn’t become a regular starter until late December. The learning curve will be even more difficult to navigate in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean general managers and scouts are going to pass on him.

Oubre’s 7-foot-1 wingspan makes him an intriguing prospect, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Even if it takes a year or two for the young wing to feel comfortable attacking on offense in The Association, he is athletic enough and has the right instincts to come off the bench and defend on the wing.

Here is a snippet of what DraftExpress.com has to say about the 19-year-old small forward’s offense:

“Offensively, Oubre's most NBA-ready attribute is likely his jump shot, as he has soft touch, natural scoring instincts, a nice follow-through and smooth mechanics when in rhythm. He was a little bit streaky at times (36% 3P%) as a freshman, partially due to shot-selection issues, but he has a nice foundation in place to make this part of his game a dangerous weapon with repetition.”

Cliff Alexander

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) fights for position between Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine and forward Colby Wollenman (41) during the first half on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014 at the HP Field House in Kissimmee, Florida.

Kansas forward Cliff Alexander (2) fights for position between Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine and forward Colby Wollenman (41) during the first half on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014 at the HP Field House in Kissimmee, Florida. by Nick Krug

— PF/C, 6-foot-9, 254 pounds, 19 years old, from Chicago —

Average mock draft position: 31st

Current high: 25th (BleacherReport.com)

Current low: 54th

Stock assessment: In the best-case scenario for Alexander, some team at the end of the first round will take a chance on him and give him a guaranteed contract. If he slips into the second round, any team that drafts him neither has to commit to him longterm nor pay him anywhere close to first-round money (the last pick of the first round, No. 30 overall, receives more than $900,000 a year).

The 19-year-old big man, of course, finds himself in this predicament because he never really caught on in Bill Self’s rotation at KU, and then couldn’t even showcase his talents in the final eight games due to an NCAA investigation.

Before the off-court issues popped up, it seemed Alexander had figured some things out for himself when he put up back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts vs. Oklahoma and at Texas. But the freshman fell by the wayside again soon afterward.

If any good came of the 6-foot-9 post player’s tumultuous freshman season at Kansas, it’s that it should motivate him. Self often said after Alexander began sitting out that he worked harder than ever at practices in the final weeks of the season. If Alexander can carry that over to workouts in front of NBA executives and coaches, and impress the right people, he could get a chance in the league to show his full potential. Something he never achieved with the Jayhawks.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.

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Dunkapalooza: Watch every slam Andrew Wiggins threw down this season

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, left, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 10, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 106-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, left, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 10, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 106-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

If you paid any attention at all to the 2014-15 NBA season — even as someone who accidentally stumbled upon highlights a few times a week — you likely noticed one-and-done Kansas product Andrew Wiggins wowing crowds as he soared through the air on his way to the rim.

The Minnesota rookie became a SportsCenter regular with his array of gravity-defying jams, making the spectacular look routine.

Now, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, if you have 15 minutes and a love for levitation, you can watch each and every dunk from Wiggins’ Rookie-of-the-Year-winning season.

According to stats.nba.com, the Canadian phenom completed 79 of his 88 dunk attempts as a rookie and threw down 8 of his 10 alley-oops.

You can watch all 87 of Wiggins’ throw-downs (plus his gems from the Rising Stars Challenge at the NBA’s All-Star Weekend) on a two-part highlight reel compiled by the FreeDawkins channel.

It’s quite the compilation, serving up reminder after reminder of the ridiculous lift Wiggins gets every time he leaves the floor.

As those who saw Wiggins play for the Jayhawks can attest, watching him in person can leave one awestruck. Broadcasters included. Here are a few of the lines you’ll hear in the clips:

“Strong take by the Rock Chalk rookie!”

“How bout this 20-year-old?!”

“You know it’s a big one when you’re on the road and the opposing fans go, ‘Ooooh.’”

“Don’t try this at home. This is not safe.”

Which rim-rattler stands out as the best? Few of the slams match Wiggins’ attack on Utah shot-blocker Rudy Gobert. The rookie GIF’d “The Stifel Tower.”

As the play-by-play man says: “That is not human right there.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Fearlessness, desire to improve made Andrew Wiggins Rookie of the Year

Minnesota Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks on New Orleans Pelicans Omer Asik in the half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 13, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Minnesota Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks on New Orleans Pelicans Omer Asik in the half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 13, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Sit down. Take a deep breath. Some shocking news came out Thursday.

Andrew Wiggins won the NBA’s 2014-15 Rookie of the Year award.

While this honor was far from a no-brainer when the high-flying wing left Kansas and became the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, season-ending injuries suffered by No. 2 pick Jabari Parker and No. 3 pick (and Wiggins’ KU teammate) Joel Embiid left just a few contenders for Wiggins to outplay.

The Timberwolves finished 16-66, with the worst record in the Western Conference (second-worst in the league, to New York), but Wiggins’ play put him a cut above the rest of the competition.

None by Scott Howard-Cooper

The first Canadian and Timberwolf to win the award, and the first Jayhawk to do so since Wilt Chamberlain (1960), Wiggins’ 16.9 points per game led all rookies (in 25 games, Parker scored 12.3, finishing second).

The one-and-done KU product shot 43.7% from the field, 31% from 3-point range, 76% at the free-throw line and averaged 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.2 turnovers a game.

The foregone conclusion now exists as fact. Wearing a navy tuxedo with a black bow tie, the ever-smiling Wiggins accepted his hardware at a press conference in Minneapolis, where the man who brought him to the Twin Cities from Cleveland, Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, couldn’t stop singing his praises.

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins holds his trophy at a news conference after he was named NBA basketball Rookie of the Year, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins holds his trophy at a news conference after he was named NBA basketball Rookie of the Year, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Saunders traded former franchise player Kevin Love as part of a package to bring Wiggins to his team, and it turned out he got a “game-changing” player in return. The coach saw Wiggins’ maturity grow by the day as he gave the rookie, now 20 years old, enough responsibility that he could accept it and improve. Saunders said he stuck with that model throughout the season. What Wiggins’ boss saw in response was one of the most coachable players he’s ever been around.

“He loves to play the game,” Saunders said. “He’s a student of the game. He watches a lot of film. One of the positive things is when you look at him, he wants to get better.”

To the coach’s point, the league’s top rookie averaged 20.9 points, and got to the free-throw line 9.1 times a game during the last month of the season.

None by ESPN Stats & Info

Even more impressive, Wiggins finished second in the entire league this season in minutes played (2,969), just behind MVP candidate James Harden (2,981). It didn’t take him long to emerge as one of the more difficult players to guard, either. The 6-foot-8 small forward finished sixth in the NBA in free-throw attempts (466). The guys ahead of him? Harden, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan.

The youngster said he learned to love playing against The Association’s best.

“It’s just competitive nature,” Wiggins said at his award ceremony.

The star-in-the-making speaks with his father, Mitchell, every day. The elder Wiggins played in the NBA, too, so he didn’t sugarcoat anything when they spoke about the pros and cons of the rookie’s game. Wiggins said he also inherited his drive from his pops.

“I’m not really scared of nobody,” the new face of the Timberwolves said, “no matter who I go up against.”

His personal turning point, Wiggins revealed, came when he played at Cleveland in December and scored 27 points against the team that drafted him and then shipped him away.

“Ever since then,” he said, “I feel like my game has really moved on. I got a lot better at certain things.”

Saunders recalled skeptics questioning Wiggins’ will to compete entering his first go-round in the NBA.

“I think he pretty much answered most of those critics,” the coach said, “and those questions.”

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On a number of occasions during the press conference, Saunders and general manager Milt Newton, a self-described “fellow Kansas Jayhawker” who played for the 1988 NCAA Championship team, described Wiggins as Minnesota’s cornerstone. The young man who heard those expectations replied by saying he has a long way to go: “That’s just motivation to my ears.”

Asked about his next goal, Wiggins replied he had plenty. First off, he wants the T’wolves to have a better season next year. Making the playoffs is also on his list, as is becoming a better teammate and leader, and earning a spot in the All-Star game.

The way the Rookie of the Year sees it, he needs to spearhead an uprising for this franchise that has put so much trust in him, and his award is just a sign of things to come.

“It should bring a lot of hope to the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Wiggins said.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Cheick Diallo might be the next great Kansas big man

Our Savior New American's Cheick Diallo #13 dunks against Linden during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Our Savior won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Our Savior New American's Cheick Diallo #13 dunks against Linden during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Our Savior won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Meet Cheick Diallo.

He’s 6-foot-9, 220 pounds. He was MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game and co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic.

And he just might be the next great big man at Kansas.

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Originally from Mali, the five-star post player turned himself into one of the nation’s elite college prospects at Our Savior New American High, in Centereach, New York. He joins KU as the No. 5 overall talent in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals.com.

The big man stole the show at the McDonald’s all-star game earlier this month, where his name was called repeatedly, bucket after bucket, and he wowed the Chicago crowd with a fast-break spin-move on his way to an 18-point/10-rebound performance.

He even blocked some shots in the offense-oriented showcase and dropped a dime inside.

Diallo appears to have everything you’re looking for in a traditional big man: length, toughness, and the ability to finish at the rim on one end of the floor while intimidating the opposition from doing the same on the other end.

The guy even snags defensive rebounds anticipating the ensuing outlet pass he’s about to sling down the floor.

That makes him a perfect fit for KU coach Bill Self. Even better, the lean, young big fills a need for next season’s roster.

Self continually referenced the Jayhawks’ lack of an elite interior presence during the 2014-15 season. Unlike most Kansas teams, this one couldn’t throw the ball into the post and get a basket. Even worse perhaps, there was no rim protector waiting in the paint on defense.

That gaping hole in KU’s lineup likely is the very reason Diallo will be playing at Allen Fieldhouse next season.

"I felt like Kansas was the best place for me," Diallo told ESPN.com’s Paul Biancardi. "I can earn playing time right away. I played against Joel Embiid in high school and watched his development. I need to work on a lot of things and feel coach (Bill) Self can help my game. On my visit, the campus was great and the people were nice. I could see myself there."

Picture Diallo in a Kansas uniform, playing alongside all the returning Jayhawks and fellow freshman Carlton Bragg, and it’s easy to envision KU getting past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons. And back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012.

Here are a few more Diallo highlight reels as your mind wanders about the possibilities.

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Paul Pierce loving life as a veteran in NBA Playoffs

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) shoots over Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) in the second half of Game 4 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Sunday, April 26, 2015, in Washington. The Wizards won 125-94 to complete the first sweep of a seven-game series in club history, and advancing them to the second-round. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) shoots over Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) in the second half of Game 4 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Sunday, April 26, 2015, in Washington. The Wizards won 125-94 to complete the first sweep of a seven-game series in club history, and advancing them to the second-round. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

There might not be many miles left on Paul Pierce’s NBA odometer.

So what’s a 17-year league veteran to do? Of late the former Kansas star has taken the route of soaking every ounce of enjoyment out of the playoffs and life in general.

First off, the 37-year-old can still take over for stretches on the court. With Pierce’s help, the Wizards (No. 5 seed in Eastern Conference) rolled through the first round by sweeping the Raptors (No. 4 seed) in four games.

Washington’s veteran leader averaged 15.5 points per game in the series, establishing a tone in Game 1. Pierce found his spots to take over, and shot 19-for-33 (57.6%) from the field in the sweep. He made four three-pointers in Games 1, 3 and 4, and shot 14-for-24 (58.3%) from deep against Toronto.

The most critical trifecta came late in Game 3, with Washington only up three points and the Raptors still feeling like they had a chance to steal a victory on the road. Pierce calmly drained a dagger from the left wing.

“You know my famous saying, ‘That’s why they brought me here,’” Pierce told ESPN after the game, referencing his on-court rant in last season’s playoffs against Toronto, when he played for Brooklyn. “You know, I just wait for opportunities. I really feed off John (Wall) and Bradley (Beal) and these guys that get me going.”

“The Truth” had to feel good about that hot start to the postseason, because after the Wizards moved on to the conference semifinals, he continued to troll the Raptors’ fan base.

None by Paul Pierce

Washington, which wrapped up its opening-round series Sunday, now has the luxury of waiting to see who will advance between No. 1 seed Atlanta and No. 8 Brooklyn. The series currently stands at 2-2.

While the Hawks and Nets continue beating each other up, Pierce and his teammates can let their bodies recover and bond as a team. Monday night, Pierce and a few of the Wizards had choice seats for the Capitals’ Game 7 against the Islanders. So, of course, the outspoken old man of the group got into it.


Afterward, Pierce dubbed himself the Capitals’ “hype man.”

All of this comes less than two weeks after the outspoken vet shared candid thoughts with ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan about some of his former teammates, including the Nets’ Deron Williams and former Celtic Ray Allen.

A reporter asked Pierce Tuesday about his approach these days, specifically on social media.

“I just look at it,” the veteran said in an interview posted at monumentalnetwork.com, “as good banter. That’s the word.”

“A lot of this stuff, I don’t pre-think it, man,” he added. You know, it just comes out naturally.”

“The Truth,” who became the Wizards’ hype man of sorts in his first season with the organization, summed up his personality and approach perfectly:

“Paul Pierce is just gonna be who Paul Pierce is gonna be. I’ll be myself. It wasn’t like they said, ‘Come in here and be a hype man or be a leader.’ I’m just being myself. If it helps our team, if it hurts our team, I’m just trying to be myself and see where that goes. I speak up. I tell the guys how I feel. I’m emotional. That’s just me being me, truthfully.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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