By Jon Rothstein
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– You’ve got to give Kevin Willard credit. The Seton Hall coach knew after last season he desperately needed to upgrade the talent on his roster, and he did just that again on Thursday by nabbing a commitment from Lincoln shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead. Whitehead is arguably the best shooting guard in the 2014 class and joins point guard Jaren Sina along with 2014 commitments Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado as part of the Pirates’ massive rebuilding effort. Whitehead’s high school coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton is expected to join Seton Hall’s staff beginning next season, according to several sources. Morton would be the third new face in a 12-month span to join Willard’s bench. The Pirates added former Rutgers coach Freddie Hill in the spring and Oliver Antigua just last week. Willard has always been a sound technical coach, but now he’s finally taking the necessary steps he needs to bring the best possible talent to South Orange on a regular basis.
– Arizona freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was mightily impressive during a Tuesday workout in Tucson. The 6-7 wing has added 10-15 pounds of muscle since the beginning of the summer and will be able to guard four positions for the Wildcats. Aaron Gordon may be the household name in Arizona’s freshman class, but don’t forget about Hollis-Jefferson. The lefty from Philadelphia has all the makings of turning into another Stacey Augmon — he’s that good.
– The Arizona staff said they hope to hear from the NCAA in the next week about the eligibility of Kansas transfer Zach Peters, who is attempting to receive a waiver to play during the upcoming season. The 6-9 Peters is the best shooter in Arizona’s front court and could fill the void vacated by Grant Jerrett as a stretch four-man that could extend the defense.
– After watching Arizona State play for two hours on Monday on Tempe, I feel confident in saying that Michigan State transfer Brandon Kearney could be the missing piece for Herb Sendek’s team. The versatile wing has a tremendous IQ and an unbelievable feel for his teammates. Although he isn’t eligible until December, Kearney is the perfect complement the Sun Devils’ high octane back court of Jahii Carson and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall because he doesn’t need the ball to have an impact. The skilled wing averaged 2.3 points and 1.5 rebounds per game in East Lansing last season before transferring. Look for Arizona State freshman Egor Koulechov to potentially start at small forward for the Sun Devils before Kearney becomes eligible to play.
– You can’t discuss UCLA’s prospects for the upcoming season without asking how the Bruins will replace Larry Drew. The speedy floor general was flawless last year for UCLA (7.3 APG) and single-handedly augmented the game of Travis Wear. Steve Alford has several different options at point guard, but he’ll be hard pressed to find someone who will be as productive as Drew was a year ago
– Michigan State freshman Gavin Schilling is going to be a factor for the Spartans. The 6-9, 235 pound Schilling is a beast physically and will provide Tom Izzo with another option at center along with Adreian Payne and Matt Costello. If Schilling can refine his offense, he could have himself one heck of a four-year career in East Lansing.
– I’m hearing Manu Lecomte has been Miami’s best shooter during the month of September. The 5-9 floor general will start for the Hurricanes at point guard if the NCAA does not grant Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez a waiver to play without sitting out a season. Lecomte, a Belgium native should give Jim Larranaga’s team another shot maker on the perimeter along with Rion Brown and Garrius Adams.
– Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings told me this week that Dores freshman Damian Jones has a chance to be the best post player he’s ever coached. The 6-9 Jones will play a huge role for Vanderbilt as part of a bigger front line that will feature veteran Rod Odom at small forward. Stallings knows losing his likely starting back court — Kedren Johnson (suspension) and Kevin Bright (transfer) — is going to be tough to overcome, but he still thinks his team can surprise people in the SEC. The main keys for the Dores? Steady point guard play from Kyle Fuller and a breakout season for shooting guard Dai-Jon Parker.
– Who will be Louisville’s unsung presence during the upcoming season? Stephan Van Treese. The 6-9 bruiser averaged 11.2 rebounds per 40 minutes last season and could be a big factor up front for the Cards next to Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell. Van Treese had eight points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes last season against Duke at the Battle For Atlantis when Gorgui Dieng was sidelined with an injury.
– Indiana coach Tom Crean told me earlier this week that front line consistency is one of the bigger keys to the Hoosiers’ season. “It has to come from different people,” Crean said via text message when asked about Indiana’s production up front. “Points, rebounds, and free throw attempts are all big. Running the floor and defending will be separators.” The Hoosiers will likely start freshman Noah Vonleh at power forward, and either sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea or freshman Luke Fischer at center.
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