Author: Jeff Eisenberg

Out at Oregon, in at Utah: Why the Darren Carrington saga played out well for both sides

Utah gave Darren Carrington a second chance after Oregon dismissed the standout receiver. (AP)
Utah gave Darren Carrington a second chance after Oregon dismissed the standout receiver. (AP)

LOS ANGELES — In the span of less than three hours on Thursday afternoon, two coaches sat in front of the same podium and explained why they made opposite decisions about the same player.

Oddly enough, a pretty convincing case can be made that both made the right call.

When newly hired Oregon football coach Willie Taggart dismissed star wide receiver Darren Carrington two weeks ago, he sent an unmistakable message that his previous tough talk about player conduct was more than just lip service. Seeking to make it clear that the disciplinary issues that occurred during Mark Helfrich’s final season would not be tolerated, Taggart promised soon after he was hired in December that players who did not follow his rules would be “on the next train out of here.”

Carrington, Oregon’s most productive receiver last season, was the first to challenge Taggart’s zero-tolerance edict. He was arrested on July 1 on a misdemeanor DUI charge after he allegedly collided with a pole while navigating a McDonald’s drive-thru, the latest in a string of off-field incidents for the talented yet erratic senior standout.

“It’s tough because you always want to help young people,” Taggart said Thursday at Pac-12 Media Day. “You don’t ever want to throw them out or kick them to the curb. You want to help them reach their dreams, goals and aspirations, but in the same sense we have rules. You have to abide by the rules, and when you break the rules, there are consequences. Unfortunately, the consequences for Darren were for us both to move on.”

The absence of Carrington leaves Oregon with only one wide receiver or tight end who made a meaningful contribution last season, but the Ducks’ short-term loss could be a long-term gain if Taggart’s move helps foster accountability in the program.

Though Oregon was noticeably talent-bereft on defense late in Helfrich’s tenure, ineffective recruiting wasn’t only reason for the Ducks’ abrupt fall from national title contenders to eight-loss underachievers. Players slacked off in the weight room, hung their heads when they fell behind in games and sporadically got in trouble off the field, all signs of a program in need of new leadership and stricter discipline.

“It’s unfortunate what happened with Darren, but Coach Taggart did what he thought was best for the team,” Oregon linebacker Troy Dye said. “Coach Taggart said, ‘One slip up and you’re gone,’ and he wasn’t joking around. He showed everyone that he means business.”

Whereas the Oregon staff felt retaining Carrington would have been damaging to its attempt to instill a new culture, the coach that chose to give the talented receiver a second chance can afford to take that sort of risk. Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, the Pac-12’s longest-tenured coach, has built a high-character program that has won eight or more games in nine of the past 11 seasons while typically avoiding off-field trouble.

Taking a chance on Carrington is the sort of risk Whittingham usually avoids. In addition to his DUI charge earlier this month, Carrington missed the 2014 national title game against Ohio State for allegedly failing a drug test. He was also accused of shoving and breaking the arm of a fellow Oregon student last fall, though no charges were filed.

“It’s always a tough decision when you’re talking about a player that you’re going to add to your program that potentially has a checkered past,” Whittingham said. “You have to make a decision based on all the information you can gather. Is he remorseful? Does he understand that he’s done some stupid things and is he ready to put it behind him and move on? There is so much that goes into it. It’s a judgment call. You’re not always right. But I feel in this case it was the right thing to do to give Darren another opportunity.”

Carrington is on campus at Utah but not yet cleared to practice. The graduate transfer will be eligible to play for the Utes when they begin the regular season in late August as long as he completes the requisite paperwork to receive a waiver from the Pac-12 and NCAA.

One reason Whittingham was willing to give Carrington a second chance is that he fills a need for the Utes.

Inadequate offense is the biggest reason Utah is the only Pac-12 South program not to win the division title since the conference expanded six years ago. The Utes return only three starters on offense from last season, suggesting they definitely have a need for an explosive playmaker like Carrington, who caught 30 or more passes for 600 or more yards in each of his three seasons at Oregon.

Utah saw firsthand what Carrington is capable of last season when he caught the winning touchdown pass against the Utes in Oregon’s 30-28 upset victory in Salt Lake City. Carrington also caught three touchdown passes in Oregon’s spring scrimmage, at the time drawing praise from Taggart and the rest of the new staff.

“He’s a terrific talent on the field,” Whittingham said. “One of the common denominators that came back from all the people I talked to about Darren was his fierce, competitive drive. He’s just a guy that is the ultimate competitor. He brings a toughness to that receiver position that will help us out.”

While Oregon had good reason to dismiss Carrington and Utah made a smart gamble giving him a second chance, there is one downside to the situation for the Ducks. Carrington and the Utes visit Autzen Stadium on Oct. 28.

Said Taggart, “I wish Darren nothing but the best, wherever he plays. Except against us.”

College players undeterred by grim CTE study: 'You have to accept the good and bad'

As evidence mounts linking football and brain injuries, most college players are still willing to accept the risks.
As evidence mounts linking football and brain injuries, most college players are still willing to accept the risks.

LOS ANGELES — Twenty-one months after sustaining a blow to the head severe enough to cause temporary memory loss, Arizona offensive lineman Jacob Alsadek’s philosophy toward concussions hasn’t changed much.

“I try not to think about them, really,” he said.

To avoid losing his edge on the football field, Alsadek chooses to ignore the threat of concussions despite mounting evidence that football players are especially susceptible to brain injuries. The 22-year-old NFL hopeful hasn’t seen the latest terrifying research painting a grim picture for football players, nor does he have any plans to seek it out.

A study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that researchers had examined 202 brains belonging to men who played football and found that 87 percent showed signs of a neurodegenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Of the 111 brains donated by families of former NFL players, researchers found CTE in all but one of them.

“I’m scared to watch the Concussion movie,” Alsadek said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever look at that sort of thing.”

While Alsadek’s decision to intentionally bury his head in the sand may be unusual, he’s far from alone in not hunting for the most up-to-date data on the link between brain injuries and contact sports. Yahoo Sports asked five other players who attended Wednesday’s Pac-12 Media Day to react to the study. The only one who had heard of it was just vaguely aware of it.

Informed of the results of the study, each player had a similar reaction. They love football so much that they’re willing to accept the safety risks associated with playing it, including the threat of a degenerative brain injury that has been linked to acts of random violence, acute depression and suicide.

“You make the decision to play football, and you have to accept the good and bad with that,” UCLA linebacker Kenny Young said. “I play football and I play linebacker. I’m tackling or hitting somebody every single play. The only thing you can control is how you do it. Do you want to be the guy that knocks people out every single play for entertainment? Or are you that guy that cares about your longterm health?”

For players willing to assume the risks of playing college football, the good news is that the sport is far more conscious of the threat of brain injuries than it once was. The NCAA has implemented a handful of changes in the past decade designed to protect players and ensure the longterm survival of the sport.

In 2010, the NCAA mandated that institutions educate student-athletes about head injuries and establish procedures to identify, diagnose and treat concussions. The NCAA has also reduced the permissible number of full-contact practices and strengthened the consequences of the targeting penalty that protects a player from having his head targeted by an opposing defender.

The challenge for safety-conscious coaches is that head injuries aren’t always easy to identify and players may not self report them, either because they’re unaware or because they’re afraid of being removed from the game. When Alsadek sustained his lone concussion in Oct. 2015 against Washington, he admitted he played an entire quarter before realizing something wasn’t right and alerting the Arizona coaches he needed to come out of the game.

“There was a point in time that I literally don’t remember anything,” Alsadek said. “I stayed in the game because I’d never had a concussion and I had no idea I had one. All of a sudden, I sort of come back into my body and I’m like, ‘What is wrong? I don’t know where I’m at.”

A longterm solution could be sensors in the helmet or mouthguard that identify when a player sustains a blow to the head, but such technology still needs fine tuning in most cases. For now, coaches can only try to remain vigilant during practices and games while also fostering a culture in which players feel comfortable self-reporting head injuries.

“Our first year here, we had a young man that definitely had an issue on the field during a game,” Oregon State coach Gary Andersen said. “I ran out to the numbers and grabbed him. The official looked at me like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I was like, ‘We’ve got to get this kid out of the game.’ So you can’t see everything as a coach, but when you see something like that, you’ve got to act.”

In the past few years, a handful of Pac-12 players have retired from football because of the accumulation of concussions. The most recent was heralded Stanford offensive lineman Clark Yarbrough, who called it the hardest decision he has ever made in an Instagram post earlier this month.

“I have always had lofty aspirations outside of football and for what I hope to be the better, concussions have begun this new chapter of my life,” Yarbrough wrote. “The worst part of this thing is that I will never know if continuing to play would have seriously affected my long term health, and that is something I will never let go of. With that being said, I can walk away from this knowing that I am making a mature decision and moving forward my life will be entirely what I make of it.”

Most of Yarbrough’s peers will keep playing despite the risks. They’ll focus on proper tackling technique or making would-be tacklers miss. And they’ll hope that the rule changes implemented over the past decade make the game safer.

“It’s scary because this is your life,” Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay said. “It’s your head, your brain. But you sign up for this sport knowing you’re running that risk. You just hope that you can stay healthy.”

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Why Summer League star Bryn Forbes may be the Spurs' latest hidden gem

Bryn Forbes is leading the Las Vegas Summer League in scoring after doing the same in Utah last week. (Getty)
Bryn Forbes is leading the Las Vegas Summer League in scoring after doing the same in Utah last week. (Getty)

On the day he learned he didn’t make his high school’s varsity team as a freshman, Bryn Forbes came home uncertain if he was tall or athletic enough to seriously pursue basketball.

The doubts flared up again when he didn’t crack his high school’s starting five as a sophomore, when he seldom got off the bench for his AAU team the following summer and when top college programs showed little interest in him by the end of his junior year.

“I could see him questioning himself at times and I’d always say to him, ‘You belong out there,’” said Bryn’s mother, Sue Forbes. “‘You’re supposed to be playing with these guys.’ You have to have somebody in the background who believes in you even when the rest of the world doesn’t. For him, that was usually me.”

A lack of confidence is no longer an issue for Forbes now that he is on the verge of completing an improbable ascent from going overlooked in high school to gaining a foothold in the NBA. After making a surprise push to earn one of the San Antonio Spurs’ final roster spots last season as an undrafted free agent, the late-blooming shooting guard has done all he can to solidify his place with the franchise this month with a sizzling Summer League performance.

Forbes has erupted for back-to-back 35-point games at the Las Vegas Summer League after leading the Utah Summer League in scoring last week at 21.3 points per game. What’s even more encouraging is that Forbes isn’t relying exclusively on his signature 3-point stroke to post those impressive numbers.

In addition to his 41.2 percent shooting from behind the arc, Forbes has displayed creativity off the dribble that wasn’t part of his arsenal in college. The former catch-and-shoot specialist got to the foul line 17 times in a victory over the 76ers on Sunday and has also shown improvement sinking floaters in the lane or finishing through contact at the rim.

A strong Summer League can only help Forbes stake his claim to a roster spot with San Antonio next season. The Spurs already have 12 players signed for next season and two of their three remaining roster spots could be earmarked for free-agent guards Jonathon Simmons and Manu Ginobili depending on if Ginobili postpones retirement another year.

Forbes’ $1.31 million 2017-18 salary won’t become guaranteed until Jan. 10. Spurs general manager R.C. Buford declined to offer assurance that Forbes is part of the franchise’s future plans, but he did acknowledge that the second-year guard has “put himself in a good position” with his steady improvement over the past year.

“From the first day Bryn was in our gym, it was easy to recognize his ability to shoot the ball, but he has invested in himself and bought into the effort of our development program,” Buford said. “He’s a long way from a finished product, but he continues to grow and put himself in a position to gain the confidence of his teammates and coaches.”

Forbes carving out a niche for himself in the NBA is a scenario few could have envisioned when he started high school a decade ago in Lansing, Mich. The slender, baby-faced sharpshooter stood just 5-foot-7 as a freshman and didn’t surpass 6 feet tall until the summer before his senior year.

Point guards can attract interest from Division I programs at that size if they’re quick enough, but Forbes played almost exclusively off ball for Sexton High School as an undersized shooting guard. One of his high school classmates was Iowa-bound point guard Anthony Clemmons. Another was slick-passing future Michigan State All-American Denzel Valentine. As a result, it became Forbes’ role to run off screens and knock down shots that Clemmons and Valentine created for him.

“He had to be a scorer for us,” former Sexton coach Carlton Valentine said. “When you’re a coach, you put guys in places where you can have success. There’s nothing personal about it. You put guys in places where you think they fit. That’s where he fit for us. He could shoot the three. He could shoot it mid-range. He could flat-out score.”

At first, college coaches treated Forbes as an afterthought because they feared he was too small to defend opposing shooting guards at the next level. The Big Ten coaches that pursued Clemmons and Valentine largely still ignored Forbes even after he sprouted to 6-foot-3 and led Sexton to a second straight state championship as a senior, but smaller Division I programs throughout the region began to take notice.

Among those interested was Cleveland State coach Gary Waters, who first became enthralled by Forbes at an Indianapolis AAU tournament the summer before his senior year. Outside shooting was the major selling point of course, but Waters also saw other qualities in Forbes, from his aptitude for the game, to his work ethic, to his relentless motor.

“I said, ‘Man, the young man is more than just a shooter,’” Waters recalled. “If you’re working hard running around screens to get open for shots and people are constantly coming after you, you get tired. And where do you slack on? For most shooters, it’s on defense. But I’m telling you, Bryn had a motor where he never rested on the defensive end. He could go the whole game at the same pace.”

Forbes might have spent his entire college career at Cleveland State were there not family issues pulling him back to Lansing.

It saddened him going weeks at a time without seeing his son Carter, who was born in Lansing about the same time as Forbes started his sophomore year at Cleveland State. He also hated not being able to offer more support for his older sister Erin, who at the time was in the midst of a decade-long battle with Lyme disease.

For those reasons, Forbes explored the possibility of transferring back home to Michigan State. The Spartans only offered Forbes the opportunity to enroll as a preferred walk-on at the end of his high school career, but their interest increased after watching him average 15.6 points per game as a sophomore at Cleveland State while shooting 42.4 percent from behind the arc.

Bryn Forbes became one of the best 3-point specialists in the country at Michigan State. (AP)
Bryn Forbes became one of the best 3-point specialists in the country at Michigan State. (AP)

Transferring to Michigan State proved beneficial for Forbes on and off the court.

Forbes thrived as Michigan State’s designated catch-and-shoot specialist, attempting more than twice as many shots behind the arc as inside it. He earned second-team all-Big Ten honors as a senior after sinking 48.1 percent of his threes, averaging 14.4 points per game and teaming with Valentine to lead the Spartans to a 29-win season.

As draft day approached in June 2016, Forbes’ agent informed him that a handful of teams were interested in either selecting him in the second round or signing him as an undrafted free agent. One of those was San Antonio, which did not have a second-round pick but was scrambling to see if it could buy one from another team.

In the end, the Spurs’ inability to find a trade partner didn’t matter. When Forbes went undrafted, he accepted an invitation from the Spurs the next morning.

Said Sue Forbes, “It was a hard night, but it couldn’t have worked out any better.”

Forbes was a long shot to make San Antonio’s roster as a rookie, but the Spurs have valued outside shooting even before it became en vogue in the NBA. They’ve also had success finding and developing lightly regarded players who have taken nontraditional paths to the league.

When Forbes shot 58.8 percent from behind the arc in six preseason games last fall, that was enough for him to edge Livio Jean-Charles, Pato Garino and Ryan Arcidiacono for one of San Antonio’s final roster spots. Head coach Gregg Popovich called him into a room on the eve of cut-down day and informed him, ‘You’re a Spur.”

“It’s a dream I’ve had since I was little to play in this league and to realize my dream with an organization like this makes it that much sweeter,” Forbes tweeted last October. “I can’t describe how thankful I am to all the people who helped me get to this point.”

Forbes spent most of his rookie season adding muscle and working on his ability to create off the dribble while yoyoing between San Antonio and its D-League affiliate in Austin. He averaged 23.3 points per game for Austin, but struggled with his outside shot in limited minutes for the Spurs.

After receiving a surprising 24 minutes for injury-plagued San Antonio in the final game of the Western Conference Finals, Forbes returned home to Lansing in late May and immediately turned his attention toward preparing for the Summer League. He knew it was a massive opportunity to prove himself, something he’s had to do at every level since high school.

With every 30-point outburst, Forbes is leaving no doubt. He’s an NBA-caliber player, whether in San Antonio or elsewhere.

“I’m just really happy for him,” Sue Forbes said. “He really feels like he belongs now.”

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Former Louisville star Russ Smith is putting up absurd numbers in China

Russ Smith is piling up points in China at a crazy pace. (AP)
Russ Smith is piling up points in China at a crazy pace. (AP)

Whether it’s leading the New York Catholic League in scoring two straight years in high school, averaging 23.6 points per game during four seasons at Louisville or erupting for a D-League single-game record 65 points last year, Russ Smith has always gotten buckets.

Now the former Louisville star is piling up points in China at an unprecedented pace.

In five games with Luoyang of the NBL, China’s second-tier professional basketball league, Smith is averaging a head-turning 61.4 points. The 6-foot combo guard went off for a season-best 81 points on Wednesday in Luoyang’s 142-130 victory over Jiangsu.

Russ Smith’s 81 points today in 142-130 win

2PT: 15/26
3PT: 10/17
FT: 21/22
8 rebounds
7 assists
5 steals

— Sportando (@Sportando) July 5, 2017

A common criticism of Smith earlier in his career was that he needed too many shots to get his points, but the 26-year-old has scored with efficiency so far in China. Relying mostly on his knack for blowing by defenders off the dribble, Smith is shooting 49 percent from the field, 37 percent from behind the arc and 87.4 percent at the foul line.

The modest level of competition in the NBL has also surely been a factor in Smith’s dominance.

Since NBL teams are allowed to have only a limited number of foreign imports, most rosters consist primarily of Chinese-born players. Among the league’s most recognizable Americans besides Smith are former D-Leaguers Josh Akognon, Kevin Murphy and Chris Johnson.

Could Smith parlay a strong summer in China into an invitation to camp from an NBA team?  That’s a possibility, though sticking in the NBA is extremely difficult for a 6-foot guard who’s more of a scorer than a pure point guard. Smith’s agent did not immediately return a message from Yahoo Sports inquiring where his client hopes to play after the summer.

A largely unheralded recruit when he signed with Louisville in 2010, Smith earned the nickname “Russdiculous” for his effectively reckless style of play on the court and his charm and sense of humor off of it. He evolved from role player to All-American during his four-year career, leading the Cardinals to the 2012 Final Four and 2013 national title.

Selected with the 47th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Smith spent the next two seasons bouncing to and from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies and their respective D-League affiliates. He spent the first half of last season in Turkey before returning to the D-League in January.

Once a projected lottery pick, Cal's Ivan Rabb plummets into the second round

Ivan Rabb likely would have been a lottery pick if he stayed in the 2016 draft .(Getty Images)

At this time last year, Ivan Rabb was projected as a future lottery pick.

Now the Cal forward will be hailed as a cautionary tale.

Memphis selected Rabb with the 35th pick of the NBA draft on Thursday night, a disappointing outcome for a player who entered his sophomore season at Cal with higher expectations. Rabb told Yahoo Sports last November that NBA scouts predicted he would have been taken between 8th and 14th had he opted to enter the draft last year after his freshman season.

The millions of dollars Rabb lost by staying in school an extra year are a reminder of the importance of proper timing for draft prospects. For every Kris Dunn or Buddy Hield who surged up draft boards after returning to school, there are other guys like Rabb or former Baylor forward Perry Jones whose stock plummets after an unexpected plateau.

While Rabb knew he was taking a risk delaying his NBA payday to return to Cal last spring, he felt he had good reason to stay in Berkeley for one more year.

He didn’t feel physically or emotionally ready to be a difference maker in the NBA after a freshman season in which he was typically his team’s third or fourth option offensively. He felt he could avoid languishing on the bench or being sent to the D-League as an NBA rookie if he came back to school, diversified his offensive game and experienced what it was like to be his team’s offensive focal point.

“I felt in my heart the whole time that I wanted to stay, but people were telling me it didn’t make sense or what if I get hurt,” Rabb told Yahoo Sports last year. “That bothered me and made me go back and forth, but I’ve always felt that if I didn’t believe I was ready to go, then that’s all that mattered. I think it’s when I finally stuck to my gut feeling and tuned everyone else out that I was able to make a decision.”

Rabb worked tirelessly last summer to add muscle to his long, lean 6-foot-11 frame and develop a more consistent outside shot,  but he did not evolve into the All-American candidate NBA scouts hoped he would become. While he averaged a solid 14.0 points per game and excelled on the glass at both ends of the floor, his efficiency numbers decreased as his usage rate increased and he was unable to lead Cal back to the NCAA tournament.

One huge issue for Rabb was that Cuonzo Martin’s offense lacked the spacing, perimeter shooting or ball movement necessary to maximize his strengths. He seldom had much room to operate in the post and he rarely had a quickness advantage since Martin insisted on playing a pair of plodding 7-footers alongside him rather than using him as a center.

But Cal’s uninspiring offense wasn’t the sole culprit for Rabb’s modest improvement. He needs to strengthen his lower body, get more assertive finishing through contact, develop a more reliable perimeter jumper and become more comfortable defending opposing guards in space.

Ultimately, there’s a chance Memphis got good value taking a prospect who was certainly scrutinized differently as a sophomore than he was as a freshman.

Rabb may not have been worth a lottery pick, but if he can move past Thursday’s disappointing slide and work to address his flaws, he may yet emerge as a second-round steal.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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De'Aaron Fox's dad calls out Lonzo Ball, escalating the rivalry between the point guards

De'Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball will be two of the first point guards selected on Thursday. (Getty)
De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball will be two of the first point guards selected on Thursday. (Getty)

Turns out Lonzo Ball isn’t the only point guard with a loudmouth father in this year’s draft class.

De’Aaron Fox’s dad made some LaVar Ball-esque comments in a Bleacher Report piece published Tuesday.

Frustrated that his son is projected to be taken a few spots behind Lonzo Ball in Thursday’s NBA draft despite twice outplaying the former UCLA point guard head-to-head, Aaron Fox offered some sharp words in defense of De’Aaron. Aaron noted that his son had outscored Lonzo twice head-to-head including a signature 39-point performance during the NCAA tournament last March when Kentucky ousted UCLA in the Sweet 16.

“My son already ate his ass up twice,” Aaron Fox said. “[LaVar] can say what he wants to say. I just tell him to go back and watch the film. That’s it. All that yap, yap, yapping, I don’t even got to respond to that. We played them twice. Twice his son got outplayed. I always tell [De’Aaron], let your game speak for it. You ain’t got to talk. You ain’t got to fuss.”

The outspoken words from Aaron Fox come a few months after LaVar Ball dismissed DeAaron’s success against Lonzo when matched up head-to-head. Said LaVar brazenly to ESPN in March, “No one is going to take De’Aaron Fox over him because of one game. It’s about your body of work, and people know what he can do.”

The Fox-versus-Ball debate is likely to flare up sporadically throughout their rookie season next year. They’re both elite point guard prospects, yet they’re both very different players.

On one hand, Aaron Fox is right. De’Aaron did win both head-to-head battles.

Lonzo had a key late layup and 3-pointer to thwart Kentucky’s comeback bid in UCLA’s 97-92 victory at Rupp Arena in December, but De’Aaron was more effective, scoring 20 points, dishing out nine assists and harassing Lonzo into six turnovers. The second game was no contest as De’Aaron attacked Lonzo off the dribble over and over and took advantage of UCLA’s lack of rim protection in the paint.

On the other hand, LaVar’s right too. Head-to-head is just a small element of the evaluation. The body of work matters more.

In his lone season at UCLA, Lonzo emerged as one of the great passers the college game has produced in the past quarter century. He transformed the Bruins from sub-.500 underachievers to one of the nation’s premier teams with his competitiveness, unselfishness, court vision and knack for pushing tempo.

While Lonzo’s jumper is hardly a work of art, it’s not the liability that De’Aaron’s outside shooting is at this stage of his career. De’Aaron is the fastest point guard in the draft, the superior pick-and-roll threat and the more intimidating on-ball defender right now, but Lonzo impacts the game without dominating the ball on offense and excels playing the passing lanes on defense.

Ultimately, the Lakers have more reason to take Lonzo at No. 2 on Thursday night, both because of his transcendent talent and his potential appeal in star-driven Los Angeles.

But whichever team drafts De’Aaron will be getting an impact player who will have something to prove anytime he sees Lonzo on the other team.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Why Aaron Hernandez memorabilia is once again in high demand

When the owner of one of Massachusetts’ leading sports memorabilia suppliers awoke on Wednesday morning, he checked to see if he’d received any online orders overnight.

That was how Mike Josselyn learned something had happened to former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

“I saw a few orders had already come through for autographed Aaron Hernandez photos, and I thought, ‘That’s weird,’” said Josselyn, founder of Sure Shot Promotions. “I went into my news, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s why.’”

Hernandez’s apparent suicide inside his own prison cell on Wednesday morning did more than just end his tortured life. It also unexpectedly reignited the market for items worn or autographed by the former NFL star who was two years into a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

Aaron Hernandez jerseys were selling for as much as $355 apiece on eBay. (AP)

A replica Patriots jersey bearing Hernandez’s name and number typically sold in retail stores for about $75-$100 at the height of his playing career. They went for as much as $355 on eBay on Wednesday afternoon.

A signed Hernandez jersey sold Wednesday on eBay for $575. Autographed towels, footballs, trading cards and end zone pylons were also available for hundreds of dollars. By comparison, someone snagged a relative bargain forking over $64.99 for a well-worn T-shirt featuring images of Hernandez and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski and the slogan “Quake and Shake.”

During Hernandez’s second season in the NFL, Florida-based memorabilia chain Palm Beach Autographs had an exclusive memorabilia agreement with Hernandez for all his autograph signings and appearances. By closing time on Wednesday, owner Jim Dodson expected to sell the remaining 100 autographed 8×10 photos they had in stock at $30 apiece.

“Pretty much everything is already gone,” Dodson said. “We previously decreased the prices just to move through them, to not have them in inventory anymore and to kind of part ways. Today they’re selling left and right. We’re just filling the orders in the order they came in.”

Why would memorabilia celebrating a convicted murderer still be a hot commodity? Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions, says there are two reasons collectors might be interested.

One is for the novelty factor. Hernandez wasn’t as well-known a figure as O.J. Simpson, Al Capone or Charles Manson for example, but there’s still a limited market for his memorabilia even after his conviction and his death.

The fact that Hernandez memorabilia is somewhat scarce is also a draw for serious collectors. They’re willing to pay a little extra today to ensure they can complete a set of signed footballs, jerseys or trading cards.

“Let’s say someone is trying to put together a set of 2013 signed football cards or they’re trying to complete a set of everyone who was on the Patriots’ team when they won the Super Bowl,” Goldin said. “For those people, it doesn’t really matter what he did or that he’s dead. It matters to them that they need to own it.

Aaron Hernandez jerseys (AP)
After his arrest, the Patriots and the NFL quickly distanced themselves in regards to Aaron Hernandez jerseys. (AP)

“You’ll probably see a spike right now because the people that absolutely need it to complete their collections will pay an escalated price. Once those people have their items, you’ll see a sharp decline. Memorabilia is pride. Most people buy it to show it off. They frame it. They have it in their office or on their walls. Who in their right mind wants to be displaying a signed Aaron Hernandez item in their office or at their home?”

That was surely the Patriots’ mindset when they stopped selling Hernandez’s No. 81 jersey soon after his 2013 arrest and even offered fans the chance to exchange their Hernandez jerseys for any other players on the team. The NFL followed suit by prohibiting anyone from trying to order a customized No. 81 Patriots jersey with the last name of Hernandez.

For Josselyn, Hernandez’s 2013 arrest created a tougher dilemma. He didn’t want to alienate customers by trying to profit off Hernandez’s murder charges, yet he also didn’t want to throw away the boxes of signed footballs, helmets, jerseys and photos he had acquired via an ill-fated, one-year exclusivity deal with Hernandez that expired earlier that year.

Josselyn’s solution was selling Hernandez merchandise at either its typical price or a bargain rate in hopes of recouping as much of his losses as he could. To his surprise, there was initially more of a market than he expected even with Hernandez awaiting trial on murder charges.

“It was really bizarre,” Josselyn said. “The jerseys sold in a matter of days. Right after that, the footballs sold too.”

What was left over were a few hundred autographed photos. For the past few years, Josselyn would sell one every week or two until Wednesday’s unexpected spike.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Josselyn said. “Why someone would want to be an Aaron Hernandez supporter, I don’t know.”

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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