Nebraska forward Shavon Shields isn’t just another ballplayer who decided to shave his head bald. He did so as a show of support for Avery Harriman, the 7-year-old son of Huskers assistant coach Chris Harriman who is battling cancer.

Avery is facing his third bout with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, according to the Facebook page chronicling his journey. Harriman affectionately calls the group of well-wishers and supporters "Avery's Army." Shields' gesture should make him a ranking officer. Avery's chemotherapy treatments led to his hair falling out, so Shields, a junior and a tri-captain for Nebraska last season, isn't letting him go through it alone.

Harriman posted a picture of Shields and his son on his Twitter account last night:

3-point shot: Martez Walker's suspension

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Andy Katz looks at the recurring success of UConn and Villanova and the suspension of Texas guard Martez Walker.
For 33 years, LeVelle Moton wouldn’t touch the light blue bike that eventually turned rusty brown, a symbol of his pride and heartache.

To ride that bike would suggest that he’d accepted his father’s absence in his life. It was the last gift he’d given “Puffy” months after he’d abandoned the family.

Moton, the coach who led his alma mater North Carolina Central to its first NCAA tourney berth last season, was 5 when the bike reached his doorstep.

He kept it in a garage for decades until his wife finally convinced him to part with the tangible link between a fractured childhood and an improbable dream.

[+] EnlargeLeVelle Moton
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina Central basketball coach LeVelle Moton highlighted his emergence from a tough childhood upbringing in his book "The Worst Times Are The Best Times."
Moton discussed the significance of that bike and other events in his life in a book titled “The Worst Times Are The Best Times,” co-written with journalist Edward G. Robinson III and available at theworsttimesarethebesttimes.com.

An excerpt from the book:

On my fifth birthday, my father left a bike at my door. For weeks I had talked about getting a bike for my birthday. I believe my mother communicated this to my father. ...

Without knocking or checking in, my father left this beautiful bike with a bow attached and a note with my nickname, Puffy.

I wanted to hop on that bike and ride around the neighborhood. But I resented my father for once again playing me for a fool -- coming to our door but leaving again. I couldn’t remember what he looked like. I thought if I rode that bike I would be accepting him leaving the way he had. So I never rode it. Believe me, it took a lot of willpower to stay off it, because I didn’t have another bike.

Resilience helped Moton, 40, navigate Raleigh, North Carolina's toughest streets and evolve into one of the college game’s top young coaches.

He recently signed an eight-year extension that elevated his original base salary from $100,000 to $250,000.

“Yeah, it’s official,” he told ESPN.com.

He said he wrote the book with some reluctance but eventually decided to share his tales of hardship so that others might be able to see what they can overcome.

Before he became the 1996 CIAA player of the year and the school’s head coach 13 years later, he was a kid trapped in the drug game. He and his friends robbed convenience stores and engaged in petty crime. They also helped local dealers -- although they were too na´ve to know exactly what they were involved with -- move their product through the neighborhood:

“I’d walk a package across the street to a parking lot for 10 dollars. I’d take a stroll down the block for 10 dollars. Eventually, after a few times walking across the street, I realized that I wasn’t delivering cookies.”

But everything changed the night police came to his home to question him about a murder that his buddies had committed during a burglary. Moton said he could have easily gone with that group that day but decided to stay home and watch “Good Times.”

That choice probably saved his life.

Today, he said he uses the lessons that he details in his book to teach his players about the value of good decisions. He said his background helps him reach young men (and their families) who’ve endured fatherless upbringings.

“People just want you to be real, especially when they’re giving you their most prized and precious possessions,” he said.

The light blue bike he held onto all those years was more of a message than a possession.

It drove him.

One day, Moton’s daughter, Brooke, was upset that she couldn’t ride the bike that his father had purchased for him when he was child.

So he told her the story in a way that only a 3-year-old would understand it.

“I had to bend down and tell my daughter that no Moton will ever be able to ride that bike,” he said. “Your father’s Daddy wasn’t there for me the way your father is for you. ... I just really told her my father left me and that’s why I’ll never leave you.”
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3-point shot: Moreira strong at World Cup

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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Andy Katz gives updates on Yanick Moreira and SMU, Kyle Collinsworth's rehab with BYU and an opinion on the Big East schedule.

Biggest moves in new rankings

September, 11, 2014
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Today is the day.

After a full summer of evaluations and deliberations, national rankings have now been updated across the board with a new ESPN 100 in the Class of 2015, ESPN 60 in 2016 and ESPN 25 in 2017.

A lot has changed since the spring, but the most glaring difference is the omission of the previous top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2016, Thon Maker, who announced last week that he would be transferring to Athlete Institute in Canada.

Maker's departure opened the door for a new No. 1 prospect in the ESPN 60, and that title now belongs to Jayson Tatum. The ultra-efficient 6-foot-7 swingman starred at virtually every stop this summer, including with Team USA's under-17 team, helping him leap Josh Jackson from the No. 3 spot.

Still, all eyes will be on the Class of 2015, as plenty of prospects saw their stock jump, and a number of others fell down the list.

Read the rest of the story here. Insider

3-point shot: Talking KU and pro days

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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Andy Katz gives an update on Kansas' Cliff Alexander, Bill Self's opinion on NBA pro days at KU and when pro days should occur.

3-point shot: Intriguing season at Oregon

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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Andy Katz looks at Oregon, Rutgers and LSU.

3-point shot: More work for Georgia Tech

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
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Andy Katz gives an update on Georgia Tech, Oregon State and the 2015 NIT.
Here are a few new pieces of information I've learned on this fine Monday morning:
  • Country music star Garth Brooks has launched a new world tour. His first show was at the AllState Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, on Friday night.
  • Brooks is not, in fact, retired from making music, but has been performing on the weekends in Las Vegas for several years. On Sept. 3, in advance of his new tour and impending double album, he released a new single: "People Loving People."
  • Self
  • Kansas coach Bill Self attended Brooks' first shows -- Brooks played two in one night -- in Rosemont Friday.
  • Self is not merely an admirer of Brooks' music, but a longtime friend. The two former Oklahoma State student-athletes -- Brooks was on a partial track scholarship -- lived in the Iba Hall athletic dorm in the early 1980s. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, Self used to "encourage" Brooks' musical ambitions around the dorm and would attend his early shows at clubs in the Stillwater area.
  • The two "played together on the same softball team for seven years," Self told the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
  • Brooks frequently hosts charity basketball events for local kids in the areas where he's touring. On Saturday, Self worked with 150 youths from the Boys and Girls Club and Salvation Army at the charity basketball camp.
  • Self's wife, Cindy, graduated from the same high school -- Yukon (Oklahoma) High -- as the country music star, who starred at quarterback.
  • Other than the Beatles, Brooks has sold more albums than every other musical act in history -- more than 130 million worldwide.
  • In 1999, after a decade of diamond-album dominance, at the height of his popularity and power, Brooks released an experimental concept album by "Chris Gaines," a gothy alter-ego character with bangs and a soul patch. It did not go well.
  • "People Loving People" is not better than you'd think. It's actually probably worse.

But still, Bill Self goes way back with Garth Brooks. Who knew?

3-point shot: Ashley ready to return

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
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Andy Katz checks in on Arizona's Brandon Ashley, who will lead the Wildcats, and looks at NCAA reaction to the antics of USC athletic director Pat Haden.

Don't forget about Alan Williams

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
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In 2013-14, Alan Williams averaged 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

Did you finish that sentence?

[+] EnlargeAlan Williams
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesAlan Williams may be one of the most underrated players in college basketball.
In 2013-14, Williams took 37 percent of UC Santa Barbara's shots, the fourth-highest mark in the country, and he shot 53 percent from the field. He accounted for 35.1 percent of his team's possessions, the third-highest mark in the country -- higher than Doug McDermott (32.9 percent), higher than T.J. Warren (33.9).

Did you get through that paragraph?

In 2013-14, Williams finished top-20 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He blocked 9.1 percent of opponents' shots.

Still here? Does Alan Williams have your attention yet?

You're not supposed to lead with the numbers. That's a cardinal rule of communication in general, and it applies exponentially to the Internet. You have to lure your audience in. Getting people's attention is hard.

In this case, we'll make an exception, because that's sort of the point: In 2013-14, Williams had one of the best individual statistical seasons in any league at any level of college basketball, and basically nobody noticed.

A variety of factors kept Williams nominally under the radar. The first, and most obvious, was his team. The Gauchos were decent but never a trendy mid-major pick. They finished the season 21-9, and 12-4 in the Big West, a league that hovers in the same qualitative space as the Patriot League and Sun Belt. In recent seasons -- beginning with a talented group in 2011-12 -- Long Beach State coach Dan Monson has built some of the most insane nonconference schedules in recent memory, an implicit nod to the difficulty of generating widespread notice in the Big West. Combine the league itself with the West Coast time zone and the paucity of broadcast availability, and voila: Under the radar you go.

There's also the lack of NBA attention. At 6-foot-7, Williams is an undersized "true" center. His skills don't stretch to the perimeter, and NBA scouts seem bearish on his ability to score against bigger, more physical players. If Williams was a hot NBA prospect, surely more people would tune in.

But those reasons don't explain Williams' total anonymity. After all, UCSB beat UNLV and Cal early in the season, back when both were considered fringe NCAA tournament teams. Also, it's not as if Williams' skills can be appreciated only through the prism of wonky stats: He was putting up huge counting numbers, too. The Internet has made it easier to watch a Big West game than ever before. Casual fans can be forgiven, but those of us who do this for a living -- yours truly included -- shouldn't have missed out.

Ken Pomeroy was one of the few who didn't. On his blog, Pomeroy devoted a section -- The Alan Williams Watch -- of his weekly roundup to Big Al's various exploits, and Pomeroy was rarely short of material. In early February, following 20-17-5 and 27-20 lines against Hawaii and UC Davis, Williams cracked Pomeroy's statistically based player of the year list. Pomeroy wrote:
At least for today, Williams stands 10th in the kPOY standings, marking his first appearance on the list this season. But the global conspiracy continues. Nary a single reputable individual is considering Williams for his or her player of the year list, even when that list extends to ten or twenty or even 100 players. I mean, there are some fine players on these lists, but they all stink compared to Williams, who sits sixth-nationally in the media-friendly category of scoring average and third in rebounding average, all while playing for a pretty good team that happens to play its games during East Coast sleepy-time. Investigate that, people.

The 2014-15 season is a chance to right the injustice of 2013-14. Williams is back for his senior season, and much of his team is with him. Whether you hear Williams' name in early March will be incumbent less on his production -- which is basically guaranteed -- than on his teammates' ability to shore up a defense that allowed well over a point per possession last season. Bob Williams' team will open at Kansas, which should help boost the big man's profile, but there can't be a repeat of last season's inexplicable early conference tournament exit. (The Gauchos lost 69-38 in the first round of the Big West tournament, to 11-19 Cal Poly. They scored 0.72 points per possession.)

But the focus Williams deserves shouldn't take until March, anyway. It need not hinge on UCSB's tournament participation. Williams is already one of the best players in the country, and the most overlooked.

Getting people's attention is hard. When you're as good as Williams is, it shouldn't be.

3-point shot: August trips to Italy

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
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Andy Katz looks at trips to Italy by Providence and Michigan as well as a brutal five-game stretch for Pitt in the ACC.

Don't forget about Keifer Sykes

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
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Keifer Sykes kept mistiming his lob.

Or when the pass to himself was good, his approach to the rim was off.

[+] EnlargeKeifer Sykes
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY SportsKeifer Sykes averaged 20.3 ppg last season for the Phoenix.
 Only a few of the college and high school players at the CP3 Elite Guard Camp last month paid attention while he tried to pull off his first few dunk attempts.

The camp roster listed him as 6 feet tall -- his height surely bolstered by growing out of his early '90s flattop. Sykes had already shown hints of his freakish athleticism despite being the shortest college guard at the four-day camp. They'd come to expect a show from Sykes, and when it became clear exactly what he was doing, the semicircle of players began to swell.

That's when it all came together. Sykes chased down a high-arcing lob to himself, jumping to catch the ball in air, and in the same fluid motion, threw down a one-handed windmill dunk.

It prompted “Ooooohs” from a crowd that included Phoenix Suns guard Isaiah Thomas and newly drafted guard Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic. It moved Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, who brought his camp to his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to seek Sykes out for a high-five. (And it should behoove you to Google, “Keifer Sykes self alley-oop.”)

Yet, this barely managed to produce a smile from Sykes.

He’s clearly pulled off dunks as entertaining as that one. He's just clamoring for a bigger audience.

Sykes, a Chicago native, is a rising senior with the Green Bay Phoenix. He’s as well-known in those parts as any athlete not wearing a Packers uniform can be. The mayor of Green Bay presented Sykes the key to the city in June.

That's what averaging 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds last season in leading the program to its first regular-season championship since 1995-96 will get you.

Butler got acquainted with his toughness during his freshman year. Blood gushing from his head after a collision, he re-entered the game after getting stitches. It wasn’t enough. Sykes had to stop playing two other times because of blood continuing to flow from the wound. He finished the 80-68 win -- with his head taped up -- scoring 14 points with seven assists having played in three different jerseys.

They know all about Sykes in the Horizon League. He has been first-team all-conference the past two seasons and was voted player of the year last season. He was even recognized by The Associated Press nationally as an honorable-mention All-American.

But Sykes’ talent should be celebrated more throughout college basketball. The only reason it isn’t is probably because Green Bay has yet to play in the NCAA tournament during his tenure.

The past two seasons, the Phoenix were eliminated in the league tournament. When Sykes was a sophomore, they lost on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to Valparaiso. When he was a junior, armed with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, they squandered a late lead and lost in overtime to Milwaukee.

When you don’t regularly play on national television or in front of crowds reaching 10,000, it’s easy to get overlooked.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee that the Phoenix would have pulled off an upset in the NCAA tournament had they made it. But consider this: Sykes scored a career-high 32 points in a 69-66 loss to Wisconsin, who made the Final Four as a 2-seed. And he lit up ACC champion Virginia, which secured a No. 1 seed in the tournament, with 21 points and 10 assists in a 75-72 win.

Sykes has proven he performs well on the big stage. Keep him in mind when it’s time to shine the spotlight this season.

3-point shot: Changes in preseason NIT

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
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Andy Katz looks at the changes in the NIT season Tip-Off, Billy Kennedy's extension and A-10 tournament sites.

Which Coach Miles? Some confuse Nebraska's Tim, LSU's Les

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
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Tim Miles is the head men's basketball coach at the University of Nebraska.

Les Miles is the head football coach at Louisiana State University.

On Twitter, though, some people confused the latter (@LSUCoachMiles) with the former (@CoachMiles). And the Cornhuskers coach wasn't about to stand for it:

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