Superb Gaels season marred by tournament showing

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Superb Gaels season marred by tournament showing

Maybe Norfolk State just vibed the NCAA Tournament off its natural axis for every favorite, but as the slight favorite Saint Marys Galloping Gaels reflect on their own one-and-done, the inscription on the dagger will read, Made No Shots Until It Was Too Late.

After the 15-seed Spartans set in motion a bizarre chain of upsets in the second afternoon game here at CenturyLink Center by beating Missouri, the Gaels faced Purdue, and were face-down before they knew what to do about it.

In losing, 72-69, the Gaels can speak in glowing terms of the frantic comeback they waged to close a game they persistently trailed by double-digits, but they wont.

RECAP: Saint Mary's falls to Purdue 72-69

Rather, they will remember their horrific shooting, their difficulties guarding Terone Johnson and then Lewis Jackson of the Boilermakers, and the crushing errors they made in the last minute that could have rendered the second-guessing moot.

If it didnt sting, it wouldnt be any fun, a fun-deficient head coach Randy Bennett said afterward. Theres not many things you can pour your heart into with a bunch of guys your age and invest so much time and care so much, and thats why it hurts, because when its over, its gone.

But it also hurts because in a game the Gaels were predominantly outplayed, they had a lead in the final minute and could easily have protected it, thus cheating an upset-engorged crowd from yet another. Indeed, as the Gaels were scratching desperately to get back into the game, 13-seed Ohio was beating Michigan and 15-seed Lehigh was smiting Duke, marking the first time ever that two 15s had advanced and only the fifth time ever that even one had done it.

Not that that will amuse the Gaels. They played too poorly to win, played just well enough to position themselves to win, and then failed in the crunch to lose anyway. This, in short, will be a profoundly unpleasant memory for them all.

The macro view takes you immediately to the Gaels 4-for-25 shooting from three-point range, including 2-for-10 from forward Rob Jones, 1-for-6 from Jorden Page and 1-for-5 from Matthew Dellavedova, and to Johnson and Jackson, who combined for 39 points on 15-of-27 to shape Purdues attack.

But the game that went so badly for Saint Marys for so long turned with 4:16 to go when Dellavedova, who had been guarded essentially out of the offensive flow, forced his way to the basket for a three-point-play that sparked a 14-2 run. That run was Saint Marys best work of the night by far, capped as it was by Pages open 22-footer with 44.2 to play to put the Gaels ahead, 69-68.

The problem was, it was their last gasp. After forcing a walk by Johnson, they returned the ball immediately when Clint Steindl ran on the end line during the inbound rather than remaining stationary. Jackson took the ensuing Boilermaker possession and drew a foul from Dellavedova with 22.8 to play, converting both shots.

The ref said it was on the spot, Steindl said, referring to official Scott Thornley, who did as he is supposed and told Steindl to keep his place when inbounding. All I was thinking was trying to get the ball inbounds.

Then, on the Gaels next possession, Page settled for a premature 25-footer that missed the rim by a fair bit, and Robbie Hummels two free throws after being fouled by Stephen Holt on the rebound put the Makers up by three.

And in keeping with the evening as a whole, Jones buzzer-beating trey hit the rim and fell away, ending a season that had been so good for them all.

I thought momentarily it had a chance, he said, but you cant really do anything about it now.

Jones performance (23 and 14, despite going 2-for-10 from three-point range) spoke to his eagerness to fill the offensive void left by Dellavedova, who forced some threes early, then went 15 minutes without taking any shots at all. He pressed early against a Purdue defense keen to monitor him above all others, then became a passer almost exclusively before his charge to the basket at 4:16 to prevent the game from remaining a drudgery.

They played good defense, a red-eyed Dellavedova said afterward, and I rushed a couple of shots. We had some good looks too that we didnt knock down, so thats the way it goes.

Not all the time, of course. There was Norfolk State, after all.

Leon Powe-doppelganger Kyle OQuinn, the Spartan senior center whose 26 points and 14 rebounds would have been noticeable under any conditions, put the final boot in with 34 seconds left by tipping in a Chris McEachin jumper and converting the ensuing free throw to propel Norfolk State into Tournament annals as only the fourth 15-seed in history to win a game. The other three were Santa Clara (1993, over Arizona), Coppin State (1997, over South Carolina) and Hampton (2001, over Iowa State).
RECAP: No. 15 seed Norfolk St. stuns No. 2 Missouri

And to cap off his best day ever, OQuinn laughed at the result he had helped engineer and said, We even messed up my bracket.

And then the Gaels went and messed up their own. A superb season took a dent in the final lap, and if there is time to be philosophical, it wont happen until they return to Moraga and reflect not on the 36 minutes they couldnt find Friday night, but on the 1,300-some-odd when they had the time of their collective lives.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

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Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.