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Mid-major hoop stars thriving in return to school

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Mid-major hoop stars thriving in return to school

Murray State's Isaiah Canaan, Lehigh's C.J. McCollum and Creighton's Doug McDermott are making headlines for mid-major programs instead of trying to find supporting roles as NBA rookies.

The three Associated Press preseason All-Americans all returned to school instead of entering the NBA draft. They knew there was a good chance they could have fallen out of the first round, making it even harder to succeed in the league without a guaranteed contract. Instead, they're focused on helping their teams top last year's runs to the NCAA tournament - which could ultimately help their pro prospects, too.

All three are averaging better than 21 points per game while their teams are a combined 29-4 to start the year.

``I don't regret not going to the NBA,'' Canaan said. ``I've got five young guys with me and I know it's not going to be the best early, right now. But we're not worried about early. We want them to be at their best in the later part of the season. I'm trying every day to make them better because I'm going to need them, we're going to need them.''

Ryan Blake, senior director of NBA scouting operations, said the odds of a player making an NBA roster drop significantly if he slides out of the first round and misses out on the guaranteed three-year contract that comes with that perch.

Blake said Canaan and McCollum, now seniors, would've fallen into the risky late-first/early-second category in a strong draft after last season. NBA rules prohibit Blake from talking about McDermott, who is a junior.

``My philosophy is if you're projected as a low first-round or second round (pick), that means you may not get drafted,'' Blake said. ``That's how the variable is in the NBA - especially in last year's draft.

``Then again, it's not that big of a deal if you're enjoying college, if you're able to hone your skills and improve and so forth. I think that adds a lot. Maturity adds a lot.''

It's guys like Canaan, McCollum and McDermott - experienced players with developed games - that fuel March Madness as the scary upstarts facing big-name programs often led by young talent. Just ask Duke.

McCollum scored 30 points to lead the 15th-seeded Mountain Hawks past the Blue Devils in Duke's home state last March.

The 6-foot-3 guard became the Patriot League's all-time leading scorer earlier this season. He entered the week leading the country by averaging 24.9 points per game on 51 percent shooting.

McCollum, who was held out of Lehigh's 90-75 win over North Texas Thursday night with a sprained ankle, said last year he returned to school because he had promised his parents he would earn his degree. In addition, his family was financially stable and didn't desperately need the money that comes with an NBA contract.

He said he got ``mixed feedback'' on his pro prospects, though it was hard to learn much considering the deadline to stay in the draft came before prospects were allowed to work out for teams.

``Some scouts said I should strike while it's hot and leave school,'' McCollum said. ``Some said I should stay and try and improve. ... With the way the draft is set up now, you can't get workouts unless you're all the way in. That put us at a disadvantage. It really hurts.''

McDermott, a 6-8 forward, wasn't in a rush, either. After averaging nearly 23 points and eight rebounds last season while leading Creighton to the third round of the NCAA tournament, he's averaging about 23 points and seven rebounds this year for the No. 17 Bluejays.

``I had my mind made right after the season,'' McDermott said. ``I knew I wasn't ready for (the NBA) quite yet and there's a lot of stuff I still want to accomplish here at Creighton. ... I think we can do some special things and take this program where it's never been before, so that's my main priority.

``It's hard not to think about the next level, but for now I'm still in college and I'm going to make the most of it.''

His father, Creighton coach Greg McDermott, also pointed out that his son ``doesn't have any bills to pay, so he doesn't have to be in a hurry.''

``These years could very well be the best years of his life,'' Greg McDermott said, ``so he's enjoying every second of it.''

Canaan, a 6-1 senior, averaged about 19 points to lead Murray State's charge into the national rankings last year. He's upped that average to around 21 points this year for the Racers.

All three ranked among the nation's top seven scorers entering the week.

There's no guarantees the trio's decision to return will pay off with a first-round draft selection in June. Canaan and McCollum don't have a lot of size, while McDermott doesn't possess elite athleticism.

Still, staying in school can't hurt if things go well the rest of the year.

``It's a long process,'' Blake said. ``I mean, it's a grind. It's a year of playing more basketball. It's a year of being more consistent, a year of ups and downs, a year of game toughness and maturity. If a player can improve through his freshman season, think about what someone can do in four seasons. If you continue to prove yourself, you'll get those opportunities.''

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AP Basketball Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report

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Wizards at Heat Game: TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

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Wizards at Heat Game: TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

Thursday’s 119-113 victory over the 76ers was by far the best victory the Wizards have had this season.

Davis Bertans was hot shooting 7-for-10 from three. He even set a career high of 25 points in 27 minutes.  

Miami, on the hand struggled Wednesday night and fell short to Boston 112-93. 

Who will get the victory Friday ngiht? Tune in to find out. 

WIZARDS at HEAT HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Wizards at Heat, Game 21

Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL

When: Friday, December 6, at 8:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Wizards at Heat will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards at Heat on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS at HEAT TV SCHEDULE

7:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders (LIVE)

7:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live (LIVE)

8:00 PM: Wizards at Heat (LIVE)

10:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live (LIVE)

11:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live (LIVE)

11:30 PM: Wizards Talk (LIVE)

WIZARDS at HEAT INJURY REPORT:

Wizards: John Wall (OUT, Left Achilles rehab), Ian Mahinmi (OUT, Right Achilles strain), C.J. Miles (OUT, Wrist), Thomas Bryant (OUT, foot), Isaiah Thomas (OUT, Calf)

Heat: Justise Winslow (OUT, Back), Goran Dragic (OUT, Groin), KZ Okpala (OUT, Achilles), Udonis Haslem (OUT, Illness)

WIZARDS at HEAT PLAYERS TO WATCH

Davis Bertans, PF, (13.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.7 app, ): Bertans went off in the first half against the 76ers shooting 6-for-6 from deep to get 22 points going into halftime. Bertans finished Thursday nights game with a season high of 25 points, one rebound, one steal and seven 3 pointers within 37 minutes.

Ish Smith, G, Wizards (8 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.9 apg): With IT out Ish Smith stepped up to the plate dishing out a season high of eight assists with 19 points and one rebound in 34 minutes in Thursday nights win over the 76ers. Smith is averaging

Jimmy Butler, G, Wizards (20.1 ppg, 6 rpg, 6.5 apg): Jimmy Butler was on fire in Miami’s 112-93 loss to Celtics on Wednesday. Butler made 12-of-18 from the field and set a season high of 37 points.

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Davis Bertans reinforces status as Wizards' best offseason addition in win over 76ers

Davis Bertans reinforces status as Wizards' best offseason addition in win over 76ers

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 119-113 on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. The Wizards entered this season with the understanding they probably wouldn't make the playoffs. They wanted to play hard and be a team capable of pulling off upsets on nights their effort and scrappy play caught opponents off guard.

They wanted to have games like they had on Thursday night. For the first time this season, the Wizards jumped all over a very good team and held on for a victory.

The Wizards took out the Sixers 119-113 for what is so far their signature win of the season. Philly is one of the best teams in the East at 15-7 and it was mostly healthy, unlike the Wizards.

Washington snapped a three-game skid as it now flies to Miami for battle with the Heat, who may be the surprise team of the NBA so far this season with a 15-6 record.

2. Though it's not showing in the standings, the Wizards did a nice job in the offseason in flipping their roster and creating long-term financial flexibility. Their most impressive move may have been trading for Davis Bertans.

Bertans was essentially stolen from the San Antonio Spurs for Aaron White, who was likely to never play for the Wizards. And all Bertans has done is thrive in an expanded role with the green light to shoot as often as he wants.

Bertans was lights-out on Thursday with 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He set a career high with seven threes, going 7-for-13 from the perimeter. Bertans had 20 points and was 6-for-6 from three in the first half, tying his previous career high for makes.

As I've mentioned before, Bertans is going to be a commodity come the trade deadline and that is going to force a tough decision for the Wizards, whether to trade him or keep him and try to work out an extension in the offseason. If they are offered a first-round pick, it will be hard to pass up.

But there is an argument either way to hold on to him because he is such a good shooter. Just imagine how well he would fit with John Wall.

3. Rookie Rui Hachimura also had a huge game in what was his first career meeting with the Sixers. He popped off for 15 points in the second quarter and ended up with 27 points and six boards.

Hachimura did all of this while dealing with Al Horford and Joel Embiid down low and guarding those guys on the other end. He also spent some time checking Tobias Harris, so there was a lot on his plate.

Hachimura got many of his points with his bread-and-butter midrange game. He made one three and found trouble getting around Embiid at the rim. 

Hachimura took what the defense gave him and it worked. There were several occasions where defenders just let him take long twos and he made them.

Head coach Scott Brooks was just talking pregame about why the Wizards are okay with him living in the midrange, if that's what he is most comfortable with at this point. Good timing with those comments.

Hachimura, by the way, is averaging 22 points over his last four games while shooting 54.4 percent from the field (37-for-68).

4. The Wizards shared some good news on the injury front before the game as both of their backup centers returned. Moe Wagner, who was nursing a left ankle injury, came back after missing two games. And Ian Mahinmi made his season debut after missing two-plus months with an Achilles strain.

Wagner was put in the starting lineup due to Thomas Bryant's absence and, though he did not have his usual scoring numbers, he did what he could to bother Embiid and give the Wizards energy. Wagner finished with five points and 11 rebounds.

Mahinmi played surprisingly well, all things considered. He had some bad moments, some due to rust. Be he did a solid job guarding Embiid, which is no easy task. The Wizards also helped him out with double teams.

The best part of Mahinmi's night, though, was right when he checked in. He has developed a reputation for getting in foul trouble and, sure enough, he got one on his very first play.

5. Though the Wizards got two players back from injury on Thursday, they also lost two. Jordan McRae will be out a few weeks after having a second surgery on his right ring finger. And, in a bigger surprise, starting point guard Isaiah Thomas was a late scratch with a left calf strain.

The Thomas one is a newly disclosed injury and at this point it's unclear if he will miss any more time. But it was enough for him to sit after he had played in 17 straight.

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