THE NCAA Division I basketball season tips off on November 25 and several Bahamians - whether on the court as players or on the sidelines as members of the coaching staff - are prominently featured in top 25 rankings from various media outlets.
Texas Longhorns sophomore forward Kai Jones, Houston Cougars assistant director of player personnel Mikhail McLean and Michigan State Spartans graduate assistant Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr are all projected to be among the top programmes this fall.
NCAA correspondent, Andy Katz, lists the Spartans at No. 12, the Longhorns at No. 20 and the Cougars at No.22. ESPN’s latest projections have the Spartans listed at No. 13, the Longhorns at No. 20 and the Cougars just behind at No.21.
CBS Sports ranks the trio slightly higher in their current projections with the Spartans at No.11, the Cougars at No. 15 and the Longhorns at No.18.
Texas concluded last season 19-12 - 9-9 in the Big 12. Along with Jones, they return virtually every rotation player from a season ago and welcome five-star prospect Greg Brown to a loaded frontcourt.
The Longhorns will open Big 12 play on the road against Baylor on December 13.
Jones has recently been listed as a highly coveted prospect for the 2021 NBA Draft by Sports Illustrated. The publication listed Jones, the 19-year-old, 6’11” 215 pound Longhorns forward, at No.30 among the top prospects for next year’s draft. “Admittedly, Jones is still pretty much a wild card, but NBA teams are well aware of what he brings to the table athletically, and he showed signs of figuring things out toward the end of this season. He should figure more prominently into the rotation as a sophomore, but will still have to compete for minutes with a host of other bigs,” SI’s Jeremy Woo said.
“Jones has to add strength, but he’s wiry and explosive and has shown flashes of skill development from a face-up standpoint that hints at some future versatility. But he’s yet to take the next step, and until he does, he’ll remain more of an idea in the eyes of the NBA.”
Jones concluded the season with a career high night in the regular season finale when he scored a career-high 20 points in Texas’ 81-59 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys. For the season, Jones averaged 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Earlier in the season, Texas head coach Shaka Smart lauded Jones’ effort following a win over the Central Michigan Chippewas. “One thing about Kai, he has the best work ethic of any 6’11 player I have ever coached. That really is going to serve him well moving forward. A lot of guys 6’0, 6’2” they get in the gym and work on their game, but he really works,” Smart said. “He works like a guard, most bigs don’t work great at that age. They’re still learning to work. All those guys that we’ve had at that position developed so much better work ethic during their time here and beyond. But Kai came in with a work ethic and drive to get better and he has big goals, so that says a lot about him.”
The Cougars have posted back-to-back American Athletic Conference regular-season championships, five straight 20-win seasons and four postseason appearances with two NCAA Tournaments, including a berth in the 2019 NCAA Sweet 16.
The Cougars return four starters. They finished last season with a 23-8 overall record, 13-5 in the AAC.
McClean played for the Cougars from 2010-15 and was a four-time member of the conference Commissioner’s Honour Roll/All-Academic Team during his career and received the Conference USA Winter Spirit of Service Award in 2013.
He entered the professional ranks with the Cougars in internal operations during the 2015-16 season. He then joined the Cougars’ full-time staff as assistant director for player development for the 2016-17 season. In that role, he assists Director of Player Development Hollis Price in a variety of administrative responsibilities essential to the programme’s success.
“It has been a great experience for me, I loved it tremendously, I built a lot of people in my connection, my network in being here, the programme was on the up and up we had a lot of great recruits and great wins. We didn’t excel the way we wanted to put just kind of putting down the foundation, coach Sampson came and he just built it up from there,” he said in a feature story with AT and T Sportsnet’s Houston Basketball Central TV.
The Spartans, perennial contenders in the BIG Ten conference, are led by Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo. They finished last season with a 22-9 record, 14-6 in the Big Ten, tied for first place. The Spartans return several key starters and players from last year’s team.
Nairn played four seasons at Michigan State and was part of two Big Ten championship teams while reaching the Final Four in his freshman season of 2015.
He joined the Spartans coaching staff as a graduate manager in the Fall 2019 campaign. He spent the previous season in a role with the Phoenix Suns as a member of the coaching staff with a focus on player development and also made his debut as an author with an autobiography entitled “Purpose Driven.”
“I can’t say enough about how excited I am to have Tum Tum back here,” Izzo said of Nairn’s new post with the programme. “He’s the type of person who can relate to everyone. Tum Tum is one of the best, if not the best, leaders I’ve ever been around. His teammates loved him here and he’s very close with some of our current players, so it will be great to have him as part of my staff. I know it will be a bit of a transition for him, but I think he will be a great addition and I can’t say enough about his future.”