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    • SEC "Fast Break": February 26

      Apparently, eight Southeastern Conference teams were having so much fun last Saturday they didn’t want it to end.
    • SEC Fast Break with Chris Dortch

      The first month of the season was largely forgettable for the Southeastern Conference by almost any barometer. Where to start?
    • November Offers Challenges for SEC Teams

      It seems like only yesterday Kentucky players were cutting down the nets in the New Orleans Superdome after winning the Southeastern Conference’s third national championship in a seven-year span. But that was more than seven months ago, and now it’s time for college basketball to crank up again.
    • One on One with Chris Dortch: Marquis Teague

      Was there ever a question Marquis Teague could take his place among the elite point guards coached the last four seasons by Kentucky’s John Calipari? We profile Teague, a likely first round pick in this week's NBA Draft.
    • Instant Reaction: Kentucky Claims Title

      About a month ago, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari asked a question of his team.

    Dortch: Kentucky is Proving Ground for the Next Level

    Rather than add to the millions of words that will be written in the days ahead evaluating the NBA Draft from the perspective of the teams that did the picking, I decided to take a different approach and evaluate the teams that provided the talent.

    What schools enhanced their reputations as NBA feeder teams? And what will they have to offer the league in the years ahead? Read on.

    Kentucky

    Wildcat opponents, especially in the Southeastern Conference, had better get used to the embarrassment of riches that is passing through Lexington these days.

    After providing five first-round draft picks -- a record for one school -- in 2010, the Wildcats were almost as generous in 2011.

    Enes Kanter never got to play for Kentucky, but he attended class and practiced with the team all season, so he counts toward the Wildcats' total of four draftees. Kanter was picked by the Utah Jazz at No. 3 and becomes part of that franchise's masterful rapid rebuilding program, joining Colorado's Alec Burks, who's going to be a star at shooting guard, and 2010 lottery picks Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward.

    Guard Brandon Knight was taken No. 8 by the Detroit Pistons. He has the intelligence and work ethic to become whatever Detroit wants him to become -- a scorer, a true point or a combo who can fill in at either spot.

    I'll pause a moment to let you absorb this little nugget: In the last two years, Kentucky has had four players selected in the top 10 of the draft, five in the top 15 and seven in the first round.

    That total will grow next year. More on that later.

    The Wildcats also provided two second-round picks. The first was the only man to get drafted because of a Tweet, center Josh Harrellson.

    Appearing on the NBA TV show "Prospect Park" earlier this week, I was asked to give a sleeper pick at center, and I mentioned the humongous Harrellson, who at 6-10 and 270 pounds can blot out the sun. He's an aggressive rebounder and has a decent face-up game, two reasons he was drafted by the New Orleans Hornet with the 45th overall pick despite skipping Portsmouth and not getting invited to Chicago.

    I'd heard more than a month ago from an impeccable source that two NBA teams loved swingman DeAndre Liggins, which was the reason he had the confidence to give up his senior year and declare for the draft. I can only surmise one of them was the Orlando Magic, which took him with the 53rd overall pick.

    Liggins is a lockdown defender in the mold of T.R. Dunn, the former Alabama star who put together a lengthy NBA career, and Liggins is a better offensive player. I expect him to stick.

    Looking ahead to next year's draft, Kentucky will once again play a prominent role in the first round. Incoming freshman power forward Anthony Davis might have been the overall No. 1 choice this year if he were allowed to declare. Fellow freshman Michael Gilchrist, a small forward, is rated almost as high as Davis. Terrence Jones, who would have been a first-rounder this year had he chosen to come out, will be a lottery pick in 2012 if he can become consistently dominant as a sophomore. He has that ability.

    Finally, can Kentucky coach John Calipari's streak of one-and-done point guards reach five years? If it does, that means incoming freshman Marquis Teague is as good as advertised.

    Texas

    Three Texas players were chosen in the first round, starting with Tristan Thompson, taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the fourth overall pick. That surprised some people, but Thompson's character, intelligence and work ethic blew away the NBA teams that interviewed him, so it was far from a reach.

    Cavs GM Chris Grant showed some vision and nerve taking the slightly undersized Thompson ahead of several European players who were rated higher by the experts. I think he'll be rewarded with Thompson, a relentless rebounder and long-armed defender who had been putting up thousands of jump shots under the watchful eye of John Lucas in an effort to improve his face-up game. He'll get there.

    Texas guards Jordan Hamilton (No. 26) and Cory Joseph (No. 29) were also first-round picks, making this the first time in school history three Longhorns were drafted in the first round and the third time since 2006 three Texas players were taken in the same draft. Avery Bradley, Damion James and Dexter Pittman were drafted in 2010, and LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker and Daniel Gibson in '06.

    Hamilton was drafted by Dallas and traded to Denver, and I think he'll develop into a solid pro. If doubts about the questionable shot selection he showed as a freshman dogged him into this draft and kept him from being taken higher, I think the Nuggets will be pleasantly surprised by what they get. Hamilton was a lot more discriminating as a sophomore, and he'll rebound well from his position, too.

    Some critics questioned whether Joseph was a reach at No. 29, but how can you second guess the Spurs, who can teach a class about sustaining a franchise? Like his friend and fellow Canadian Thompson, Joseph is a worker who will give the Spurs their money's worth. "His conditioning is out of control," Texas assistant Russell Springmann told me last month. "The kid doesn't get tired. You look at how hard he plays, and he can sustain that level the whole game. And he can affect the game in every way possible."

    Texas has been a regular part of the NBA Draft in the Rick Barnes era. In the last 13 years, 16 Longhorns have been chosen, including point guards T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin. The next great Texas point guard could be incoming freshman Myck Kabongo, yet another Canadian who is already rated by some as a first-round pick should he come out after next season.

    Duke

    There was never a doubt Kyrie Irving was going to be Cleveland's choice as the No. 1 pick in the draft. The modern NBA is a point guard's game, and the best opportunity to get an elite point at the height of his powers is to be lucky enough to nab a high lottery pick.

    Over the last few months, much was made of the fact Irving had, because of a freak toe injury, played just 11 games for the Blue Devils. I just kept reminding anyone who would ask that Duke, the defending national champions, changed its offense for Irving. Clearly, he was special, a transformational player who can make those around him better.

    "Everything was tailored toward giving him the spacing and the ability to do what he does," Duke associate head coach Chris Collins said in May after the lottery order had been determined. "Make plays or let other players play off him. ... Cleveland fans are going to be very, very happy with Kyrie Irving,"

    Irving is also more than capable of getting his own shot. In those 11 games he played -- and keep in mind three of them were in the NCAA Tournament, after a long layoff -- he shot 53 percent from the field, 46 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

    If Irving had played the entire season, I don't think his shooting percentages would have dipped by much, if at all, because of his prudent shot selection and the fact he was in great condition.

    Irving was joined in the draft by teammates Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Duke has had three or more players selected in the NBA Draft six times, but this was the first time since 2002 (Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer). This latest talent grab by the NBA shows that Duke, which has won four national championships under coach Mike Krzyzewski's watch, is going to continue to sign elite athletes and not roll over and let Tobacco Road sparring partner North Carolina dominate the ACC.

    Lost amid Irving's ascension to the top pick in the draft was the fact Smith put together a great season. He was the ACC Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American. A true combo guard, Smith was drafted by Portland and will have a solid career.

    Singler fell to the second round (where Detroit astutely took him), but no one should forget he was just the fourth player at Duke and ninth in ACC history to pile up more than 2,000 points (2,392) and 1,000 boards (1,007) in his career. He's a competitor and a winner.

    The next Duke draft pick is probably going to be incoming freshman Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. The younger Rivers is a 6-4 scoring machine who has a high basketball IQ and is fearless.

    Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.


     
     

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    Chris Dortch Bio

    Chris Dortch estimates he’s covered close to 1,500 college basketball games since he was sports editor of his college student newspaper back in the late ’70s. “And it never gets old,” he says. “I always get pumped up to watch college hoops.”

    Dortch came to love basketball growing up in the basketball crazy state of Illinois, watching Missouri Valley Conference and Big Ten games every Saturday and pouring over the sports section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think I learned how to read a box score before I learned how to read,” he says.

    In college, first at George Mason and later at East Tennessee State, he came under the influence of two coaches that gave him a behind-the-scenes look at basketball from a coaching perspective. “After that I was hooked,” he says. “I knew I wanted to cover college basketball for a living.”

    And so he did, focusing on the Southeastern Conference at four newspapers and then for Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the famed “bible” of college basketball which Dortch began editing in 1996.

    In a 30-year career, Dortch has written for numerous publications and websites, served as a college basketball correspondent for Sports Illustrated, appeared on more than 1,000 radio shows and written five books, including String Music: Inside the Rise of SEC Basketball.

    Dortch has provided commentary for CSS, Fox Sports South, NBA TV and the Big Ten Network and also taught sports writing at East Tennessee State and Tennessee-Chattanooga, where his students call him “Professor D.”