NCAA Talk

ND Notebook: Spond's number a tribute to Columbine victims

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ND Notebook: Spond's number a tribute to Columbine victims

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Danny Spond was in second grade when two students opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killing 13. He would later graduate from Columbine, where he wore No. 4. At Notre Dame, he chose to wear No. 13 to honor those killed on April 20, 1999 in his hometown.

"I play for a greater understanding of the game," Spond said.

Spond's connection to Columbine led him to be asked about the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, to which he said only time can help heal a community from such a horrible event.

"It brought us together, it brought the community together," Spond added of the tragedy his hometown experienced. "It really built a society, an area that takes care of each other."

More on Manti: Te'o finally decompressed from awards tour

Becoming college football's most decorated player in a single season took its toll on Manti Te'o last month, with the linebacker crisscrossing the nation to receive a slew of honors while his team began practicing for the BCS Championship. But with finals and that tour over, Te'o has been able to return to his refuge on the field.

"Football is my sanctuary where I feel most at home, and when I'm with my guys, when I'm with my coach, that's my comfort zone and that's where I want to be," Te'o said. "I was just glad to finally get back from that week of just traveling, and (get) to spend the rest of my time with my guys."

Te'o crossed paths with Barrett Jones in Houston for the Lombardi Award presentation, and the Alabama center noted how well he thought Te'o dealt with all the attention.

"I've just been very impressed with the way he's handled himself," Jones said. "Talk about fame, obviously, everyone in the world knows who Manti Te'o is. And he really just handles that with such grace, treats kids the right way and is just nice to everyone. I've really enjoyed meeting him."

The tour didn't beat the life out of Te'o, either, as defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has seen an even more determined version of Heisman Trophy runner up.

"Manti has actually practiced harder the last week since the award circuit, practiced harder than he has all year long," Diaco said. "So he himself has raised his game even just as early as last week and leaving up to the travel here to South Florida."

Notes: "He's coach Saban out there"

The phrase "game manager" has often been used to describe Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, sort of a backhanded compliment for someone who won't win a game, but certainly won't lose it.

It's one Alabama center Barrett Jones and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier didn't exactly agree with -- "I know what A.J. does for our offense, and he does a lot, and it's much more than just managing," Nussmeier said -- but it's also one that may not be altogether backhanded with the explanation provided by Diaco and Te'o.

"The quarterback conducts the game just like if Nick Saban was taking the snap himself," Diaco said, referring to McCarron. "He doesn't put the team in bad spots. He doesn't make poor decisions with the ball. He's working the game and managing the game and putting the offense in the appropriate plays it's really an incredible organization to watch offensively led by the quarterback."

Te'o concurred with that assessment -- and hey, Saban's a revered coach on the cusp of a dynasty at Alabama, so if that's a shrouded diss, it's not a bad one.

"He's coach Saban out there," Te'o said. "He doesn't make silly mistakes. He's their general on offense, and he does a really good job at it."

Recruiting roundup: ND commit Hunter Jr. suffers devastating injury

Yahoo's Prep Rally has the video, which shows class of 2013 wide receiver commit Torii Hunter, Jr., running a normal route in practice and falling awkwardly in severe pain. The injury was diagnosed as a broken left femur, with a reported recovery time of 6-8 months.

At the best, Hunter Jr. could join Notre Dame for fall camp, but at the worst he won't be 100 percent until after the season starts (which still could be the case regardless of if he returns to practice in six months).

"This was a very sobering, horrible moment, because this is a good kid," Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said. "... I'm not talking about him like his career is over, but I'm just talking about Tuesday that whole practice changed for everybody who saw that."

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

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AP

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

It looks like it was too good to be true.

Tyger Campbell shocked the recruiting world when he committed to DePaul on May 8.

Less than four months later, Campbell has reopened his recruitment.

The Rivals.com four-star point guard out of La Lumiere High School in Indiana, who is the No. 66 prospect in the 2018 Class, took to Twitter Friday night to explain his decision.

One of Campbell's original draws to the Blue Demons was DePaul hiring Shane Heirman as an assistant coach. Heirman coached Campbell for two seasons at La Lumiere.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told Scout.com when he committed to the Blue Demons. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy."

Campbell currently has offers from a handful of D1 schools, including Illinois, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Purdue, SMU, Memphis and Tennessee.

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

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USA TODAY

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

On the heels of a 12-win improvement, UIC basketball is riding confidently into the new season. 

And why shouldn't they be? Head coach Steve McClain returns a young, talented nucleus that's expected to challenge for a Horizon League championship and NCAA Tournament berth. 

In fact, the program is in such good shape that they thought: Let's play Kentucky. 

Yup, that's right. The UIC Flames will match up with the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on Nov. 26, a necessary stage in development, according to McClain. 

“Every year you build your program, there’s steps you have to take," McClain said. "When we got the opportunity to go to Kentucky, I think that’s the next level of exposure for our program.

"When you're chasing trying to be great, you gotta show your kids and show people what greatness looks like. I don't think anyone can argue what Kentucky has done, so I want to put our kids in that environment so they see what it is." 

The contrast between programs is severe. UIC hasn't made an NCAA Tournament since 2004. The Wildcats have made 11 since then. UIC has never advanced out of the first round at the Big Dance. Kentucky has eight National Championships. 

Even this upcoming season, as the Flames boast one of their most skilled teams in school history, none of them were ever touted like Kentucky's freshman class, which ranks No. 2 in the nation per ESPN. 

But the disparities in past successes don't seem to bother UIC. Instead, players, who were likely snubbed by bigger schools in recruitment, are excited about the opportunity to compete on a national stage that the Flames rarely see. 

“First I was like, ‘It’s about time we got someone like (Kentucky) on our schedule,’" said center Tai Odiase, one of the few seniors on the roster. "We’ve been trying to play bigger teams to showcase what we’re made of."

“I don’t see why you go into a place like that without a chip on your shoulder. You don’t go in there just to play basketball, we’re trying to win."

UIC will be heavy, heavy underdogs. There's no way around that. But there are certain spots where they may not be at such a disadvantage. 

On the defensive end, Odiase continued to terrorize guards and big men alike, finishing fifth in the NCAA with 2.9 blocks per game. The dynamic guard duo from "The Six," Godwin Boahen and Marcus Ottey, are quick enough to hang and both took a huge step down the stretch last season. Then there's the return of 2015-2016 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year Dikembe Dixson, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

"The doctors at times thought he was a freak of nature because he was back as quick as he was," McClain said.  

Still, it's a tune-up game for Kentucky, who also scheduled Kansas, UCLA and Louisville on their non-conference slate. But one team's expected walk through is another team's vital experience. 

"Our guys can walk in and see that on a given night, you can compete with anyone," McClain said. 

Given new athletic director Garrett Klassy's comments at his introductory press conference, it doesn't seem as if games like this are a one-hit wonder for UIC. 

“I am an aggressive scheduler," Klassy said. "I helped with the scheduling at George Washington. We’ll play anyone, anytime, anywhere.

"You want to measure yourself against the best. We have a lot of returning starters. It’ll be nice to go on the road, play a tough game and maybe sneak out an upset."