UTEP-ex Smith commits to UL; Johnson exits for Tulane
The UL basketball team picked up a commitment last weekend from forward Tirus Smith, a UTEP bounceback.
The 6-foot-9 Smith averaged 8.7 points and 5.4 rebounds this past season for Jones College in Mississippi.
In the 2017-18 season, he averaged 4.4 points, 3.1 boards and 0.5 over 24 games including seven starts for UTEP — including a season-high 17 point vs. Howard — while also missing six games with a knee injury. But Miners coach Tim Floyd retired early in Smith’s freshman season, and the one-time Ole Miss commit transferred afterward.
Smith, from Richton, Mississippi, told the Mississippi radio website 601Sports.com that he went to UTEP weighing 260 pounds and left at 230.
Smith is a product of Petal High in Mississippi, where as a senior he averaged 14.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and two blocks per game while compiling 10 double-doubles on the year and scoring a season-high 30 points.
He scored 1,003 career points in just two and a half seasons of varsity basketball, and was named to The (Jackson, Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger’s “Dandy Dozen” as one of the state’s top 12 high school players.
Smith also played for the Elfrid Payton Elite AAU team, sponsored by the ex-Cajuns and current New Orleans Pelicans point guard.
According to the junior college recruiting Twitter page Dirty South Juco, he’s a power forward who has “a big motor with an array of post moves” and “finishes above the rim and has range on his jumpers.”
Smith can formalize his non-binding verbal pledge when the NCAA's basketball signing period opens Wednesday.
KEVIN JOHNSON LEAVES
Tulane on Friday made official the hiring of Kevin Johnson as an assistant on the staff of new Green Wave head coach Ron Hunter.
Hunter previously was head coach at Georgia State, UL's Sun Belt Conference rival.
“Kevin’s Louisiana ties are unparalleled and I’m excited to bring him on board,” Hunter said in a news release.
“I drew a lot of interest in this position, but Kevin rose to the top of a deep pool of candidates, because I couldn’t have picked anyone with more experience.”
Johnson has spent the last nine seasons as a UL assistant under Bob Marlin.
Known both for his recruiting and his work with big men, the Morgan City native has worked as an assistant at Nicholls (2007-10), Louisiana Tech (2005-07), Texas-Pan American (1996-97) and Northwestern State (1989-90).
He also worked as both an assistant and, for six seasons, head coach at Centenary.
JAKEENAN GANT’S HAUL
JaKeenan Gant recently added to his haul of postseason awards by being named a finalist for the Lou Henson Award, presented annually to the top mid-major player in the country.
The selection made him a Lou Henson All-American.
He also was a finalist for the Lefty Driesell Award, presented to the country’s top defensive player.
Wofford guard Fletcher Magee won the Lou Henson Award last weekend and Washington’s Matisse Thybulle won the Lefty Driesell Award.
Gant also has been named to USBWA and NABC All-District teams, and to the All-Sun Belt first team, and he was named the SBC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Gant led the Cajuns in points, and led the Sun Belt in rebounds and blocks.
He also recently received, as expected, an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a long-running pre-NBA Draft event that opens next week in Portsmouth, Virginia.
FRANK BARTLEY IV HONORED
Former Cajuns guard Frank Bartley IV recently was named Rookie of Year in the National Basketball League of Canada.
Bartley averaged 19.3 ppg for the Saint John Riptide, which ranked eighth among NBLC scoring leaders.
“Frank has been a consistent scoring presence for us all year,” Riptide coach said Nelson Terroba said in statement.
“What I’m most pleased about is that, from the beginning, he has embraced the importance of being detail-oriented with his defensive assignments in addition to his offensive contributions.
“He has really had some big games for us,” Terroba added, “and, with continued experience, I anticipate that he will have a bright future playing the game for many years to come.”
Bartley scored 32 in Saint John’s final playoff loss.
Catching up with a few other ex-Cajuns playing professionally internationally:
» Big man Bryce Washington has signed to play for Mackay of the semi-pro Queensland Basketball League in Australia. The QBL season opens in May. Washington also played as a rookie during the 2018-19 season in Canada with Bartley for Saint John.
» Guard Kasey Shepherd has been playing for Batumi of the Georgian Superleague. He played earlier this season in Hungary.
» Guard Bryant Mbamalu plays for Club Deportivo Valdivia in the National Basketball Leaue of Chili, and played previously for Lagos in Nigeria. Two years ago, Mbamalu was a member of the Nigerian national team that played in AfroBasket 2017.