Happy Independence Day! Some Thursday news and notes:
### UM’s non-binding pledge from Hialeah Champagnat Catholic four-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine moved the Hurricanes up to third in 247sports.com’s ranking of the top classes, so far, for 2014.
What’s more, UM’s 20 oral commitments are among the most in the country. Among the programs rated in ESPN’s top 30 recruiting classes for 2014, only North Carolina State (22) and Texas (21) have more. Yes, a few of UM’s commitments are unheralded developmental projects, but UM also has four players in ESPN’s top 150.
As for Valentine, he’s ranked fourth among defensive tackles by 247sports.com, 11th by ESPN and 20th by rivals.com. ESPN ranks him the 150th best prospect nationally.
Valentine had 35 scholarship offers and chose UM over Alabama, Tennessee and Louisville. Florida, FSU, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma were among his other offers. Valentine at one time was orally committed to Louisville, and later to UF, before changing his mind. He de-committed from the Gators in February.
He played at Palm Bay Bayside before transferring this year to Champagnat. “He’s great – one of the top five run stuffers in the country,” Champagnat coach Mike Tunsil said. “And he’s actually a better pass rusher. I’ve never seen a kid with a first step like that. He’s a workaholic.”
Valentine committed during an unofficial visit to UM on Wednesday, Tunsil said. He originally planned to pick a school on his birthday, Nov. 15, but moved up his timetable.
According to Canesport.com, he still has ground to make up to qualify academically. Tunsil said “he is doing great in the class room” at his new school. But he reportedly struggled academically at Palm Bay.
Al Golden -- who turns 44 today -- has to feel very good about what he and his staff have done, considering the NCAA cloud still hanging over the program.
### As of late Wednesday night, Chris Andersen wasn’t quite yet ready to commit for another season with the Heat, but it would be surprising to many if he doesn’t at some point in the next week or so because he has said he wants to return and the Heat wants him back.
So far, at least 17 free agents have committed to new teams --- contracts cannot be signed until July 10 – but well over 100 have not made a decision.
So what have the other Eastern Conference playoff teams been doing in the first week of free agency?
Brooklyn, of course, set itself up to challenge the Heat for a year or two by acquiring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from the Celtics for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and three future first-round picks. That trade cannot become official for another week.
A Nets starting lineup of Garnett, Pierce, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson will certainly command the Heat’s attention. And Brooklyn kept a key bench piece by agreeing to a new deal with Andray Blatche.
But none of the other Eastern playoff teams has made a hugely impactful move. Chicago re-signed Nazr Mohammed and upgraded slightly at shooting guard by signing Mike Dunleavy (10.5 points, 44.2 percent shooting last season) to replace Marco Belinelli (9.6, 39.5).
The Pacers, determined not to pay a luxury tax, rescinded their qualifying offer to Tyler Hansbrough (which hurts their frontcourt depth) but re-signed essential piece David West (three years, $36 million) and upgraded at backup point guard by replacing DJ Augustin (35 percent shooter last season) with CJ Watson (41.8 percent).
The Knicks improved somewhat by dealing Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first-rounder and two second-round picks to Toronto for 7-foot finesse, three-point shooting big man Andrea Bargnani, who’s coming off a disappointing, injury-shortened season (12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds). The Knicks also are reportedly close to re-signing J.R. Smith to a four-year deal.
In a three-team sign-and-trade, the Bucks dealt free agent J.J. Reddick, who had no intention of re-signing, to the Clippers and are trying to sign O.J. Mayo to replace him. The Hawks re-signed Kyle Korver (four years, $24 million) and await word from Josh Smith, who is being wooed by Detroit and others.
### The Dolphins, who already have $13 million in cap space that can be carried over to next year, can add another $7.3 million by cutting cornerback Dimitri Patterson ($4.6 million) and Dan Carpenter ($2.7 million). Those are the two veterans clearly most at risk of being released before the season starts; nobody else is close.
We’re not predicting any of these players will be released, but here would be the cap savings if the Dolphins cut a few others: John Jerry ($1.3 million); Nate Garner (only $566,000; that’s not enough of an incentive to cut a versatile, capable reserve); Austin Spitler ($1.32 million; battling for a backup linebacker job). Curious about anybody else? Drop us a line.
### When 23-year-old right-hander Henderson Alvarez makes his 2013 Marlins debut tonight after missing the first three months with shoulder inflammation, we will begin to see if his performance catches up to the quality of his stuff.
“He has explosive stuff at times and a complete repertoire,” Marlins executive Larry Beinfest said earlier this year.
But that hasn’t translated into results. In finishing 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA, Alvarez allowed an absurd 270 base-runners in 187 innings for Toronto last season, including 29 homers and a .290 average against. Cleanup batters hit a ridiculous .342 against him.
“Alvarez is a better pitcher than he showed in Toronto,” one scout told us this spring. “The key for him is getting good sink on his fastball.”