When NCAA says no, Howard’s hometown steps up


Playing in the Final Four is usually a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Butler was lucky enough last year to play in Indianapolis, but this year’s Houston venue is a bit tougher trip for families to afford.

Any booster willing to help those families isn’t allowed, either. Against NCAA rules.

For example: Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay offered to fly Matt Howard’s family to Houston, but the school nixed it. So he instead donated to a fund started by the town of Connorsville, Ind., (Howard’s hometown). $3,000 later, the family can go to Houston to watch Howard play.

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(Something similar happened for the family of VCU’s Toby Veal, too. Read the details here.)

NCAA president Mark Emmert told USA Today that’s helping families with expenses such as attending games is something he’s open to exploring other options. Hopeful, right?

Then again, he hardly sounded open to it when he spoke to PBS earlier this month for a special on the “Money & March Madness; If everyone else is profiting from the multibillion dollar college sports business, why shouldn’t the athletes?”. From a lengthy Q&A:

Q: One of the things that former players reflected on — these are NBA players — is that many of their teammates watching March Madness, their families couldn’t afford to come to the games. They can’t take money from boosters to pay for their hotel bills or airfare, and the NCAA won’t pay for it either. They get two free tickets. Is that true?

A: The NCAA does not provide travel benefits for families.

Q: So if they can’t afford it themselves, they can’t see their children playing in the stadium or playing in the arena in March Madness?

A: I’m not sure what — is that a question or a statement?

Q: I mean, their son cannot solicit money from someone —

A: That’s right. We do not want student-athletes soliciting money. That’s a fact.

Q: I mean, I think it would surprise a lot of people watching these games that, particularly in the Final Four, that the families can’t afford to come, yet there’s $700 million in revenue coming into the NCAA as part of this broadcast.

A: Well, I don’t know the extent to which families can’t afford to come to those games. I mean, you’re saying it as if this is a widespread phenomenon, and I’d be fascinated to know what the extent of that problem really is.

The complete special can be seen here.

I don’t have a proper answer to this. There’s a slippery slope involved if boosters start offering things to families of players, but surely there’s a way to make exceptions for special events. It’s a start.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.