Will an ‘overheard conversation’ change the tenor of the Shabazz Muhammad investigation?

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The saga that is UCLA’s quest to get prized freshman Shabazz Muhammad cleared by the NCAA is one that has dragged on for quite some time. We’ve had a statement from the family disputing the governing body’s claims that Muhammad violated amateurism rules, but few could have expected what was released Wednesday night.

According to Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times, lawyers representing Muhammad believe that because of a conversation overheard on a flight from Chicago to Memphis in early August the NCAA had its mind made up to declare Muhammad ineligible.

The individual with the loose lips is (or it could be “was” by this point) reportedly the boyfriend of the attorney who working the case for the NCAA:

The conversation came to light in an email from an attorney who said she was seated behind a man who was speaking loudly about the work of his girlfriend, an “attorney with the NCAA.”

The girlfriend, whom he identified as “Abigail,” was investigating Muhammad. The man made it clear that the NCAA would find Muhammad ineligible and not allow him to play this season, the email said. Abigail Grantstein, an assistant director of enforcement, is the NCAA’s lead investigator on the Muhammad case.

The attorney, who confirmed her story in a telephone interview with The Times on Wednesday, said in her email that she was concerned with the lack of confidentiality and “the cavalier discussion of this young man’s future being tossed about for everyone to hear.”

The attorney (who according to the Times asked that her name not be released) sent emails to Dennis Thomas, a former chairman of the NCAA’s infractions committee, UCLA and the lawyer representing the family in this case, Robert Orr.

The question: how much of an impact will this have on the appeal filed by UCLA on Muhammad’s behalf, which is set to be heard on Friday?

And will the impact be positive (the NCAA rules him eligible) or negative (they say to hell with it and uphold the ruling without giving it much thought)?

Whether or not this conversation actually took place is something that’s up for debate; an answer that only the people on the plane truly know. The goal of Muhammad’s representation is to show that the NCAA had its mind made up before they even heard the case, but would the NCAA ever admit to that?

The introduction of this conversation as evidence could be a last-ditch effort to get the NCAA to change course, a “Hail Mary” so to speak. And those tend to not have a very high rate of success.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej. 

Milwaukee to lose top three scorers to transfer

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Milwaukee announced this week that the three leading scorers off of last season’s fifth-place Horizon League team have been given their release to transfer out of the program.

Jeremiah Bell (14.1 ppg) and Brock Stull (13.4 ppg), both junior guards, as well as sophomore forward Bryce Nze (10.3 ppg) will all pursue other opportunities, which is trouble for a program with a coach that just finished his first season and a roster that finished below .500 on the season.

“Our staff wishes this group of players nothing but the best,” coach Pat Baldwin said in the statement. “We never like to see players leave, but each student-athlete has a unique set of circumstances and feels what is best for them is somewhere else. As they all wish to pursue options at the high-major level, we do want to thank them for their contributions to the Milwaukee basketball program.”

Commission to unveil ideas to fix college basketball’s woes

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — College basketball played an entire season amid a federal corruption investigation that magnified long-simmering troubles within the sport, from shady agent dealings to concerns over athletes who’d rather go straight to the pros.

Now it’s time to hear new ideas on how to fix the complex, wide-ranging problems.

On Wednesday morning, the commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will present its proposed reforms to university presidents of the NCAA Board of Governors and the Division I Board of Directors at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. And that starts what could be a complicated process in getting changes adopted and implemented for next season.

“I expect the proposals will be strong,” NCAA president Mark Emmert told The Associated Press. “They’ll certainly break with the status quo. That’s their charge and their mission. That’s what we need.

“I think it’s going to be a very good day for college sports,” he said.

That would be welcome, considering there has been no shortage of bad days in recent months.

The Commission on College Basketball formed in October , a few weeks after federal prosecutors announced they had charged 10 men — including assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, USC and Oklahoma State along with a top Adidas executive — in a fraud and bribery scandal.

The case involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school, agent or apparel company. And it has entangled schools such as Kansas, North Carolina State , Louisville and Miami , among others, though prosecutors withdrew a criminal complaint in Feburary against one of the defendants, a youth hoops program director.

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said that case has put college sports in the position of reacting instead of proactively heading off yet-to-emerge problems.

“Sometimes unfortunately that’s what it takes,” Swofford told the AP. “You’d like to think that collectively the basketball world could’ve seen this coming and had the foresight to get out ahead of it. But that’s not reality. Organizations and people, we all sometimes need wake-up calls. And I see this as a wake-up call, and therefore an opportunity.”

One the Rice commission wants to seize.

It was charged with finding ways to reform and modernize rules, including looking at the NCAA’s relationship with the NBA, youth leagues, apparel companies and agents. It was also set to review an enforcement process that frequently takes years to resolve complicated cases of potentially major rules violations.

The commission features several prominent names in the sport, including former NBA stars Grant Hill and David Robinson, former Georgetown coach John Thompson III, retired college coach Mike Montgomery and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.

“The stage is set, certainly, given what’s happened with law enforcement and what we’ve seen in media reports around men’s basketball at the collegiate level,” Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey told the AP. “You involve Condoleezza Rice because you want an impactful outcome.”

After Rice presents Wednesday morning, the boards will meet to consider adopting the commission’s recommendations, either fully or in part. The next stop would be the Division I Council, a group mostly made up of athletic directors, to craft legislation for implementation.

Emmert said the council is already forming subgroups to deal with the targeted areas the commission is expected to address, with the goal of having legislation ready to be presented by August in time for next season.

Swofford, for one, said he’d prefer to end the one-and-done model of top NBA prospects arriving in college for one-year pit stops before turning professional, though that would also take agreement from the NBA. Swofford prefers a model similar to baseball by allowing high schoolers to go straight to the pros but require players who enter college to spend two years there.

He’d also like to see the NBA-run G League become a stronger developmental option for athletes who don’t want to come to college, a path recently chosen by former Syracuse recruit and McDonald’s All-American Darius Bazley.

Regardless, Swofford said, changes must be broad-based because “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet here” to fix everything. And he expects the commission to offer “substantive” findings.

“If we can’t react to something like this in a way that brings significant improvement to the system and to what we’re doing, shame on us,” Swofford said.

Wichita State’s McDuffie testing NBA draft waters

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Wichita State forward Markis McDuffie entered his name into the NBA draft without signing with an agent, sources told NBC Sports on Tuesday.

It was initially believed that McDuffie would return to Wichita State for his senior season. As a sophomore, McDuffie, a former top 100 recruit, averaged 11.5 points and 5.7 boards, but he played fewer than 20 minutes a night as a junior after missing the first half of the season with a broken foot.

He will be a late-second round pick at best, but is likely to go undrafted if he opts to sign with an agent. He’s expected to return.

The Shockers are already staring down the barrel of a rebuilding season. Two players, including starter Austin Reaves, are transferring out of the program while all-american guard Landry Shamet has already made the decision to enter the draft and sign with an agent. As it currently stands, assuming McDuffie returns, just four scholarship players from this year’s team will play for Wichita State next season: McDuffie, Samajae Haynes-Jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard and Rod Brown.

Jeff Capel lands first commitment as the head coach at Pitt

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Jeff Capel is on the board with his first commitment as the head coach of Pittsburgh.

Trey McGowens, a top 100 prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on his twitter page that he will be enrolling at Pitt as a member of the Class of 2018.

A 6-foot-3 combo-guard, McGowens picked the Panthers over a handful of other high-major programs.

This is not exactly a program changing kind of commitment for Capel. Players that are late-spring commitments are almost always more celebrated because they end up in higher demand when there are fewer players left to fill the holes on rosters around the country. I’m not sure McGowens is all that different, but what’s significant about his commitment is that it’s proof that Capel is, at the very least, going to make some noise on the recruiting trail.

Capel has a long rebuild in front of him, but landing four-star prospects that will help spend a few years in the program are the kind of pieces that he needs at this point, and the kind of pieces that his predecessor was not able to land.

Felder no longer part of South Carolina basketball program

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina point guard Rakym Felder is no longer part of the Gamecocks basketball team.

Felder, a key freshman reserve for South Carolina’s Final Four team two years ago, was dismissed from the program by coach Frank Martin on Monday.

The 5-foot-10 Felder, from Brooklyn, New York, was suspended last summer after his second arrest in less than a year. Felder was not enrolled last fall. He was allowed to return in the spring semester although he did not play.

Martin said there were guidelines Felder had to follow upon coming back “and unfortunately, he has not met those expectations.”

Martin has not detailed those guidelines for Felder’s return to the court.

Felder had 15 points in South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament win over Duke in 2017