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Abdul Malik-Abu balances July’s live-period with his fasting for Ramadan

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — For a high school basketball prospect, the July evaluation period the summer prior to their senior year is one of the most important three-week stretches of their high school career. The coaches are allowed to be on the road, evaluating and recruiting, which means that the media will be there as well, schmoozing and networking.

Simply put, everyone with an opinion that matters in college hoops will be in a gym somewhere for three consecutive weekends in the middle of July.

For marginal prospects, that’s when you set yourself apart from the thousands upon thousands of other high school hoopers and earn yourself a scholarship. For the more talented kids, that’s when you play your way onto a top 25 program instead of finding yourself an afterthought for a team struggling to break .500 in the ACC.

For Boston native and Kimball Union Academy’s rising senior Abdul Malik-Abu, the most important month of his basketball career to date will be played without eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. It will be played without the benefit of a gatorade on the sidelines. He can’t even take a sip of water after his third game of the day in a gym with air conditioning that isn’t quite keeping out the swelteringly humid, 97-degree weather.

Malik-Abu — a 6-foot-8, 235 pound forward that ranks in Rivals’ top 50 in the Class of 2014 — is muslim. And as a practicing muslim, Malik-Abu fasts during Ramadan. This year, Ramadan began on July 8th and will run through August 7th, which means that throughout the entire July evaluation period, Malik-Abu will not eat or drink between sunrise and sundown.

“I’m really tired,” Malik-Abu told NBCSports.com after his only game on Thursday in Nike’s Global Challenge, as he packed up six gatorades from the event in his backpack. “For later.”

Here’s how Malik-Abu’s schedule works during Ramadan. He stops eating and drinking at about 4:30 a.m. each morning. For the next 16 hours, he has to hope that all the food and all the water that he packed into his stomach the night before keeps him running through out the day. At 8:30 p.m., when the sun sets and he’s allowed to eat again, Malik-Abu gets his Joey Chestnut on, which sounds ideal until you think about just how hard it is to actually fit that much stuff in your stomach.

“I eat as much as I can, but you get full quick because you haven’t eaten all day,” Malik-Abu said. “Just eat in spurts and spurts and spurts and spurts, and drink a lot of water.”

“It sucks. You think, ‘Oh, I’m fasting, I can eat as much as I want,’ but you get so full. You have to force yourself to drink water, or you’re going to pass out.”

What makes Malik-Abu’s performance while fasting all the more impressive is that he’s not an overly skilled big man and he’s not the kind of guy that does his damage knocking down jumpers. He’s a bruiser. He’s as big and burly as anyone in the Class of 2014, and he’s made a name for himself as an “effort guy”. He attacks the glass, he defends around the rim, he runs the floor in transition. That takes a lot of energy, which is not something that Malik-Abu necessarily has an abundance of right now.

“It’s something I have to do,” he said, “but it’s hard.”

Perhaps more impressive is that Malik-Abu consciously made the decision to play for the Pan-African team this week, passing up a chance to play on the USA East team. Instead of going up against the mediocre big men on some of the international teams, Malik-Abu will be spending the week battling against the kind of big men that should end up making all-conference teams in high-major leagues by the time their college careers are done.

“I wanted to be different, I wanted to do something for my heritage,” Malik-Abu said. His parents are Nigerian, but they came to this country two decades before he was born.

“I don’t want to beat teams by 20. I want to go against the best players instead of be on their team.”

Finding a college campus with a muslim community for him to join is important to Malik-Abu, but it’s not a deal-breaker. He says that having a mosque close to campus would be nice — muslims pray five times a day — but that it’s all just another part of the equation, “not the answer to the problem”.

“It’s not something I’m going to seek out, but if there’s one present, and the coach uses that as his pitch, it’s definitely going to help,” he said. “Not every campus is going to have it. I’m not going to limit myself. I’m going to go to the school that’s the best fit, and if they happen to have a muslim community that I could be a part of, then that’s that fine.”

Malik-Abu even said that his faith hasn’t been a major topic of conversation in much of his recruitment, which is down to 10 or 11 schools “on a mental note”, but that he’s not ready to officially trim his list.

“I don’t try to market it, I just try to play through,” he said, “and if they’re like, ‘what’s wrong, you’re not looking like yourself’, I’ll tell them I’m fasting.”

But here’s the thing: despite being 10 days into a month-long fast, Malik-Abu has looked like himself.

So what happens when he actually can eat?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Big Ten releases conference schedule

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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The Big Ten released its 2016-17 conference schedule on Thursday as the conference season begins on Dec. 27 with a four-game set.

Conference play will conclude on March 5th before the 20th annual Big Ten Tournament is played at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. from March 8-12.

Some notable games include Penn State hosting Michigan State at the Palestra on Jan. 7.

You can view the full Big Ten schedule here.

Arizona’s Talbott Denny injures knee, out for season

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona senior forward Talbott Denny will miss the season after tearing the ACL and medial meniscus in his left knee.

The school said Wednesday that the 6-foot-5 graduate transfer from Lipscomb will have surgery.

Denny, from Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic High School, missed all of last season at Lipscomb because of a shoulder injury.

Roy Williams: ‘There’s no question’ more ACC games equal no Kentucky in non-conference

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Back in June, when the ACC officially announced that they would be expanding the league schedule to 20 games in 2019, I tried to warn you that it was going to put a dent into the non-conference schedule and the amount of quality, on-campus games that we’ll get prior to January.

Roy Williams essentially confirmed this as fact this week.

The North Carolina head coach hopped on a podcast with ESPN and more or less said that the bigger league schedule is going to lead to an end of some of UNC’s marquee home-and-home series.

“My feeling right now, and it could change by ’19, heck I could be fired by ’19, but my feeling right now is to play our conference schedule, play one exempt event where you have really good teams, and other than that play home games to help out your revenue and help out your budget,” Williams said. “We have the ACC/Big Ten and that’s not going to go away. So it’s 21 games already scheduled.”

When asked specifically if this would put an end to UNC’s series with Kentucky, Williams said, “Oh yeah, there’s no question. Why would I need to do that?”

There’s two reasons this makes sense. On the one hand, North Carolina needs to fill their home arena a certain number of times to help with the bottom line of the athletic department. They make enough off of ticket sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and food and beverage that they can afford to pay out more than $50,000 to bring a smaller opponent into their arena. More than that, playing a series of weaklings early in the year allows players to gain confidence, it allows Williams to figure out what his rotation will be and who can handle playing at this level, and it gives newcomers a chance to assimilate into his team against players that just aren’t that good.

And when a larger ACC schedule severely limits the number of non-conference games that UNC will be able to play, what’s going to get cut are the contracts that require the Tar Heels to play on the road when they don’t have to.

So buh-bye, Kentucky, it is.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.