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Summertime in the Ivy League

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College basketball coaches collectively rejoiced in January of 2012 when a new rule was passed stipulating that coaches would be afforded the opportunity to work with their players – including incoming freshmen – over the summer months.

As a refresher to the exact rule from the NCAA:

In men’s basketball, a student-athlete who is enrolled in summer school may engage in required weight-training, conditioning and skill-related instruction for up to eight weeks (not required to be consecutive weeks). Participation in such activities shall be limited to a maximum of eight hours per week with not more than two hours per week spent on skill-related instruction.

Additional time spent in the gym with their teams – what coach wouldn’t be on board with this? Coaches are always itching for additional practice time with their team during the season, so having an opportunity to develop skills and review offensive and defensive systems over the summer came as a welcome surprise.

A surprise for all, except those in the Ivy League.

To read through NBCSports.com’s series on July’s live recruiting period, click here.

Add Ivy League coaching staffs not working with their teams over the summer – a self-imposed rule by the league, mind you – to an already long list of items making the Ancient Eight the most unique conference in America: it’s the only conference without a postseason tournament, the only conference without scholarships, the only conference that plays league games on back-to-back nights (Friday and Saturday), and almost assuredly the only conference that will never entertain the idea of conference realignment. This is the Ivy League, and they do things differently.

While the league certainly is unique and poses inherent challenges, no coach uses it as an excuse.

“Part of it is that we have to make sure we are recruiting the right men. The Ivy League will always be an academically first league, but we are looking for guys that have a desire to play professionally and that take their craft very seriously,” Brown head men’s basketball coach Mike Martin told NBC Sports by phone.

Many in the Ivy League seem to take an “it is what it is” approach. Nobody likes it and everyone would like additional time with their players just like all other coaches are afforded.

Of course, just because the coaches aren’t in the gym, does not mean players put the ball down from June through August.

“Rafael Maia (a rising sophomore center at Brown) played over in Russia with Brazil this summer at the World University Games. Even though we, as coaches, aren’t able to work with the guys for the allotted time each week doesn’t mean that they’re not significantly improving their game,” said Martin.

Columbia head coach Kyle Smith explained to NBC Sports over the phone that he does his best to “spin” to himself how not working with his team over the summer is somehow a good thing.

“We have different animals at Columbia and in the Ivy League. My big pitch is ‘you can be good at both’ (speaking of academics and basketball) – just look at Jeremy Lin.” (Side note: Smith offered Lin a spot on the roster at St. Mary’s, but it would have been as a recruited walk-on as the Gaels did not have a scholarship available)

“As not just a basketball player, but as a student and person as a whole, part of their growth and creativity is being on their own a little bit. In fact, I tell my players — especially the freshmen — to take some time right after exams to just unwind and spend time with their families. Between schoolwork and basketball during the year, they need the breather.”

To continue the “spin,” Smith used an apt analogy to explain that even if he and his staff were working side-by-side with their players over the summer, the players still need to put in the work themselves: “It usually comes down to individual talent. You can lead a horse to water, but he has to drink it himself. Fortunately, these guys are just achievers in general.”

Smith, like Martin who graduated from Brown in 2004 and coached at Pennsylvania for six years, is an academically oriented guy himself: “As a player, I actually wanted to play in the Ivy League, but maybe I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. I’ve always had an affinity for high-academic guys.”

Smith may be selling himself short as he is a graduate of Hamilton College and had a very successful career at the New York-based NESCAC school.

“When I came to Columbia from St. Mary’s in 2010, there were two things I realized: one was there are some really talented players in this league that people just don’t know about, and two, the level of coaching in this league…some of the game’s top basketball minds have coached here. I think the level of basketball knowledge helps coaches deal with some of the challenges.”

Don’t let Martin’s or Smith’s comments fool you; they — like the other six Ivy League head coaches — would welcome summer practice time with open arms.

“It’s something that of course we are hoping and pushing for. It’s a matter of speaking with the athletic directors and getting them on board, and then the presidents will have to adopt it,” Martin said.

Smith remains optimistic that the league may modify the summer practice rules in the future.

“The league takes such pride in competing at the highest level in everything they do. Look at sports like hockey and lacrosse, Yale just won the national championship in hockey. Why not basketball? I think the presidents see that you can compete at the highest level without compromising academics.”

A prime example of competing at the highest level, the Harvard administration made a concerted effort several years ago to up their level of competitiveness in basketball, and they will be a fringe Top 25 team to begin the 2013-14 season as a result. Give credit to the Crimson who have made back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and knocked off third-seeded New Mexico last year.

Looking ahead, there have been many early projections that have Harvard as a team to seriously watch come March; they have the talent to make a run to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Think Tommy Amaker would like to have some time gelling with his squad right now?

Said Smith: “Going forward, there is no reason this can’t be a two-bid league.”

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11

Former Southern Miss forward Jonathan Mills shot and killed

Southern Mississippi forward Jonathan Mills (24) reacts at the buzzer in Memphis' 60-58 win in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)
AP Photo/Lance Murphey
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In two seasons as a member of the Southern Miss basketball program from 2011-13, forward Jonathan Mills made an impression based on how hard he played the game. Monday afternoon it was reported that Mills was shot and killed in Chicago, not too far away from his alma mater of North Lawndale High School.

Before attending Eastern Utah CC and Southern Miss, Mills plied his trade at North Lawndale where he helped the school win a state title in 2008 and the Chicago Public League title as a senior in 2009. North Lawndale HS coach Lewis Thorpe told the Chicago Tribune that he and Mills had plans to work out at the school Monday afternoon, only for Thorpe to receive a phone call from his nephew informing him of Mills’ death.

Mills was going through workouts with his high school coach in preparation for a move overseas to play professionally.

The coach said he heard from witnesses at the scene that Mills had gone to a corner store with some friends and, when they came out, a car drove up and someone inside shot him.

“I’m so messed up. I am so shocked,” he said. “When I say he was well liked…everybody loved him.’’

Thorpe said Mills called him “Pops” when he coached him in high school.

After word of Mills’ death made the rounds many paid tribute to him via social media including Donnie Tyndall, who coached Mills at Southern Miss.

Richmond announces change to European trip itinerary

Chris Mooney - UR
AP Photo/Skip Rowland
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With the NCAA allowing college basketball programs to take one trip outside of the country every four years, some coaches look at it as an opportunity to get a head start on preparations for the upcoming season. Chris Mooney’s Richmond Spiders are one team taking a trip this summer, as they’re due to leave the United States for Europe on August 8 with three exhibitions scheduled for their 12-day tour.

The trip was originally scheduled to begin in France, with the Spiders spending their first week there before making stops in the Netherlands and Germany. Monday afternoon the program announced a change to the itinerary, with the Spiders now spending their first week in Ireland and not France.

“We continue to be excited about the opportunity to travel abroad this summer,” Mooney said in the release. “We were able to make some changes to our travel itinerary, and we believe that this new itinerary will give our team a great opportunity to grow together and see other parts of the world.”

It isn’t stated as the reason for the change in the release but this news comes just over a week after a man drove a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, claiming the lives of 84 people and leaving more than 200 others injured.

Richmond, which returns two of its top three scorers from a season ago in forward T.J. Cline and guard ShawnDre’ Jones, is schedule to return to the United States August 20. Per NCAA rules they’re also afforded the opportunity to practice for two weeks leading up to the trip, and heading to Europe can help the team build stronger connections in unfamiliar surroundings.

July Live Period Superlatives: Who impressed during the most important recruiting months?

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For much of the last three weeks, the nation’s best high school players have been jet-setting across the country — and the world — as they showcased what they can do in front of college coaches everywhere from North Augusta, S.C., to Las Vegas.

Here are the players that stood out the most:

MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER: Michael Porter Jr.

In a close call, I’m going with the future Washington Husky, Michael Porter Jr.

After an unstoppable Peach Jam in which he helped MoKan Elite win the event by completely dominating, Porter was one of the key players in helping the USA U18 team win the FIBA Americas as the team’s leading scorer.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Some have questioned Porter’s toughness, but he’s been a tenacious rebounder from the wing all spring and summer and he’s nearly impossible to contain off the bounce. When his perimeter jumper is going, Porter is an advanced three-level scorer who can make getting buckets look easy on some very difficult moves. In three bracket games at Peach Jam, Porter averaged 29.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while shooting insane splits (68% FG, 93% FT, 56% 3PT).

BEST GUARD: Trae Young

Part of the reason that Porter was so good during Peach Jam is that he had Trae Young beside him on MoKan. A 6-foot-1 guard with deep shooting range on pull-ups, Young is underrated as a setup guy as his aggressive scoring capabilities open up a lot of offense for his teammates. Also a member of the USA U18 team that won gold with Porter, if Young shoots it that efficiently from three-point range in the future, he’ll be in the discussion among the best guards in the class.

They were good, too

  • Trevon Duval: The point guard with the most potential in 2017, Duval had a tough time finishing at the rim but still showed incredible athleticism and a warrior’s mentality.
  • Collin Sexton: After winning MVP of the FIBA U17 World Championships and a gold medal with USA Basketball, Sexton tore up the circuit and showed incredible intensity and scoring capabilities.

BEST WING: Gary Trent, Jr.

When Gary Trent Jr. takes the court, he wants to completely destroy you. No five-star player went as consistently hard as Trent did during the month of July and that is coming after Trent spent a month away from home winning gold with USA Basketball in Spain at the FIBA U17 World Championships. There were times in Vegas that opposing coaches and teams knew what moves were coming and Trent would still score on them. He’s a cold-blooded scorer who always brings intensity.

They were good, too

  • Hamidou Diallo: The high-flying guard can get a lot done on both ends of the floor and his upside might be among highest in the class.
  • Brian Bowen: Scoring the ball well and rebounding from the wing was the 6-foot-7 wing from Michigan, who looked unstoppable at times during July.

BEST BIG: DeAndre Ayton

If anyone beats Porter as the best player of July it is Ayton. The 7-footer was incredible during certain moments of Peach Jam in helping lead California Supreme to the final four as he beat Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter and Mitchell Robinson in consecutive games.

With soft touch, a workable jumper and the kind of quick hops that get rim easy dunks and rebounds, Ayton is the best long-term prospect in this class because of how well he moves for his size while also owning a good skill level. Ayton has a desire to play in college and hopefully he’ll get the chance because he has a shot to be one of the best big men college basketball has seen in the last decade.

They were good, too

  • Wendell Carter: The 6-foot-10 center was good at Peach Jam and closed out strong by helping Team CP3 win The Eight in Las Vegas.
  • Mitchell Robinson: This 7-footer changes directions and runs like a guard and is the best shot blocker in the country. I haven’t seen one guy block this many three-pointers since Anthony Davis.
Deandre Ayton, Jon Lopez/Nike
Deandre Ayton, Jon Lopez/Nike

BIGGEST STOCK RISER: Malik Williams

Indiana native Malik Williams is an interesting story because he was the only top 40 Class of 2017 player who didn’t play in a shoe-company league this spring. After a July in which the 6-foot-11 Williams made perimeter moves, blocked shots and rebounded his entire area, he looked like a five-star lock who should be in serious consideration for the All-American games. Williams is undoubtedly talented enough for those distinctions, but he also needs to prove himself more against the elite big men of the Class of 2017 before we know how good he can really be.

Some of the best college basketball programs in the country like Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State and Purdue — among many others — are making Williams a priority recruit.

They impressed, too

  • Chuma Okeke: Auburn just snagged this top-60 wing forward on Monday and he’s coming off a monster July. A versatile wing who can handle and score, Okeke can also rebound well from the wing.
  • Nick Weatherspoon: The younger brother of Mississippi State freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon is making a name for himself as a 6-foot-1 playmaking guard who can really score.

FOUR NON-ELITE NAMES WITH NBA POTENTIAL

  • Derek Culver: The 6-foot-10 native of Ohio is an intriguing talent because of his size, athleticism and passing ability.
  • Brandon Randolph: A smooth scorer with good size at 6-foot-6, Randolph hit 40 percent of his threes at Peach Jam and can fill it up from deep.
  • Chaundee Brown: One of the most efficient scorers at Peach Jam, the 6-foot-5 guard can also pull down rebounds with the best of them.
  • Jordan Goodwin: Undoubtedly one of the toughest dudes in the country, this Marcus Smart-type guard is improving his jumper but he’s a warrior with everything else.
Trae Young, Jon Lopez/Nike
Trae Young, Jon Lopez/Nike

Cody Riley cuts list to five schools

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Cody Riley has cut his list to five schools, according to Scout.com.

A four-star four man, Riley is now considering just UConn, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC.

Ranked the No. 29 player in the Class of 2017 by Rivals, Riley is an undersized-but-powerful forward. His bread and butter is on the block, where his strength and low center of gravity make him a nightmare to deal with, but he’s also skilled enough to do damage as a face-up four.

Riley is from California and will be playing his senior season alongside Marvin Bagley III, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2018, at Sierra Canyon.

Auburn continues to stockpile talent, adds top 50 prospect in 2017

Bruce Pearl
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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Auburn’s hire of Bruce Pearl was almost universally lauded as the first step towards the return of relevance for the Tiger basketball program.

And while the results have yet to shine through on the floor, Pearl is unequivocally stockpiling the kind of talent that will allow him to push for trips to the NCAA tournament and maybe one day contend for a league crown with Kentucky.

The latest step came on Sunday, when Pearl landed a commitment from Chuma Okeke, a top 50 wing prospect out of Georgia.

“He is a versatile wing who can handle and score,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “Coming off of a big July, Okeke could move up the national rankings and Auburn pounced on him right away.”

Okeke joins big man Austin Wiley, a top ten player in the class, and Davion Mitchell, who is likely one of the five best point guards in the country, in what is currently the nation’s best recruiting class in 2017. That’s before you consider that Pearl already has Mustapha Heron, a top 25 prospect, joining the mix this season.

“This group has the makings of a monster recruiting class for Auburn,” Phillips said.

Okeke picked the Tigers over Florida State, Georgia and a number of other programs across the southeast.