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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

Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith

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Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.

A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.

Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.

Michigan State addingTom Izzo Hall of History wing in remodeled Breslin Center

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)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.

The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.

“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”

Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.

 

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.

The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.

“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release.  “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”

Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.

“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.

“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”

PHOTO: Purdue unveils statue of John Wooden outside Mackey Arena

John Wooden (Purdue Athletics)
Purdue Athletics
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John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.

10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?

What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.

To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:

“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”

One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.

North Carolina lands third commitment in 2017 class

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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North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.

A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.

Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.

Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.