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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

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

Ernie Kent
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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.