The travel isn’t the only stressful part of the recruiting process for elite high schoolers

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — There has been plenty of discussion this July about just how exhausting the three week live recruiting period can be for players and the coaches, when they are either playing or evaluating at events across the country for 15 days in a 19-day span.

The things players will do to earn a scholarship, and the things that a coach will do to try to advance his career.

That’s not the only part of the process that is exhausting for these players, however, particularly the country’s biggest names. The sheer volume of games and the fact that they are so spread out — not only across the country, but in one city; more than 50 courts were used during the final live period weekend in Las Vegas alone, while the second weekend featured major events in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and Los Angeles — means that many media members and coaches will only have one or two chances to see your team play. First impressions mean a lot, and if you don’t perform well, they may not be back.

“You don’t ever want to disappoint,” said Allonzo Trier, a top 30 recruit in the Class of 2015. “To be advertised to be this good, that means that every single game you play, there’s someone that hasn’t seen you play. If you don’t live up to it, then there’s a guy that’s seen you play on your bad day. He doesn’t think you’re that good.”

That’s a lot of pressure to heap on a teenager playing his third game of the day in an event a couple of time zones away from his home. It will help with evaluating to a point, as the cream generally rises to the top in a stressful situation, but since the majority of the nation’s best players are already known by the summer before their senior year, it can be difficult for a borderline Division I prospect to try and earn himself a free education.

“I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming, I would say I’m grateful,” Abdul Malik-Abu, a top 50 prospect in the Class of 2014, said. “Some kids would wish to be in my position, with college coaches after them every day. I just take it in stride.”

Perhaps the most overwhelming part for these kids is the crush of attention after every game they play, particularly for those that are uncommitted. Coaches are texting them, reporters are in their face with microphones and their twitter mentions and blowing up while their only concerned about figuring out how to find a way to get something healthy to eat that won’t leave them too full to play again in a couple of hours.

“After every game, man, at least three times. I get interviewed a lot,” Rashad Vaughn, an uncommitted, top ten guard in the Class of 2014, said. “Sometimes it does [get overwhelming], but at the same time, this is what comes with it. You’ve got to live with it. You can’t hide from it, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Vaughn said his phone buzzes at least seven times a day, every day, with calls or text message from coaches, and that doesn’t take into account the reporters that are reaching out to him.

That’s how it was for top 20 recruit JaQuan Lyle before he committed to Louisville. “Before it was really crazy, I got a lot of calls and texts every day, every week.” After every game he played, he would do at least four interviews, Lyle said, and that at least three times in every interview he would be asked about his school list and if he was committing. Part of the reason for that is that he’s an Indiana native that was being recruited by Louisville and Indiana — two places with rabid fan bases and massive media contingents — and Lyle certainly was welcoming of the attention. But as an example of what he was dealing with, the first time that Lyle spoke to the media at the the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, VA, he was swarmed by at least 10 reporters while three cameras zoomed in on him.

I witnessed it, because I was one of the reporters with a recorder in his face.

And it’s more media attention than I’ve seen given to some all-conference players and future lottery picks after a college game.

“It’s a big change,” Lyle said of the attention that he’s gotten since committing to Louisville this month. “Not that many reporters will interview you after the game. … Every once in a while I still here from a school, but I tell them I committed.”

James Blackmon, a top 40 recruit from Indiana, committed to the Hoosiers as a freshman in high school and has never waivered. He says that he still is interviewed after AAU games in July, but that it’s always the same Indiana reporters and it’s more laid back when he isn’t getting grilled about the status of his recruitment.

Blackmon said that he was never concerned about the attention, just preparing himself for the next level.

“Getting interviews because you’re not committed and stuff like that, it really wasn’t a big deal to me,” he said. “Just being more mature and seeing what I’m going to do at the next level. There’s guys that like that attention, and it’s probably why they wait it out. But I felt like that wasn’t a big deal. You can have it at the next level if you keep working at it.”

To a man, every prospect that I talked to said they looked forward to getting the recruiting process over with.

Lyle said committing took away a lot of the stress of July, and that he “you just get back to having fun” and playing basketball. Vaughn said “I can’t wait to commit”, although he emphasized he thought it was in his best interest to wait until the spring to make a decision. Malik-Abu said he is “looking forward to making my decision” and that when he does, it’s “going to be a relief.”

No one in the class has received more attention that the nation’s top point guard and the nation’s top big man — Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor — who have made it quite clear that they want to go to school together.

Jones hasn’t had an issue with coaches calling too much — he made it quite clear early on that he didn’t want his phone to be ringing off the hook, and the coaches still in the mix are the coaches that have respected that — but he said that he’s still ready to have the process overwith.

“It’s been such a long process, so much goes into it. Once I make a decision I’ll be happier.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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