Shaka Smart

Shaka Smart, Derek Kellogg speak to the strength of the Atlantic 10

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AMHERST, Mass. – Following Friday night’s loss to UMass, VCU head coach Shaka Smart entered the room for his postgame press conference, firing off a question before even taking his seat at the table.

“Is this the same room where John Chaney said, ‘I’ll kill you’?,” he asked, referring to the former Temple coach’s confrontation with then-UMass head coach John Calipari which happened just over 20 years ago.

“You won’t hear that from me,” he then assured the room.

In his two-year tenure in the Atlantic 10, Smart has immersed himself in the history of the conference … both good and bad, apparently.

The Chaney-Calipari incident ranks high among the conference’s list of infamous moments, but Friday night’s showdown between VCU’s Havoc and UMass’ P.A.I.N. — Pressure, Agitate, Interrupt, Neutralize — is another reminder of how impressive the talent in the Atlantic 10 is. Friday night’s slate of games was particularly low, but a fast-paced 40-minute thriller between the Rams and Minutemen directed the national audience to the sold out Mullins Center for the evening.

“Our conference is still undervalued,” Smart said. “I don’t think people realized the gauntlet that you have to go through in this league. I guess Saint Louis, on paper the win-loss record, they are making it look easy, but if you look closer at some of their games, some of them have been very close. And then for the rest of us, we’ve been battling it out.”

The Billikens are winners of 19 in a row, with their last loss to the nation’s only remaining unbeaten, Wichita State. Last March, Saint Louis was one of five Atlantic 10 teams that won at least one game in the NCAA tournament. The win over VCU almost assures UMass its first NCAA tourney bid since 1998. The Minutemen could be one of four, potentially five bids in this year’s field from the A10.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but there is a lack of sophistication out there right now as it relates to the Atlantic 10,” Smart added. “There are fill-in-the-blank high-major programs and they carry a weight because of their name, first and foremost. But the reality is if you look closer and you compare them to some of the teams in our league, I think our league shapes out pretty well. Again I’m not calling out anyone individually.”

In the RPI Top 100, nine teams — Saint Louis, St. Joseph’s, UMass, VCU, Richmond, George Washington, Dayton and St. Bonaventure — all crack the list.

“I think it just continues with the A10, I think it’s stood the test of time for one reason or another,” Kellogg said, who played in the A10 from 1991-1995 under Calipari. “The proof is really right there in the numbers. That’s what it says.”

Selection Sunday is less than a month away. Two of the Atlantic 10’s bids from a season ago — Butler and Temple — are gone. St. Joseph’s doesn’t have the best out of conference resume while Richmond is without Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for the remainder of the season. The A10 has its share of bubble teams while at-large bids should be extended to multiple teams within the conference.

Teams like Saint Louis, ranked No. 10 in the AP poll, may not be in the discussion among the nation’s contenders, and the league doesn’t have the national attention it may deserve, but Friday night was a reminder of what sort of Havoc, or P.A.I.N. A10 teams like VCU and UMass can inflict on the NCAA tournament field.

The conference did account for seven wins in the 2013 NCAA Tournament after all.

“It was a pretty exciting game, a well-played game, a phenomenal crowd,” Smart said. “We just have to continue pushing forward with that and gaining respect as a league.”

Louisville campus police reviewing escort allegations

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Louisville campus police now say they are reviewing allegations that a former men’s basketball staffer hired escorts to dance and have sex with recruits and players in a dormitory.

Katina Powell has alleged in a book released online over the weekend that former Cardinals director of basketball operation Andre McGee paid her $10,000 for dancers to perform 22 shows from 2010-14 at the players’ Billy Minardi Hall dormitory. The school reported those allegations to the NCAA and has launched an investigation.

“The University of Louisville Police Department, in consultation with the Louisville Metro Police Department and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, is reviewing allegations regarding the men’s basketball program,” University police chief Wayne Hall said Tuesday in a statement.

It was the first confirmation that police are looking into the allegations. When contacted last week, a campus police operator said they weren’t aware of the book allegations, and it was unclear at that time if an investigation had been launched.

Cardinals coach Rick Pitino has said that McGee denied Powell’s allegations.

McGee left in 2014 and is currently an assistant at Missouri-Kansas City, which has put him on paid leave.

Pitino said Saturday that he hasn’t read Powell’s book titled “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen” and doesn’t plan to. The 104-page book was published by an affiliate of the Indianapolis Business Journal and is scheduled for hardcover release Oct. 12.

The woman said that she and three of her daughters, along with other women, danced and stripped for Louisville recruits and players and performed sex acts with them, according to the book. Powell, 43, also said McGee offered recruits alcohol at those parties.

Upon hearing of the allegations, Pitino said he did some investigating on his own before being told by the school’s compliance department not to talk to players. But the coach said he talked to other assistants about the allegations and all of them denied knowing of the activities outlined in Powell’s book.

“I’m going through 15 people who worked here, and not one person even had a premonition of something wrong,” Pitino said. “Not one person living in the dorm had even the slightest premonition. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Louisville has hired Chuck Smrt of the Compliance Group, which assists schools in NCAA cases, to review the allegations.

McGee left Louisville in 2014 to become an assistant at Missouri-Kansas City under Kareem Richardson, who was a Cardinals assistant from 2012-13. He was placed on paid administrative on Friday and has been unavailable for comment. McGee’s Louisville attorney, Scott Cox, didn’t comment because the investigation is ongoing.

St. John’s hires Mitch Richmond as a special assistant

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St. John’s added its second Hall of Famer to the coaching staff on Tuesday, announcing Mitch Richmond had been hired as a special assistant to first-year head coach Chris Mullin.

Mullin and Richmond, along with Tim Hardaway, made up Run TMC, the short-lived, high-scoring offense the Golden State Warriors played from 1989-91.

Mullin was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 2011. Three years later, he was a presenter to Richmond’s enshrinement in Springfield.

“Mitch is committed to helping us build this program and develop an environment for sustained success at St. John’s,” Mullin said in a statement. “He has tremendous basketball insight, a vision for the game and a passion to share his knowledge. Obviously, his experience in different roles throughout his career as a player, scout and mentor will have an impact in many areas.”

Earlier this summer, Mullin bolstered his coaching staff with the additions of associate head coach Barry Rohrssen and Matt Abdelmassih. Greg St. Jean was hired later in the summer.

The Red Storm open the 2015-16 season on Nov. 13 against Wagner.