How do coaches balance the allure of the NBA with running their program?

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In the aftermath of a team’s final game of the season, one of the most important tasks for a head coach is to figure out what his players entertaining thoughts of leaving school early to enter the NBA Draft will do. There’s the solicitation of information from the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee, conversations with family members and the player himself as he debates what will, to this point, be the most important decision of his life. In the best situation no stone is left unturned, thus ensuring that the player will have all the accurate information he needs to make a sound decision.

For those who return to school there are a number of possible reasons, from deciding that they aren’t ready for the professional ranks to the desire to help their program win a national title. That was the case for the Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski, who announced their decisions to return to Tucson on the same day teammates Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson declared their intentions to leave school early.

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“The one reason we’re all coming back here is we have sort of unfinished business here at U of A,” Tarczewski said during their press conference, and it should be noted that none of the three sought feedback from the Advisory Committee before making their decisions. “There’s no question that all three of us could say we’ve had a great career no matter how long it’s been.

“When we signed on here our goal was to make it to a Final Four, to be able to play for a national championship and next year that’s our goal. We’re all grateful to say we have another year and hopefully we’ll get it done.”

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One aspect of the return to school that some players may struggle with is the balance between doing what would best enhance their prospects of making the move to the next level and doing what their college team needs in order to be successful. While the feedback received from professional scouts and executives can certainly be beneficial as a player looks to become the best pro possible, it’s the college coach who has the spent the greatest amount of time working with the player.

“We do, but nobody knows the player better than the college coach,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller told NBC Sports when asked how much professional feedback he and his staff utilizes when working with their players. “Because not only are we around them on a daily basis working with them on all types of different scenarios, for the most part we’ve recruited them. I think we have a great barometer and feel for our own players.

“And no question, if we can get some additional feedback to help us better coach [our players] then certainly we’ll use that. But for the most part, our barometer is our staff.”

The best situation for the coach and the returning player is when the area (or areas) where a player needs to improve to become a more attractive professional prospect falls in line with what the team will need in order to put forth a better effort the following season. That’s the case for Utah rising senior guard Delon Wright, who enjoyed a very productive debut season in Salt Lake City. Wright was one of the Pac-12’s most versatile players in 2013-14, leading the Utes in scoring, assists and steals and ranking second on the team in rebounds.

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But there was also the need to improve his perimeter shot, with Wright making just 22.2% of his shots from beyond the arc. Improvement in that aspect of his game would not only make Wright a tougher player to defend, thus improving his individual standing as a pro prospect, but it also stands to make Utah a better team offensively. And it helps Wright that he can receive assessments of his game from multiple people with experience at the NBA level, including Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak and his older brother Dorell who just completed his tenth season in the NBA.

“I do think it’s an aid over the course of a season, just to know that I’ve been there and understand the way things work,” Krystkowiak told NBC Sports. “So I think it adds some validity when discussing what it takes to play at the next level.”

Having coaches and former players — and in the case of Wright, a family member — who have gone through the NBA evaluation process as either a player or coach can prove beneficial for prospects facing the task of sifting through the many sources of information. Because while the goal is to gather as much information as possible before making an educated decision, not all available information is accurate or honest.

And if the player and coach aren’t on the same page, that could result in the process becoming more complicated than it needs to be.

“Everybody at Arizona is treated the same way with that in mind,” noted Miller. “We try to give [the player] and their family the best and the most feedback that we can, so that when they make their decision they have the best and most accurate information possible. That may seem simple but there’s a lot going on, and once in a while the information that they receive isn’t accurate.”

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Certainly there can be concerns about how players will handle a return to school after flirting with the idea of entering the NBA Draft. But the task of handling those issues is a lengthy process, something that isn’t taken care of in a single conversation. There will be ups and downs, and for some there will be moments in which they wonder “what could have been.”

The combination of managing those thoughts and making sure the quest to improve one’s standing in the eyes of NBA types doesn’t come at the expense of team goals ultimately determines how successful the return to school will be. While the statistics and measurements are certainly important to professional franchises, the ability to help your team achieve success is as well.

“Anytime you have success as a team, that’s going to enhance your chances of potentially going on to play at the next level,” noted Krystkowiak.

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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