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Skal Labissiere is considering Europe, but that doesn’t mean there’s a market for him

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The most recent topic of discussion in the college hoops world to make the rounds on the #hotsportstake bandwagon is that of Emmanuel Mudiay.

You surely know the story by now. The No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2014 and an athletic, 6-foot-5, season-altering lead guard, Mudiay was scheduled to play for SMU this season. But two weeks ago, he announced that he would be forgoing college, forced to head overseas because he either wanted to help support his family (the Mudiay party line) or he was too worried about his academic eligibility and his status as an amateur to risk a season in college (what everyone else believes to be true).

Mudiay eventually signed with the Guangdong Dragons in China.

His contract? It’s reportedly worth $1.2 million.

The talking point here is whether or not Mudiay will be a trendsetter, a trailblazer leading a new breed of elite recruit overseas where they will make a seven-figure salary for seven months before entering the NBA draft.

And it’s certainty a conversation worth having. As I mentioned when the news first broke, the reason that Mudiay — and Brandon Jennings before him — went overseas was because NCAA rules more than likely were going to forbid him from playing college basketball. When ineligibility and the mountains of negative publicity that come with it are staring you in the face, you take that million-dollar contract every single time. With initial eligibility standards increasing, and thus making it more likely that a recruit will be ruled ineligible, there’s a real chance that this could become a more common occurrence.

And that’s saying nothing of the possibility that Adam Silver implements a two-and-done rule for entering the draft. High school kids these days have grown up knowing nothing other than college basketball with the one and done rule. Having to spend an extra 12 months on campus and sans paycheck may not be the easiest sell.

All that brings me to the latest development in this story: On Thursday, Skal Labissiere — a five-star, Class of 2015 center being pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis and Georgetown — told CBSSports.com on the record that following in Mudiay’s footsteps is a route he’s looking into.

“Overseas is an option,” Labissiere said, which is notable. There have been rumblings that a number of players in Labissiere’s class are looking into that option, but the native-Haitian is the first to acknowledge, on record, that the money that Mudiay got will be a factor in his decision-making process. “I don’t know yet for sure. We’ll see. But that is a lot of money.”

When giving a million-dollar contract to an 18 or 19 year old American player, one of the biggest concerns for a professional team in a different country is how that player will acclimate. Living abroad, dealing with the massive cultural changes that come with international travel, is not an easy thing for a high school grad to deal with.

Labissiere, in theory, would be able to adapt as well as anyone because he’s already made that change. Labissiere grew up in Haiti and left after he survived the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 of his countrymen. He’s lived in a different country with a different culture for the last four years, and, by all accounts, he’s thrived. He’s one of the sweetest, most gregarious kids in this class, polite when dealing with the media and perpetually grinning from ear to ear, and he’s been through more than I can imagine. Heading to Italy or China or wherever to play pro ball for a year shouldn’t be all that much of an issue for him.

But that’s assuming that someone wants him.

Because the point that hasn’t been made nearly enough when discussing the potential for American teenagers to spend their year in NBA purgatory abroad is that there simply isn’t all that much of a market for these guys abroad, particularly in Europe.

Let’s start with the obvious: When we’re talking about guys who can go pro overseas and make seven-figures, we’re talking about the elite of the elite. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Mudiay. In a strong class, you’re looking at maybe five to seven guys who are worth consideration. In a weak class like 2015, you’re looking at just Ben Simmons, and I’m not convinced he’s good enough to garner that kind of a salary.

The bigger problem?

Teams in Europe do not want to sign an 18-year old kid for just one season. What do they get out of it? A prospect who’s not ready to contribute major minutes at the highest level of European basketball for one season before they head back stateside to play in the NBA? As good as Labissiere is now and as promising as he is as a prospect, the fact of the matter is that he gets pushed around by stronger guys at the high school level here. He would routinely be overpowered in the paint in a good European league. If the team cannot develop him, it’s not worth a million dollars to them.

“If you don’t want to sign a four or five year deal than you don’t get paid as an 18 or 19 year old,” one NBA scout told NBCSports.com. “European guys are looking and saying, ‘Would I rather be Mario Hezonja, stuck in Barcelona not playing and not able to get to the NBA, or would I rather be in the league like Alex Len?

“If you want to play in the NBA, which is what a lot of the Europeans and all of the Americans do, than signing a long-term deal with a big European club, which is the only way to get paid over there, is not a good option.”

It’s part of the reason that Mudiay was forced to head to China, a league that pays well, but A) demands major performances out of their American players, B) is quick to cut players that struggle, and C) will not be a productive step, and could be a hindrance, in his individual development.

A smart European team could start to flip American players for profit, signing them to $200,000-$300,000 contracts with $600,000 buyouts, the max an NBA team is allowed to pay.

In theory, that makes sense.

In practice, it doesn’t.

If we’re going to be honest here, we need to acknowledge that any incoming freshman talented enough to garner that kind of deal from a European team has the avenues to get paid just as much, if not more, while he’s in college, and I say that without a shred of sarcasm. Whether it be boosters paying to bring him to their school, agents paying to ensure that he will be a future client or shoes companies paying to keep him loyal, there are avenues for elite recruits to generate a substantial income. It may not be savory, but they are there.

Which brings me back to Skal Labissiere.

He may be looking at overseas as an option. He may be quite intrigued by the contract that was given to Mudiay. He may like the idea of skipping college and getting $1.2 million put into his bank account.

That doesn’t mean that there is anyone who would be willing to pay him that much for one season, and even if there is, it doesn’t guarantee that the quick payout will be better for his long-term development — and, thus, career-earnings — than going to college.

Assuming that he’ll be able to get his academics in order and that he hasn’t compromised his amateur status, Labissiere, as well as the other recruits thinking about following in the steps of Mudiay, may simply be better off going to college, playing on national television and collecting those Ricky Roe duffel bags.

It’s the American way.

Update: Creighton’s Watson turns himself into police

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Injured guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Creighton Bluejays looks on during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Creighton defeated Butler 76-67. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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Update: Later Sunday, Watson turned himself into the Douglas County Jail, a law enforcement official told the Omaha World-Herald. Watson’s attorney told the paper that Watson was driving back to Omaha from his native Philadelphia and was slowed by the snowstorm that hit parts of the country this week.

Law enforcement has been unable to arrest Creighton guard Maurice Watson since a warrant for his arrest on the charge first-degree sexual assault was issued last week, according to police.

“The U.S. Marshals Service and the Omaha Police Fugitive Unit continue to look for Mr. Watson,” Omaha Police said in a statement Sunday. “At this point in time, Mr. Watson is dodging law enforcement efforts to arrest him.

“Until he is located and arrested by law enforcement, or turns himself in, the entire Douglas County Court system is operating off of Mr. Watson’s time frame.

“Neither OPD nor the Douglas County Attorney’s Office is part of any specific arrangements for Mr. Watson to turn himself in.”

Watson was accused by a 19-year-old acquaintance, who reportedly is also a Creighton student, of sexual assault in the bathroom of an Omaha residence around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4. A report was filed later that day.

The point guard was in the midst of a banner season for the Bluejays before he tore his ACL in January, which ended his collegiate career. Creighton announced on Feb. 13 he was suspended from the team and not allowed to participate in senior night act due to  “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The warrant for his arrest was issued Thursday.

 

Seventh-ranked Louisville dominates Syracuse

Rick Pitino
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The hint arrived early that Louisville might be no kind of matchup for Syracuse when the Cardinals jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead. The Orange, though, appeared to steady and seemed intent on delivering an interesting Sunday afternoon and a maybe another resume-changing win after beating Duke earlier in the week as the roared back to take a lead.

Everyone should have taken the early hint.

Louisville used a 21-4 first-half run to gain separation and never looked back as the Cardinals dominated Syracuse, 88-68, on Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.

The win was the fourth in five games for Louisville, which shot 56.9 percent from the floor and held the Orange to 35.7 percent shooting.

Donovan Mitchell was sensational, going for 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting, including 6 of 10 from deep, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. It was his third-straight game with at least 20 points.  He also had an absolutely dynamic one-handed alley-oop late that was just fantastic.

The Cardinals showed no ill effects of a hangover stemming from the loss earlier this week at North Carolina, but instead it was as dominant a performance as they’ve had in weeks.

On the losing side of the ledger are the Orange, who looked to be building some momentum after a three-game losing streak by beating Duke on Wednesday. Then, the Blue Devils went and lost to Miami and Syracuse just got smashed by another ACC contender. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

For Syracuse, it looks destined to spend another Selection Sunday sweating, though there’s certainly enough time for it to go either way. The Orange can really only hurt themselves until the ACC tournament with Georgia Tech heading to the Carrier Dome this week. That’s a game Syracuse will need to win, lest they really want the pressure ratcheted up in Brooklyn.

A big part of the issue for Syracuse pinning its hopes on the ACC tournament is its total lack of depth. Tyler Lydon and Andrew White both went at least 40 minutes for the 11- and 10-straight games, respectively. Syracuse played seven and got 28 minutes total from its bench.

With a few days typically between days, that’s pretty sustainable for the regular season, but those minutes are sure to weigh on players going on back-to-back (and maybe longer) days.

#POSTERIZED: Donovan Mitchell caps Cards win with an oop

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 19:  Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Louisville Cardinals reacts after making a three point shot to end the first half against the Clemson Tigers at KFC YUM! Center on January 19, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
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Louisville used a huge first-half run to pull away from Syracuse, and a Donovan Mitchell slam to put the icing on the cake.

The Cardinals sophomore caught a pass one-handed and seamlessly threw it home to deliver the signature moment of Louisville’s 88-68 win over the Orange on Saturday

LaVar Ball walks back statement on Lonzo’s Laker future

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The only person better at generating headlines than Lonzo Ball seems to be his father, LaVar. The elder Ball managed to do so again this weekend, once for saying something wild and then again for walking those comments back.

LaVar told KCUB Sports Radio 1290 in Arizona that UCLA star Lonzo would play for the Lakers and that he would discourage other teams from taking the stellar point guard at the top of the draft. Later, he said he was only posturing.

“I’m not trying to say he won’t play for a different team,” LaVar told ESPN. “But I’d like him to play for the Lakers because it’s home, and I’d love him to learn from Magic [Johnson]. He’s the best guard ever to me, and nobody better for Lonzo to learn from than Magic Johnson.”

Lonzo is averaging 14.8, 7.6 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game for the Bruins, who stand at 26-3 on the season. He’s in the mix to be the potential No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft.

LaVar has already stated on multiple occasions that Lonzo is better than two-time MVP Steph Curry of Golden State. He’s clearly supremely confident – and outspoken – about his son’s talent. With two younger sons, LaMelo and LiAngelo, set to soon begin their own college careers, LaVar’s exuberant proclamations may just be getting started.

Duke and Krzyzewski have “a decision” to make as injuries linger

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 26:  Amile Jefferson #21 talks with Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils during the game against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
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Duke missed the production of veterans Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson on Saturday in its 55-50 loss to Miami, the Blue Devils’ second-straight loss after falling to Syracuse earlier in the week. It also missed their influence on the offensive end.

Allen missed the game with an ankle injury while the foot problem that sidelined Jefferson for a pair of games in January continues to be an issue and limited to minor second-half minutes Saturday. Without the pair, Duke shot 31.8 percent from the floor and had 13 turnovers against the Hurricanes.

We need those guys to calm people down on the offensive end,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “The continuity on the offensive end is not up to par with the defense.”

Both players will be re-evaluated before Tuesday’s home contest against Florida State, but Jefferson’s injury would appear to be the most concerning given it has lingered for well over a month now.

“I’ve got to make a decision with Amile,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s not running. He is not running at all.”

Duke could likely make it work in the short term if it was short just one of the Allen-Jefferson duo, but without both it stresses the ballhandling, playmaking and inexperienced frontcourt all at the same time. Luke Kennard was the only Blue Devil to crack double figures scoring against the ‘Canes while freshmen Marques Bolden and Harry Giles, who both have had their injury issues, were relatively ineffective in player fewer than 20 minutes apiece. Both Kennard and Jayson Tatum played a full 40.

At the start of the season, Duke had the look of a juggernaut, but given the multitude of issues they’ve faced seemingly from the jump, it has a bit of a slog with only a seven-game winning streak to have eased their pain all year.

What made the Blue Devils look so formidable before the season was their sheer level of talent. With Allen and Jefferson ailing, the move for Krzyzewski might be to just bet on that talent in the NCAA tournament rather than jockey for seeding position. He could keep Jefferson and Allen on the shelf as they heal, give Giles and Bolden a ton of run and then just make a go of it in the Big Dance, betting on the talent overcoming the inconsistency of the season.

Like Krzyzewski said about Jefferson, he’s got a decision to make.