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Investigators looking into hundreds of threats against official who worked Kentucky loss

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OMAHA, Neb. — An investigator for a Nebraska law enforcement agency said Wednesday he is reviewing hundreds of confirmed or possible threats against an Omaha basketball official who worked Kentucky’s NCAA tournament loss to North Carolina.

Matt Barrall of the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department said he was in his fifth day of working full time on the case and that no end was in sight.

“We are taking this very, very — extremely — seriously,” Barrall said. “Some people might say, ‘Oh, it’s just a basketball game.’ But what if some mentally unstable person decides this is the way to make a name for himself?”

Referee John Higgins’ roofing company was inundated with harassing emails, phone calls and voice mails — including death threats against Higgins and his family — starting shortly after Kentucky’s 75-73 loss to North Carolina on March 26. Kentucky coach John Calipari criticized the officiating during his postgame news conference.

Barrall said he has identified 450 phone calls or messages and another 200 to 300 messages on social media or in emails that were “of a threatening nature.”

Some of those met the criteria to be considered terroristic threats under Nebraska law. Barrall said he wouldn’t disclose how many until after he reviews all the messages. Under Nebraska law, making terroristic threats is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

“This case offers up a lot of potential offenders, most of whom made a stupid decision in joining in on a prank, but serious injuries are possible, and we should draw the line at the law,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

About 3,000 phone calls came into Higgins’ office in the two days following the Elite Eight game, Barrall said. He estimated 75 percent were from Kentucky area codes.

Higgins’ business also received a flood of bogus negative online reviews, causing his Google rating to plummet. Higgins’ website got more than 28,000 hits in the days after the game, and he was forced to take down his business’ Facebook page.

Barrall said he also has been listening to about five hours of audio from Kentucky sports radio shows with an ear for threatening comments toward Higgins, whether by hosts or callers. Barrall also continues to monitor Kentucky fan websites.

Barrall said he suspected a video showing contact information for Higgins and posted on fan websites sparked the harassment. That video has been removed, he said.

“There is a lot of mass anonymity once something like that goes viral,” Barrall said. “People that on their own wouldn’t do something, their social values change when a lot of other people do it, and they decide to join in. This is the 21st-century version of a mob mentality because of social media.”

The next phase of the investigation likely would require subpoenas to be issued for phone records and other records of those suspected of making terroristic threats.

“It was not that long ago where courts were reluctant to convict when offense was not initiated in our jurisdiction, but we do not face that anymore,” Polikov wrote. “Also, depending on the facts, we would collaborate with the local authorities where the offenses were initiated. I have not studied the federal options but would consider turning to the FCC if in fact a talk show created the environment for harassment.”

The sheriff’s department has provided extra patrols around Higgins’ office, and Omaha police have done the same near Higgins’ residence. Higgins has not returned phone messages from the AP.

Higgins told Omaha radio station KFAB on Wednesday that he initially was wary of working the Final Four game between Gonzaga and South Carolina on Saturday and that his wife has talked to him about giving up officiating. He said he wouldn’t let fans who act inappropriately get the best of him.

“I’ll continue it. It’s fun. I’m competitive,” he said. “I’ll be fine going forward.”

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averagedย 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and Iโ€™m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment โ€“ both by our university and by Chris โ€“ allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.