Marvin Bagley III (Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

July Live Period Preview: What is the July Live Period and why is it so important?

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Wednesday, July 12th, at 5:00 p.m. kicks off the first of three July evaluation periods, one of the most crucial stretches of the year for any college basketball team across the country.

But there are many fans out there that may not be aware of what a “live period” is or what it means for coaches and the players they are recruiting or plan to recruit in the future.

The NCAA rulebook is thick and it is scary and it is often confusing, but when it comes to the recruiting calendar, things are fairly cut and dry, particularly during the spring and summer months. The way it works is like this: there are only certain times during certain months where coaches are allowed to be on the road scouting and evaluating players. These are called evaluation periods, or “live periods”, and during a usual calendar year, there will be five of them: two three-day periods in April and three five-day sessions during July.

The two live periods in the spring span just 48 hours each, stretching from 5:00 p.m. on a Friday through 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday.

In the summer, it’s a bit different. For three consecutive weekends during July, coaches are allowed to evaluate prospects from 5:00 p.m. on a Wednesday until 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday. What that means is that during a 19-day stretch in the middle of the summer, these high school players will be in gyms across the country, essentially auditioning for the coaches that they hope to one day play for.

Audition is the proper word to use here as well.

No in-person contact is allowed between the college coaches and the recruits or the families of the recruits. It’s strictly an opportunity for scouting and evaluation, which creates a surreal environment at the events that take place. Family, friends, AAU coaches and the athletes themselves are all ushered onto one side of the court after entering the gym through one entrance. The college coaches are fenced in on the other side of the court after entering through a different entrance. The college coaches and the players aren’t even allowed to use the same door to get into the building. They can’t use the same parking lot.

How a staff will go about traversing the country and utilizing their time during the live period will differ between programs.

A team like Kentucky or Duke already knows which players in the rising-senior class they are targeting. With the kids in that class, they aren’t evaluating or scouting as much as they are following; the best players in a given class are generally pretty well-known by their sophomore year in high school. It’s a matter of the staff figuring out which players they want, and that’s normally done well before a player’s final summer.

When you see Mike Krzyzewski and two of his assistants sitting court side for someone like Marvin Bagley III or Tre Jones, you know it’s because Coach K is looking to add that particular big man. A general rule of thumb: the more staff members that are at a game, the more of a priority that recruit is.

Tre Jones (Jon Lopez, Nike)

But that’s not the only reason you’ll see a coach stalking a recruit. If a recruit is already committed, don’t be surprised to see an assistant — or, if he’s important enough, the head coach — front and center at every game he plays during the live period, a tactic known as “babysitting”. They want to make sure that kid knows that he’s still a priority.

At the high-major level, assistant coaches are generally the ones that do the leg work, identifying talents and picking out who they think would be the best fit within the team. When the head coach shows up in the stands, it’s usually to determine whether or not they want to extend an offer. How much has the kid developed since the last time the staff saw him play? Did he grow? Has he added a jumper? Did he spend the spring in the weight room? That’s why they are called “live evaluation periods”.

If the head coach is at every game, it’s generally to show just how badly that program wants that player. Tom Izzo can only be in one place at a time. If a kid that Michigan State is recruiting consistently sees him at his games, that’s generally a sign that they want him to be a Spartan.

It’s also worth noting here that only four members of a coaching staff — the head coach and his three assistants — are allowed to be on the road at a given time. So even if it’s just an assistant from, say, Kentucky watching Cameron Reddish play, it should still be a sign to Reddish that Kentucky prioritizes him. UK can only be in four gyms at a given time.

There’s a major difference in how top 25 programs and teams from smaller leagues use July. The bigger names are there to be seen.

For smaller programs, the idea is to get out and see as many players as possible, trying to identify who can play at their level and who will fit in with their program and style of play. Quite often, the player that stands out during a game isn’t the player that a particular coach was trying to recruit. For example, former Delaware head coach Monte’ Ross once told me a story about recruiting former Blue Hens sharpshooter Kyle Anderson. He walked in a gym during an AAU tournament to see a team play on one court, but as he was walking to his seat, he saw Anderson, who was very lightly recruited in high school, hit a pair of threes. He decided to watch the game for a minute, and Anderson ended up having a huge game.

He started for the Blue Hens as a freshman.

Delaware is also a perfect example for why mid-major programs aren’t in a gym to be seen. Last spring, the Blue Hens had a long, drawn-out coaching search, so long that they didn’t actually have a head coach in charge of the program during the April live periods. But that didn’t hurt their program as much as it would hurt a school like Ohio State, who took all of four days to hire Chris Holtmann as a replacement for Thad Matta in June. Head coach Martin Inglesby was a longtime Notre Dame assistant coach. He’d been on the road recruiting. He’d seen enough players that he probably had a good feel for who he would be able to recruit to the CAA school.

There’s another difference between high-major and low-major programs: budget. The scope of grassroots basketball is bigger than you probably realize. During each of these live periods, there are hundreds events going on all across the country — the NCAA’s list of certified events is more than 50 pages long — and some programs are going to be recruiting players that are playing at the same time in cities hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

For a power program, this means private jets. Don’t be surprised to hear about Coach Cal making an appearance at the morning session in Georgia only to show up for the afternoon games in Indianapolis. The ability to fly thousands of miles on a whim allows the biggest and richest programs to recruit players from all over the country.

For the mid-major teams, a priority is put on proper evaluation and landing local talent. For example, UNC Wilmington has been one of the best mid-major programs in the country the last two seasons, and their roster featured eight players from North Carolina last year and a ninth who is Nigerian but played his high school ball in the Tar Heel State. Northern Iowa nearly reached the Sweet 16 in the 2016 tournament. Nine of the 13 players on their roster were from Iowa. They also had two from Wisconsin, one from Minnesota and one from Illinois.

Figure out who the best players within driving distance. Figure out which of those players you can actually get. Get them. That’s the blueprint to mid-major success.

Coaches aren’t only looking to find hidden gems, however. With the proliferation of grassroots basketball, the Internet and social media, and the myriad of scouting websites, players that are overlooked are generally few and far between. That’s why stories like those of Otto Porter and Ron Baker are so incredible.

No, what these coaches are looking for is a development track. They’ve seen a lot of these guys play when they were younger. They watched high school games in person or on film. They’ve attended workouts. How have the recruits progressed? Is the skinny kid getting stronger? Did the chubby two-guard lose some weight? Has the dunker’s jumper gotten better? Did he improve his ball-handling? Or add a jump hook? Or utilize his ability in the pick-and-roll?

That’s a lot for a coaching staff to work their way through, and they only have 15 days to do it.

And that’s what makes July’s live-recruiting period so important.

VIDEO: Kansas State legend celebrates revenge on Kentucky 67 years in the making

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In 1951, Kansas State lost to Kentucky in the National Championship game.

Ernie Barrett, who eventually became the school’s athletic director and is known as “Mr. K-State“, played on that team.

He’s wanted to get revenge on Big Blue ever since.

On Thursday night, Kansas State did.

Ernie was there, and here was his reaction in the locker room:

Keenan Evans perseveres through toe injury as Texas Tech looks to get through the East Region

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BOSTON — It was a gut punch when they got the call.

After a dreadful 3-15 freshman season, Tubby Smith had turned Texas Tech around his sophomore year, when Keenan Evans had averaged 8.7 points and 2.9 assists, respectable enough given the role that Tubby asks his point guards to play. The core of that team — a sophomore class that also included Zach Smith, Justin Gray and Norense Odiase — were returning. Tubby was making some in-roads in Texas. Everything was pointing up.

And then the former Kentucky head coach left for Memphis, a job that would chew him up and spit him out within two years.

“As parents, we definitely thought about what his next step would be,” Kenny Evans said. Who would Texas Tech hire? What if they didn’t like him? What if he didn’t like Keenan? It didn’t help matters that the Evans family had a weird and unique bond with Tubby.

The Evans’ family is as athletic as athletic gets. Keenan’s basketball IQ and guile come from his mom, Shantell, who was an all-SWAC guard at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. His athleticism comes from his dad, Kenny, who was an Olympic high-jumper. He finished 13th in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, which also happened to be the Games where Tubby was an assistant coach for USA Basketball. Kenny, an Arkansas-native and high school basketball star, knew who Tubby Smith was; he was less than two years removed from winning a national title out of the same conference as his Razorbacks, and Kenny says he idolized Nolan Richardson and his Arkansas teams.

“You don’t see a lot of celebrities in Arkansas,” Kenny said, so when the Track & Field team was put next to the USA Basketball team, he did what any red-blooded American would do: He asked them for pictures.

One of those pictures was with Tubby — Kenny’s mother was a fan — and that picture ended up being displayed in the Evans house for years to come.

Suffice to say, Tubby’s name carried some weight with the family. It was part of what made Keenan decide to play at Texas Tech. And it’s one of the reasons why Keenan’s parents wanted to do their homework on the good ole’ boy Tech hired that was on his third job in three weeks, his sixth job in six seasons and a little more than four years removed from coaching in the ABA.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Chris Beard’s roots run deep in Texas.

He went to high school just outside Houston. He was a manager at Texas during his time as a student. After graduating, he spent 14 of the next 16 seasons coaching in Texas, with one-year layovers at Junior Colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma along the way.

Throw in a one-year stay with the South Carolina Warriors and one season with Arkansas-Little Rock, and Beard lived outside Texas for just four years since childhood. And, as his assistant coach Chris Ogden puts it, “Beard’s a relationship guy.” He knows people all over the state, and when he got the job at Texas Tech — where he had previously been an Associate Head Coach under Bobby Knight — Kenny started getting calls from people vouching for him.

Give him a chance.

He may not have the national title-pedigree that Tubby does, but he’s got a shot at getting there one day.

Hear him out.

And Beard made sure they would have the chance to do so. Almost immediately after setting foot in Lubbock, the new Tech staff got to work trying to develop relationships with his new players and their families. Beard had a one-on-one meeting with every single member of the Texas Tech roster, which is not uncommon. He then took a flight to meet with the family of every member of his team. To sit down in front of them, look them in the eye and get to know them personally, as more than just the people that his players hear from when they go over their data plan or when those on-campus parking tickets start to add up.

“When I called them to let them know that Coach Beard said he was going to fly out to see [them], they were kind of shook,” Keenan said. “‘Wow, he’s really going to fly to everybody’s family around the country?’ They were really in shock and that stood out to them as well.”

“Not a lot of coaches do that. Fly to each person’s family, sit down and meet them, introduce himself. That played a big part in [my decision to stay] as well.”

The other part of it was that Keenan believed in the plan, in the vision that Beard had, for both the program and himself.

You see, the way Tubby uses his point guard is different than the way Beard does.

“Tubby is more old school,” Kenny explains. “He envisioned his point guards not shooting much and running the offense. Chris is new school. He recognizes you need to me more dynamic at the point guard spot. You gotta be a threat to score to get assists.”

And Beard knew he had the guy he needed in Keenan.

The staff was not unfamiliar with him when they took over. Ogden had recruited Keenan’s high school teammates, so he had seen him plenty. They knew what Keenan would be able to do when unleashed, and they knew what kind of a player and a worker they were inheriting.

“I just believed in his process, believed that he wanted to win at this level,” Evans said. “He believed in me, so I believed in him, and he gave me an opportunity. And he’s still doing that.”

“What I’m most appreciative of Keenan is he basically trusted me before he had to. He basically took me at my word,” Beard said. “He trusted me from day one, and I asked him to do a lot of things that he had never done before in his career.”

It paid off.

Tech struggled last season, but as a senior, Keenan morphed into one of college basketball’s best players. He’s averaging 17.8 points, 3.2 assists and 3.2 boards entering Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue, numbers that would have been more impressive in a year that could have truly been legendary if it wasn’t for an awkward landing after a jump shot that resulted in unfortunate toe injury that Keenan suffered at Baylor on February 17th.

Keenan did not play in the second half of that game. He did play at at Oklahoma State and against Kansas in the two subsequent games, but anyone watching knew that he wasn’t himself. He sat out a road trip to West Virginia.

Four straight losses.

Sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a home game left against Kansas and a grasp on Big 12 Player of the Year turned into just another victim of the Jayhawks’ 14-year reign over the conference.

And if you don’t think that was hard for Keenan to handle, you don’t know Keenan.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Keenan Evans has always picked up on things quickly.

Everyone has that one friend that is annoyingly good at everything, whether it’s pool, or bowling, or Fortnite. That’s Keenan, and that’s why Keenan’s mom — an all-conference basketball player herself — had to stop training him by the time he was in the fourth grade.

He was just getting too good, too quickly.

That can be a slippery slope. If you’re a natural, if things come too easily to you, work ethic might not be your forte. With Keenan, it worked the other way. When he got good at one thing, he wanted to perfect the next thing. The best are the best because they are addicted to improvement, and Keenan falls into that category.

“The Keenan Evans story is not me or Tubby,” Beard said. “It is Keenan Evans. This guy self-made himself into one of the best players in college basketball, and I can tell you how he’s done it. He’s done it with a lot of work. He’s in the gym every day. He’s in the film room a lot. He’s a guy that’s changed his body in the weight room.”

That’s what made this toe issue so devastating.

We’re talking about a guy that is known within the Texas Tech locker room as being their hardest work. Three-a-days in the gym. He’s made himself into a star. He earned his shot at getting a Big 12 title and a Player of the Year award, and it got taken away from him.

Because of a toe.

“Simply stated, a lot of guys wouldn’t even be playing on it right now,” Beard said. “Keenan is playing on it and playing at a high level. He’s just an absolute warrior.”

“I’ve never coached a tougher guy than Keenan Evans.”

“It was tough to overcome just because I felt like I was letting my team down in a way,” Keenan said. “It wasn’t my fault, but also [my toe’s] just not 100 percent, and I still battle with it every night.”

According to Kenny, the struggle was as much mental as physical.

“It was devastating for him,” he said. “He tried to be strong for his teammates. He could have shut it down and gotten ready for everything after college. But that’s not us, that’s not our family, that’s not Keenan.”

He does his best to stay off the foot when he’s not playing games. His time on the practice floor is limited. When media is granted access to the Texas Tech locker room, Keenan’s foot is in a big, yellow bucket full of ice water. He doesn’t have the same explosiveness. He can’t push off of it the way he did before the injury. And that’s before you get to the mental side of it, having the confidence in himself and his body to be able to try and do the things he’s been doing all season long.

And in this tournament, it’s worked.

Keenan has scored 45 points through two games, and 33 of those 45 points have come in the second half. He made every shot he took in the second half of a come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the opener. He hit the go-ahead three and threw a lob to Zhaire Smith for the clinching basket in the final two minutes of the win over Florida. All told, in his last five games, Evans is averaging 17 of his 21.2 points and shooting 26-for-37 from the floor after halftime.

He is Texas Tech’s closer, and with a date against No. 2-seed Purdue in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, Evans will likely be called upon to close once again.

Just the way Beard likes it.

“I just love coaching him,” he said. “I just don’t want it to end. I want to coach that guy another day. It is like when you go to a good movie and you know it’s getting towards the end, but you are loving the movie so much, you want it to go a little bit farther. Or you’ve got a good plate of enchiladas and you’re looking at it, and you only have two bites left, but it’s so good, you turn it into three bites.”

“I want it to keep lasting.”

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS