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LaMelo Ball left to carry the burden of LaVar’s actions

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Did you really need LaVar Ball to get a female referee removed from a game for the simple act of doing her job to know that he’s a jerk?

This is the same guy that has gotten his son’s high school coach fired after a 30-3 season for “not being experienced enough,” told a female radio host to “stay in your lane” before selling BBB branded t-shirts with that saying for $50 a piece and spent all spring and summer berating officials as the head coach of LaMelo Ball’s Big Baller AAU team, once pulling his team off the court before the game was over. The only surprising part of last week’s confrontation was that adidas actually acquiesced to LaVar’s demands.

Seriously.

Think about that.

The organizers of an AAU tournament being hosted by a billion-dollar apparel company sided with the coach of an AAU team that went 3-3 at the event instead of the referee that was being paid to officiate the game.

It’s absolutely baffling.

And it’s about par for the course for LaVar, who has just about completed an eight-month journey from entertaining sideshow — a loudmouth sports dad trying to create buzz for the Big Baller Brand, a startup apparel company he’s running to try and change the shoe game, by saying he’s better than Michael Jordan and getting into verbal battles with Charles Barkley — to misogynistic egomaniac.

LaVar Ball (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LaVar isn’t a total zero, mind you. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would have anything negative to say about his three sons beyond the fact that they’re his children, and it’s not easy to raise three boys who all excel at their craft — Lonzo was the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, LiAngelo will play at UCLA starting next season and LaMelo is a 15-year old in the Class of 2019 putting up 50-point nights while playing in tournaments against kids two years his senior — and have never, to my knowledge, been in any actual trouble. He can be overbearing while loving his children and raising them to be great kids; that doesn’t preclude him from being a good father.

Personally, the antics have reached a critical mass for my taste. I’m over him, but I’m not naïve enough to think he’s going away anytime soon. Lonzo has a better shot than anyone from the loaded 2017 draft at turning into a Hall of Fame-level talent, and LaMelo still has two more years left of high school. At minimum, LaVar is going to be in the national consciousness for another decade, and simply being a misogynist isn’t going to keep his family’s celebrity from rising, not in a country where Chris Brown beats up Rihanna and remains a star, R. Kelly still has fans and our President can be caught on tape explaining how, exactly, you’re allowed to grab women when you’re famous and still win an election.

LaVar Ball’s actions are incomparable.

As far as we know, he just thinks that women should stay in their lane and keep out of sports, and he’s far from the only man that believes as much.

Welcome to America. It is what it is.

Which is why my concern here is LaMelo and what kind of negative impact this could have on him in the long-term.

He is a celebrity in every sense of the word, the first athletic prodigy that has had to deal with the kind of fame and media attention typically reserved for the likes of a young Hollywood star.

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 22: Lonzo, right, and LaMelo Ball (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

He has 2.3 million followers on Instagram. He’s been on TMZ often enough that he has his own searchable tag. He had mobs of fans trying to rush past security to get pictures with him at a game on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, a game that was so crowded that LeBron didn’t even bother trying to get in, a game that more than 8o,000 people were watching at one time and that has been viewed 1.3 million times in total. When his teams left games in Vegas they had to do so through the back exit of the gym.

And he’s 15 years old.

Fame like that is hard for anyone to handle, let alone someone that isn’t old enough to drive or grow a mustache. I can name a dozen can’t-miss prospects that never lived up to their hype, and it’s not hard to find a long list of child stars that couldn’t handle the fame of Hollywood. LaMelo has to navigate both of those paths and do so while growing up in the age of social media. For LaMelo, the downside of this notoreity is palpable. Any post he makes on Instagram or Twitter gets hammered by trolls. Back in May, someone edited together a lowlight reel of a game LaMelo played, a two-minute clip of turnovers and airballs and porous defense that ended up trending on just about every social media platform in existence.

LaVar’s personality, and the public’s rejection of it, isn’t the only reason that there is a backlash against LaMelo.

Part of it is the way that he, and the Big Ballers, play. It’s reminiscent of the last pickup game of the day: They shoot a lot of threes, they play very little defense, they cherry pick layups and they try to win every game 130-120. It’s not the prettiest brand of basketball. It’s also not all that different from the way they played when Lonzo was running the show. What’s changed is the exposure; Lonzo’s teams were a story that you were told, something you heard about second-hand. LaMelo’s games play out for everyone to see.

The way LaMelo himself plays doesn’t help matters, either. He’s a point guard that is quite literally allowed the freedom to do whatever he wants, whether that is firing up 40-footers as he dribbles across half court or trying to weave his way through five defenders before throwing a no-look pass.

Sometimes those things work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes he looks like a ball-hog, sometimes he looks like Steph Curry.

And while it’s difficult to watch, there are three things that are important to remember:

  1. LaMelo is 15 years old, on the young side for a member of the Class of 2019, playing against kids that are 17.
  2. LaMelo’s shot up from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-3 in the last year and he may not be done growing just yet.
  3. Behind all the pomp and circumstance there is a set of skills that makes LaMelo a player with some real potential. He’s ranked between 7th and 21st by the major recruiting services, meaning he’s projected as a player with a pretty good shot at the NBA but a step below being a can’t-miss player. He could be D’angelo Russell. He could be Isaiah Briscoe.

Enter Tyus Jones.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

By any account, Jones is a terrific basketball player. He was a McDonald’s All-American and, at worst, a top ten player in his high school class. He was the starting point guard for a Duke team that won the 2015 national title. He was a one-and-done player that eventually went as a first round pick in the NBA Draft. He is one of 450 people in the world that can say that their job title is “Current NBA Player”. By definition, that makes him one of the roughly 100 best point guards on the planet. He was a multi-millionaire before he could legally buy a drink. I don’t think you can look at his career and think of him as anything other than successful, and he’s still only 21 years old.

He’s also played in just 97 games through two seasons in the NBA. He’s never started a game and is averaging just 3.8 points and 2.7 assists to date. In a league now driven by superstar point guards, he’s so far removed from being in the conversation with Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and James Harden, John Wall and Kyrie Irving that the casual NBA observer probably hasn’t heard of him.

In the NBA, he’s ‘just a guy’ despite the fact that simply being in the NBA means that there’s nothing normal or average about his basketball ability.

Tyus Jones made it, and the truth is that LaMelo will have “made it” if he gets to the league.

It’s also true that the perception will be that LaMelo was an overhyped fraud if he ends up being nothing more than Tyus Jones through his first two seasons. If he’s not a transcendent talent, or at the very least a reliable annual pick to make the all-star team, he’s a disappointment.

And that would not be fair.

So LaVar better hope he’s right about his youngest son.

Because that is a lot of baggage to ask him to carry.

Kentucky, Duke, Arizona comment on player eligibility amidst FBI scandal

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On Saturday night, Kentucky won their third straight game over an opponent that will be in next month’s NCAA tournament. They were led by freshman Kevin Knox, who finished with 21 points just 36 hours after his name appeared in a report by Yahoo Sports in connection with a runner that was tied to disgraced NBA agent Andy Miller.

“I’m not here to talk about that,” Knox said in response to questions regarding the runner, Christian Dawkins, or the story that Yahoo published.

“That was all the university dealing with it,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said, adding that he did not discuss the matter with Knox. “I wasn’t involved in any way. But I felt good about it.”

“I was sure I would be able to play this whole week,” Knox told reporters. “I wasn’t really focused on none of that. I let Kentucky handle it.

“I just focused on me, focused on my game, and let them handle it. I slept well at night knowing I was going to be able to play.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went a step further, detailing precisely how he found out about the report and how Wendell Carter’s parents were involved. Carter’s mother called him while he was walking his dog and told him what was in the story. According to Coach K, Wendell’s parents went to break bread with Dawkins, but Wendell’s father did not like him and left immediately while Wendell’s mother stayed to be polite. She said she did not have anything to eat.

“It wasn’t a distraction because I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Carter told reporters after going for 16 points, 10 boards, four steals, four assists and two blocks in a win over Syracuse. “My family didn’t do anything wrong. No one around me did anything wrong. I knew I was going to play. Once I got out on the court, it was all good. It felt good.”

“We are very comfortable with where we are on this,” Coach K said. “We don’t feel like we are taking any chances with this. We very confident about this particular thing.”

Alabama told ESPN that any connection that Collin Sexton had to Dawkins or the Yahoo story was dealt with during his one-game suspension at the start of the season.

“We reviewed i, and after we reviewed it, we made the decision that Collin was going to be available for us,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “That’s the extent of it.”

Meanwhile, Arizona lost at Oregon after Sean Miller was replaced by Lorenzo Romar as head coach for the night. Romar offered no answers as to whether or not Miller, who was reportedly caught on a fire tap talking about a $100,000 payment to Deandre Ayton, will return to the program anytime soon because, as he put it, “I don’t know.” Romar was unable to even answer if he would be coaching practice on Sunday.

Troubled No. 14 Arizona loses 98-93 to Oregon

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EUGENE, Ore. — No. 14 Arizona played without coach Sean Miller and lost 98-93 to Oregon in overtime at the end of a difficult Saturday for the troubled Wildcats program.

Miller sat out a day after ESPN reported he was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to current Wildcats freshman Deandre Ayton. The Wildcats also were without guard Allonzo Trier, who tested positive for the same banned substance that cost him 19 games last season.

“I believe it is in the best interest of our team that I not coach the game tonight,” Miller said in a statement. “I continue to fully support the university’s efforts to fully investigate this matter and am confident that I will be vindicated.”

The school did not specify why Miller didn’t coach against Oregon or if he will sit out any other games.

Ayton had 28 points and 16 rebounds for Arizona (22-7, 12-4 Pac-12), and Rawle Alkins added 24 points.

Oregon (19-10, 9-7) used a stellar performance at the line and a balanced attack to pick up its second straight win. Elijah Brown scored 22 of his season-high 30 points after halftime. MiKyle McIntosh added 20 points, including a key 3-pointer with 1:02 left.

Brown made 15 of 17 free-throw attempts as the Ducks connected on 20 of 24 foul shots overall. The work at the line helped them over a 58.6 shooting percentage and a 35-30 rebounding edge for the Wildcats.

Arizona also committed 17 turnovers.

Dylan Smith’s 3-pointer for the Wildcats tied it at 83 with 22 seconds left. Oregon’s Payton Pritchard missed a driving layup with 2 seconds remaining, sending the game into overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona’s immediate future isn’t clear beyond its last two games of the regular season at McKale Center. The Wildcats can clinch a share of the Pac-12 title with one more win.

Oregon push for relevance in the postseason discussion got a boost by beating the Wildcats, though the Ducks’ only route to NCAA Tournament may rest with winning the conference tournament in Las Vegas next month. Oregon closes on the road against the Washington schools.

Saturday College Basketball Recap: Bagley’s back, Miller’s gone, and Kansas got 14

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

It should have been Deandre Ayton.

He spent the first 30 minutes of No. 14 Arizona’s date with Oregon absolutely dominating the Ducks. He had 17 points, 11 boards and two blocks in the first half. He finished with 28 points, 17 boards and four blocks. But he didn’t score in the last five minutes of regulation and he didn’t get a shot in overtime until he shot a three with 15 seconds left as Arizona lost 98-90 at Oregon.

Which is why Elijah Brown is the Player of the Day. He finished with 30 points in the win.

It’s worth noting here that Arizona’s day was so much more than just a basketball game. Sean Miller did not coach the team in Oregon. We don’t even know if he was in Oregon. Ayton had to release a statement to say he was not involved in anything that had appeared in recent reports. Oh, and in case you’ve forgotten, Allonzo Trier is still not eligible after he tested positive for another banned substance.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • WENDELL CARTER, Duke: Marvin Bagley was back, but Carter still posted this line: 16 points, 10 boards, four assists, four steals and two blocks. And he anchored the paint in a game where Duke allowed an ACC team to score 44 points. Not bad.
  • KEVAUGHN ALLEN, Florida: It feels like Allen has been in a season-long slump, but the junior guard, coming off the bench, went for 24 points and made two critical threes down the stretch as the Gators knocked off No. 12 Auburn in Gainesville.
  • MARKIS MCDUFFIE, Wichita State: We’ve been waiting for him to show up, and he did on Saturday at SMU. He went for a season-high 26 points to lead the Shockers to a win on the road and keep them in the mix for an AAC regular season title.
  • KEVIN KNOX, Kentucky: Knox finished with 21 points as Kentucky won their third-straight game over an NCAA tournament team by double-digits. They beat Missouri by 22 points.

BUBBLE BANTER: Everything that happened on the cut-line

TEAM OF THE DAY

No. 8 Kansas knocked off No. 6 Texas Tech, 74-72, to clinch at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title. And it begs the question: Is this the best coaching job that Bill Self has ever done?

They lost Billy Preston. They have absolutely no depth, particularly in the front court. They had to bring a recruit into the program a semester early to make sure there were more than two front court players on the team. They lack toughness. They play small-ball without a small-ball four. They lost three games in Allen Fieldhouse, two of them by double-figures.

And they might win the toughest league in the country by two full games.

GAME OF THE DAY

Creighton knocked off No. 3 Villanova, 89-83, in an overtime thriller on Saturday afternoon.

Marcus Foster led the way for the Bluejays with 28 points while Khyri Thomas finished with 24 points, but Jacob Epperson was the revelation, finishing 12 points, five boards and two blocks in a season-high 23 minutes.

Villanova led by eight points late in regulation before Creighton, who had been inching closer to the bubble after struggling down the stretch in the last couple of weeks, all-but ensured that they will be dancing.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Pitt had absolutely no chance to win at home against No. 1 Virginia tonight.

I’m dead serious.

No chance, according to ESPN’s win probably graph. Look at this. It is 100 percent real:

ESPN win probability graph

That’s what happens when you shoot 1-for-22 through an entire half of basketball, scoring a full seven points. They were down 30-7 at the break. They lost 66-37. What an embarrassment.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

No. 6 Gonzaga put six players into double-figures as they went into the Marriott Center and knocked off BYU, 79-65. The Zags won a share of the WCC title as a result, splitting the title with No. 22 Saint Mary’s, who de-pantsed Santa Clara. Can we get a Round 3 in the WCC tournament final?

Jevon Carter became the first major-conference player in NCAA history to record more than 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals in a career as No. 21 West Virginia beat Iowa State.

Trae Young is back. He had 27 points and hit six threes as Oklahoma snapped a six-game losing streak.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman finished with 28 points, eight boards, seven assists, two blocks and a steal as No. 21 Michigan mollywhopped Maryland. They were up 54-24. On the road. Ouch.

Gabe DeVoe scored 25 points as No. 15 Clemson erased a halftime deficit to knock off Georgia Tech, 75-67, at home.

Admiral Schofield finished with 25 points as No. 19 Tennessee knocked off Ole Miss in Oxford, 73-65, to move to within a game of first place in the SEC.

Young’s 27 help Oklahoma top Kansas State, end 6-game skid

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NORMAN, Okla. — Trae Young’s entertaining act wasn’t translating into wins for Oklahoma, and desperation had set in.

Finally, a more collective effort helped the Sooners snap their six-game losing skid. Young scored 28 points, his teammates chipped in, and Oklahoma topped Kansas State 86-77 on Saturday.

Young, the freshman point guard who leads the nation in scoring, was coming off a season-low 11 points in a loss to Kansas earlier in the week. He bounced back with a smart floor game — he made 7 of 10 shots from the field, including 6 of 9 3-pointers, and added seven assists.

Christian James scored 15 points and Brady Manek and Jamuni McNeace each added 10 for the Sooners (17-11, 7-9 Big 12), who shot 53 percent from the field.

“I talked to them and told them that I felt like our season was on the line,” James said. “We needed this. We came out and competed, and that showed tonight.”

Oklahoma hadn’t won since Jan. 30 and had dropped two straight at home.

“When you haven’t won in a while, it’s tough to stay plugged in and keep the right frame of mind,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Happy for the guys. Proud of the way they made shots and got some stops and did the things they needed to do to get one in the right column.”

Kansas State handled Young in the first meeting and forced him into 12 turnovers as the Wildcats rolled past the Sooners 87-69 on Jan. 16. In the rematch, Young had five turnovers, though two came well after the Sooners had the game in hand. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said Young’s efficiency was the difference.

“Normally, he’s got 21 shots or whatever it is,” Weber said. “He still turned it over a few times, but he made shots and then made plays for them.”

Barry Brown scored 28 points and Dean Wade added 15 points and 11 rebounds for Kansas State (20-9, 9-7). The Wildcats made just 4 of 21 3-pointers.

Young matched his 11-point total from the Kansas game in the first eight minutes against Kansas State. He hit a 3-pointer late in the first half to close out an 18-point first half and give the Sooners a 43-35 lead at the break.

James scored in close and was fouled, and he made the free throw to put the Sooners up 52-38 with 15:45 remaining. Young hit a deep 3-pointer to put the Sooners up 55-40, and it looked like Oklahoma might cruise.

Kansas State worked its way back into the game and cut its deficit to 63-56. A 3-pointer and a short floater by Manek helped put the Sooners up 10. Another three by Young made it 71-59 with just under six minutes left, and the Sooners remained in control from there.

Kruger said he could sense a different approach from the start.

“General focus and the sense of urgency,” he said. “The awareness that we are running out of games and you got to line up and play better. I thought we played with that focus and that awareness throughout the game.”

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma: The Sooners desperately needed this one to strengthen its NCAA Tournament resume. Though the Sooners have numerous quality wins, the losing streak was enough to raise questions.

Kansas State: The Wildcats were getting votes for the Top 25, but probably won’t get there with this loss. Overall, a road loss to a solid team likely won’t hurt the Wildcats’ NCAA hopes.

STAT LINES

Oklahoma shot 62 percent in the second half to maintain control of the game. The Sooners made 16 of 26 field goals and 4 of 10 3-pointers after the break.

QUOTABLE

Weber, on why Young shouldn’t be Big 12 Player of the Year: “To me, the Big 12 player of the year should be from the people who win the league. That’s just me. You know winning is what dictates who should be the Big 12 player of the year. But that is my opinion. Everyone has different opinions.”

No. 6 Gonzaga earns WCC title with 79-65 win over BYU

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PROVO, Utah — Johnathan Williams scored 16 points, and No. 6 Gonzaga clinched another West Coast Conference championship with a 79-65 victory over BYU on Saturday night.

The Bulldogs (27-4, 17-1) have won at least a share of 18 of the past 19 regular-season conference championships, including each of the past six seasons.

Zach Norvell Jr. had 15 points and five rebounds for Gonzaga, which got off to a fast start and also played well right after halftime.

Yoeli Childs led BYU (22-9, 11-7) with 19 points and eight rebounds. Elijah Bryant overcame a cold start to contribute 16 points, four rebounds, and three assists.

Gonzaga started the game with 10 straight field goals on its way to a 23-10 lead. BYU closed to 43-38 at the break, but the Bulldogs outscored the Cougars 32-18 over the first 16:30 of the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: Leads 13-6 in the all-time series against BYU, including four straight wins in Provo.

BYU: Is set for the No. 3 seed for the WCC tournament.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs earn some time off before playing the winner of the Loyola Marymount-Portland game in the WCC tourney.

BYU: The Cougars also are off before beginning play in the conference tournament.