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Family Business: Seton Hall’s senior class has a special bond that was not likely three years ago

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NEWARK — It wasn’t about basketball.

Not entirely, anyway.

Seton Hall is not all that deep, but if there is a spot that the Pirates can afford to go down a man, it’s at the four spot. Ishmael Sanogo may be the team’s best defender and the man that head coach Kevin Willard prefers, but Michael Nzei proved on Thursday night, as the No. 23 Pirates came from 11 points down to beat No. 25 Creighton at the Prudential Center, that he can more than fill that role. In 26 minutes, he finished with seven points, 14 boards, two assists, two steals and a block.

Seton Hall is better with Ish, but they can still accomplish what they’ve spent the last three and a half years building towards without him.

That’s not why they did this. That’s not why the other three seniors on this roster – Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado – sat down with Willard to talk him into letting Sanogo finish the season as a member of the team.

“You don’t want to see your brother throw his life down the drain,” Carrington told NBC Sports.

Sanogo was suspended by Willard prior to last Friday’s game against Manhattan. It was the second time that he’s been suspended this season, missing out on an exhibition game in November. The program never officially set a timeline for the suspension or detailed specifically what Sanogo did – the New York Post reported that it was the result of a series of “really bad judgements” – but Carrington believed there was a real chance this could be it, that Sanogo’s time as a Pirate had come to an end.

So after the win over Manhattan, the seniors talked. They decided to sit down with Willard, who then called a meeting with the entire team. They were on board, so Willard and his locker room’s three leaders sat down with Sanogo and his parents.

“We had a conversation with Ish,” Carrington said, “and we told him that all the extra stuff needs to stop.”

On the 26th, Willard allowed the team to make a “family decision.”

Sanogo was back.


Angel Delgado (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Back in 2010, the NCAA made a rule change that forever changed the trajectory of package deals.

For years, college programs had been able to hire someone close to a prospect into an administrative role within their program in an effort to land a recruit. It dates all the way back to Danny Manning, whose father was hired by Larry Brown at Kansas before Danny and the Miracles led the Jayhawks to a national title. John Calipari hired DaJuan Wagner’s father, Milt, at Memphis. He also hired Tyreke Evans’ trainer, Lamont Peterson, as an administrative assistant. Baylor hired John Wall’s AAU coach Dwon Clifton during their recruitment of the star point guard.

Everyone did it.

The change, however, was significant: In order to hire a person associated with a prospect, that new hire must be one of the three officially titled assistant coaches on the staff. Otherwise, no recruits associated with that coach would be allowed to enroll at the school for two years. Head coaches could no longer scrounge up $50,000 in salary and invent a new title and no-show job to funnel money to someone close to a prospect unless they were willing to burn one of their three assistant coaching positions – the three men they rely on to recruit, to scout, to game-plan, to keep the young men on their roster in line – to get that player.

And rest assured, it still happened.

It was and is not, however, always a successful strategy.

Where should I start?

Josh Pastner hired Keelon Lawson in order to get all four Lawson brothers to Memphis, but after one season with Dedric and K.J. on his roster, Pastner was fired. Tubby Smith was hired in his place, and within a year the relationship between the coach and the family was so frayed that the Lawsons left town in explicit fashion.

Johnny Jones hired Ben Simmons’ godfather, David Patrick, and Simmons spent six months barely feigning interest in being a college basketball player. Billy Kennedy hired John Reese to get J-Mychal Reese, a top 50 prospect, but the duo both bounced midway through their second season with the program. Rick Stansbury hired Mitchell Robinson’s godfather, Shammond Williams, to land a commitment from the top 10 prospect and that ended up in disaster; Robinson is sitting out this season and training for the NBA Draft instead of playing college ball. DePaul hired La Lumiere head coach Shane Heirman to get five-star point guard Tyger Campbell and that commitment lasted all of three months.

Then there are the Porters. Both Lorenzo Romar and Cuonzo Martin have hired Michael Porter Sr., the father of Michael Jr. and Jontay, to land the duo. Romar was fired by Washington before the brothers made it to campus, and while Martin may have had success with Michael Jr. at Missouri, we probably will never know; Porter had surgery on his back after playing just two minutes this season.

Which brings me to Kevin Willard.

In 2013, Willard hired Oliver Antigua, who had coached Delgado on the Dominican National Team and helped orchestrate his arrival in the United States, before Delgado committed. Antigua would eventually leave to join his brother’s staff at South Florida before Delgado arrived on campus, which opened up another spot on Willard’s staff. That went to Dwayne ‘Tiny’ Morton, then the head coach of the famed Lincoln HS in Brooklyn, a hire that solidified the commitment of McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead. Eventually, Whitehead’s teammate, Rodriguez, would follow suit.

Willard also hired then-Northwestern assistant Fred Hill, and that same day former Northwestern-commit Jaren Sina pledged to the Pirates.

That completed a class that also included Brooklyn native Carrington, Newark native and Nzei.

In the years since, that group has turned into Seton Hall’s version of the Fab Five, a group of local kids rebuilding a once-proud local program.

But it didn’t start out that way.

Seton Hall won their first 12 games, but the season quickly devolved. Sina transferred out midseason. Seniors spoke on the record about how “everyone’s not focused on winning.”

“We took an ass kicking our freshmen year,” Carrington said. The Pirates would lose 15 of their final 19 games and Willard was forced to negotiate a deal to keep his job: He gets one more year, and if that promising crop of freshmen didn’t pan out, he would resign. “I definitely remember those hot seat talks, saying coach might get fired. Our freshman year was so bad my family asked me if I wanted to transfer. I said no. I felt like we had enough players. We had enough confidence in ourselves to do something special.”

Seton Hall won the Big East tournament the following season, earning the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in a decade.

They returned the following year.

And in the final year with that core together, the Pirates have their best team to date.

“I’m ready for those guys to graduate,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said with a laugh on Thursday night. “I might come to their graduation and congratulate them.”


Myles Powell (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The most difficult thing – and arguably the most important thing – for a college basketball program that is not a one-and-done factory to do is to get old while keeping talent on the roster. Kids don’t want to wait to get playing time. They don’t want to sacrifice their shots and their stats for an extra year when a star opts to return to school. Hell, they don’t want to be in school when they could be making six or seven figures playing professionally.

The fantasy of college basketball as anything other than a billion-dollar business has passed, but the beauty of what has grown in Seton Hall’s basketball program is a throwback to a bygone era. This roster, this senior class, is essentially made up of local kids, guys that have known each other for years, guys that have developed a bond that goes far beyond basketball.

Delgado had a chance to go to the NBA after last season. He returned to school. “The decision was easy,” he told NBC Sports in October, “and I’m excited to be back with these guys.”

“We brothers,” he added on Thursday. “Not only when we’re in school, but we’re going to be brothers when we leave here,” and that sounds like lip service, the kind of thing that a program coaches its players to say. But with Seton Hall, the proof is in the pudding.

Take Carrington, for example. He’s playing a new position this season and the transition has not been smooth. His scoring is way down. His efficiency is way down. He’s not shooting the ball well. And he doesn’t care, not when his team is still winning games. Delgado is the same way. He’s been doubled every time he’s touched the ball. He’s not posting the same stat lines he did when he was the best big man in the Big East a season ago, but his smile has been as big and as infectious as ever.

No one has batted an eye as sophomore Myles Powell has become the team’s second-leading scorer, or as Desi Rodriguez has usurped the title of Seton Hall’s All-American Candidate.

Which brings me to Thursday night.

All the writing was all the wall. All the narratives were lined up. It was the perfect storm. Seton Hall was just two weeks removed from a loss to in-state rival Rutgers. One player, Jordan Walker, had reportedly quit the team over a play time beef before returning a few days later while a second player, Sanogo, was suspended. Then there was the game against Manhattan, where Powell was ejected as the two teams had a pre-halftime scuffle. At halftime of their Big East home opener, a game they had to win if the pipe dream of a Big East regular season title had any chance of becoming a reality, Seton Hall had foregone playing any defense in the first half, trailing No. 25 Creighton 53-42 at the break.

They rallied and won despite having to play the final three minutes without Delgado, who had fouled out of the game.

In the locker room, after the win, when Nzei spotted Delgado, he said, “I got you! I got 14 rebounds!”

Delgado’s response?

“I freaking love you, man. You don’t even know how much.”


Desi Rodriguez (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Just how long Sanogo remains a member of the Seton Hall program is up to him at the end of the day.

His brothers want him there, even with all the extras. Willard wants to win, and Sanogo gives him the best chance to do that. This group is good enough to do things Seton Hall hasn’t done since the days of P.J. Carlesimo, and the players he entered with did not want to experience that without him.

But the reason he’s still wearing that Seton Hall jersey on gamedays goes beyond basketball.

“If we win the Big East or the national championship, seeing him there will make me a really happy person,” Delgado said. “But I want Ish to graduate. I want Ish to walk across that stage with us.”

“I would want somebody to do it for me,” Carrington added. “That’s what family does.”

Grand Canyon earns two more high-major transfers

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Grand Canyon has done a great job of attracting high-major transfers as the program landed two more former Big Ten players this week.

Forward Michael Finke, a former Illinois big man, will join the program as a graduate transfer while former Northwestern guard Isiah Brown also committed to the Antelopes.

Michael Finke made 50 career starts for the Illini, as he joins younger brother Tim Finke on the Grand Canyon roster. The floor-spacing big man could help Grand Canyon on offense if he shoots like he did a few seasons back as he could be a valuable addition to the rotation. Finke put up 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game at Illinois last season.

Brown, who just finished his sophomore season as Northwestern, will have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. The duo of Brown and Finke join Washington transfer Carlos Johnson (also sitting out next season) as high-major transfers that head coach Dan Majerle and his staff have pulled in this offseason.

Last season at Northwestern, Brown averaged 3.9 points per game after his minutes dipped a bit.

With Grand Canyon making a major push towards an NCAA tournament, these are the types of moves that could pay off the next few seasons for an emerging mid-major program.

Nebraska lands Robert Morris transfer Dachon Burke

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Nebraska landed a coveted transfer on Thursday as former Robert Morris guard Dachon Burke pledged to the Cornhuskers during an official visit, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-4 Burke will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more seasons of eligibility. Burke averaged 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season for the Colonials in a breakout sophomore campaign. Also putting up 2.1 steals per game, Burke should be a major contributor for Nebraska when he becomes eligible.

Nebraska was able to pull in Burke even though he was coveted by other high-major programs as he’s a solid addition for the program. If Burke can improve his perimeter shooting (33 percent last season from three-point range) then he could be a major weapon for the Huskers.

 

Report: Arizona State adds 7-foot-1 center

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Height has been something of an issue in recent years for Bobby Hurley and Arizona State. The Sun Devils took a step to remedy that Thursday.

Uros Plavsic, a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia has signed with Arizona State to become the fourth member of the program’s 2018 recruiting class, according to a report from 247 Sports’ Evan Daniels.

Plavsic, who is attending high school in Tennessee, originally committed to Cleveland State, but backed off that commitment last month before visiting Tempe this week.

“It was a great experience,” Plavsic told Scout. “They really took good care of me these past few days. Their campus is so, so big. The people here are nice. I met two guys I really liked and were important for a basketball team. Their facilities are crazy. Everything is in the same area.”

The Sun Devils ranked in the bottom half of the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last year while ranking 265th in average height, according to KenPom.

“They were short the past two seasons,” he said about Arizona State. “They really needed a big guy and they can use me inside or can pass outside. They really need a big guy and I think I can help them out a lot next season.”

 

NCAA begins work of implementing complex basketball reforms

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The most difficult part of the NCAA’s attempt to clean up college basketball begins now.

Hours after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the Commission on College Basketball’s sweeping recommendations for reforming a sport weighed down by corruption, NCAA leaders set in motion the process for turning those ideas into reality.

The NCAA Board of Governors, a group of 16 university presidents and the association’s highest ranking body, unanimously endorsed all the commission’s recommendations Wednesday. Now it’s up to various subcommittees, working groups and college administrators to dig into a mountain of work over the next three months as the NCAA attempts to change NBA draft rules, create a new enforcement body, toughen penalties for rules violations, revamp summer recruiting and certify agents. All while trying to get buy-in from organizations that might not be motivated to help.

“It’s going to be a challenge to say the least,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “This is a pace of decision making that the association’s really never done on this kind of scale before.”

The Division I Council, comprised mostly of athletic directors and headed by Miami AD Blake James, has the job of turning the recommendations into rules. That requires feedback from schools, then council votes with some conference votes counting more heavily than others. Each proposal then goes to the Board of Directors, where a majority vote is needed to send it to the Board of Governors for final approval.

It’s a winding path — crossing 351 Division I schools with varied priorities and concerns — and requiring consensus building and compromise for measures to pass. NCAA rule changes can sometimes take a full calendar year to sort out.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t let the good fall victim to the perfect here,” Emmert said. “Nobody believes we’re going to get everything perfect the first time through.”

The independent commission Rice led released a much-anticipated and detailed 60-page report , seven months after the group was formed in response to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. Ten people, including some assistant coaches, have been charged in a bribery and kickback scheme , and high-profile programs such as Arizona, Louisville and Kansas have been tied to possible NCAA violations.

“They believe the college basketball enterprise is worth saving,” Rice told the AP of commission members in an interview before addressing NCAA leaders. “We believe there’s a lot of work to do in that regard. That the state of the game is not very strong. We had to be bold in our recommendations.”

The proposals were wide-ranging, falling mostly into five categories: NBA draft rules, specifically the league’s 19-year-old age limit that has led to so-called one-and-done college players; non-scholastic basketball such as AAU leagues and summer recruiting events; the relationship between players and agents; relationships with apparel companies; and NCAA enforcement.

“Some people like some of (the recommendations) more than others, which is human nature, but as a board we’re unanimous in the endorsement and the acceptance of these recommendations for the NCAA,” said Minnesota President Eric Kaler, chairman of the Division I Board of Directors.

It’s not yet clear how the governing body would pay for some of the proposals, though the NCAA reported revenues of more than $1 billion dollars for fiscal year 2017 in its most recent financial disclosures.

The commission offered harsh assessments of toothless NCAA enforcement, as well as the shady summer basketball circuit that brings together agents, apparel companies and coaches looking to profit on teenage prodigies. It called the environment surrounding hoops “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” and said responsibility for the current mess goes all the way up to university presidents.

It also defended the NCAA’s amateurism model, saying paying players a salary isn’t the answer.

“The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the commission wrote in its report.

The commission did leave open the possibility that college athletes could earn money off their names, images and likenesses , but decided not to commit on the subject while the courts are still weighing in.

Rice called the crisis in college basketball “first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.”

ONE-AND-DONE

The commission emphasized the need for elite players to have more options when choosing between college and professional basketball, and to separate the two tracks.

The commission called for the NBA and its players association to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible. The one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006, despite the success of straight-from-high-school stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

“I’m confident they are going to be very supportive,” Emmert said of the NBA and NBAPA.

The NBA and players union praised the recommendations on enforcement and expressed concerns about youth basketball. On draft eligibility rules, however, there was no commitment.

“The NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game,” they said.

The commission did, however, say if the NBA and NBPA refuse to change their rules in time for the next basketball season, it would reconvene and consider other options for the NCAA, such as making freshmen ineligible or locking a scholarship for three or four years if the recipient leaves a program after a single year.

“One-and-done has to go one way or another,” Rice told the AP.

ENFORCEMENT

The commission recommended harsher penalties for rule-breakers and that the NCAA outsource the investigation and adjudication of the most serious infractions cases. Level I violations would be punishable with up to a five-year postseason ban and the forfeiture of all postseason revenue for the time of the ban. That could be worth tens of millions to major conference schools. By comparison, recent Level I infractions cases involving Louisville and Syracuse basketball resulted in postseason bans of one year.

Instead of show cause orders, which are meant to limit a coach’s ability to work in college sports after breaking NCAA rules, the report called for lifetime bans.

“The rewards of success, athletic success, have become very great. The deterrents sometimes aren’t as effective as they need to be. What we want are deterrents that really impact an institution,” said Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, who was a member of the Rice commission.

AGENTS

The commission proposed the NCAA create a program for certifying agents , and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers.

AAU AND SUMMER LEAGUES

The NCAA, with support from the NBA and USA Basketball, should run its own recruiting events for prospects during the summer , the commission said, and take a more serious approach to certifying events it does not control.

APPAREL COMPANIES

The commission also called for greater financial transparency from shoe and apparel companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. These companies have extensive financial relationships with colleges and coaches worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Adidas had two former executives charged by federal prosecutors in New York in the corruption case.

 

ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.