Eric Angevine

Rutgers renovates RAC ahead of Big Ten debut

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The Rutgers Athletic Center is getting an upgrade as the school prepares for its close-up as a new member of the Big Ten conference.

It’s a rare positive report from the school that has battled North Carolina and the P.J. Hairston mess for “worst off-season news headlines” this year.

New AD Julie Hermann, who played no small role in the school’s public relations meltdown, is overseeing a $2.4 million facelift to the Scarlet Knights’ 8,000 seat arena, which hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1977. She calls the renovation project “absolutely mission critical”, according to Jerry Carino of the New Jersey Hoops Haven blog.

The scoreboards and sound system cost a total of $1.6 million. Add $827,000 for construction of a control room, wiring, structural steel and other engineering costs to bring the tab to $2.4 million for this part of the project. Former athletics director Tim Pernetti had raised more than $10 million in donations for the overhaul before he resigned in April in the wake of controversy surrounding the behavior of former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice.

“It gives us an opportunity to put a whole lot of really fun video content in place for fans,” Hermann said in a phone interview. “It adds a whole new element to a basketball game, and for us it’s a revenue opportunity.”

Carino also reports that new head coach Eddie Jordan and his staff will move from their cramped offices in the RAC. In fact, Jordan will take over Hermann’s current office in the AD’s suite, which is reported to be far more spacious and open. Hermann has showed where her priorities lie during the switchover, taking over Jordan’s old office and convincing other senior staff in the athletic department to give up their own comforts as the renovation continues.

It’s going to take a lot more than a metaphorical new coat of paint to revive Rutgers’ public image, but any step in the right direction is a good step at this point.

Report: Indiana offers Isaiah Whitehead

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When James Blackmon, Jr. rescinded his verbal commitment to Indiana, Tom Crean wasted no time looking for a replacement.

And, if you’re Indiana, a replacement means one of the most coveted guards in the class of 2014.

Per Hoosier-centric blog Inside the Hall, Crean officially offered New Yorker Isaiah Whitehead a scholarship on Friday night.

It may seem a little late for the Hoosiers to jump into the fray with Whitehead, who has offers on the table from Arizona, Kansas and the defending national champs at Louisville. With Blackmon opening up his recruitment, however, there’s no doubt that Crean has playing time to offer.

Whether Blackmon decides to honor his commitment – still on the table per his father – or not, Crean has hedged his bets at the point guard position fairly well, as Inside the Hall points out:

Whitehead has said recently he plans to commit in the fall, by November, so Indiana is getting in quite late. But the Hoosiers have had success in such scenarios lately, landing 2013 forward Troy Williams after other schools had spent considerably more time recruiting him.

With the offer to Whitehead, Indiana is now recruiting four 2014 guards hard. The others are Australian point guard Dante Exum, Robert Johnson and Louisville decommit Quentin Snider. Snider has not yet been offered by the Hoosiers.

This right here is the luxury of being a blue-chip program. Plenty of options, and a high enough profile that a hat thrown in the ring late can still yield results. Nice work if you can get it.

NCAA investigators are going back to school


NCAA enforcement seems arbitrary and out-of-touch with reality at times.

Apparently, interim NCAA enforcement chief Jonathan Duncan has noticed the same thing, and he has a pretty straightforward way of addressing the problem. He’s sending his staff back to campus. Not piecemeal as part of emerging investigations, but in a more collaborative, immersive way designed to promote some understanding of the challenges colleges and athletes face on the ground.

“One of the things I hear is that our staff sometimes lacks an understanding of what campus life is really like,” Duncan told the Associated Press. “So we are piloting a program where our staff will work on campus with athletic directors, compliance staff members and coaches and walk in their shoes so that we have a true understanding of what goes on.”

The relationship between athletic departments and the NCAA has often been distant and combative. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney recently declared that the NCAA needs to undergo a major restructuring, as the challenges of realignment and a re-examining of amateur principles as a whole are making headlines on a near-daily basis.
At Big Ten football media day last month, Delany listed four commitments that must be made to the scholarship student-athlete: giving them a “lifetime opportunity” to graduate in the event they leave school early; making sure that time demands for athletics don’t exceed the 20 hours per week allowed under the rules; helping the “at-risk” athlete; and paying athletes.
With all of that on the table, and the ever-present threat that mega-conferences might break away and form an exclusive elite division, it might be a good idea for the NCAA to do everything they can to understand what’s at play. Spending more time on campus with coaches, athletes and administrators seems like a good place to start.

Patrick Mitchell on going from DI hoops to Australian Rules Football

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The NCAA loves to tell you how most scholar-athletes “go pro in something else”.

For former North Dakota forward Patrick Mitchell, that meant that he went to work for a casino in his native Iowa after a short stint playing basketball in Portugal. His professional sports aspirations seemed to be in the rear-view mirror, until he received an unexpected phone call from a representative of the Australian Football League.

“He invited me to a USA AFL combine in L.A.,” Mitchell told NBCSports by phone. “There were about 50 guys. From there, three people got invited to Sydney, and I was one of the three. I ended up being signed by the Sydney Swans.”

As it turned out, Mitchell is the beneficiary of a controversial personnel decision known down under as The Canadian Experiment. The Swans took a flyer on Canadian rugby player Mike Pyke in 2009, and the transplant went from presumptive bust to one of the best players in the Aussie game.

Vindicated by Pyke’s success, the Swans went prospecting again. They logged into the popular basketball stats service Synergy and began homing in on players who had the requisite skills, no matter where they called home.

“They punched in rebounds and blocks per minute. They were looking for taller guys who could jump and had good timing,” the 6’8″, 220-lb. Mitchell said. “They recruited me to play a special position in the AFL called Ruckman, where the job is to jump up and catch the ball when it’s in the air.”

Unlike in U.S. football – a game Mitchell played in high school – the AFL ball becomes airborne when kicked. Players running with the ball are required to bounce it, however, and the most spectacular catches can be made with the assistance of a grounded teammate.

“There’s a catch called a ‘necker’ where you jump up on a teammate’s shoulders to go after the ball,” Mitchell said. He learned all the AFL slang – including selling the candy, coathangers, magoos and daisycutters – during a special July boot camp in Sydney. Paul Roos, the Swans mentor who initiated the Canadian Experiment, put Mitchell through his paces before signing him to a two-year contract.

Mitchell acknowledged that learning the new game will be difficult. He’ll move to Sydney in October and get to work preparing for the constant, grueling motion of the game, and, of course, the brutal, bone-crunching tackles. Should the ‘basketballer experiment’ pay off, Mitchell could point the way to greater opportunities overseas for other U.S. big men.

All he has to learn is how not to shank the prune, and it should all play out just fine.

Terps’ hobbled Cleare likely won’t play on Bahamas trip

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Kudos to Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon for finding a way to get Shaquille Cleare home to his native Bahamas this summer. The Terps will begin a week-long exhibition swing through the islands on Monday. Sadly for Cleare, he won’t be able to suit up and actually play in front of his family.

It’s especially unfortunate because Cleare has lost a fair amount of weight this summer. He went from 280 lbs., his playing weight at the end of last season, to around 257 today. In fact, his hard work in slimming down may have contributed to his current injury status, according to the Washington Post.

[D]uring a summer workout, Cleare strained a hamstring. The pain carried into his back. He’s been hurt almost a month now, only recently progressing to half-speed participation during practice. The weight has stayed off, but rushing Cleare back for exhibitions – even in his native country – doesn’t make sense.

Cleare will still fly out with the team, and stay home with his parents after everyone else flies back on Friday. So the trip won’t be a total loss.

The 6’9″ Cleare averaged just 3.7 points and 2.7 boards per contest last season, playing in the considerable shadow of Alex Len, so Terps fans are probably pretty bummed they won’t get to see what Cleare can do, even against the limited competition in an exhibition game. With Len off as the number five pick in the NBA draft, and Maryland moving to the Big Ten, the Terps have a lot riding on Cleare’s ability to recover and play up to his potential in the upcoming season.


Hips don’t lie: UConn’s Omar Calhoun hopes to play pain-free after unusual surgery

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Offseason surgery is a standard thing for athletes. For college basketball players, knees go under the knife most often, with lingering ankle and foot injuries fairly common as well. UConn’s Omar Calhoun has spent four months of his summer overcoming an unusual surgery, however. According to the Hartford Courant, the rising sophomore suffered from something called femoral acetabular impingement, which required surgeons to shave down his hip bones.

Let’s take a momentary cringe break.


Calhoun is working hard to get back into playing shape as soon as possible. The Brooklyn native doesn’t want anything to get in the way of his appearing in the Huskies’ season opener, against Maryland at the Barclay’s Center.

Calhoun spent four weeks on crutches, then began the arduous rehab. His days are still filled with rehab exercises,  stationary bike, elliptical trainer, pool work. He is just now getting on the court for some back-pedaling exercises and occasionally, as he did on Thursday, he sneaks in a few shots.

“I’m on schedule right now,” he said.

Calhoun had a reasonably productive freshman season with the Huskies, averaging 11.1 points per game and grabbing the third-most playing time for UConn. He’ll once again be sharing time in a guard-heavy rotation alongside established veterans Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Standing 6’5″, Calhoun can play swing in a three-guard lineup or spell either of his talented teammates. As long as those hips are feeling better, that is.