Yes, that really just happened:
You’ve probably never heard the name Isaiah Brock before, but if you are a college basketball fan, it’s one you will hear quite a bit about over the course of the next month.
Brock is a veteran. He spent four years serving in the army, helping to get the bodies of soldiers killed in combat back home. As detailed in this story from the Detroit Free-Press, Brock went from an uninterested, 6-foot high school student to a 6-foot-8 22-year old that wanted to further his education while he was enlisted.
Oakland head coach Greg Kampe saw him on a trip to Kuwait, offered him a scholarship and Brock accepted.
It’s a terrific story … or it was until the NCAA got in the way.
Like I said earlier, Brock was a disinterested high school student. He didn’t take the classes or get the grades he needed to get eligible for college sports because he never knew college sports would be an option for him. That’s why, after two tours in the Middle East and despite a dozen college credits he earned in online classes and summer school at Oakland, the NCAA ruled Brock ineligible.
He can be on campus. He can be on scholarship. He cannot play basketball until 2017-18. The NCAA termed it a “year of academic preparedness.”
But here’s the key point to be made: Oakland can and will appeal this decision.
They are going to win that appeal. I don’t have any inside information here, mind you. This isn’t coming from a source at the NCAA. This is just common sense, because this is how these things always play out.
The NCAA has to process tens of thousands of athletes through their eligibility center. When determining the initial eligibility of a player, they use hard and fast rules for simplicity’s sake. They only have so much time and so much man power. Taking a deep dive into every case, considering all the extenuating factors in each kid’s life, in the initial process would likely mean that the decisions aren’t made by the start of practice or games.
And that’s why they leave decisions open for appeal, so that kids like Brock – who served his country and who has proven his ability in a college classroom and who has changed in the five years since he didn’t care about high school grades – don’t fall through the cracks.
The NCAA determines who didn’t make the cut, then listens for valid appeals about why that shouldn’t matter.
Brock has one.
And Oakland knows it.
Which is why the school went public with this story.
They knew it would get traction everywhere. I’m writing about it. Every other outlet that covers college hoops will, too. Jay Bilas will tweet about it. Everyone that is anti-NCAA will get up in arms over it.
The public pressure will be too much for the NCAA to rule against Brock. They probably wouldn’t rule against him even if Oakland say back quietly and let the process play out in silence.
This same thing happens every year.
Is it terrible PR for the NCAA? Absolutely. But given the system that’s currently in place, that bad PR is more-or-less an unavoidable by-product.
Should the system change? Should universities be able to determine who they admit into school? Absolutely. Think about how many people at every school in the country work in the admissions department. Their sole job is to determine who should be allowed into school, and they’re just as capable with student-athletes as they are with regular old students.
But these are the NCAA rules which have been determined by the NCAA members. Or, in other words, the schools themselves have decided that they cannot be trusted with these decisions because they cannot trust the programs they compete against not to cheat, not to allow in kids that are terrific athletes and non-existent students.
So the eligibility center remains.
Which means that, every year, we are going to see stories like Brock’s pop up. Remember Tacko Fall? He was last year’s Cause Du Jour.
He was eventually cleared.
Just like Brock will be.
As the great Omar Little once said:
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Bang.
Jay Wright calmly mouthed one word when Kris Jenkins hit the 3-pointer at the buzzer that won Villanova a national championship. The Wildcats returned home the next day for a pep rally at the campus football stadium, and their celebratory victory tour has barely slowed down since April.
The White House. Wall Street. The ESPYs. The ticker tape parade. The Philadelphia professional sports teams feted the Wildcats with first pitch, first puck, first tip fun. Wright delivered a pep talk to the Eagles. Basketball and Basilica in Spain. What’s the next chapter? Read all about it in Wright’s upcoming book, “Attitude.”
Wright sat down with The Associated Press to talk about his favorite moments from a summer where the Wildcats reigned as the national champions. Here are some of his memories from what Wright called, “a wild offseason. Wild. And great.”
HAIL TO THE CHAMPS
President Barack Obama welcomed Villanova in May to the White House and congratulated the Wildcats for winning what he described as “maybe the best title game of all time.”
Waiting to be introduced, Wright chitchatted with Obama where the two discussed, well, basketball, of course. Obama’s brother-in-law is former college hoops player and Oregon State coach Craig Robinson and the president fills out an NCAA Tournament bracket every year. He even picked the Wildcats to win the national championship in 2015 (and lost).
“He really knows our business, really knows it well,” Wright said. “It’s funny to hear the president of the United States say how difficult a job we have. And you’re hearing it from the president! But we had a really insightful conversation about college coaching that was awesome to me.”
`CATS & BIRDS:
Wright was invited by the Philadelphia Eagles to give a private pep talk to coaches and players in June.
“It was all about just being loyal to each other, the Eagles, the coaches and players. They’re my favorite team,” Wright said. “I had met (coach) Doug Pederson because of (former coach) Andy Reid and I was friends with Andy.
“I would say the talk with the President was first and then the Eagles, that was really cool.”
Wright was in Washington for a leadership summit at the Pentagon when he met Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw back in 2014. Kershaw was in town to face the Nationals and the two bumped into each other at the Ritz.
Kershaw was excited to reunite with Wright two years later on the red carpet for the ESPYs .
“He was like, `I want to take a picture with the ring. I’ve got to get one of those, I don’t have one of those,”‘ Wright said, laughing.
Kershaw then threw Wright a curve – that the Wildcats weren’t going to win any awards.
“He said, `Did you win?”‘ Wright said. “I was like, well, we were nominated for three. As he said it, I realized, we would know if we won. He kind of started backing off. `No, no, no. I just remember last year I was up for one and the guy who won knew he won.’ It hit me before we went in there, we probably didn’t win. We would have known if we won.”
The Wildcats stamped their passports for an eight-day tour of Spain that included three exhibition games against Spanish Select teams . The Wildcats toured Barcelona and Madrid in relative anonymity and avoided mobs of autograph seekers.
Little known fact, Villanova is named for a Spanish Augustinian, Thomas Garcï¿½a (1486-1555), the son of a miller who was born in Fuenllana, a village near Villanueva de los Infantes, Castile, Spain.
Known fact, fans know who the Wildcats are in Philadelphia.
“We got back and people started taking pictures of us again,” Wright said. “It smacked us right in the face. In Spain, no one knew us. No one bothered us. But we got smacked in the face waiting for our bags. Everybody started asking for pictures because we were all together. It was all just a smack in the face of reality.”
Wright has watched a replay of the national championship game twice. He watched it with a coach’s eye on the plane ride back from Houston and one more time with his family just days after the championship parade in Philadelphia.
“We listened to timeouts, we listened to Raff and Jim Nantz and Grant Hill,” he said. “We tried to get a feel for what people really saw and listened to. It took us like, three hours to watch the game. We kept rewinding stuff. We had a lot of fun with it. That was it. That was the last time.”
But video of Jenkins’ shot is on a continuous loop plays in the lobby of Villanova’s basketball complex – and the fun hasn’t ended yet.
“It’s been everything,” Wright said. “But we started practice on Friday and I kind of feel like officially, it’s over.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino believes the school’s self-imposed sanctions are enough to satisfy the NCAA as the governing body continues investigating an escort’s allegations that a former Cardinals staffer hired her and other dancers to entertain recruits and players.
The school in February announced a postseason ban after its investigation into Katina Powell’s allegations determined that violations did occur. Louisville imposed additional sanctions in April, reducing scholarships and recruiting visits and contacts by staff in 2016-17 and `17-’18. Several investigations into the program continue, but Pitino says measures suggested by investigator Chuck Smrt should be enough.
During a radio interview Tuesday on Louisville’s 840 WHAS, Pitino said, “we have to rely on his (Smrt’s) expertise, so in his expertise and his feelings, we’ve done everything that we needed to do.”
Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big South Conference.
The Big South got hit as hard with departures as any conference in college basketball this offseason. It starts with Coastal Carolina, a perennial title contender and the former host of the league’s conference tournament, bolting for the Atlantic Sun. Then there were the transfers. Four potential first-team all-league players left for power conference teams: Presbyterian’s DeSean Murray (Auburn), Liberty’s Evan Maxwell (Kansas) and the freshmen duo of Dylan Smith (Arizona) and Dwayne Sutton (Louisville) from UNC Asheville all opted to leave.
Throw in the graduation of High Point’s two-time Big South Player of the Year, John Brown, and the league is going to look a lot different this season than it did last year.
The biggest change could be that Winthrop finally earns a trip to the NCAA tournament. The Eagles have lost in the Big South title game for three straight years, but they return enough talent that they should be considered the favorite to repeat as regular season champs. 5-foot-7 lead guard Keon Johnson, who averaged 20.7 points in league play, returns, as does 6-foot-8 Aussie Xavier Cooks. Replacing the scoring pop provided by Jimmy Gavin, who averaged 18.7 points and led the league in three-pointers made, will be tough, but Pat Kelsey’s club returns three starters in a league where returning talent is at a premium.
Once you get past Winthrop, however, the picture gets murky.
High Point not only lost Brown, they lost four starters in total. Scott Cherry has built himself a winner – Kansas, Gonzaga and Stephen F. Austin are the only other programs in the country that have won at least a share of four straight regular season titles – even if he was never able to get the Panthers to the NCAA tournament, but this has the makings of a rebuilding season.
It looks like UNC Asheville, the reigning Big South tournament champs, will have some rebuilding to do as well, which will frustrate head coach Nick McDevitt. Everything was set up for the Bulldogs to replace High Point as the league’s powerhouse – they made the NCAA tournament last season with two freshmen and two sophomores scoring in double figures – but both of those freshmen left for bigger programs. The good news is that both Kevin Vannatta and Ahmad Thomas returned for their junior season, and MaCio Teague headlines another promising recruiting class. But McDevitt has now lost four players to up-transfers in the last four years (Andrew Rowsey is now a junior at Marquette and Keith Hornsby just graduated from LSU) and his program is still winning titles. Imagine if they ever play at full strength?
The most interesting team in the league is probably Liberty. Former Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay returned from working on Tony Bennett’s staff at Virginia for his second stint, and took the Flames, who were picked last in the league in the preseason, to a 10-8 league mark and a fifth-place finish. They play a version of Bennett’s Pack-Line defense, and won 10 of their 13 games last season after Marquette transfer John Dawson became eligible. With four starters back, the Flames are an actual threat to win the league.
The best big man in the league resides in Boiling Springs, N.C. Tyrell Nelson was second-team All-Big South for Gardner-Webb as a junior, and the 6-foot-7, 235 pound low-post weapon should be in line for a big senior season. That’s because only one other starter returns – center L’Hassane Niangane – and he averaged 2.8 points. The Bulldogs have some young talent on the perimeter, but with their top four guards from last season graduating, Tim Craft is going to have to hope that his youngsters learn the ropes quickly.
Charleston Southern and Campbell are the other two teams to keep an eye on in the middle of the league.
Campbell brings back sophomore lead guard Chris Clemons, who could easily end up being the league’s leading scorer this season, while Charleston Southern will try and build around sophomore Armel Potter at the point. Radford lost six of their top eight from a team that went 9-9 in the league, while Presbyterian and Longwood, who finished tied for last in the conference race last season, lost Murray and four starters, respectively,
Out: Coastal Carolina
PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Keon Johnson, Winthrop
He’s the best player on the best team, he’s the best returning player in the conference and he’s a guy that had a real argument to be named conference Player of the Year last season. With Gavin gone, expect him to build on the 20.2 points he averaged in league play last season.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SOUTH TEAM:
- Xavier Cooks, Winthrop: I think there’s a good chance Winthrop wins the league by multiple games, and Cooks may actually be the second best player in the conference.
- John Dawson, Liberty: He totally changed the Flames’ fortunes last season.
- Chris Clemons, Campbell: The Camels may not be all that good, but Clemson is going to put up some insane numbers this season.
- Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb: The best big man in the conference.
ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigSouthMBB
3. UNC Asheville
4. High Point
7. Charleston Southern
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) As successful as Michigan has been under John Beilein, the Wolverines have also become a bit predictable.
They’ll shoot well from the perimeter, and they’re an unselfish team that’s difficult to guard because of their superior precision and spacing. On defense, they avoid fouling and don’t force many turnovers – and their opponents are often all too comfortable at that end of the court.
This season, Beilein is hoping to correct some of those defensive problems.
New assistant Billy Donlon, who joined the Michigan staff this offseason after a six-year run as head coach at Wright State, is the man Beilein is turning to for defensive expertise. The Wolverines barely made the NCAA Tournament last season but return plenty of experience – and they could certainly take a big step forward in 2016-17 if Donlon can help them become a stingier group.
“I am giving him a lot of responsibility,” Beilein said at media day Monday. “My eye, and the detail that we do in offense, I think he’s got a similar eye for defense, and we’re trying to combine that without confusing everybody.”
When Michigan reached the NCAA title game in 2013, the Wolverines ranked No. 1 in the nation in KenPom.com’s offensive efficiency stat. They were No. 3 the following season, when they went to the Elite Eight.
Defensively, it’s been a different story. Michigan was 88th in 2014, 99th in 2015 and 95th last season. That’s bad enough to be a real problem in seasons when the offense is merely good and not outstanding.
“You can’t really move the offensive needle,” Donlon said. “I think the players are wanting to also move the defensive needle some, and I think they recognize if we do that, what could happen.”
Michigan is rarely aggressive on the offensive boards, and its defensive problems have only fueled the criticism that comes with being more of a finesse team.
“We know people like to call us soft,” senior Zak Irvin said. “It is a mindset to be tough. We’ve got to do the gritty things, and we’re working on that each day.”
One of the trademarks of Michigan’s defense has been a lack of fouling. Many coaches would be happy with that, but it’s fair to wonder if the Wolverines have been operating at too much of an extreme. Michigan averaged 15.5 fouls a game last season. Donlon’s Wright State team averaged 22.
Could Michigan benefit from a little more aggressiveness on defense, even if it leads to more fouls?
“You look at some of our guys’ stats, some guys didn’t average two fouls a game, so that’s a little bit too cautious,” Beilein said. “Somehow we’ve got to take Bill’s defense where they fouled more, and still stay out of the one-and-one and still keep our best players on the floor.”
Beilein’s program isn’t about to undergo any sort of overhaul. His accomplishments at Michigan include the Final Four in 2013, as well as Big Ten titles in 2012 and 2014. But the last couple seasons have been more of a struggle, thanks in part to injuries to some key players. The Wolverines missed the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and were eliminated in the round of 64 last year.
He had to shake up his staff a bit this offseason because Bacari Alexander was hired to lead the Detroit Titans and Wisconsin-Milwaukee hired LaVall Jordan.
In Donlon, Beilein hopes he’s found someone who can help the Wolverines in an area where they’ve been lacking.
“He is a head coach that is now as the assistant coach,” Beilein said. “He’s got a lot of the head coach qualities already, where he’s strong with his command. … I can tell by our kids’ eyes, they are learning from him, they love listening to him.”
Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister