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Assigned Reading: Nebraska assistant Rashon Burno overcame adversity in promising basketball career

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Rashon Burno was hired as Nebraska’s newest assistant coach back in May. The move was viewed as a nice pickup for Tim Miles.

The diminutive point guard was a three-year captain at DePaul (1998-2002) and gained valuable experience from some of the game’s top coaches, from his high school days playing for Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley at powerhouse St. Anthony in his native Jersey City to the last three seasons he spent on the bench alongside two-time national champion Billy Donovan.

However, the 37-year-old coach had to go through more than his share of hardships to get to where he is today, as Lee Barfknecht featured in Saturday’s Omaha World-Herald:

Burno, 37, grew up in the Duncan Projects public housing complex in Jersey City — a tough enough challenge considering the crime, drug use and other daily misdeeds in the area.

The degree of difficulty grows exponentially when you are one of six children and both parents die by the time you are 8 and you have to move in with your grandmother. Multiply that even more when Grandma develops Alzheimer’s two years later and has to move to a care facility.

Burno’s coaching career began in 2007 as a teach and coach at Marmion Academy in Chicago. He made stops at Towson State, Manhattan and Florida before joining the Cornhuskers’ staff.

Burno replaces Chris Harriman, who accepted the associate head coaching position at New Mexico. Harriman was also part of an inspirational story, as his son Avery has courageously fought several battles with leukemia.

Assigned Reading: How Iowa State settled on Steve Prohm as its new head coach

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When Fred Hoiberg officially became head coach of the Chicago Bulls, the fact that he would one day move on to the NBA did not come as a surprise to Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard. The two have a good relationship, and during Hoiberg’s time in Ames that meant frequent communication on matters such as Hoiberg’s coaching future.

Pollard moved quickly to fill the vacancy, with Iowa State President Steve Leath offering his thoughts on who should be hired and the school using a search firm to help with the process. However the search firm wasn’t used in the way that some assume them to be; that they’re hired for a program that doesn’t know how to handle a coaching search.

Instead the school provided the firm with a list of names to look into in regards to background and interview logistics, with that list being narrowed down to seven before the interview process. In this story by Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register, the entire search is broken down and it includes this interesting exchange between Pollard and Hoiberg:

When Pollard asked whom he should consider as his replacement, Hoiberg responded with two words: Steve Prohm.

“The first person out of his mouth was Steve Prohm, and Fred said the reason was that, ‘He runs everything that I run. I’ve met him, (and) he’s a man of character,’ ” Pollard said. “That did not mean Steve Prohm was getting the job. I did not meet Steve Prohm until (last) Sunday morning for the first time.”

Obviously not all head coaching searches are the same, with schools having particular criteria as to who they end up hiring. But this was a very interesting read, especially for those who wonder if Iowa State’s offense will change from the highly successful system run by Hoiberg.

The story can be read here.

Assigned Reading: Former Montana star Anthony Johnson looks to end cycle of abuse

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On March 11, 2010 in the Big Sky tournament final, Montana guard Anthony Johnson put forth a performance for the ages in the second half of the Grizzlies’ win over Weber State. With his team down by as much as 22 points (20 at the half), Johnson led the Grizzlies on an incredible comeback by scoring 34 of his 42 points in the second half (and the team’s final 21 points).

What makes the feat all the more amazing is that Johnson did so while struggling with glare caused by the lights in the arena that made it difficult for Johnson to see the rim. The story of how Johnson’s vision became an issue for him began an incredible story written by Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times on the now-28 year old Johnson, and the cycle of violence he’s hoping to end.

At the age of nine Johnson was severely beaten by his stepfather, with the resulting injuries leading to two separate surgeries on Johnson’s left eye. Now raising a six-month old son with his wife Shaunte, Anthony Johnson aims to ensure that his child will never go through what he did as a youngster.

As much as Anthony wrestled with his childhood, as much as he tried to reconcile it, his past never let go of him. For a long time he didn’t want kids because he was scared of himself.

Some days Shaunte cried and worried that she was the problem. They were married in 2006, but Anthony couldn’t shake his fears. Would he repeat the ills of his childhood? Would he pass on his curse?

He knows the issues of his past will be the issues of his future, and he will have to decide for it to be different. Coldness is in his DNA, and the programming of his childhood will shadow him forever.

The full story can be read here. And highlights of that Big Sky tournament title game can be seen here.

Assigned Reading: How Jeremy Foley found his new head coach

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How athletic directors handle head coaching searches is one of the more interesting aspects of collegiate athletics. With the rise of search firms, some lean upon those outlets to not only establish connections but also narrow down the field of possible candidates for the opening.

But not all athletic directors use firms to do the legwork, either doing the work themselves or with the aid of a committee consisting of others within the athletic department and school community. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley had a committee to help him through the process following Billy Donovan’s decision to take the Oklahoma City Thunder job, but this search began to take shape even before Donovan made the move.

Chris Harry of Gatorzone.com (the school’s official athletics website) wrote a story breaking down the entire process that led to Foley offering the job to then-Louisiana Tech head coach Michael White.

Even with season-ending injuries to reigning MVP Kevin Durant and defensive whiz Serge Ibaka, rumors that OKC coach Scott Brooks’ job was in jeopardy had been circulating for months and that Donovan, with his brilliant offensive acumen, would be attractive replacement. Thunder general manager Sam Presti, along with his metrics analyst Oliver Winterbone, who served from 2010-14 as Donovan’s video coordinator, had visited Gainesville in February and attended Gators practices, shoot-arounds and a couple games.

They likely weren’t there four days to scout Chris Walker.

The Thunder’s regular season ended April 15, as the team missed the playoffs via a tiebreaker with the New Orleans Pelicans. Speculation immediately amped regarding Brooks’ job, which meant the Gators further readied their just-in-case list of coaches in the likely event OKC came after Donovan.

The full story of how Florida made its decision can be read here.

Assigned Reading: Mookie Jones’ circuitous path to a college degree

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This time of year is a special one for many college students, as their hard work in the class room will be rewarded in the form of a college degree. But for some the path to that degree is anything but smooth, and that was definitely the case for former Syracuse basketball player Mookie Jones.

The Peekskill, New York native arrived on the SU campus as a highly-regarded recruit known for his shooting ability, but things never seemed to work out for Jones. Playing time was limited, he struggled in the classroom and by 2012 he was suspended from the school indefinitely after being charged with cyberbullying.

Things would only get worse for Jones from there, with Donna Ditota of the Syracuse Post-Standard writing a story on just how deep the hole would get.

He attempted three times, he said, to fulfill the university’s requirements for re-admittance by acknowledging his behavioral flaws and proving he could be a solid college citizen. Finally, in January 2014, Jones learned SU had accepted the “heartfelt” letter pleading his case and had invited him back to school.

By then, broke and forced to apply for social services, he recognized the occupational hazards of an incomplete education. The menial labor, the basketball jobs that never materialized, the uncertain future that kept him up nights. So when a ruptured Achilles tendon ended his season of minor league professional basketball, Jones retreated home to Peekskill and while watching his baby daughter one day decided to return to school.

Jones’ story has a happy ending, as he will walk across the stage at Manley Field House this weekend and receive his college degree. During his time as a player Jones was a fan favorite, and his story is one that should serve as motivation for others.

You can read the story here.

Assigned Reading: AAU league folds as owner could be running a huge scam?

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There have been plenty of stories over the years about the evils of AAU basketball and some of the shady people running programs and events. In spite of some of the more bizarre stories coming from the grassroots circuit, nothing has ever seemed as ridiculous as this latest story involving David Kelly, the president of the Elevate Basketball Circuit.

According to an investigative piece in Sports Illustrated from Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans, Kelly organized an independent grassroots basketball organization with hundreds of teams signing up, only to close up shop unannounced as hundreds of programs — and parents — lost thousands of dollars.

Here’s an excerpt from the Evans and Thamel story:

[Kelly] went completely dark on everyone involved with Elevate, fueling speculation he had run off with a pile of money. Kelly claimed in Elevate literature that more than 525 teams signed up for the circuit made up of hundreds of players from more than a dozen states (erroneous reports surfaced speculating there were 800 teams). Elevate charged $1,600 per team to sign up, meaning hundreds of thousands of dollars were left unaccounted for. Kelly amplified that speculation when he shut off his phone. His e-mail bounced back as undeliverable. He shut down his Facebook page and the EBC’s website. Even his Twitter and Instagram accounts disappeared.

Without giving away too much more with this story, I implore to read some of the more outrageous details. It appears as though Kelly, and his wife, have disappeared from the face of the Earth and now the FBI is beginning to ask questions as a potential class-action lawsuit unfolds.

You can find the full story here. Although many will argue that this is typical of the AAU culture, there are plenty of responsible event organizers, travel programs and coaches who are truly looking out for the best of youth basketball players. This is just an unfortunate byproduct of somebody taking advantage of that situation.