North Carolina Tar Heels

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Nike “never helped me get any player,” North Carolina’s Roy Williams says

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North Carolina basketball is one of the biggest brands in college sports. They’ve won six NCAA national championships, been to 20 Final Fours and put dozens of players in the NBA. One of those players, Michael Jordan, just happens to be regarded as the best to have play the game, not to mention be the most important athlete ever in marketing.

That makes them a very important program to Nike, which outfits the school. In light of the scandal rocking college basketball at the moment, in which an adidas employee is accused of funneling money to a prospect’s family, all relationships between athletic departments and apparel companies are under scrutiny.

“They’ve never helped me get any player, never insinuated, never done anything,” Williams told ESPN.

“I’ve dealt with Nike and Jordan Brand since I came back here, but we never even discuss things like that. So I know it’s foreign to me.”

Certainly, to expect a coach at any school to say anything other than that regarding an apparel company would be pretty silly and naive. This is a chance, however, to explore the word “help” in terms of shoe company influence.

The FBI investigation and subsequent charges documents allege to expose a pretty blatant and, according to the justice department, illegal way apparel companies can “help” schools get players. Paying a player is as direct a way as it gets. But it’s not the only way.

What if Nike (or any shoe company) decides to expand the budget of a grassroots program it sponsors with a wink and a nod that the program pushing its kids to high-profile Nike (or any shoe company) college program would be a nice way to keep everybody happy (and paid).

Maybe the least nefarious way an apparel company can help is simply doing what they pay schools to do. Hook them up with cool gear.

I’d have to imagine that being one of just a handful of teams that rep Jordan Brand has to have some appeal to prospects. I know getting a pair of national championship Jordan shoes, of which only 25 were made, is pretty dang cool. That might “help” a prospect come to the conclusion North Carolina is the place for him.

So maybe Nike has never “helped” UNC get a player like Williams said and in the context in which he said it. But the Swoosh has certainly helped North Carolina get players.

After hearing, UNC now awaits NCAA ruling in academic case

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North Carolina has wrapped up a two-day hearing with an NCAA infractions committee panel that will decide whether the school faces penalties tied to its multi-year academic scandal.

Now the case goes into yet another holding pattern.

School officials spent much of Wednesday in a closed-door meeting with committee members in Nashville, Tennessee. They returned Thursday morning for a second session lasting about 4½ hours with the panel that will determine whether UNC faces penalties such as fines, probation or vacated wins and championships.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn confirmed the hearing was complete but both sides were mum afterward.

Osburn didn’t comment further because the panel must deliberate before issuing a ruling, which typically comes weeks to months after a hearing. UNC athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner said the school wouldn’t have any comments about the hearing either.

Getting through the hearing process was a major step toward resolution in a delay-filled case tied to irregular courses, though there’s still the potential for the case to linger beyond a ruling if UNC decides to appeal or pursue legal action. The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.

The focus is independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.

In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

The case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program that resulted in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in a May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and then again in December.

Most notably, the NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter .

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

UNC chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell attended both hearing days. Football coach Larry Fedora, who wasn’t at UNC at the time in question, attended Wednesday’s session.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in the broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor Jan Boxill providing improper assistance on assignments.

Boxill and Deborah Crowder, who is also charged individually in the case, attended Wednesday with their attorneys but didn’t return Thursday. Crowder is a former AFAM office administrator who enrolled students, distributed assignments and graded many of the papers in irregular courses.

The infractions panel is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC lands commitment from 2019 point guard

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North Carolina added another point guard for the future on Friday afternoon.

Jeremiah Francis, a four-star floor general from the Class of 2019, announced via Twitter that he had made a verbal commitment to the Tar Heels.

Joel Berry is set to exhaust his eligibility at the end of this upcoming season. Roy Williams has responded to that impending departure by adding lead guard Jalek Felton, nephew of former UNC star Raymond Felton, to this year’s team. Rechon Black, another four-star point guard, is set to join the program in the fall of 2018.

Francis, who plays for Pickerington Central in Ohio, is the first commit for UNC in the Class of 2019. He picked the Tar Heels over the likes of Ohio State, Indiana, Florida State and West Virginia, among others. His high school teammate, Sterling Manley, a three-star big man, will be a freshman at North Carolina this fall.

The 6-foot-2 Francis spent the spring and summer playing for Indiana Elite in the adidas Gauntlet.

North Carolina to unveil national championship banner in October

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The latest addition to the rafters of the Dean Dome will be unveiled this fall.

North Carolina will raise the banner for its 2017 national championship on Oct. 13, according to a report from Inside Carolina.

The event will coincide with the Tar Heels’ “Late Night With Roy” event that marks the public start to the season for the program and also serves, like many other top programs, as a recruiting tool.

North Carolina won its sixth NCAA national championship in April by defeating Gonzaga, 71-65, in Phoenix to avenge its last-second loss in the title game to Villanova the year prior. It was the Tar Heels’ first championship since 2009.

North Carolina’s Kenny Williams undergoes knee surgery

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina guard Kenny Williams has undergone surgery on his right knee but is expected to be ready for the start of preseason practice in October.

School officials announced Tuesday that Williams had surgery Friday. The university release announcing Williams’ surgery also said he should be able to participate when preseason practice begins.

Williams started 22 games for North Carolina as a sophomore last season but tore his meniscus in a February practice and missed the final 14 games of the Tar Heels’ drive to the national championship.

The 6-foot-4 guard from Midlothian, Virginia, averaged 6.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 23.7 minutes.

Cameron Johnson released by Pitt, eligible to join North Carolina next season

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Cameron Johnson became one of the most coveted transfers on the market when he decided to leave the Pitt program. The 6-foot-8 shooter not only had two years of eligibility remaining but he was graduating in three years, meaning he would be eligible to play at whatever school he chose to enroll in.

Earlier this week, he picked ACC foe North Carolina.

One problem. Kevin Stallings and Pitt placed restrictions on where he could and couldn’t transfer to, mainly within the ACC. The two sides later “compromised.” Johnson could transfer to another ACC school but

Kevin Stallings and Pitt placed restrictions on where he could and couldn’t transfer to, mainly within the ACC. Following an appeal, the two sides reached a “compromise.” Johnson could transfer to another ACC school but he’d have to pay his way and burn one of his final two years of eligibility to do so.

After a PR hit, Pitt has reportedly changed course and has released Johnson, allowing him to suit up for the Tar Heels during the 2017-18 season, according to Evan Daniels of Scout.

Johnson averaged 11.9 points 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, shooting 42 percent from three for the Panthers this past season. He will slide into the vacant role left behind by All-American Justin Jackson.

The reigning national champion and Pitt, a program that has lost its top four scorers from a season ago, will be on opposite ends of the preseason poll. But after this ordeal, it’ll make for a must-see matchup when Johnson meets his alma mater.