Recruiting rundown: Kansas got depth, Arizona got bigs

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College coaches are undoubtedly spending more time working on their current teams, as opposed to grinding on the recruiting trail, which generally is shown by a lack of verbal commitments in December. After all, there’s still over four months until the signing period starts for unsigned prospects.

Still, Kansas, Vanderbilt and Tennessee all landed pledges from high school players in recent days, with the Jayhawks landing a wing that could help next season.

Kansas snags second top-100 prospect
Lost in the celebration of the unprecedented dominance of Big 12 regular season and tournament championships by Kansas under coach Bill Self, is the fact that last two years of recruiting classes have largely fizzled out, at least by Kansas’ lofty standards.

The duo that the Jayhawks signed in 2010 has already departed from the program, with Josh Selby’s jump to the NBA, and Royce Woolridge moving on to presumably more playing time at Washington State. Academic casualties greatly diminished the impact of the 2011 class, with three incoming freshmen this year being denied initial eligibility, including touted guard Ben McLemore, and forwards Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson.

Anderson has since departed for Fresno State, and Kansas is anticipating the loss of both Tyshawn Taylorand forward Thomas Robinson to the NBA.

All that is to say that Kansas needs an infusion of both bodies and talent for next year to have a chance at continuing their Big 12 roll, and the verbal commitment last week of 6-6 forward Andrew White of The Miller School, Va.,gives them a second top-100 prospect to do so.

White is an important scorer for the Jayhawks, as the all-around wing forward provides a second player likely to contribute as a freshman next year, along with touted in-state star Perry Ellis, a 6-8 power forward from Wichita Heights, Kan. Ellis has three state championships under his belt, and both he and White figure to play steady minutes as rookies next year, based on both talent and need.

Kansas beat out NC State and a host of others for White. He’s a post-graduate player, with an extra year of maturity. Kansas also locked up 6-9 center Landen Lucas and 6-8 forward Zach Peters in the early signing period, and holds a verbal commitment from 6-3 guard Anrio Adams, a well-traveled prospect that’s at Rainier Beach, Wash., for his senior year of high school. Assuming Adams qualifies, he’ll help at both guard slots.

Though it’s not a top-10 recruiting class, it’s probably in the top-20, depending on things shake out during the regular signing period. For Kansas, quantity was needed as well as quality, and if White and Ellis pan out, they’ll have two players capable of starting early on in Lawrence, with the three other players in the class providing depth.

If McLemore and Traylor regain eligibility at the start of next season, Kansas could have seven players without college game experience on the roster next year, and the youth and inexperience will require perhaps coach Self’s most difficult roster construction job yet.

No Johnson, no problem for Arizona
Normally, when a college basketball team loses a freshman that was ranked as a top-100 prospect in their class, especially a live body that’s 6-9, it’s cause for concern. That’s not exactly the case for Arizona, which parted ways with newcomer Sidki Johnson after only three games.

The transfer of Johnson isn’t entirely unexpected for those who knew his track record. He started at national high school hoops powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, Va., last year, but transferred to Wadeigh, N.Y., to finish out high school due to troubles at Oak Hill. Prior to that, Johnson also spent time at St. Raymond, N.Y., and St. Benedict’s Prep, NJ, as a high school student.

The Arizona frontcourt isn’t deep this year, and Johnson could have earned more minutes as a reserve center as the season went on, but the Wildcats in reality only have to hold themselves over until next year. Two top-10 talents have already signed to join the program in 7-0 Kaleb Tarczewski of St. Marks, Mass., and 6-8 Brandon Ashley of Findlay Prep, Nev. Both will be ready to assert themselves when they hit campus next year, on sheer talent alone. Additionally, 6’-9” forward Grant Jerrett of La Verne Lutheran, Calif., continues to improve, and presents an outside shooting dimension to the frontcourt. West Coast scouts are extremely high on Jerrett’s development, and some believe he’s a McDonald’s All American game candidate.

When the trio of Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett arrived at Arizona next year, there was the possibility that Johnson would have been the odd man out, regardless of what he did this year. With that said, the situation is curious, especially given the fact that Johnson was committed to Arizona for several years, and did cite his close relationship with assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson on several occasions.

Arizona’s loss could be the gain for another school though, as the early buzz indicates Johnson could return closer to his home in the Big Apple. Assuming he takes care of business in the classroom, as he finishes out the term at Arizona, he could be an attractive and sought-after transfer for numerous schools. Prior to committing to Arizona, Johnson had heavy Big East interest, which included St. John’s, Providence and others. An especially thin front line, like that at St. John’s, could certainly benefit from his presence.

SEC snags a Volunteer and more
Two SEC programs based in the Volunteer state snared verbal pledges recently with Vanderbilt securing the services of 6-10 center Arnold Okechukwu, and Tennessee landing an early commitment from 6-1 point guard Travon Landry.

The Commodores can point to recent successes with Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang, but Okechukwu, a native of Nigeria, is probably more raw that Ezeli and Tchiengang were when they hit campus. Okechukwu comes in at approximately 220 pounds, and has more of an impact on the defensive end right now. He’ll be brought along slowly, but he is improving in a post-graduate year at Queen City Prep, N.C., this year, after finishing high school at West Oaks Academy, Fla.

Tennessee didn’t have much time to fill out this season’s roster when coach Cuonzo Martin took over after last season. Upon taking the helm, Martin scrambled to add a handful of mostly unheralded recruits to fill out the roster. Now, he’s utilizing his chance to put his own stamp on the program, and the Volunteers have their first 2013 recruit, lead guard Travon Landry of Bob Jones, Ala. He’s not nationally ranked by any source, but did reportedly have some interest from other SEC schools. Former coach Bruce Pearl set a high recruiting standard for the Vols, and it remains to be seen if the new staff can meet expectations.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.