Recruiting rundown: Pitt-bound Kiwi star makes US debut

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It’s not an overstatement to say that the weekend debut of Steven Adams, a Pitt-bound 6-11 center, was among the most highly-anticipated events of the season for recruiting junkies. Adams previously played twice in the United States at the adidas Nations events, most recently in August, and in his brief opportunity to showcase his skills, drew attention as a potential future NBA prospect.

After finishing school in New Zealand, Adams joined the squad at Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.) to finish out the season. If that school and scenario sounds familiar to Pittsburgh fans, it should as the last international prospect the Panthers stashed at Notre Dame Prep was Khem Birch, a recent transfer to UNLV after playing only 10 games at Pitt.

Adams played in three weekend games, against top notch prep school competition, including a matchup against New Hampton Prep (N.H.), which was televised on ESPN from the loaded Spalding Hoophall Classic. To be clear, Adams didn’t exactly cement his status as a 2013 NBA lottery pick. He collected 5 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks in the game, and provided remarkably candid quotes to the assembled media regarding his nervousness and adaptation to the United States to date.

On Saturday, Adams matched against top 2013 prospect Nerlens Noel of Tilton School (N.H.) in at least part of the game, and boasted an impressive stat line of 23 points and 14 rebounds. It remains to be seen if he will fulfill his hyped promise, but he remains a true center with remarkable fluidity and potential, making it easy to see why draftniks are so excited about his future.

In Adams, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has cashed in on his way back history as a basketball player in Australia. The trajectory of big men in the Pitt program certainly indicates that Adams will be brought along slowly, and given the chance to adapt to the physicality of high-major basketball. Then again, Adams will likely be a 7-footer when he hits campus, and a building piece in making fans forget about this so far disappointing performance this season.

2013 star Derek Willis will declare on Friday
When 6-9 power forward Derek Willis of Bullitt East (Ky.) announces his college decision, and he won’t stray far from home. Willis has Kentucky, Louisville, Purdue and Indiana on his list of schools, and wherever he chooses had better hope that the second time is a charm for his decision.

Willis committed last year to Purdue, prior to re-opening his recruitment. While all of the above-listed schools have been in hot pursuit of the talented big man, it’s hard to see him leaving his home state, and in fact, the smart money is on Willis becoming Kentucky’s first recruit in the 2013 class.

Now, Willis’ recruitment hasn’t been standard, but it is quite difficult to see him leaving his home state based on a variety of factors. It’s also hard to imagine that a high school junior in the heart of the Bluegrass State would make an in-season announcement to a college that isn’t located in his home state. Willis is likely the best junior prospect in Kentucky, and he will be a nice score for whichever program lands his pledge, provided they can hold on to it until next November, when he can sign and make things official.

If Willis does end up at Kentucky as some believe, it’s fair to say that he can have an impact similar to Kyle Wiltjer’s. Kentucky isn’t near done with their 2012 recruiting class just yet, with their fingers firmly planted in the recruitments of many of the top current uncommitted players still remaining in the class, but Willis would be a good look for the future.

Connecticut, Kentucky jump in race for center Tony Parker
Usually, when high school basketball prospects have already taken four official visits, they have acquired the information necessary to make their college decision. 6-9 center Tony Parker of Miller Grove (Ga.) is arguably the best center still on the board, but he’s an exception to that axiom. Parker is a beefy center that has the size and skill to make an impact as a freshman next season at whichever school he decides to attend.

Parker already taken trips to Ohio State, UCLA, Memphis and Duke, but has yet to verbally commit to any of them. Over the weekend at the Spalding Hoophall Classic, Parker told reporters that Kentucky and Connecticut were among the schools in the mix for his last official visit. Prior to that, Kansas has also tried to get involved with the talented big man. Parker seemingly has a constantly updating school list.

For a time, UCLA seemed to be in good position for Parker, but like the nation’s no. 1 recruit Shabazz Muhammad, Parker’s status with UCLA seems to be in a holding pattern as the Bruins continue their mixed results on the court. Recent buzz has indicated that Ohio State could have a good shot at getting Parker as a replacement for Jared Sullinger, if their current sophomore star jumps to the NBA after the season. Still, Parker’s AAU teammate Alex Poythress has already signed with Kentucky, and they have been pushing hard to land a center for next year.

It doesn’t look like Parker is anywhere near a final decision for the future, but if either UConn or Kentucky can obtain Parker’s final official visit, they could have an inside track in wresting Parker away from his previous suitors.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.