Recruiting rundown: Texas Tech lands talented duo

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The numerous reports of high school basketball players being a “package deal” (meaning they intend to attend college together) greatly exceeds the amount of times it actually happens. With that said, there was little doubt that 6-8 forward Wannah Bail and 6-5 guard Michael Carey, both of Lamar Consolidated (Texas), would attend college together.

Bail and Carey came to play high school hoops in Texas from the Bahamas, and were on the same team on the AAU circuit, the Houston-based Franchize All-Stars. So when it came time to pick a college, there was little doubt that the duo wouldn’t be broken up. Originally set for a decision in October, Houston was presumed to lead to land both players, but apparently didn’t have the ability to offer both prospects scholarships. Oregon, Florida State and other programs were considered by the tandem, but on Monday both players committed to Texas Tech.

Bail is easily the more talented of the pair and a top-100 prospect who could have an immediate impact at power forward for the rebuilding Red Raiders. He’s a long interior player who can defend and use his athleticism to score near the hoop. There’s still some polishing to be done on the hardwood, but when it’s all said and done, Bail could potentially end up as a multi-year starter in Lubbock.

More than just Bail’s sidekick, Carey should also help down the road. He possesses nice size at 6-5 to play both guard spots, though it isn’t entirely clear what position he ultimately will play. Most likely, Carey projects as scoring guard with the ability to slash and score. With the significant roster turnover in the Texas Tech program Billy Gillispie became coach, Carey could also figure to have an early impact under the right conditions.

The coaching staff for the Red Raiders has been busy on the recruiting trail, as in addition to Bail and Carey joining the three other prospects in the 2012 class, they also recently picked up a commitment from 6-7 small forward Blake Danielak, a 6-7 small forward from Liberty Hill (Texas). The slender Danielak is said to be a shooting specialist with solid upside due to his athleticism. His sister plays at Cornell, and his father played college hoops.

Texas Tech has a distance to travel before they are a threat to contend for Big-12 honors, but player by player, Gillispie is putting together some talent for the future. Bail, in particular, could end up being a terrific addition for the Red Raiders.

Troubled former Class of 2010 star Geron Johnson finds a home at Memphis
Almost in conjunction with the announcement that Memphis is headed to the Big East, the Tigers took a verbal commitment from a junior college transfer who is suited for rough and tumble play at the high-major level. Recruiting junkies will remember 6-2 Geron Johnson was a standout two years ago as a senior at Dayton Dunbar, Ohio, and was considered a top-100 prospect in that class by numerous sources.

Off the court issues prevented Johnson from matriculating to D-1 basketball straight out of high school, and he instead took a two year sojourn to the junior college ranks. He started at Chipola JC in Florida, but was eventually dismissed from the team during his freshman season. This year, Johnson is starring at Garden City CC (Kan.), and counted Kansas as a finalist for his final two years of college, prior to picking Memphis. Still, Johnson has also had personal issues while at Garden City CC.

Johnson joins top-notch power forward William “Shaquille” Goodwin and slashing wing Damien Wilson in the recruiting class to date at Memphis. Goodwin and Wilson signed with Memphis during the early signing period, and Johnson is expected to sign in April with the Tigers. Goodwin and Wilson are top-100 prospects in the 2012 class.

Should Johnson keep his act together, he could be a factor next season. Current sophomore shooting guard Will Barton is a candidate to jump to the NBA, and Johnson could vie for heavy minutes as part of the crew that replaces Barton. Johnson potentially can contribute to the backcourt as a combo guard, and has undeniable talent. Still, Johnson’s track record of troubles cannot be ignored, so he’ll have to remain on the straight and narrow to make an impact at Memphis.

Early decisions for touted juniors to Penn State, Georgia and VCU
A smattering of prep juniors made verbal commitments in the last week, and Penn State stands out as landing an intriguing 2013 prospect last week. Since taking over as coach, Pat Chambers has made a point to recruit Philadelphia-area talent to Penn State. The first score was Southern Miss transfer DJ Newbill, a Philly-native, but another talent has come on board with the commitment of Brandon Austin.

Penn State plucked Austin, a 6-6 combo guard, from Imhotep Charter (Pa.), and has added a terrific prospect. He will likely end up as a top-100 recruit, if he continues his progression as a player. Austin is tall and slender, and frequently exploits his size and handle to create obvious mismatches when smaller defenders attempt to stop him. The Nittany Lions previously obtained a commitment from 2013 guard Geno Thorpe, who could form quite a dangerous backcourt combo with Austin, two years from now.

Also, VCU and Georgia both added 2013 point guard prospects. The Rams and Bulldogs were both in the hunt for JeQuan Lewis, a quick lead guard from Tennessee. Lewis made his call to coach Shaka Smart and verbally committed, and Georgia quickly moved on to another point guard, in-state prospect JJ Frazier. Lewis is a nice addition for VCU, in that he is a good scorer and defender. Frazier is also a scoring-oriented lead guard, though at 5-8 he’ll certainly have to diversify his offensive skill-set to make an impact in the SEC. Still, Frazier represents coach Mark Fox’s continued emphasis on keeping top in-state players in the Peach State.

Kellon Hassenstab runs 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.