NBA draft breakdown: The top 10 centers

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All this week at CBT, we’ll be spotlighting the top players at each position for the 2012 NBA draft. Monday featured the top point guards; Tuesday was the shooting guards; Wednesday the small forwards; Thursday The power forwards. Today we wrap things up with the centers.

1. Andre Drummond (UConn)

We were all prepared to wait for Andre Drummond to mature a bit. Instead, his awkward stage lasted exactly two games. By game three of his freshman season, Drummond had posted his first double-double. He played 37 minutes against Florida State a few days later and was generally up to speed by the time Big East season began. Drummond was inconsistent in his brief DI sojourn, but his rangy athleticism and shot blocking abilities make NBA scouts drool.

2. Tyler Zeller (North Carolina)

Zeller is the perfect advertisement for a four-year stint in college. The gawky kid who averaged less than ten minutes per game as a freshman left Chapel Hill as a solid all-around pivot man. His senior stats were impressive: 55 percent shooting, 80 percent from the line and averages of 16.3 points, 9.6 boards and 1.5 blocks per game. His sturdy seven-foot frame and ability to run the floor are qualities any team would love to have.

3. Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)

Last year, Sullinger could have been the top center on this list, and in the running for top pick overall. In a surprise second season at Ohio State, the big man was expected to dominate. He was damn good by any measurement, posting 17 double-doubles, but he didn’t seem to progress much beyond what he had done the year prior. Sullinger’s weaknesses — he’s a tad overweight and undertall — were thoroughly exposed by Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey during the Final Four. Still, he’s a heady post player with some moves.

4. Meyers Leonard (Illinois)

Leonard made a massive leap from his freshman year to his sophomore season, becoming a force on the blocks. He may find it difficult to muscle up as many close-range shots as he did in college, where he shot 58 percent last season, but he’s 7’1″ and reasonably sculpted. Leonard was inconsistent as a scorer, but his abilities as a shot blocker will likely earn him the right to wear a quadruple-breasted suit while shaking hands with David Stern.

5. Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State)

Moultrie started his career at UTEP before making the move to Starkville. His wandering ways paid off big-time, as the 6’11” Memphis native blossomed into a double-double machine, a vocal leader and a first-team all-SEC selection. There’s some concern that Moultrie may settle for jump shots a little too often, but if he can add a reliable post move or two, he’ll stick at the next level.

6. Fab Melo (Syracuse)

Melo led the Orange with 5.8 rebounds per game. Yep, led them. He’s an up-and-down scorer with a history of violent behavior off the court, so what’s he doing this high on the list? It’s all about defense. The big Brazilian sent back 10 errant shots in a December victory over Seton Hall, and ended up averaging nearly three blocks per game over the season. That’ll turn a few heads.

7. Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt)

Aside from the fact that we haven’t had a good Festus in the Association in, like, ever, Ezeli has the size and strength to play a role in the League. He won’t blow anyone away in any one category, but he’s got the physical tools to be a big body off the bench. There are worse ways to make a living.

8. Bernard James (Florida State)

The buzzword with James is experience. While he only spent two years at FSU, his six years tour in the Air Force turned him into a gritty, focused college basketball star. Sure, he’s already pushing thirty, but James left Tallahassee as the program’s third leading shot blocker of all time. After a two-year career. That toughness and an opportunistic nose for the ball make James a special player any team would love to have in the locker room.

9. Kyle O’Quinn (Norfolk State)

Throughout most of his career with the Spartans of the tiny MEAC, O’Quinn toiled in obscurity. He demonstrated his ability to alter shots early on, but went largely unnoticed until a fateful day in March, when he led his team to a stunning upset of the #2 seed Missouri Tigers. That one game against top competition made O’Quinn’s name, but he’s shown a lot of charm and a willingness to work his butt off to maintain his position. His easy on-camera patter doesn’t hurt, either.

10. Henry Sims (Georgetown)

Sims is a bit of a cypher. He’s big and long, with a 7’4″ wingspan, but he’s a bit slender for interior play. He wasn’t much of a rebounder as a senior, nor was he a great scorer or shot blocker. Still, those long arms are intriguing, and could earn him an extended look as an expendable second-round selection.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

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.