If reports are true, good for Marcus Smart for returning to school

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In the most surprising NBA Draft decision this spring, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart will announce that he is returning to school in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Smart was considered a lock for the lottery. Most NBA front office types looked at him as a lock for the top five. Draft Express has Smart going third in the draft. And he’ll be returning to school. This is, indeed, a shocker.

If true, it’s also sensational news for Oklahoma State fans. All of a sudden, the Cowboys, with Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown back in the fold as well, look like the preseason favorite to win the Big 12.

(CLICK HERE to follow along with who is turning pro and who is returning to school.)

You also won’t find me complaining. Smart is a terrific talent on both ends of the floor. He does all the things that make media-types cough up cliches like ‘plays the game the right way’ and ‘leader on the floor’ and ‘winner’. He is all of those things, and he’s also got enough potential to be deserving of that top five pick.

The best part? He’s a better kid off the floor than he is a player on it.

So no, I have no problem watching and covering Smart at the college level for one more season.

But that doesn’t mean that I understand the decision to pass up guaranteed millions to return to school. Look what happened with guys like Cody Zeller, James Michael McAdoo and Perry Jones III. They returned to school and had their games get picked apart by the critics. Perhaps the best example in regards to Smart is Jared Sullinger. Like Smart, Sullinger excelled because of his understanding of the game and excellence in the technical aspects of the sport, not simply because he’s got endless length, athleticism and potential.

Smart is a stocky-but-strong 6-foot-4 point guard that can’t really shoot. Does he have a position at the next level? Is he athletic enough to defend NBA guards? Does he have the kind of ball-handling ability to be a full-time point guard? These are questions that will be dissected over and over again for at least the next 14 months, when the 2014 NBA Draft takes place. That, alone, could end up dropping Smart down draft boards if he doesn’t show improvement in some of his weaker areas next season.

And that’s also before you factor in that the high school class of 2013 is producing a ton of talented NBA prospects. I find it incredibly unlikely that Smart would go top five next year, even if he does have a sensational sophomore season. That’s what happens when you’re looking at a draft class that includes Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and the Harrison twins.

Nerlens Noel is probably going No. 1 this year, but if Smart had gone No. 2 in this year’s draft, he would have made $8.1 million guaranteed in his first two years, with team options for $4.3 million in his third season and $5.5 million in his fourth season.

Look at the 2013-2014 rookie wage scale. The No. 6 pick makes $5.4 million in his first two seasons combined. The No. 10 pick makes $4.0 million.

So from a business and financial perspective, Smart probably isn’t making a smart decision. He could end up costing himself upwards of $10 million by staying in school. That’s an incredible amount of money, enough to keep many generations of Smarts housed and clothed and fed.

But life isn’t always about business and money and finances, and that’s the key thing to remember here. Marcus Smart’s life is about Marcus Smart pursuing what he loves and doing what makes him happy.

If Smart wants to spend another year as a college kid, if he wants to try to end Kansas’ nine-season streak of Big 12 titles and he wants to see if he can bring a Final Four banner to Gallagher-Iba Arena, than good for him. If he doesn’t think he’s ready, both from a maturity and/or a basketball perspective, to handle the rigors and the temptation of the NBA lifestyle, than good for him. A 15 year NBA career will be more lucrative than flaming out after that first contract.

So I’m happy for Smart and the decision that he has reportedly made.

It’s refreshing.

I’m glad that he’s following his heart instead of a dollar sign. I truly am.

And I’m glad that I’ll be able to watch him enjoy the decision that he made for another year.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.