Abdul Malik-Abu balances July’s live-period with his fasting for Ramadan

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — For a high school basketball prospect, the July evaluation period the summer prior to their senior year is one of the most important three-week stretches of their high school career. The coaches are allowed to be on the road, evaluating and recruiting, which means that the media will be there as well, schmoozing and networking.

Simply put, everyone with an opinion that matters in college hoops will be in a gym somewhere for three consecutive weekends in the middle of July.

For marginal prospects, that’s when you set yourself apart from the thousands upon thousands of other high school hoopers and earn yourself a scholarship. For the more talented kids, that’s when you play your way onto a top 25 program instead of finding yourself an afterthought for a team struggling to break .500 in the ACC.

For Boston native and Kimball Union Academy’s rising senior Abdul Malik-Abu, the most important month of his basketball career to date will be played without eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. It will be played without the benefit of a gatorade on the sidelines. He can’t even take a sip of water after his third game of the day in a gym with air conditioning that isn’t quite keeping out the swelteringly humid, 97-degree weather.

Malik-Abu — a 6-foot-8, 235 pound forward that ranks in Rivals’ top 50 in the Class of 2014 — is muslim. And as a practicing muslim, Malik-Abu fasts during Ramadan. This year, Ramadan began on July 8th and will run through August 7th, which means that throughout the entire July evaluation period, Malik-Abu will not eat or drink between sunrise and sundown.

“I’m really tired,” Malik-Abu told NBCSports.com after his only game on Thursday in Nike’s Global Challenge, as he packed up six gatorades from the event in his backpack. “For later.”

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Here’s how Malik-Abu’s schedule works during Ramadan. He stops eating and drinking at about 4:30 a.m. each morning. For the next 16 hours, he has to hope that all the food and all the water that he packed into his stomach the night before keeps him running through out the day. At 8:30 p.m., when the sun sets and he’s allowed to eat again, Malik-Abu gets his Joey Chestnut on, which sounds ideal until you think about just how hard it is to actually fit that much stuff in your stomach.

“I eat as much as I can, but you get full quick because you haven’t eaten all day,” Malik-Abu said. “Just eat in spurts and spurts and spurts and spurts, and drink a lot of water.”

“It sucks. You think, ‘Oh, I’m fasting, I can eat as much as I want,’ but you get so full. You have to force yourself to drink water, or you’re going to pass out.”

What makes Malik-Abu’s performance while fasting all the more impressive is that he’s not an overly skilled big man and he’s not the kind of guy that does his damage knocking down jumpers. He’s a bruiser. He’s as big and burly as anyone in the Class of 2014, and he’s made a name for himself as an “effort guy”. He attacks the glass, he defends around the rim, he runs the floor in transition. That takes a lot of energy, which is not something that Malik-Abu necessarily has an abundance of right now.

“It’s something I have to do,” he said, “but it’s hard.”

Perhaps more impressive is that Malik-Abu consciously made the decision to play for the Pan-African team this week, passing up a chance to play on the USA East team. Instead of going up against the mediocre big men on some of the international teams, Malik-Abu will be spending the week battling against the kind of big men that should end up making all-conference teams in high-major leagues by the time their college careers are done.

“I wanted to be different, I wanted to do something for my heritage,” Malik-Abu said. His parents are Nigerian, but they came to this country two decades before he was born.

“I don’t want to beat teams by 20. I want to go against the best players instead of be on their team.”

Finding a college campus with a muslim community for him to join is important to Malik-Abu, but it’s not a deal-breaker. He says that having a mosque close to campus would be nice — muslims pray five times a day — but that it’s all just another part of the equation, “not the answer to the problem”.

“It’s not something I’m going to seek out, but if there’s one present, and the coach uses that as his pitch, it’s definitely going to help,” he said. “Not every campus is going to have it. I’m not going to limit myself. I’m going to go to the school that’s the best fit, and if they happen to have a muslim community that I could be a part of, then that’s that fine.”

Malik-Abu even said that his faith hasn’t been a major topic of conversation in much of his recruitment, which is down to 10 or 11 schools “on a mental note”, but that he’s not ready to officially trim his list.

“I don’t try to market it, I just try to play through,” he said, “and if they’re like, ‘what’s wrong, you’re not looking like yourself’, I’ll tell them I’m fasting.”

But here’s the thing: despite being 10 days into a month-long fast, Malik-Abu has looked like himself.

So what happens when he actually can eat?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.