What does Spike Albrecht, Michigan’s almost-hero, do for an encore this season?

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Reuters

For one hour last March, Spike Albrecht was a sensation. He wasn’t just the biggest story in sports, he was the only story in sports that mattered.

The tiny freshman point guard put together arguably the most memorable half of basketball you’ll ever see, coming out of nowhere to score 17 first half points in the national title game. He buried four threes in the span of about 10 minutes of game time, the last of which came after he crossed up Russ Smith. Albrecht was trending on twitter worldwide. In a game that featured all-americans and future lottery picks, it was Albrecht that had celebrities and NBA all-stars tweeting about him despite the fact that he entered the game irrelevant enough that many media members covering the event couldn’t tell you a thing about him. “I was in the zone,” Albrecht said, “and I barely even remember what happened.”

He was the hero, the guy that saved the day for the Wolverines when Player of the Year Trey Burke was stuck on the bench, saddled with two fouls. Some of the best sportswriters in America were salivating thinking about the story they would be able to write.

But it was all for naught, less forgotten than overlooked, as Louisville’s Luke Hancock went all Albrecht on Michigan. He hit four threes in the span of two minutes, erasing Michigan’s 12 point lead, launching the comeback that would turn Spike the Hero into Spike the Footnote.

The single-greatest moment, to date, in Albrecht’s athletic career came in what could end up being the single-most disappointing loss. How do you reconcile that?

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Albrecht got lucky.

A decidedly mid-major prospect, Albrecht was nearing the end of his time at Northfield Mount Hermon, a prep school in Western Massachusetts, without only one real scholarship offer on the table: Appalachian State. A couple of other schools had started poking around, including Davidson, but reality was starting to stare Albrecht in the face. The dream of ending up playing in a power conference looked to be just that: a dream.

At the same time, the coaches at Michigan were starting to freak out. This was back during the 2011-2012 season, when Trey Burke was in the midst of his surprisingly successful freshman season. The Columbus, OH, native was looking more and more like a potential first round pick, and the chatter around Ann Arbor was making it seem more and more likely that Burke would be bolting for the NBA the first chance that he got. That put head coach John Beilein in a bind. He hadn’t planned for Burke to be leaving campus that early, and he needed some insurance. He needed a security blanket at the point, a back-up plan in case Burke did, in fact, head to the NBA.

“They came across me in the prep school world,”Albrecht told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last month, “and [assistant] coach Jeff Meyer flew up to one of my games and I happened to have a pretty good game. I was on campus a couple of weeks later and committed on the spot. It all happened really fast and I was kind of lucky.”

“I’m just fortunate that I ended up at Michigan.”

Albrecht knew that he was playing with house money. He knew that it was a blessing for him to don the maize and blue, that any chance he got last season was an opportunity to take advantage of. Did you know that in the five games leading up to the final, Albrecht was 5-5 from three, scoring 19 points, grabbing five boards and handing out four assists in just 49 minutes? Those aren’t great numbers, but they’re not bad for a freshman backup point guard playing in March.

One game — one half of one half, to be specific — is all it took for Albrecht to outperform all expectations, but that doesn’t mean that he has to be satisfied with it.

“The day after the national championship game, [assistant coach] LaVall Jordan came up to me and said, ‘Don’t let last night be the highlight of your career,'” Albrecht said. “I know a lot of people think I’m just Spike, the little white kid on Michigan, so it’s gotta be the most memorable. But that’s what motivates me to work hard every day. To prove people wrong.”

He’ll have the chance this season.

With Burke suiting up for the Utah Jazz, Beilein now has a gaping hole at the point guard spot and two options to fill it: Albrecht, and top 40 freshman Derrick Walton. The pair spent all fall battling for that starting point guard spot, and as of now, it’s unclear if anyone has actually been deemed the winner. Albrecht started the first exhibition game, playing 21 minutes against Concordia, while Walton started against Wayne State, logging 27 minutes to Albrecht’s 13.

“Derrick’s a really good player, and honestly, the coaching staff expects me to be a little bit more of a leader, a little bit more vocal,” Albrecht said. “I’m not worried about my minutes or starting, however much I play, I’ll play. I just want to go in there and do as much as I can to help my team.”

“I really don’t have personal goals.”

Albrecht is a competitor. He wants to play and he wants to contribute and he wants to see his highlights on Sportscenter, but he doesn’t want all of that to come at the expense of the team. More than anything, he wants to win.

“I would have rather not scored or played at all and won it all than scored 17 in the first half and lose,” he said. “Obviously, I would like to have a chance to continue to play.”

“But then again, I can’t complain if Derrick turns out to be an all-american and I’m in the same role for the next three years. If we’re winning games and playing in Final Fours and National Championships and the team’s doing well, that’s awesome. I couldn’t be happier. The chance to experience all that?”

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Albrecht’s performance on that Monday night in April wasn’t the only time he went viral.

The day after that performance, Albrecht sent a tweet to Michigan fan and superhot supermodel Kate Upton saying, “hey saw you at the game last night, thanks for coming out! Hope to see you again.” Within minutes, it had been retweeted thousands of times and had been posted on every sports blog on the internet.

Albrecht blames — credits? — Nik Stauskas for the idea, and while he says he’s embarrassed about the tweet and that he regrets posting it, seven months later, it still hasn’t been deleted.

“Everyone thought I was going to be sad she didn’t respond,” Albrecht said, “but I was like, ‘she’s a supermodel’.”

And he’s only Spike Albrecht.

But the fact that he’s only the “little white kid on Michigan” is the reason he can swing for the fences.

It doesn’t hurt when you lose house money.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.