Moving home has helped Ryan Harrow improve on, and off, the court

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Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter only has two rules, two requirements, for the kids that play on his basketball teams to stay on the court.

Assuming they get their grades, don’t cause a ruckus on campus and generally carry themselves as decent human beings on a day-to-day basis off the court, all he asks is that: A) they work hard, and B) they have fun. It’s not a crazy philosophy. The guys on his roster are on his roster for a reason, and as long as they’re playing hard for themselves and their teammates, and as long as they’re truly enjoying the opportunity to play basketball at this level, Hunter will be happy.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to make mistakes,” Hunter told NBCSports.com this week, “but you have to play hard for me and you have to enjoy it.”

And while it took a little effort to teach a guy as talented as Ryan Harrow what ‘playing hard’ actually meant, the real issue that Hunter initially had with his former McDonald’s All-American point guard was getting him to have fun, to enjoy the fact that he was still a basketball player by trade.

“I don’t think I saw him smile until right before the Vanderbilt game [on November 12th],” Hunter said of Harrow, who arrived on campus in June. “He had a huge smile on his face. We used to bring him in and say, ‘man, it’s just basketball’. Then all of a sudden, in December, even when we lost a couple games in a row, he’s walking in, patting me on the back, ‘What’s up, Coach?’. I mean he’s a completely different kid than he was when he walked in. It’s almost like two different people.”

Harrow’s story has been well-publicized at this point.

He began his collegiate career at N.C. State, leaving after one season to enroll at Kentucky, where he redshirted during the team’s run to the national title and took over the point guard role for Marquis Teague when he left for the NBA. What happened in Lexington that season was, for lack of a better word, a disaster. The Wildcats personnel just didn’t fit, the team struggled to gain any momentum in the SEC despite the conference being down and Harrow took the brunt of the criticism for the team’s trip to the NIT.

What wasn’t discussed publicly, however, was that Harrow’s father, Mark, had suffered a stroke back in Atlanta during the summer of 2012. He had trouble getting up by himself or dressing himself, making the simplicities of living day-to-day strenuous tasks. “When I saw his dad on the first day,” Hunter said, “he came into practice and he looked awful. I was like, ‘I don’t think he can make it through the season.'”

That weighed on Ryan, and when coupled when the stress of struggling inside the bubble that is Lexington and Big Blue Nation, and the embarrassment of a McDonald’s All-American returning to his hometown to play for a team in the Sun Belt Conference, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that it was hard for Harrow to enjoy basketball.

Being at home helped him, but more importantly, it has also helped Ryan’s father. Mark is now able to watch his son play ball on a daily basis. “Coach lets him in [to practice] … sometimes,” Ryan said, chuckling. “He’ll come by and just watch. He’s definitely at all the games, even the away games he tries to make.” And it’s more than just basketball. Ryan lives on campus, but his father’s house is just a 15 minute drive away. A quick phone call, and the two can be breaking bread for lunch, watching a movie or settling in on the couch for a night of hoops.

“It makes me a lot happier. I don’t have to worry as much. I’m right here,” Ryan said. “I know seeing me play basketball makes him happy, so I’m glad that I’m doing well and he’s able to see all this.”

That’s the key, here.

Ryan is doing really well. He’s playing his best basketball since he was a high school senior, and Georgia State is having more success than anyone in the program thought they could entering the season. Harrow is second on the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points and 4.6 assists, while the Panthers shook off a 1-6 start against Division I opponents to run out to win their first 10 Sun Belt games. They currently sit at 13-1 in league play, and a win at Texas-Arlington on Thursday night would clinch at least a share of league’s regular season title.

And here’s the irony: the turning point of the season came when Hunter made the decision to play Ryan out of position. After an overtime loss to Southern Miss dropped the Panthers to 1-6 against Division I teams, Hunter turned the reins over to Devonta White. Previously, White and Harrow had been splitting time at the point guard spot. Hunter moved Harrow off the ball, a role that the redshirt junior hadn’t played since his high school days.

It worked. Georgia State is winning, in large part due to the fact that Harrow has accepted his role on this team. He’s embraced his teammates, trusting them more than he did at the beginning of the season. The example Hunter used came in Saturday’s thrilling, last-second win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Back in a loss to FIU in November, on the final possession of a one-point game, Hunter drew up a play to get the ball in Harrow’s hands.

“Three guys ran at him, we ran the play and he shot it and missed and we were devastated,” Hunter said. “On Saturday, [we ran the] same exact play and he makes the pass to Manny Atkins for a three.” And to Hunter, that change encapsulates the changes Ryan has made, the strides he’s taken to become a better player.

And, frankly, it’s really not hard to make the connection here.

The son comes home to help the ailing father. The father gets better being closer to the son. Stress rolls off the son’s shoulders seeing the father get better, allowing him to thrive. Seeing his son succeed brings life back to the father. We see it from a distant. For Hunter, whose son, R.J., is Georgia State’s leading scorer, it’s been special to see it happen up close.

“When I saw his dad on Saturday, his dad looked terrific,” Hunter said. “Walking, smiling, he looks healthy now. It’s just amazing what happened with the two of them being back home together. For dad to be able to see Ryan play and practice, and more importantly for a father to see his kid happy, I think it’s been tremendous [for Ryan].”

“The weight of the world is off him now.”

“Basketball’s becoming a lot more fun,” Harrow said. “I just saw what I went through and how I was previously, and I just try to keep myself in good spirits and always try to laugh because I don’t want to go back to that place that I was at before I got here.”

“It’s just my mindset. I’m not really worried about the spotlight or the individual achievements. I’m happy that we’re winning, obviously, but just the way I think now is different. I don’t let too much get to me after all that I’ve been through.”

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.