The Secondary Break: Monday’s Links

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For Ollie and his mom, a trip to Texas together (Connecticut Post)
No. 7 UConn wasn’t expected by many to reach the Final Four, yet they’re on their way to Texas after beating No. 4 Michigan State in the East regional final Sunday. For head coach Kevin Ollie that means a return to the Metroplex, as he was born in Dallas. And the trip’s a special one for his mother, who is six days removed from undergoing surgery for stage two breast cancer.

Why Travis Ford’s contract has been a burden for him and Oklahoma State (The Oklahoman)
Rarely does a college basketball coach receive a ten-year contract, and in the few cases in which that does happen the coach in question has put together quite the resume. Unfortunately for Oklahoma State and head coach Travis Ford that hasn’t been the case in Stillwater, and the natives are beyond restless. But with that deal, there really isn’t much that can be done.

Basketball academy’s empty promises (The Chronicle for Higher Education)
In recent years multiple prep schools have popped up across the country, with the goals being to provide students with an elite basketball environment while also making sure they qualify to receive a Division I scholarship. But a key for parents when considering the option is to make sure the school is reputable, as a bad decision can lead the child and his family down a winding path that ultimately reaches a dead end.

NCAA tournament should return to NYC as frequently as possible (CBS Sports)
The feedback from those who attended the NCAA tournament games at Madison Square Garden was overwhelmingly positive, with the combination of the return of the sport’s biggest event in more than 50 years and the big game atmosphere resulting in a  special weekend. And with that being the case, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make sure that MSG is home to more NCAA tournament games in the future.

Deal with it, America- Kentucky back in the Final Four, younger than ever (The Sporting News)
Just three weeks ago there were many who declared this season to be a lost one for the Kentucky Wildcats. With the guards struggling and the team as a whole not playing to the level expected, few saw a trip to the Final Four in their future. Yet here the young Wildcats are, as John Calipari’s program will make its third Final Four appearance in the last four years this week.

Final Four tickets up 27% in last three days behind underdogs UConn and Kentucky (Forbes)
Whether it’s gambling or ticket sales, money plays an important role in March Madness. And with regards to ticket sales for the Final Four, sellers received a nice boost thanks to the presence of Kentucky and UConn. According to Forbes Magazine there’s been a 27% increase in the price of tickets to the event thanks to the Wildcats and Huskies punching their respective tickets to Arlington, Texas.

Aaron Harrison feeling his shot (Louisville Courier-Journal)
Kentucky freshman guard Aaron Harrison struggled mightily down the stretch for the Wildcats, and his shot-making ability was something the Wildcats would need if they were to reach the Final Four. Sure enough Harrison’s gotten going of late, with his three-pointer with 2.3 seconds remaining clinching Kentucky’s 75-72 win over No. 2 Michigan.

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut knock out Michigan State (USA Today)
Shabazz Napier has been the leader all season long for No. 7 UConn, which has reached the Final Four after beating Michigan State on Sunday. The Huskies, who ended the regular season with an 81-48 loss at Louisville, faced long odds to get here and that goes for Napier as well. But a special relationship with his mother has buoyed Napier, and as a result he’s been able to lead his team.

Keith Appling finds final Michigan State moments difficult to put into words (MLive.com)
Michigan State point guard Keith Appling has been dealing with a bad right wrist for quite some time, and while the senior put on a brave front it was clear by his play that the issue was still bothering him. In what would turn out to be the final game of his college career Appling struggled once again in a loss to UConn, and afterward he struggled to find the words to explain what happened.

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”