Five thoughts and observations from the McDonald’s All-American week

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(McDonald’s All-American Game)

CHICAGO — The 2014 McDonald’s All-American game was played last night and the same saw a showcase of the future stars of college basketball. Having McDonald’s All-Americans on your roster is usually a pre-requisite to winning a national championship.

Since 1979, only Maryland in 2002 won a national title without a McDonald’s All-American on its roster. Wisconsin and UConn (Rodney Purvis is sitting out the year) could threaten that status in this year’s Final Four.

The game is a fun showcase that saw the West beat the East, 105-102, in the United Center in Chicago on Wednesday, but the week’s worth of practices and scrimmages are where the action takes place. NBA GMs and scouts will take in McDonald’s All-American practices and all of the top national talent evaluators are in the building as well.

Here are five thoughts from the week of practices and the game that saw a talented — but not star-laden — 2014 class compete.

1. I’m not sure who the No. 1 player in this 2014 class is yet, but I’m not sold on it being Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 player for ESPN, Scout and Rivals. Although Okafor is a no-brainer contributor on the offensive end for Duke next season — and Jahlil won co-MVP honors for the West team on Wednesday — there are still some concerns in his game going into the collegiate level. Outside of three feet Okafor often puts the ball on the floor and attempts to spin and use his hips to create space instead of going up strong or quick, which will aid collapsing double teams at the college level. Okafor is also an average positional defender who is just okay at hedging ball screens. He’s a great area rebounder but average out-of-area rebounder at times. That being said, Okafor isn’t falling out of the top three, but there are some concerns about all of the bigs in this class.

2. To go along with the other bigs, Texas-native and unsigned center 7-foot center Myles Turner has a lot of potential with his ability to block shots and hit perimeter jumpers. Turner has added strength and still has good end-to-end speed. But he isn’t very laterally quick and at times struggles with footwork. 6-foot-8 Chicago-native and Kansas commit Cliff Alexander is aggressive, powerful and raw, but he still needs skill development and at times struggles against length. Kentucky commit and Indiana-native Trey Lyles is talented at 6-foot-9 but has slowdowns in effort and isn’t as tough on the interior as he needs to be at times. Similar things can be said of fellow Kentucky commit Karl Towns, a skilled 7-foot center with great skill but a power game that lacks at times.

3. So if Okafor isn’t the clear-cut No. 1 player, who is? Texas guard Emmanuel Mudiay will try to put SMU into the NCAA Tournament next season and he should pair nicely with current sophomore guard Nic Moore. The two can score or handle and Mudiay told NBCSports.com that they plan on playing both guard spots. Mudiay is a tremendous athlete at 6-foot-4, a lockdown defender, fierce competitor, and fantastic passer. He is at his best scoring off the dribble where he is nearly uncontainable because of his first step, size and athleticism. His jumper still needs some work, but he’s tough going to the rim. Findlay Prep guard Rashad Vaughn should be exactly the go-to perimeter scorer that UNLV needs next season as he’s a complete guard that can do a number of things well. At 6-foot-5, Vaughn has an advanced array of moves off-the-dribble, can go left or right with ease, he passes well with both hands and has improved cross-court vision. Vaughn is also a reliable jump shooter that has improved tremendously in consistency since last summer. He’s clearly put in a ton of work in his senior season. Arizona commit Stanley Johnson, a 6-foot-7 skilled and strong force on the perimeter also could stake his claim at being one of the best players during the week.

4. Multiple schools have multiple All-Americans. Kentucky and Duke each have four, North Carolina has three and UCLA and Kansas each has two. The rich get richer. The Wildcats add Lyles, Towns, point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker. Ulis is small at 5-foot-9 but incredible at running pick-and-rolls and running high ball screens while Booker is skilled and shows a great ability to score in multiple ways, although he’ll need to get more physical. Duke has Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones, shooting guard Grayson Allen and wing Justise Winslow. Jones is fantastic offensively and the most complete offensive package of any point guard, but he’s had a so-so defensive week as an on-the-ball defender. Allen has shown a pretty well-rounded guard package with great athleticism and bounciness. Winslow is the son of former McDonald’s All-American Ricky Winslow (’83, Houston) and is a really tough two-way wing that does anything to win. The Carolina trio of point guard Joel Berry II (6-foot-1), wing Theo Pinson (6-foot-5) and wing Justin Jackson (6-foot-8) are all skilled and should play well together. UCLA’s interior duo of Thomas Welsh (7-foot) and Kevon Looney (6-foot-9) played well at times this week and should help the Bruins interior depth. Kansas commits Alexander and 6-foot-8 wing Kelly Oubre both had great days and off days during the week.

5. Some good scoring guards headed to some unique schools in this game. Seton Hall is getting a competitive 6-foot-4 guard in Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead. Whitehead can really defend and loves hitting tough shots. Indiana is getting a tremendous scorer in James Blackmon Jr., who is definitely more of a scoring guard. On high screens, he’s devastating, but he’s not strong enough as a passer to be a primary handler. Maryland commit Melo Trimble is 6-foot-3 and can really get hot shooting the ball with his great-looking jumper. He has a tough time defending at times, but should get points off the bench at a minimum. Ohio State should get some scoring help from D’Angelo Russell, who’s sweet lefty jumper can go down from nearly anywhere on some tough looks. The only player I didn’t mention is Stanford commit Reid Travis, who is a tough 6-foot-7 forward that is athletic and plays with power moves but is a tad undersized. He’ll figure things out eventually.

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

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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.