Seven takeaways from adidas Gauntlet Indianapolis

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(2016 point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. Credit: adidas)

INDIANAPOLIS — After taking in the action at the adidas Gauntlet stop in Indianapolis over the weekend, here are seven takeaways I have from the event.

1. Jaylen Brown is the best small forward in the 2015 class: Georgia native Jaylen Brown is already a five-star prospect and the No. 11 player in the 2015 class according to Rivals but there had been rumblings during the high school season that other wings like Las Vegas native Ray Smith, Philadelphia native Derrick Jones and North Carolina native Brandon Ingram had emerged enough to make it a debate. While I haven’t seen Jones in-person since last summer, I’d be hard-pressed to say any player is better at small forward than the 6-foot-7 Brown. With his power drive game from the wing and an emerging perimeter jumper, Brown is going to draw some comparisons to Arizona commit and McDonald’s All-American Stanley Johnson, but he’s his own player. After the 48-point explosion Friday night and another impressive stretch on Saturday, Brown cemented his status as the current top small forward in the 2015 class.

RELATED: Five-star Jaylen Brown wants to end recruitment this summer

2. Ray Smith and Brandon Ingram have improved: I mentioned Smith and Ingram in the previous paragraph in regards to Jaylen Brown, and although they may not be on-par with Brown right now, both possess tremendous upside going forward. Las Vegas native Smith ran with Dream Vision and the 6-foot-6 wing has one of the purest perimeter strokes off-the-catch in the class. Especially from the left wing, Smith is deadly. Smith can also play above the rim and handle a bit in the open floor, but his defense is a cause for concern at the moment. Smith just had too many mental lapses on that end of the floor and doesn’t possess the necessary strength to stop bigger wings at the current moment. Ingram is an interesting case because he’s grown a few inches during the high school season and now stands at 6-foot-7. Ingram acknowledged to NBCSports.com that he’s still trying to figure out his new frame, but he had some brilliant flashes of play this weekend in Indianapolis. Ingram is bouncy enough to play above the rim and grab rebounds off of his quick second jump and skilled enough to play on the perimeter and handle a bit. He tends to float too much on the perimeter sometimes and still needs strength, but like Smith, he has a lot of upside going forward.

RELATED: adidas Gauntlet Saturday: Chase Jeter shows steady improvement

3. Tyler Dorsey and Justin Simon will be an interesting backcourt for Arizona: When I asked five-star guard Tyler Dorsey about new Wildcat commit Justin Simon on Saturday, even he acknowledged that both guards did similar things.

“I saw one highlight reel during the season when he played at Temecula,” Dorsey said to NBCSports.com. “We have similar games but I think we’ll be a good backcourt for the future.”

Dorsey’s opinion isn’t far off. Both he and Simon are more combo guard than true point guard at this point, but they both do different things well. Dorsey is a much better defender and scores shooting the ball off-the-catch and has a really good pull-up jumper at the elbow while Simon is more apt to go to the rim and make a play for himself or others. Both have good size and feel for the game and it’ll be interesting to see how they mesh together at Arizona in the future.

4. Carlton Bragg needs to bring it every game: There is no question that Ohio Basketball Club forward Carlton Bragg is a top-10 talent in the 2015 class but the 6-foot-8 forward has a hard time consistently bringing it every single game.

While the five-star forward closed out the adidas Gauntlet with a dominant 36-point performance on 13-of-20 shooting in a win on Sunday, Bragg didn’t attempt more than 12 field goal attempts in any of OBC’s four other games during the weekend — three of them losses. Some of that falls on his guards for not putting Bragg in proper position to go to work on the block so he can face-up and shoot his devastating mid-range face-up jumper, but Bragg has to be more assertive demanding the ball and making sure the offense runs through him.

5. Dennis Smith, Jr. is the real deal: I hadn’t seen 2016 point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. prior to the weekend in-person, but after speaking with scouts and college coaches during the week, it was clear that buzz was growing for the 6-foot-1 North Carolina native. Smith lived up to the hype in my eyes this weekend as he played well against 2015 top-25 guard Justin Simon on Friday night in a Team Loaded (North Carolina) win. Smith plays above the rim but he’s also adept at using jabs and fakes to blow by his first defender and create for himself or others. He’s a bit of a gambler on defense but he has good timing as a shot blocker and rebounder at guard and his hands are quick enough to force some steals. It’ll be fun to track his development going forward and he’s a highlight-reel waiting to happen.

RELATED: Five-star 2016 point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. is the next great guard out of North Carolina

6. Thon Maker is getting more accustomed to physical play: One of the big positives from this weekend’s adidas Gauntlet was seeing 2016 top-5 prospect Thon Maker play with more physicality in the post. Maker moves so well for a 7-footer, covering ground laterally and vertically so quickly on the defensive end, but he’s had problems in the past with physical play thanks to his slight build. Maker still needs to add strength to avoid getting stripped of the ball, but he fought with much more ferocity in the post this weekend than I had seen in the past. Maker is skilled enough to be a pick-and-pop big man on the perimeter, and he can put it on the floor a bit, but he still has to get stronger to maximize his potential.

RELATED: adidas Gauntlet Friday: Jaylen Brown goes for 48 points

7. A great start for the adidas Gauntlet: With Nike switching its grassroots initiative to a league format with the EYBL, it changed the way spring and summer high school basketball is being played in America. This year adidas trotted out their version of a grassroots league, the adidas Gauntlet, and they’ve done a nice job for a first-year league. There was a lot of big-time talent, the college officials are so much better than typical grassroots referees and having a shot clock and full stats gives scouts and fans a better glimpse of how players might fare in college basketball. And since it isn’t a tournament format where kids can sometimes play a ridiculous number of games in the same weekend, legs are a bit fresher throughout the weekend than in a tournament setting. The EYBL is still the gold standard, thanks to having a few years under their belt, but adidas is doing a really nice job of bridging that gap and creating a really nice league of their own.

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.