Las Vegas Friday Recap: Jaylen Brown, Kobi Simmons among standouts

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LAS VEGAS — Over the last year or so guard Jaylen Brown has gone from merely being a talented member of the 2015 class to becoming one of its best players. With a maturity that’s rarely seen in most teenagers, Brown has managed to balance his high-level athleticism with a good understanding of the game and what his team needs him to do at any point in time. Brown’s full skill set was on display Saturday, as he was able to not only get the basket at will but also knock down perimeter shots when open. And according to Brown, there are a number of things he’s working to improve upon this summer.

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“There’s a long list of things I have to improve upon,” Brown said. “Making sure my jump shot is consistent, and I have to improve on by ball-handling. Defensively I have to be more active, [and I have to] get myself to a high level of conditioning so I can play at a high level for a long time.”

Another important factor for Brown has been the hard work he’s put in to transform his body, which is obviously the case when considering his stated goal to become an even better-conditioned athlete. And that effort has resulted in Brown becoming a dominant perimeter presence.

“Definitely the weight room and conditioning,” Brown said when asked where he’s made the greatest strides over the last year. “The weight room really helped.” According to Brown he weighed 200 pounds last summer, and now he’s up to around 220. The added weight (good weight, mind you) has helped him become a more explosive threat on the wing, and once in the lane Brown has no problem finishing above the rim with authority.

As for his recruitment, Brown stated that he’ll take an unofficial visit to UCLA after participating in adidas Nations next weekend in Long Beach, California. Among the reasons for his considering UCLA was the presence of Georgia natives on the roster, with Tony Parker entering his junior year and Jordan Adams putting together two highly successful seasons before being picked in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft (Memphis Grizzlies).

Other schools that have been most active in his recruitment according to Brown are Kentucky, Ohio State, Kansas, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida and Texas A&M.

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Kobi Simmons continues to improve: The Celtics don’t lack for talent, and one of the standouts in Las Vegas has been 2016 point guard Kobi Simmons. Simmons has run the show for the Celtics, and his importance was on full display in their win over Team Rose during Friday’s afternoon session. When Simmons was the one initiating the offense the Celtics ran like a well-oiled machine, but they struggled when he wasn’t the one being asked to make a play. Simmons displayed the ability to finish at the rim with either hand, and for the most part he remained under control in running the show.

Simmons described himself as a “scoring guard” following the game, but he also has the ability to set up his teammates for quality looks. Among the schools Simmons mentioned when asked who all is recruiting him are “Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Ohio State [offered about two weeks ago], Missouri, Memphis and Texas.”

Vanderbilt goes four deep for local prospect Braxton Blackwell: Playing alongside Simmons was 6-foot-8 forward Braxton Blackwell, who like Simmons is a member of the Class of 2016. And based upon who all attended from the Vanderbilt coaching staff it’s clear that the Nashville native is of high priority. Head coach Kevin Stallings was there with all three assistants (one left during the second half to get to another game), and the reasons why they hold Blackwell in such high regard were easy to see. Blackwell rarely gets rushed on the offensive end of the floor, and defensively he had no issue with doing the little things a team needs in order to be successful.

“Just being versatile,” Simmons said when asked what he believes his strengths to be. “I can get a rebound and go, [and play] kind of a point forward position right now.”

When asked what areas he’s looking to improve upon this summer, Blackwell mentioned perimeter shooting and being a more aggressive player on the offensive end. Vanderbilt wasn’t the only school mentioned by Blackwell when asked about his recruitment, either. “Providence, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Memphis, Vanderbilt and a lot of other schools,” Blackwell noted. Blackwell also stated that last year he took unofficial visits to Indiana, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Auburn, and he’ll look to take more unofficial trips in August.

A possible fourth visit for Bennie Boatwright: The 6-foot-9 forward is more of a perimeter threat, an attribute that meshes well with Dream Vision teammate Chase Jeter, who has emerged as one of the best big men in the Class of 2015. Boatwright has a good perimeter stroke, and with his tendency to be out on the wing the areas Boatwright mentioned when asked what areas of his game he’s working to improve upon (being more efficient and strengthening his ball-handling), fit in well with what he’ll need to do in order to be successful.

As for his recruitment, it’s been known for quite some time that three schools that will definitely host Boatwright on official visits are Arizona State, Gonzaga and Washington. Head coaches Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Mark Few (Gonzaga) were among the coaches in attendance, with Washington having an assistant keeping tabs on their target. And in speaking with Boatwright following the game, there’s also a possible candidate for one of his other two available official visits.

“I might go to UConn’s ‘Midnight Madness,'” Boatwright told NBCSports.com. Obviously the key word there is “might,” and Boatwright also noted that he was unsure as to whether or not he’ll use all five official visits.

NCAA completely misses mark with Oklahoma State’s postseason ban

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The NCAA had a chance to do the right thing on Friday and, in a stunning turn of events, completely missed the mark.

Who saw that one coming?

The punishment that the Committee on Infractions handed down to Oklahoma State on Friday, a one-year postseason ban to go along with scholarship reductions and myriad recruiting sanctions, was wrong and should be utterly terrifying for the other programs that found themselves caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption.

Oklahoma State faced a single Level I violation. It was an unethical conduct charge levied at former assistant coach Lamont Evans, who accepted at least $18,150 in bribes from financial advisors in exchange for peddling influence over one player from Oklahoma State and one player from South Carolina, where Evans was coaching before accepting a job on Brad Underwood’s staff in the spring of 2016. Evans was also accused of giving Jeffery Carroll $300.

That’s it.

Evans provided no competitive advantage for Oklahoma State, unless you consider the $300 he paid to Carroll — who was already on the roster and suspended for three games as a result — a competitive advantage. Evans was lining his pockets. He was not doing this to benefit the basketball program. Technically speaking, the players Evans claimed to have the power of persuasion over were the victims of the crimes that got him sentenced to three months in prison on federal bribery charges. He steered them to financial advisors that were willing to shell out bribe money. He knew nothing about the people that he was telling these players to invest their money with. One of the men Evans accepted bribes from was Marty Blazer, who sparked this entire investigation to try and avoid prison when he was caught by the SEC embezzling millions of dollars from clients.

That’s where Evans was guiding players who trusted him.

The players were the victims.

Despite that, Oklahoma State was still hit with a one-year postseason ban. Evans has been gone for three years. Carroll has been gone for two. Neither the current head coach — Mike Boynton — or the head coach the violations were committed under — Brad Underwood — were mentioned in the Notice of Allegations.

“There were no recruiting or other major violations on the part of the institution,” Oklahoma State said in a statement in November. “There are no allegations involving current student-athletes or coaching staff.”

None of that mattered to the Committee on Infractions.

They dropped the hammer on Oklahoma State, effectively neutering what was the most anticipated OSU season since Marcus Smart returned for his sophomore year. So much for seeing Cade Cunningham play in the NCAA tournament. Hell, we may not see Cunningham play for Oklahoma State, period. He was offered the chance to join the G League prospect pathway program, reportedly for as much money as Jalen Green. If he’s not going to play meaningful games at Oklahoma State, maybe he reconsiders the offer.

“Whatever the best option is for him we’re going to support 100 percent without any reservations,” Boynton said.

This gets to the core of the problem when it comes to NCAA enforcement: They far too often punish players and coaches for violations that they took no part in. What did Cunningham, or anyone else on Oklahoma State’s roster, have to do with Lamont Evans accepting bribes from a white collar felon that had been flipped by the FBI? How was anyone associated with the Oklahoma State athletic department supposed to prevent one assistant coach from accepting those bribes?

“A postseason ban for a bunch of kids that were 15, 16 years old when a lot of this was going on? It’s completely, completely out of bounds,” Boynton said.

He’s not wrong.

A postseason ban is total overkill.

That is the most infuriating part is that the NCAA was actually able to punish the man responsible. That’s not usually the case. Evans received a 10-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA in addition to a three month jail sentence for pleading guilty. His coaching career is effectively over. He’ll never be a Division I head coach. He’ll never coach at a level where he is able to earn a couple hundred grand as an assistant. The person entirely at fault for this situation had his life blown up.

And Oklahoma State still got a postseason ban despite the fact that, as Larry Parkinson of the Committee on Infractions said, “the institution fully cooperated from the moment they learned about the circumstances.”

That should be a major red flag for everyone else caught up in this investigation.

USC, Arizona and Auburn all had an assistant coach plead guilty to similar charges as Evans. Louisville committed their violations while they were on probation from the last scandal the program was embroiled in. Oklahoma State faced one Level I violation. Kansas faces five, and they’ve made quite clear they aren’t going to be as cooperative.

If the Committee on Infractions has set the bar here, everyone else better be ready to catch the book that gets thrown at them.

Zion Williamson granted stay on improper benefits inquiry

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MIAMI — A Florida appeals court has temporarily granted NBA rookie Zion Williamson’s attempt to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

The order Thursday granted Williamson a stay and paused proceedings in the lawsuit from Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford, whose attorneys must respond within 10 days.

That lawsuit filed last summer accused Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson had filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions in filings last month that included whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. They sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Attorneys for last year’s No. 1 overall NBA draft pick had argued the questions were “nothing more than a fishing expedition,” but circuit judge David C. Miller denied Williamson’s original stay request Tuesday.

Jeremy Watkins, a spokesman for Williamson attorney Jeffrey Klein, declined to comment to The Associated Press on Thursday night. Larry A. Strauss and Stephen L. Drummond, attorneys on the Prime Sports-Ford legal team, didn’t immediately return emails for comment.

Oklahoma State banned from 2021 NCAA Tournament

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The NCAA announced on Friday that Oklahoma State has been given a one-year postseason ban, effective for the 2020-21 college basketball season, due to violations that were uncovered during the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

In addition to the one-year postseason ban, Mike Boynton’s staff has been hit with a reduction of three scholarships over the course of the next three seasons and a handful of recruiting sanctions, including reductions on the number of official and unofficial visits as well as in-person recruiting days.

The program will be on probation for the next three years.

Former assistant coach Lamont Evans, the coach that accepted as much as $22,000 in bribes from two financial advisors, was given a 10-year show-cause penalty due to a Level I unethical conduct charge. Evans was one of the ten men that was arrested in September of 2017 as a result of the FBI’s investigation, and was caught accepting bribes while on staff at South Carolina as well. He served three months in prison in 2019.

Boynton was not charged in the investigation and did not take over the program until 2017, after Brad Underwood left for Illinois. He had been an assistant with the program since 2016, working with Evans for a year before getting the head coaching gig.

These sanctions are particularly bad for Oklahoma State because of what they have coming in next season: Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 recruit in the 2020 class. This is the year that Boynton was supposed to be able to change the narrative and the fortunes of the program. Instead, he will not be able to play in the NCAA tournament, and will have to deal with an even tougher road on the recruiting trail as a result.

NCAA sets new schedule for early draft entrants to withdraw

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The NCAA has set a new schedule for early entrants to the NBA draft to withdraw and return to school.

The NCAA announced Thursday that it would give players until 10 days after the NBA scouting combine or Aug. 3, whichever comes earlier. This comes three weeks after the NCAA postponed its deadline, which was originally scheduled to fall on Wednesday.

That June 3 deadline was set to come 10 days after the completion of the combine, but the NBA postponed the combine amid the coronavirus pandemic and has yet to announce a new date.

In a statement, the NCAA said the Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee worked with the National Association of Basketball Coaches on the new timeline and “believes this is the most equitable alternative available in these unprecedented circumstances.”

“This provides the utmost flexibility to student-athletes testing the waters to make the most informed decision about their future during this uncertain time,” NCAA Senior Vice President for Basketball Dan Gavitt said in the statement.

Texas State coach Danny Kaspar accused of making racist remarks by former players

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Texas State head coach Danny Kaspar used racially charged language and created an atmosphere of insensitivity within his program, according to two former players.

Jaylen Shead, a former point guard for the Bobcats, tweeted on Thursday that Kaspar repeatedly made racially-tinged comments at his players, the majority of whom were black.

“I could overlook the way he disregarded the rules and our health,” Shead said in the tweet. “But I could not turn away from the many racially insensitive things that were said to me and other teammates.”

Shead alleged that Kaspar:

  • Once told one of Shead’s teammates to “chase that chicken” to get him to run a suicide faster.
  • Told Shead that he was “running like the cops are behind him” when Shead won a sprint.
  • Told a black player that had a 2.2 GPA that he would be “working at Popeye’s.”
  • When he was unhappy with how hard his team was working, he said “if a brown man with a turbin and AK-47 walked in, I bet y’all would run as fast as you could.”
  • Threatened a player from Europe that he would be deported since the “a lot of the boosters/alumni here are Trump supporters.”

“There is no embellishment in what he said,” Shead’s former teammate, Alex Peacock, told ESPN, adding that he witnessed every one of the interactions.

Perhaps the most controversial statement Kaspar is alleged to have made is threatening to used the n-word if he kept hearing his players use the n-word.

Kaspar accepted the Texas State job in the spring of 2013. He had previously been the head coach at Stephen F. Austin for 13 seasons. Shead began his career at Cal Poly before transferring to Texas State. He left for his final season of eligibility to play for Washington State.

This is not the first time that Kaspar has been involved in an allegation involving the race of his players. In a 2013 lawsuit filed by former Texas State player Basil Brown against the school and Kaspar, among many others, and obtained by NBC Sports, Brown alleges that on at least three occasions, he heard Kaspar tell black teammates that, “you wouldn’t run from the cops in [their hometown] like that.”

Less than two months after Kaspar accepted the Texas State job, he took away Brown’s scholarship for the 2013-14 season and gave it to a white player because, according to the lawsuit, “Reid Koenen happens to be white and [Brown] is black and white players are slower than black players because of race.” The lawsuit added that “race [was] a determining factor” in allocating scholarships.

Brown goes on to allege that Kaspar “scolded” him at a team workout for outplaying Koenen, allegedly saying, “Basil is picking on the slow white boy.” When Kaspar eventually pulled Brown’s scholarship, Brown alleged that the coach told him that he failed to beat out Koenen because, “Reid is a slow white boy and I’m not going to fault him for that.”

The lawsuit was eventually dismissed because it was “too speculative to show that Kaspar removed Brown from the team because he was black.”

Texas State’s athletic director released a statement calling the allegations “deeply troubling” while announcing that the school is launching a formal investigation of Kaspar.