One college coach’s unique connection to the Peach Jam

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AP/Jon-Michael Sullivan

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. The July live evaluation period came to a close on Sunday as college coaches from across America finally got the chance to return home after 15 days on the road evaluating over the last three weeks.

But for Miami (OH) assistant coach Trey Meyer, evaluating at the Nike Peach Jam during the second week of the July period meant a return home to a lifetime full of basketball memories.

A native of North Augusta, South Carolina — where the Peach Jam is played — Meyer has a unique bond with one of summer basketball’s most famous tournaments. The 28-year old Meyer has worked, played or coached in some form at the Peach Jam since he can remember.

“I don’t remember the exact year I started working it, I just remember growing up and it was something I did every year,” Meyer said to NBCSports.com.

He fondly remembers watching a high school version of Dirk Nowitzki play with an international team at Peach Jam in its early years before Meyer finally had the chance to play in the event himself with the South Carolina Ravens.

source:
Miami (OH) Athletics

Meyer once buried four three-pointers in one game at Peach Jam as a player and later returned to coach a 16U team comprised of local North Augusta players, winning a game against national competition. The North Augusta native’s long-standing relationship with the Peach Jam has made him an unofficial historian for the event.

“It’s come a long ways, I can still remember the first year they had it when they had it over at Augusta State University. It just seems like each year it just gets bigger and better,” Meyer said of the Peach Jam. “I’ve been a ball boy, scorekeeper, player, AAU coach and now I’m blessed enough to be a college coach and it has a huge impact on this community. It’s just a tremendous tournament.”

Meyer’s father, Rick, is the Director of the Riverview Park and Activities Center, where the Peach Jam is played, and the week of the event becomes a family reunion of sorts for the Meyer family.

Trey’s two younger sisters worked this year’s Peach Jam as scorekeepers, their mother usually sells t-shirts and the family’s grandparents also usually attend the Peach Jam to watch some of the best high school basketball players in the country.

The Meyer family isn’t unique with their local bond to the event. Many local fans and high school basketball players come out and pack the stands for each game and give the tournament a unique feel among grassroots events.

“It just gives North Augusta something special. Augusta has The Masters — and not that the Peach Jam is at that level — but it’s an event that people look forward to once a year,” Meyer said. “You get the best upcoming college players in the country, the best college coaches, and all of the people living in the area, they get to see their favorite coaches. It’s their own unique event. And obviously, it has a tremendous economic impact on the town because the population probably doubles when this event is going on.”

College coaches and media members that are veterans of the Peach Jam know to book hotel rooms as far as six-to-eight months in advance to make sure they don’t end up in undesirable accommodations. Restaurants and bars around town are also usually filled with coaches and fans throughout the week. But Meyer has a leg up on the out-of-towners as he still opts to stay in his childhood home with his family during the Peach Jam.

“I stay in the house I grew up in. It’s awesome,” Meyer said with a smile. “My Mom has actually formed my old bedroom into memorabilia of me and my sisters; things she’s collected over the years. So I actually sleep in one of my sister’s rooms. But home is home. I can sleep on the floor and it’s still home. They always say, ‘You can get a hotel if you want,’ and there’s no way I would do that.”

Being the local guy, Meyer also has plenty of colleagues asking for recommendations on local places to go. Meyer plays a willing host and can offer insights on a number of different places in the Augusta and North Augusta areas.

“Most people in the basketball world, if they ask me where I’m from, I’ll say, ‘North Augusta,’ and I don’t know that it really clicks, so I’ll say, ‘Where the Peach Jam is,’ and they instantly recognize it and love the place and the tournament,” Meyer said.

“I get hit up for all different things. Where to stay, where to eat, where to go at night. It’s cool, it gives me my own unique perspective for everyone else.”

The Peach Jam itself has grown quite a bit over the years. As the finals for Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League, the final four and championship game of the event is now nationally televised and many casual college basketball fans that don’t follow recruiting can at least recognize the significance of the tournament every July.

From a small-town tournament covered by local publications to the current iteration that commands writers and TV personalities from across the country, Meyer still believes the Peach Jam is the best event of the summer.

“I think it’s the best of the summer. I’ve always thought that, ever since growing up,” Meyer said. “Going back to when I’ve coached and traveled to different tournaments, I think it’s the best one of the summer. I may be biased, but the food, the hospitality, the way people treat you and the way the community comes out and supports it, it’s just a special tournament.”

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

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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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.