Skal Labissiere is considering Europe, but that doesn’t mean there’s a market for him

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The most recent topic of discussion in the college hoops world to make the rounds on the #hotsportstake bandwagon is that of Emmanuel Mudiay.

You surely know the story by now. The No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2014 and an athletic, 6-foot-5, season-altering lead guard, Mudiay was scheduled to play for SMU this season. But two weeks ago, he announced that he would be forgoing college, forced to head overseas because he either wanted to help support his family (the Mudiay party line) or he was too worried about his academic eligibility and his status as an amateur to risk a season in college (what everyone else believes to be true).

Mudiay eventually signed with the Guangdong Dragons in China.

His contract? It’s reportedly worth $1.2 million.

The talking point here is whether or not Mudiay will be a trendsetter, a trailblazer leading a new breed of elite recruit overseas where they will make a seven-figure salary for seven months before entering the NBA draft.

And it’s certainty a conversation worth having. As I mentioned when the news first broke, the reason that Mudiay — and Brandon Jennings before him — went overseas was because NCAA rules more than likely were going to forbid him from playing college basketball. When ineligibility and the mountains of negative publicity that come with it are staring you in the face, you take that million-dollar contract every single time. With initial eligibility standards increasing, and thus making it more likely that a recruit will be ruled ineligible, there’s a real chance that this could become a more common occurrence.

And that’s saying nothing of the possibility that Adam Silver implements a two-and-done rule for entering the draft. High school kids these days have grown up knowing nothing other than college basketball with the one and done rule. Having to spend an extra 12 months on campus and sans paycheck may not be the easiest sell.

All that brings me to the latest development in this story: On Thursday, Skal Labissiere — a five-star, Class of 2015 center being pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis and Georgetown — told CBSSports.com on the record that following in Mudiay’s footsteps is a route he’s looking into.

“Overseas is an option,” Labissiere said, which is notable. There have been rumblings that a number of players in Labissiere’s class are looking into that option, but the native-Haitian is the first to acknowledge, on record, that the money that Mudiay got will be a factor in his decision-making process. “I don’t know yet for sure. We’ll see. But that is a lot of money.”

When giving a million-dollar contract to an 18 or 19 year old American player, one of the biggest concerns for a professional team in a different country is how that player will acclimate. Living abroad, dealing with the massive cultural changes that come with international travel, is not an easy thing for a high school grad to deal with.

Labissiere, in theory, would be able to adapt as well as anyone because he’s already made that change. Labissiere grew up in Haiti and left after he survived the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 of his countrymen. He’s lived in a different country with a different culture for the last four years, and, by all accounts, he’s thrived. He’s one of the sweetest, most gregarious kids in this class, polite when dealing with the media and perpetually grinning from ear to ear, and he’s been through more than I can imagine. Heading to Italy or China or wherever to play pro ball for a year shouldn’t be all that much of an issue for him.

But that’s assuming that someone wants him.

Because the point that hasn’t been made nearly enough when discussing the potential for American teenagers to spend their year in NBA purgatory abroad is that there simply isn’t all that much of a market for these guys abroad, particularly in Europe.

Let’s start with the obvious: When we’re talking about guys who can go pro overseas and make seven-figures, we’re talking about the elite of the elite. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Mudiay. In a strong class, you’re looking at maybe five to seven guys who are worth consideration. In a weak class like 2015, you’re looking at just Ben Simmons, and I’m not convinced he’s good enough to garner that kind of a salary.

The bigger problem?

Teams in Europe do not want to sign an 18-year old kid for just one season. What do they get out of it? A prospect who’s not ready to contribute major minutes at the highest level of European basketball for one season before they head back stateside to play in the NBA? As good as Labissiere is now and as promising as he is as a prospect, the fact of the matter is that he gets pushed around by stronger guys at the high school level here. He would routinely be overpowered in the paint in a good European league. If the team cannot develop him, it’s not worth a million dollars to them.

“If you don’t want to sign a four or five year deal than you don’t get paid as an 18 or 19 year old,” one NBA scout told NBCSports.com. “European guys are looking and saying, ‘Would I rather be Mario Hezonja, stuck in Barcelona not playing and not able to get to the NBA, or would I rather be in the league like Alex Len?

“If you want to play in the NBA, which is what a lot of the Europeans and all of the Americans do, than signing a long-term deal with a big European club, which is the only way to get paid over there, is not a good option.”

It’s part of the reason that Mudiay was forced to head to China, a league that pays well, but A) demands major performances out of their American players, B) is quick to cut players that struggle, and C) will not be a productive step, and could be a hindrance, in his individual development.

A smart European team could start to flip American players for profit, signing them to $200,000-$300,000 contracts with $600,000 buyouts, the max an NBA team is allowed to pay.

In theory, that makes sense.

In practice, it doesn’t.

If we’re going to be honest here, we need to acknowledge that any incoming freshman talented enough to garner that kind of deal from a European team has the avenues to get paid just as much, if not more, while he’s in college, and I say that without a shred of sarcasm. Whether it be boosters paying to bring him to their school, agents paying to ensure that he will be a future client or shoes companies paying to keep him loyal, there are avenues for elite recruits to generate a substantial income. It may not be savory, but they are there.

Which brings me back to Skal Labissiere.

He may be looking at overseas as an option. He may be quite intrigued by the contract that was given to Mudiay. He may like the idea of skipping college and getting $1.2 million put into his bank account.

That doesn’t mean that there is anyone who would be willing to pay him that much for one season, and even if there is, it doesn’t guarantee that the quick payout will be better for his long-term development — and, thus, career-earnings — than going to college.

Assuming that he’ll be able to get his academics in order and that he hasn’t compromised his amateur status, Labissiere, as well as the other recruits thinking about following in the steps of Mudiay, may simply be better off going to college, playing on national television and collecting those Ricky Roe duffel bags.

It’s the American way.

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.