South Dakota State’s Cody Larson thrives despite return home amidst unmet expectations

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Cody Larson (AP Photo)

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This story is about Cody Larson, the South Dakota State Jackrabbit, but in order to understand what it means for Larson to be finishing out his college career in The Mount Rushmore State, you first have to understand what high school basketball means there.

“It’s like a mini-Indiana,” said UNLV assistant coach Ryan Miller, and he would know. He played his high school ball at Mitchell High four years before current Cleveland Cavalier, two-time NBA champion and, for Ryan, little brother Mike Miller did. The state may not be churning out a ton of high major talent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t pack a few thousand fans into a gym on a frigid February night.

And while South Dakota may be large in terms of square mileage, it’s quite small when it comes to the basketball community. Everyone knows everyone, which means that when a soon-to-be 6-foot-9 athletic marvel from Sioux Falls, the state’s biggest city, is coming up through the middle and high school ranks, word spreads quickly.

The Black Hills are not immune to the power of the hype machine.

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Cody Larson was supposed to be the “Next Big Thing” to come out of South Dakota.

He was supposed to be the heir apparent to the state’s most famous athlete, and that speculation was only fueled when he followed in Miller’s footsteps, committing to play basketball at Florida. He enrolled at the school in the summer of 2010, but his time associated with the Gators only generated headlines for his off-court issues. He had plenty.

As a senior in high school, Larson was kicked off of the Roosevelt High team, in February of 2010, and barred from having any contact with them during their run through the state tournament. According to Larson, the suspension and resulting charge was a result of sharing hydrocodone leftover from his knee surgery a year prior with a teammate battling shin splints. He pleaded guilty that May to inhabiting a room where drugs are knowingly kept and used and was given a 120-day suspended sentence and two years’ probation.

He violated that probation a year later in a bizarre incident that took place in St. Augustine, Florida. Larson, who was redshirting that season, went out drinking with teammate Erik Murphy and a team manager. They ended up arrested and charged with felony burglary for allegedly breaking into a car, their mug shots and a recording of the players from the backseat of a police cruiser going viral. Larson avoided jailtime for the probation violation, getting his suspended sentence reinstated and an additional two years of probation tacked on.

Larson was reinstated to the team in October of 2011, seeing action in 25 games during the 2011-12 season, but after the season was over, Larson had his scholarship pulled by head coach Billy Donovan. He was allowed to remain on the roster as a walk-on, but he would have to prove that he was worthy of remaining on scholarship.

That didn’t last, as Larson made the decision to leave the program just a couple of weeks prior to the start of the season. “I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to play basketball anymore,” Larson told NBCSports.com in an interview earlier this month. He stayed in school in Florida, taking classes while he tried to figure out what the next step in his life would be.

“At the time, it was putting to much pressure on me,” he said. “I wasn’t making the best decisions.”

It didn’t take Larson long to realize that he missed basketball, and it took less time for him to decide that South Dakota State — located in Brookings, a 45 minute drive from his Sioux Falls home — was the place for him. He had played with or against a number of the kids on the roster, and he already had a relationship with the coaching staff, as SDSU targeted Larson’s AAU program, the Dakota Schoolers. His sister plays on the school’s volleyball team.

He visited the campus when he was home from Christmas break and committed to the Jackrabbits in May of 2013, receiving a waiver from the NCAA that allowed him to avoid having to sit out a year.

Larson would be playing college basketball during the 2013-14 season.

He would also be returning home as the homegrown prodigy that couldn’t cut it at one of the best programs in the country; the “Next Big Thing” who had spent more time on probation than on a college basketball roster.

That’s enough to hurt anyone’s pride.

“I’m not going to lie and say that there wasn’t times of disappointment,” Larson said. “But I’ve grown up a bunch, and I’ve learned to kind of channel my anxieties and my worries in healthier ways.”

There would be plenty of those anxieties and worries as Larson headed home to a community that was well aware of his history. The South Dakota State administration trusted head coach Scott Nagy’s decision when it came to bringing Larson into the program, but it wasn’t the administration’s opinion that Nagy was concerned about. It was the fanbase, the alumni and the boosters of the program. A “large contingent” of SDSU alums live down in Sioux Falls, and Larson’s name is well-known in that city.

“I think people had some preconceived notions based on what they were reading,” Nagy said. “It would have been easy for him to avoid coming back to South Dakota, just because of what everybody thought and because he may have been perceived as a failure and all these things. I think what he’s done is take on the challenge.”

To date, SDSU has had no problems with Larson. He’s been a straight-A student since he’s gotten to campus, and as one of two seniors on the roster this season, he’s grown into being a leader for this, a guy Nagy credits for being a great teammate that has helped developed camaraderie on a team that lost quite a bit to graduation last season.

That’s not necessarily something that people in Larson’s past would have seen coming, and it’s a testament to the work he’s put in on developing himself.

“I kind of realized that [basketball] was a big part of who I was,” Larson said. “There’s just so much that you can learn about life through the game of basketball that I took for granted when I was down in Florida. I realized that and I regretted that.”

He realized that he was lucky enough to get a second — and a third — chance. He also realized that, in addition to returning to a place where his failures would be scrutinized, he’d be coming back to a home where he had people that cared enough about him and his future to make sure his didn’t blow this final chance.

“The community has [been a lot more receptive] than I thought they would be,” Larson said. “I have a lot of friends and family up in this area. And the team, they just welcomed me with open arms.”

“The biggest thing is being responsible with my time. I’ve gotten so much better about that. I got into trouble down in Florida and up here when I’m not being responsible. It’s just maturing and channelling my anxieties and my worries in a healthy way. The staff up here has been great with that. If I have a problem, I can go straight to them. If they can’t help me, they find somebody who can.”

And while Larson, who averaged 13.1 points and 7.0 boards last season, is focused on finding a way to get this group through the Summit League and into the NCAA tournament, he’s also trying to figure out what he’s going to do with himself after the season. Play professionally? Go to med school? Become a psychiatrist?

He hasn’t decided yet, but he’s glad he’s got options.

“I’m just trying to get through practice and make sure my homework’s done on time.”

Report: NCAA will give more notices of allegations soon

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Now that the FBI’s college basketball corruption cases are complete, the NCAA will likely move forward with more notices of allegations.

Speaking to ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Wednesday at the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, NCAA vice president of Division I Governance Kevin Lennon said that more investigations could come “in due time and I think  very quickly.”

The NCAA needed to wait for the FBI’s trials to finish up before launching its own investigations on schools mentioned over the past 18 months. We could see a high number of big-name programs get investigated during the NCAA’s process.

“You don’t get in the way of a federal investigation,” Lennon said Wednesday. “Activity was going on during that span that was within our purview, but now that the court cases are done, now we’re in a position where you’re likely to see notices of allegations going to institutions that have violated NCAA rules, etc. I think you can anticipate notices of allegations will be coming.”

Following the completion of the first FBI trial in October 2018, the NCAA already reportedly sent notice of allegations to Arizona, Kansas, NC State and Louisville. Other prominent programs, including but not limited to, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma State and USC have also been mentioned during recent college basketball corruption trials.

While the NCAA will seek all documents that schools turned over to the federal government during legal procedures, the real difficulty in the NCAA’s investigations will be getting third-party participants to speak — or even cooperate in the first place. Those not tied to the NCAA through member schools have no legal obligation to help the NCAA during their investigation process.

Wednesday’s Knight Commission meeting also went over processes discussed or implemented because of the Rice Commission’s April 2018 report. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, president of the board of directors for the NABC, made waves by questioning where accountability comes from when it comes to coaching penalties.

Asking why “there’s been no hammer from the top of campus,” Brey asked why schools haven’t been accountable with coaches who break the rules.

“Why hasn’t an athletic director or a president acted in some of these current cases?” Brey said.

“I think a lot of our coaches want to know why hasn’t the hammer come down? I’m a little naïve to it. Is it legal stuff? A lot of lawyers? I think our profession would love to see the hammer be dropped on some of these situations. We need an explosion back.”

Brey has every right to question where penalties are coming from since only Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has lost his job among head coaches during this scandal. There seems to be a lot of confusion on where some things stand with the NCAA, and its rules, but maybe we’ll get more clarification now that the FBI trials are done.

Juwan Howard will be the next Michigan head coach

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Juwan Howard is heading back to school.

The former Fab Five member has accepted an offer to replace John Beilein as Michigan’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. He has spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, where he played his final three seasons as a pro. The Wolverines ultimately picked Howard over Providence head coach Ed Cooley and Luke Yaklich, who was an assistant on Michigan’s staff the last two years.

Stadium is reporting that Howard has agreed to a five-year deal.

This will be the first time in 25 years that Howard has been back in the mix on a college campus, since he left Ann Arbor to become the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and that is what makes this decision a risk for the Wolverines.

Howard has never been an assistant coach at the college level. He hasn’t worked at the high school level. He hasn’t coached in the AAU ranks. There is not a strong track record for this kind of a hire. Of all the former NBA player that have ended up coaching a college team, Fred Hoiberg is really the only one that has had unquestionable and continued success. Kevin Ollie won a national title with UConn, but he not only was an assistant coach on Jim Calhoun’s staff for two years before getting the job, his title-winning team was a No. 7-seed that rode Shabazz Napier’s coattails to the title and he eventually got fired after driving UConn straight into the ground. Chris Mullin was a bust at St. John’s. The jury is still out on Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, but two years in he’s sitting with a 34-29 record and a 14-22 mark in the Big East.

Avery Johnson. Isiah Thomas. Clyde Drexler. Mike Dunleavy. Mark Price. Danny Manning. The list of NBA guys that have gone back to school and fizzled out is long.

Penny Hardaway — and, to a point, Jerry Stackhouse — are different. Penny worked his way up from the bottom. He started as a middle school coach and spent about a decade coaching in the high school and AAU ranks in Memphis before taking over the Tigers. Stackhouse coached an AAU program before taking over at Vanderbilt as well. They know the ins and outs of building relationships at that level. They had a keen understanding of what it means to be a head coach at the college level when they got hired, even if that understanding came from dealing with coaches recruiting their players.

Howard doesn’t have that.

And it doesn’t mean that he is going to be a flop.

When you have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade campaigning for you, the kids you will be recruiting will take notice. When your candidacy brings Jalen Rose and Chris Webber together, there are going to be people in Ann Arbor that want to make this work. He spent two decades playing in the NBA. He was an assistant on Erik Spoelstra’s staff, a staff that has turned the Heat into one of the better defensive teams in the NBA ever since LeBron left. That same staff has also proven themselves capable of establishing a culture of hard work, toughness and player development.

Howard may not have a ton of experience on a college bench — or doing the things required to run a college program — but the coaching chops are there.

But there is no question that this is a major risk.

And while Warde Manuel’s decision to hire Ollie when he had the same job in Storrs did result in UConn winning their fourth national title, he also ended up bringing in the guy that had to be fired just four years after cutting down those nets.

Clemson forward Baehre tears knee ligament

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson forward Jonathan Baehre is out indefinitely after tearing a knee ligament.

The school says the injury occurred during practice Monday. There is no timetable for his return.

Baehre is a 6-foot-10 junior transfer from UNC Asheville who sat out last season. With four senior starters gone off this year’s team, Baehre was expected to play a major role for the Tigers.

Coach Brad Brownell says it’s an unfortunate injury for Baehre and the team. Brownell says Baehre had worked hard since joining the Tigers and he had no doubt Baehre would approach rehab strongly “and have a very productive career at Clemson.”

Baehre, from Germany, started 21 games for UNC Asheville in 2017-18 and averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.

Sam Mitchell leaves Memphis coach Penny Hardaway’s staff

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis coach Penny Hardaway says former NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell is no longer part of his staff.

Mitchell worked as an assistant coach for Memphis in 2018-19 during Hardaway’s debut season. Hardaway said Tuesday at a news conference that Mitchell has “decided to go in another direction.”

Hardaway added that “we definitely appreciate Sam so much and support him.” Hardaway said Mitchell will always be like an “older brother” to him.

Mitchell was an NBA head coach with the Toronto Raptors from 2004-09 and with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2015-16. He was named the NBA Coach of the Year in 2007.

Ex-Louisville coach Denny Crum hospitalized with a stroke

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — An official with Denny Crum’s foundation says the former Louisville coach has been hospitalized after recently suffering a stroke.

Jonathan Israel, who is the principal fundraiser for the Denny Crum Scholarship Foundation, provided the information in a Twitter post attributed to the foundation on Tuesday. The post that Crum, 82, who lives in Louisville, suffered the stroke in the past week. The post did not mention his condition or what hospital he is in, but added that Crum and his family “appreciates the thoughts, prayers and also their privacy while he is recovering.” There will be no other statements, the post added.

Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1994, Crum was 675-295 with Louisville and led the Cardinals to NCAA men’s basketball championships in 1980 and 1986 before retiring in 2001 after 30 years. The coach suffered a stroke in August 2017 while fishing in Alaska but recovered and has attended Cardinals home games in recent years.