2014-15 Season Preview: Can anyone other than Kentucky, Florida go dancing?

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source: AP
Karl-Anthony Towns (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the SEC.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Kentucky should be awesome.

We all know that.

But when it comes to the SEC, that’s about all that we know for sure. Florida should be good, but a number of key pieces are young and unproven. Arkansas might be good, but when was the last time that a Mike Anderson team was anything close to consistent on the road? LSU should make the tournament, but they should have made it last season. Georgia finished tied for second in the league last year, but they didn’t sniff the bubble. Might Ole Miss actually be the third-best team in the conference?

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kentucky is so deep they’ll be playing with platoons: I was asked about this on the radio this week, andto really get a feel for just how deep Kentucky is, think about Derek Willis. At one point, Willis was the No. 26 recruit in the country. He’s an athletic, versatile combo-forward with three-point range and probably good enough to start for just about any team outside the top 25. He’s so far down the Wildcat depth chart that he won’t even play in Kentucky’s second platoon. Nine McDonald all-americans. Eight guys that potentially could be drafted this spring. Yeesh.

2. Florida is talented, but quite young: Florida graduated four seniors from last year’s team, including center Patric Young and SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin. In their stead this season will be former five-star recruits Chris Walker and Kasey Hill. How will that pair fare playing much-expanded roles for the Gators this season?

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3. Ole Miss is the league’s sleeper team: There is a lot to like about the Rebels this year. For starters, the distraction that was Marshall Henderson is gone, and in his place is star guard and our Preseason SEC Player of the Year, Jarvis Summers. The Rebels also have a big, athletic front line, and that should be enough to get them in the mix for that No. 3 spot in the league standings.

4. Arkansas should be good enough to get an at-large bid: If the Razorbacks are going to make the NCAA tournament, this is the season to do so. They have talented, veteran perimeter plays that will do well in Mike Anderson’s “40 Minutes Of Hell” system, but they also have one of the most underrated players in the country is star big man Bobby Portis. Portis could end up being a first round pick by the time the season is done, meaning that this may be their best chance to dance.

5. The same with LSU, but they should have been last year, too: Once again, LSU will enter this season with a front line that will draw attention: Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and Elbert Robertson. But the key this year will be the back court of Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby, who will replace Anthony Hickey. The key? Ensuring that back court understands the importance of pounding the ball into the paint for those big bodies.

PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss

With all the talk about Marshall Henderson over the course of the last two seasons it was easy to overlook the fact that the best player on the Rebels was Summers. He may not become a national name this season — it’s hard to do that if you play in the SEC for someone other than Kentucky or Florida — but an all-american team isn’t out of the question.

THE REST OF THE ALL-SEC FIRST TEAM:

  • Aaron Harrison, Kentucky, So.: Harrison could very well end up being the leading scorer for Kentucky this season. He was inconsistent as a freshman, but he hit three enormous threes during Kentucky’s run to the NCAA tournament title game.
  • Karl Towns, Kentucky, Fr.: Towns is the most talented player in the league and may be the most talented player in the country, but Kentucky’s depth will limit his playing time and production.
  • Bobby Portis, Arkansas, So.: One of the most underrated players in the conference, Portis had a very good freshman season that was a bit overshadowed by the fact that Arkansas wasn’t a tournament team in a mediocre SEC.
  • Jordan Mickey, LSU, So.: Mickey put up huge numbers as a freshman, but it didn’t get as much attention nationally due to LSU’s disappointing finish to the season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Andrew Harrison, Kentucky, So.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, So.
  • Kasey Hill, Florida, So.
  • Michael Frazier, Florida, Jr.
  • Charles Mann, Georgia, Jr.

BREAKOUT STAR: Kasey Hill — and, to a lesser extent, Chris Walker — should have big seasons for Florida this season, and Bobby Portis will likely shoot up draft boards as the season progresses, but my pick for a breakout star in the SEC is Vanderbilt big man Damian Jones. He averaged 11.3 points, 5.7 boards and 1.4 blocks as a freshman with the ‘Dores and will be asked to carry the load once again next season.

source:
AP

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Anthony Grant was one of the hottest names in coaching when he was hired away from VCU by Alabama back in 2009, but he hasn’t really been able to get things up and running in Tuscaloosa. Grant’s made just one NCAA tournament in his five seasons with the Crimson Tide, and last year was his worst as a head coach, as the Tide finished just 13-19 overall. It would not be good for Grant if his program finishes behind Bruce Pearl’s at Auburn.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The SEC only sent three teams to the NCAA tournament again?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT … : Seeing how John Calipari will manage his roster and whether or not the platoons will work.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 18th, Kansas vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)
  • Dec. 5th, Florida at Kansas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
  • Dec. 5th, Texas at Kentucky (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
  • Dec. 13th, North Carolina at Kentucky
  • Dec. 27th, Kentucky at Louisville

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @SECSports

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kentucky: I could see the Wildcats doing what Florida did last season, rolling through the league schedule undefeated and winning the regular season title by six games.
2. Florida: Florida’s success this season hinges on the play of sophomores Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. If they play like top ten recruits, the Gators could end up being a top ten team. If they don’t, Florida might not finish second in the SEC.
3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks have a star-in-the-making in big man Bobby Portis and a pair of talented wings in Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls. Two keys for this group: Winning on the road, and finding a point guard to run the ship.
4. Ole Miss: The Marshall Henderson Show overshadowed just how good Jarvis Summers was last season. Andy Kennedy will have a pair of talented transfers joining him in the back court along with a slew of big, athletic forwards. The SEC’s sleeper this year.
5. LSU: Jordan Mickey headlines a talented front court that includes Jarrell Martin and Elbert Robertson, but the Tigers are going to need more consistent back court play. Can transfers Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby provide it?
6. Georgia: The Bulldogs bring back their top five scorers from last season, including Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, but to move up the SEC standings, they’ll need big years from big men Nemanja Djurisic and Yante Maten.
7. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose Jamal Jones, but Alex Caruso and Kourtney Robertson are back and will be joined by Jalen Jones, Alex Robinson and, if he gets a waiver, Danuel House.
8. Auburn: The Tigers bring back K.T. Harrell and add a number of quality transfers, but most importantly, the hiring of Bruce Pearl has added a level of excitement around the program. Bet on Pearl to win.
9. Missouri: New head coach Kim Anderson will have work to do with this group, but the cupboard if far from bare. I loved point guard Wes Clark in high school, Johnathon Williams III was promising last season and the addition of Jakeenan Gant, Deuce Bello and Keith Shamburger will help.
10. Vanderbilt: Kevin Stallings returns Damian Jones, who is a future all-SEC talent, and adds four top 150 freshmen to the mix. They’re young, but the future is brighter than the present.
11. South Carolina: Frank Martin has the Gamecocks moving in the right direction, as he’s added Sindarius Thornwell, TeMarcus Blanton and Marcus Strohman in recent classes.
12. Alabama: Anthony Grant has yet to have real success at Alabama. He’ll be relying on the influx of talent into the program — freshmen Justin Coleman and Devin Mitchell, transfer Ricky Tarrant — to try and get a tournament bid this season.
13. Mississippi State: Rick Ray is still in full-blown rebuilding mode with this program, but this season he’ll get back a number of key pieces — including Craig Sword — and will finally have some height.
14. Tennessee: The Vols lost quite a bit from last year’s Sweet 16 teams, and while Robert Hubbs and Josh Richardson return, there’s not much else here outside of the distraction provided by the NCAA investigation into Donnie Tyndall.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

Coaches 4 Change: Siena’s Carmen Maciariello spearheads social justice initiative

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Carmen Maciariello found himself in the same place so many of us did in the days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

Devastated by what he was seeing. Motivated to find a way to use his platform as the head coach at Siena College to enact change. Struggling with how, as he puts it, “a white head coach from privilege at a school in New York,” can have real, honest, open dialogue with his majority-Black roster.

So he picked up the phone. He called Louis Orr, his former college coach and now an assistant coach at Georgetown. He called his closest friends in the coaching business. He called his advisor, Brad Konerman, an entrepreneur who connected him with a couple of talented website designers. By early June, 25 like-minded people from all walks of life were on a zoom call.

“I’ve never been pulled over and feared for my life for not using my blinker,” Maciariello, who is white, told me. “We had those conversations. How are we talking to our teams about that? What are we doing with the police? How can we help our young people navigate through these tough times?”

That’s how Coaches 4 Change was born.

Maciariello has grand plans for the organization. On a zoom call with nearly all of the 43 coaches that have committed to the group to date, he said he wants “to try to change the world. Let’s not think small, we’ve gotta think big with this.” He is not lacking for ambition.

But Maciariello also understands that something like this has to start small and it has to start locally. It’s why he limited the first group of invitees to coaches that are “doing this for the right reasons.”

“I didn’t want to have a donate link and bring in coaches that felt like, ‘I donated money, I did my part supporting it,” he said. “It was about the time commitment and the vision. We have to focus on one thing first.”

That first thing?

Voting.

C4C developed a sleek, interactive website to help educate young people about social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, things as basic as the difference between systemic and systematic racism and Jackie Robinson’s impact on sports. But the site also provides users with all of the information necessary to vote in this year’s elections, information on what makes voting so important in a democracy and — most importantly — a tutorial for how a person in every state can register to vote, where their polling stations are and whether or not they are eligible for mail-in voting. Their website also has a ‘Keep Learning‘ page that links to all documentaries, podcasts, audiobooks and literary resources available on all streaming platforms, including content for children.

C4C has partnered with Vote.org with a goal of “100 percent voter registration for all college athletes” regardless of the sport they play, Maciariello said.

Currently, the only coaches involved with C4C are men’s college basketball coaches, but that will change. They are in the process of reaching out to counterparts on the women’s side, and will eventually invite staff members from other sports as well. One of the barriers to entry to become a member will be ensuring that every player on a coach’s team is registered to vote.

Eventually, Maciariello envisions C4C developing community outreach initiatives. He wants the members of C4C to connect with their campus communities and put together voter registration drives for students. He wants to eventually connect with lawmakers and work on changing legislation that helps systemic racism continue to exist.

No one ever said he wasn’t ambitious.

But he knows he has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is this platform.

“I want to engage people in issues,” he said. “Educate them, empower them to change, encourage them to grow and evolve.”