If No. 12 Villanova doesn’t have a star on their roster, no one told JayVaughn Pinkston

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BROOKLYN — The running commentary on No. 12 Villanova of late is that Jay Wright’s club doesn’t have a star, that he his roster full of selfless, faceless, quality veteran players, none of who shines brighter than anyone else on the roster.

And to a point, I understand the argument. There are no future lottery picks on Villanova, which is part of the reason that few players on the Wildcats get the kind of publicity is heaped upon the likes of Jahlil Okafor or Karl Towns or Cliff Alexander. They are balanced — six guys average between 8.8 points and 13.0 points — and they are old; Wright starts two juniors, two seniors and a redshirt junior.

But to say that they are without a star is overblown, and it’s a disservice to the player that JayVaughn Pinkston has become.

Tuesday night’s 60-55 win over No. 19 Michigan is a perfect example of what I mean.

Pinkston has gotten off to a rough start this season, averaging just 9.8 points during Villanova’s 5-0 start while shooting only 43.6 perfect from the floor and seeing his field goal attempts and trips to the foul line cut down to freshman levels. On Tuesday night, after having his best game of the season against VCU, Pinkston had just two points in the first 35 minutes and was 1-for-6 from the floor when Villanova gained possession, down by one, with less than two minutes left.

But despite the off night, it was Pinkston — not Ryan Arcidiacono, not Dylan Ennis, not Darrun Hilliard — that Wright went to on three straight possessions with the game on the line. Pinkston rewarded him with two buckets on those three possessions, including a layup after overpowering the smaller Caris LeVert in the post with just 16 seconds remaining.

That was the game-winning bucket.

“It was frustrating at first because my team needed me,” Pinkston said. “But I’m a senior leader, and that’s what we do in this program. Step up and make the big time plays, so that’s what I did.”

Part of the reason that those early struggles were frustrating for Pinkston was that this was his homecoming. He’s a Brooklyn native, and this was his first time playing at the Barclays Center, the brand new arena in the Prospect Heights neighborhood. He had 20 friends and family in attendance, and when he was younger, he wouldn’t have been comfortable with a slow start like the one he had on Tuesday.

“In the past he would have needed to come here and get 17, 18, 19, 20. Be the star,” Wright said. “He wants to come here and win. He’s looking at it now like, ‘these are my boys, and I’m bringing them back home with me,’ as opposed to, ‘I’m coming back home.'”

“He’s really grown up.”

That game-winning bucket wasn’t actually the defining play of the evening, which also belonged to Pinkston. He came out of nowhere for a game-saving block of Zak Irvin with seven seconds left, a play almost as impressive as the fact that the referees got the call right. Irvin’s fall looked bad, but wait until the replay. The block was clean:

As nice as that block was, it was a play that had to be made because Pinkston messed up. He was out of position on the inbounds. It was his fault that Irvin was able to receive the pass from Spike Albrecht. You see, the way Villanova designs their baseline out-of-bounds defense is that they have the man covering the in-bounder standing directly between the passer and the rim. His job is to make the pass to a cutter coming down the middle of the lane — which is exactly what Irvin did on Tuesday night — impossible, which allows Villanova to overplay cutters on the perimeter.

But Albrecht threw a little pass fake to his left, which got Pinkston out of position.

I know this because Pinkston told us afterwards.

“I messed up on the play. I didn’t take away the middle, so I just tried to make a play on the ball,” Pinkston said, eliciting laughter from teammate Dylan Ennis and from Wright, who leaned back from the microphones to say “I can’t believe you said that,” to Pinkston.

That honesty shocked Wright. He didn’t need to make himself look bad in front of a throng of media.

“All he had to say was, ‘I made a great block.’ But he admitted it,” Wright said. “We hadn’t even talked about it yet.”

And it wasn’t just that Pinkston acknowledged that he made a mistake, because, Wright says, he would have had no problem apologizing to the locker room after the game. The difference is that he now has the self-confidence to be able to admit it publicly. He could have just basked in the glory of the game-winning play, and none of us would have been the wiser. Wright certainly wouldn’t have thrown his player under the bus. He teammates wouldn’t have said a word. No writer on a deadline was thinking about any potential defensive mishaps. We were all just as excited as every fan in the country was about the exciting finish to a thrilling, November basketball game.

That just goes to show you the role that he’s grown into on this team. Their veteran. Their leader. Their go-to guy in crunch-time.

Pinkston is not a future NBA all-star. He’s not a kid that adores the spotlight. He’s not a great public speaker. When Pinkston’s name is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is his season-long suspension as a freshman. He was young and he reacted poorly to a situation he probably shouldn’t have been in. I’ve done the same in the past, but I’m not a 6-foot-6, 250 pound behemoth.

But Pinkston paid his dues. He didn’t play basketball for a year. He was banned from campus for the second semester of his freshman year, living with a friend of the Wright family while working at a warehouse and paying rent. That’s enough to knock some maturity into any teenager.

JayVaughn Pinkston is not a media darling, as is typically the case for college hoopers when your ability outweighs your potential.

But don’t let that blind you to what he is: Villanova’s star.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.