Sister’s illness makes for a bittersweet homecoming for Tulsa head coach Frank Haith

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Saturday was supposed to be a celebration for Tulsa head coach Frank Haith and his family.

Born in Queens, Haith moved to North Carolina when he was five. That’s where he says he’s from, where he calls home and where most of his family still resides. On Saturday, he’ll bring his Golden Hurricane team — one of the hottest and most surprising teams in the country, but I’ll get to that in a minute — on a trip to East Carolina for an American road game.

That’s the game those friends and family members — he is one of 11 siblings — from Burlington are going to make the two-and-a-half hour trip to Greenville to see him try and coach his boys to 7-0 in the league, their first in the American. The traveling party will not be intact, however, as Haith’s sister, Laura, is still in the hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm six weeks ago.

“She’s still in the ICU,” he said. “She’s still not awake.”

Laura suffered the aneurysm back in early December, and Frank flew home to be with his family after Tulsa’s win over Arkansas-Little Rock on Dec. 7th. He flew back to Tulsa for their Dec. 10th game against Southeastern Oklahoma State, a Division II school, having missed two days’ worth of practice. He got back into town just a couple of hours before tip-off, and the result was one of the most embarrassing of his professional career.

The Golden Hurricane lost to Southeastern, setting off a flurry of the typical, played-out Frank-Haith-Can’t-Coach jokes from spiteful Missouri and Miami fans as well as your standard-issue snark from those that write about the sport.

Imagine that.

His sister, who has two sons of her own, was in a coma and the team he left an SEC program to coach — the one that returned quite a bit of talent from a team that made last year’s NCAA tournament — was sitting at 5-4 with losses to crosstown rivals Oral Roberts and a Division II school.

“It was tough,” Haith said.

Three days later, Tulsa would get smacked around by Oklahoma.

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Regardless of how much talent there is on a basketball team, when a new coach is taking over a program, there is always going to be a period of transition. The new coaching staff needs to learn their players. What are their strengths and weaknesses, both individually and from a roster standpoint? Who needs to be pushed and who shuts down if they get yelled at? Who can take on a leadership role? Who picks up offense quickly and who doesn’t understand defensive positioning?

The same goes for the players. They’re not only learning a new system, new plays and new defenses, they’re trying to figure out just what this coaching staff expects from each of them and what their role looks like moving forward.

And, quite often, this happens in a situation where the two sides have, at best, a limited relationship to begin with.

It’s not an easy thing to do, and for this Tulsa team, Haith says, the slow start to the season was all a part of their learning curve.

“Everything was new,” Haith said. “They played a different way last year. Did things different. Different terminology.”

“They used to be three-out, two-in, now we’re four-out, one-in,” he said of the system Tulsa ran under former coach Danny Manning, who is now at Wake Forest. “We’re spread pick-and-roll, they were high-low. We had to figure that all how to put Shaquille Harrison and Jordan Woodard in a position where they could be the most successful. You want to put those guys where they can be comfortable and productive.”

Simply put, the players and the coaches were still feeling each other out.

But that loss to Oklahoma, on December 13th, was the last loss that the Golden Hurricane suffered. They’ve now won eight straight games, six of which came in American play with three of those league wins coming on the road. That’s an impressive way to announce one’s self to a conference, and Haith gives the credit to the timing of the school’s winter break: right after the loss to Oklahoma.

Everyone in the program — from Haith to star guards Woodard and Harrison to the managers giving players water during timeouts — realized they had to do something to turn their season around. So they took the time where they didn’t have to worry themselves with classes or homework and, as Haith put it, “just got better.”

Practices were more focused, players were getting individual workouts in on their own, film sessions went longer. They got to know each other better just by being in such close quarters.

“That’s the good thing about us,” Haith said. “There was no panic. In anybody.”

“That’s where we were at. It’s not like we’re that team [that can win just by showing up]. I’ve gotta give them credit because we really grew a lot over that break.”

Tulsa still has a long way to go this season. They’ve beaten Memphis and UConn at home, but still have to make return trips as well as play SMU twice and host Cincinnati. They’re a half-game up on the Mustangs and two games up on both the Bearcats and the Huskies, but it’s probably still too early to call them favorites in the league; they’re about two-thirds of the way through the easy part of their conference schedule.

But if Haith has proven anything, it’s that he has a team that is going to contend for the American title this season, Southeastern Oklahoma State be damned.

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Blowing out a program like Memphis in a primetime game on ESPN to move to 6-0 in one of the top seven leagues in a country has a way of making people forget about a random loss in the middle of the Fantasy Football playoffs.

So yes, professionally, Haith is in a good spot right now.

His sister, however, is not, at least not yet.

“We just don’t know what’s next right now,” Haith said. “We’re just taking it day-by-day.”

The family will try to rally as they can this weekend, to celebrate the success that Haith is having this season. It’s a welcome distraction, something to look forward to in order to keep your mind off of a family member that’s in a coma.

But it won’t be the same without Laura there.

“This East Carolina game is a tough one for me because this is the game that she was making plans to come to,” Haith said. “She’s the one that was on top of everything.

“It’s been tough. It’s been real tough. She’s got two boys and we’re taking care of them, but it’s been hard.”

UConn’s Mamadou Diarra out four-to-six months

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Dan Hurley’s first season in Storrs may begin with his sophomore forward on the shelf.

Mamadou Diallo, who averaged 10 minutes per game last season, will be out four-to-six months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, the school announced Monday.

“The surgery went very well and there were no surprises,” UConn athletic trainer James Doran said in a statement released by the school. “Mamadou will begin rehab immediately and we would expect him to make a full recovery.”

The  6-foot-8 forward from Queens suffered the injury during workouts last week and an MRI revealed the extent of the injury. He’s no stranger to knee injuries as he sat out the 2016-17 season due to patellofemoral syndrome, a condition that results in significant knee discomfort from the stress of high-level basketball.

Diarra averaged 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds while appearing in 31 games last season for the Huskies.

UConn went 14-18 last year in a campaign that ended with the firing of Kevin Ollie and the hiring of Hurley, who went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments at Rhode Island the last two seasons.

Kentucky leads country in attendance once again

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Kentucky led the country in average attendance last season while the Big Ten was tops among conferences, according to data released by the NCAA.

The Wildcats had a total of 393,743 fans attend 18 home games for a country-best 21,874 per game. Syracuse actually led the nation in total fans with 407,778 fans in attendance, but with 19 home games, the Orange narrowly trailed Kentucky with 21,462 fans per game.

Kentucky has led the country in attendance in four of the past five seasons and seven of the last nine.

Rounding out the top five was North Carolina (18,378), Wisconsin (17,272) and Creighton (17,000).

The Big Ten averaged 12,197 fans per game across the league with a total of 3,098,134 attending games for all 14 teams. The B1G also led the country in conference tournament attendance with 106,169 – which the league undoubtedly will look at as a huge success for it first foray into New York City and Madison Square Garden.

The SEC averaged 11,628 fans per game while the ACC was at 10,773, the Big 12 at 10,376 and the Big East at 10,371.

The Final Four had a total of 136,088 fans attend its three games while the entire NCAA tournament averaged 19,246 fans per session.

 

Final Four sites selected through 2026

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The NCAA announced the location of the Final Four for the 2023-2026 seasons.

It goes like this:

  • 2023: Houston
  • 2024: Phoenix
  • 2025: San Antonio
  • 2026: Indianapolis

That will follow Final Fours the next four years in:

  • 2019: Minneapolis
  • 2020: Atlanta
  • 2021: Indianapolis
  • 2022: New Orleans

For the most part, this is fine. What makes a good Final Four city — hell, what makes a city a good candidate to host any major sporting event — is that the arena, stadium or dome is walking distance from good hotels and the best restaurants and bars.

That’s why Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Antonio are generally considered the best locations for the event and why cities like Houston, Dallas and Phoenix are not.

The saving grace with Phoenix is that Scottsdale is a ton of fun and a great spot for fans to go, even if it is a $30 Uber ride from seemingly everywhere in the state of Arizona, and while I’ve heard great things about Minneapolis, going in early April does not sound all that pleasant.

But Houston?

I despite little more than going to Houston for the Final Four. Everything is so spread out, the traffic is a nightmare and I’m still searching to find a place that actually felt like a night at the Final Four instead of a night out in a big city.

Houston is fine, I guess. Houston is not a place where the Final Four should be.

That said, last time I was there I saw James Harden tip a bathroom attendant $20.

So it’s not all bad, I guess.

2018 Peach Jam Takeaways: Vernon Carey tops the class, C.J. Walker shines, and why the media saved Peach Jam

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Peach Jam is unquestionably my favorite event to cover during the summer months.

It’s the highest level basketball that you are going to find in America prior to college, the atmosphere is better than most high school games and the town of Augusta has really grown on me; there are some good restaurants there, and the bar scene isn’t all that bad as long as certain media members that shall remain unnamed aren’t taking you to a place where smoking is still legal inside.

Combine that with the fact that every coach in the country is there along with, at a minimum, a half-dozen future lottery picks, and I truly believe that it’s an event that every real hoophead in the country needs to attend at least once in their life.

This year’s Peach Jam ended on Sunday afternoon with Team Takeover out of Washington D.C. winning the title by going 23-1, the best record in the history of the EYBL. Here are a few things to take away from the event.

THE MEDIA SAVED PEACH JAM

I realize that there is a large portion of our population that despises the media, and even those that do appreciate the job that journalists have to do can get fed up with the self-importance that people in my industry tend to have. We’re here to tell stories, break news and operate as a watchdog for our nation’s biggest entities. We’re not here to complain about flight delays and getting shorted a few Marriott points.

That said, I’m here to tell you that the college basketball media saved Peach Jam.

I’m convinced of it.

Here’s what happened: In June, Jeff Goodman and I caught wind of changes that were going to be proposed by the NABC to the Commission on College Basketball that would ban coaches from attending AAU tournaments and show company events in July. I railed against the recommended changes in a podcast last week, as did every media member even remotely involved in covering college basketball, from recruiting analysts and independent bloggers to the likes of Jay Bilas and Gary Parrish. I spoke with more coaches at the event about those changes than any other subject, and I honestly could not find a single one out of what probably amounted to 50 or so coaches that was a fan of the changes, and I know for a fact that I was not the only one that heard about it from those coaches.

That is why you are now seeing some influential voices start to pump the brakes while speaking on the record.

One thing that the NCAA, and college basketball decision-makers specifically, does a good job of is listening to the criticism. For example, they’ve been crushed for years about the flaws with the RPI as a metric and, as a result, they’ve started to phase it out. They listened when we said that valuing home and road wins equally is silly. They listened when we said college basketball needs a better opening night. And it appears that they are listening to us now.

I was told back in June that these changes were being proposed to be implemented as soon as possible, that the plan was to get the rules changed for next summer. But what happened is that the NABC — National Association of Basketball Coaches — ad-hoc committee that developed this proposal was made up of the upper-echelon of the coaching profession, and that the rank and file by and large does not agree with the biggest names, and that the biggest names supported these changes more or less out of selfishness.

For some, it’s because they recruit their home city and know all of the high school coaches that they don’t need AAU events to find players. For others, it’s because they’re a high-academic institution and thus can easily identify who actually has a chance to get into their school. For at least one influential voice in that room, it is because his program is in hot water for dealing with a shoe company and he’s looking to make his own life easier.

Whatever the case may be, I believe now our voices were heard.

“Keep killing them,” one coach at a top 25 program who despises the proposal told me. “It’s working.”

VERNON CAREY IS THE BEST PROSPECT IN THE CLASS

The 2019 class is weird in the sense that there are a lot of guys that are a typical top five prospect but there doesn’t appear to truly be a No. 1 player in this class. There is no Anthony Davis. There is no Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. Sometimes that happens.

James Wiseman, throughout the last few years, has been considered by most to be the best player in the Class of 2019, and I get it. He’s a 7-footer that can get up and down the floor with pretty good range on his jumper. He certainly isn’t a small-ball five, but he’s not inept when it comes to playing on the perimeter.

Cole Anthony is probably the most well-known player in this class, in part because of his pedigree — he is Greg Anthony’s son — and in part because he’s an uber-productive player that led the EYBL in scoring with highlight reel athleticism.

I get why you would have either of them ranked as the No. 1 prospect in 2019.

But for my money, Vernon Carey Jr. is the best player in the class.

At 6-foot-10, Carey has the athleticism, mobility and handle to thrive. He is a constant grab-and-go threat in transition, he can score in the post and while facing up and, when engaged, he’s a man-child on the glass. As one coach recruiting him told me, “he’s the best player in the world when he decides to play hard.”

And at Peach Jam, he did. In five games at the Riverview Park Activities Center, Carey averaged 23 points, 10.4 boards, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals, up from 17.8 points, 7.4 boards, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals during his 14 previous EYBL games. That included 21 points, 13 boards, five blocks and four steals while going head-to-head with Wiseman in a one point loss. He also had 25 points while grabbing one of the most impressive rebounds I’ve ever seen to seal a win over Team Takeover, the only loss TTO took on the EYBL circuit.

There’s another issue as well. Carey is the son of former offensive lineman Vernon Carey Sr. and seems to have inherited his father’s ability to carry weight. Carey Jr. was about 255 pounds at Peach Jam, but that was because he got sick during Team USA’s trip to Argentina for the U17 World Championships and lost 20 pounds.

Motivating a player with weight issues is not exactly ideal, but neither is hoping Cole Anthony is Russell Westbrook or rely on Wiseman, a 7-footer that averaged 5.8 boards in the EYBL while shooting 10 percent from three in 16 games, to thrive in the small-ball era.

THEN THERE IS JADEN MCDANIELS

The ascent that McDaniels, the latest in a long line of talented players to come through the Seattle Rotary program, has made in the past year is impressive. The younger brother of Jalen McDaniels, a potential first round pick at San Diego State, has gone from a player that was a borderline top 100 prospect to someone that may just have the highest ceiling of anyone in the class.

He’s an absolute scoring machine. A slender, 6-foot-11 perimeter four, he has the skill-set to one day be a 20 point-per-game scorer in the NBA. He needs to add strength — he’s currently listed at 182 pounds — and continue to get more fluid and explosive. He needs to be more consistent from beyond the arc and I’m not convinced he’s close to being the defender or the passer he needs to be, but it’s hard not to look at him and be reminded of Brandon Ingram, another lanky late-bloomer that developed into the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Hell, I had one coach tell me that he was going to be the killer from Golden State that I refuse to compare any basketball player to.

Every coach on the west coast should be prioritizing him.

HOP ON BOARD THE C.J. WALKER HYPE TRAIN

If there was a breakout star at this year’s Peach Jam, it was probably C.J. Walker, a borderline top 50 prospect out of Orlando that plays for Each 1 Teach 1.

A 6-foot-7 forward already known for his athleticism, Walker did not disappoint in that department, throwing down what was probably the dunk of the week, on Vernon Carey, no less:

Walker finished with 40 points in that game, and what was perhaps the most impressive part about the performance was his shot-making. We know the kind of athlete that he is, but if he can develop into a player that can consistently make threes and create offense with the ball in his hands, he’s reaches a different level.

He’s already had a couple of programs, including Louisville, offer him based off of what he did in Augusta. It will be interesting to see who else follows suit.

SOMEONE IS GETTING A STEAL IN DREW TIMME

Maybe I just happened to catch him when he was playing well, but I could not have been more impressed with Drew Timme.

A 6-foot-11 center from Texas, Timme was sensational offensively in the two games I watched him. He had 25 points against MoKan Elite and followed that up with 21 points, including a dominating second half, against Cole Anthony’s PSA Cardinals. He can pass, he can shoot, he can handle the ball, he’s mobile, he scores with his back-to-the-basket. One coach that played in the NBA told me he thinks Timme is the next Spencer Hawes, although I think Ethan Happ is a more apt comparison. Timme to me screams college all-american that will play in the NBA if he learns to shoot it.

SCOTTIE BARNES IS A MONSTER

I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know the Class of 2020 all that well, but I do know this: If there truly are two players in that class better than Scottie Barnes, they are going to be superstars.

Because, for me money, Barnes was one of the eight or so best players at the event.

He’s a 6-foot-8 wing that defends, can handle the rock and is a really good passer, especially in transition. He also made some big plays and big shots in close games, and did all of that despite heading to Peach Jam just a day or two after returning home from Argentina, where he was playing for the U17s despite being a year younger than most of the players on that roster.

Duke’s White to chair NCAA selection committee for 2019-20

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Duke athletic director Kevin White will serve as the chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee in 2020.

The NCAA announced White’s role Friday. White will serve as vice chairman this season for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee headed by Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, then take over for the 2019-20 season.

White has been a committee member since the 2015-16 season.

In a statement, White called it “an incredible honor” to serve on the committee and be selected for a leadership role.

Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen served as chairman of the committee last season and will rotate off the committee Sept. 1.