Wisconsin’s Duje Dukan went from United Center ballboy to a starring role

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Duje Dukan (AP Photo)

CHICAGO — Security guards in the underbelly of the United Center are generally a stoic bunch. Over the years they’ve had to protect superstars like Michael Jordan, Patrick Kane and Derrick Rose, so they take their jobs pretty seriously. While passing by you’ll be lucky to get a pleasantry or even a subdued smile if you greet them.

They all drop the Royal-Guard-at-Buckingham-Palace routine when Wisconsin senior forward Duje Dukan walks by. The security guards perk up. They stand, smile, exchange warm words and look and act like the real people they are outside of the workplace.

Most role players on college basketball teams don’t elicit this kind of response in unfamiliar pro arenas, but not every college basketball player practically grew up in an arena like Dukan did.

The son of Chicago Bulls international scout Ivica Dukan, Duje has been a fixture in the United Center hallways for as long as he can remember. His father, known as “Duke” in the Bulls organization, has been with the team for 22 years.

As he enters the locker room following Wisconsin’s Friday afternoon Big Ten Tournament win over Michigan, a security guard jokingly says to Dukan, “Oh look at you, all big-time now!”

“I remember when he was this tall,” the security guard tells NBCSports.com, holding his hand near his waist. “Then he grew to about 6-foot-7 over the course of a few summers and all of the [Bulls] players were shocked.”

A former Chicago Bulls ballboy for “seven or eight seasons,” Dukan has been waiting to play in a meaningful game on the United Center floor his entire life.

The United Center is a special place for the redshirt senior, and you could see his comfort level with the arena as Dukan had two key 3-pointers and a rare dunk — all in the second half — to give the Badgers a big lift over the Wolverines to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

“I basically grew up in this building, I consider it my backyard. I spent so much time shooting around here and everything. To be able to play here in games is unbelievable,” Dukan said.

Although Dukan took the United Center floor in sixth grade during a halftime exhibition at a Bulls game once, he had to miss the 2013 Big Ten Tournament — the last time it was held in the United Center — since he was redshirting after a bout with mono.

“I remember him telling me, ‘I can’t wait to play here when we’re seniors.’ I thought that was so far away. But that just shows how much playing here means to him; coming back to Chicago,” Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said of Dukan.

In high school, Dukan stopped being a Chicago Bulls ballboy after his growth spurt. His own playing career at suburban Deerfield High School was starting to blossom and it was time to move on from his childhood basketball haven.

“Right around sophomore year was when I stopped because I realized I was taller than half the guys [on the Bulls]. I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” Dukan said.

Since then, Dukan has focused on returning to play in the United Center, and now, he gets to close out his Big Ten career in the building where his basketball dreams began.

The significance of playing in the United Center also holds meaning to National Player of the Year candidate and teammate Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky’s aunt works in the Chicago Bulls team offices and works alongside Dukan’s dad.

Kaminsky and Dukan spent this offseason talking about how much they wanted to close out their Big Ten careers in an arena that meant a little bit more to them than a typical arena.

“Coming to Chicago and taking care of business; that’s something we talked about this summer,” Dukan said. “We wanted to win a Big Ten regular season title and we wanted to win a Big Ten conference title. So far, we’re one step closer to taking care of that.”

Family and friends get to see Dukan hoisting jumpers in front of crowds of roaring fans this week. It’s far different from when Dukan would shoot around in a near-empty arena when he was a kid and he’s savoring his return home.

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling being around here. Being so close to the game of basketball, seeing great players come through here, that’s definitely something I remember growing up. To be able to play here means so much.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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
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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

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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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.