25 players to track on the spring grassroots circuit

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Dennis Smith (Kelly Kline/adidas)
With grassroots basketball season really kicking into gear on Friday with the first live evaluation period of the spring season, here are some names you need to be aware of heading into the next few months of play.
While this list isn’t necessarily the 25 best college basketball prospects at the current moment, it does include many of them, and a lot of exciting players from multiple classes round out the group. If you’re a fan of college basketball, start getting yourself familiar with this crop of the game’s next stars.
Class of 2016
Josh Jackson, 6-foot-7 wing, Detroit, Michigan — An electric open-floor talent, Jackson is a high-level athlete who can also rebound, pass and defend.
Harry Giles, 6-foot-10 forward, Winston-Salem, North Carolina — Nipping at the heels of Jackson is the smooth and skilled Giles, who is an adept passer for a big man with advanced moves in the post for his age.
Jayson Tatum, 6-foot-8 wing, St. Louis, Missouri — With great size on the wing, a killer mid-range game and a great feel for the game, Tatum can play nearly any position on the floor at the high school level.
Dennis Smith, 6-foot-3 point guard, Fayetteville, North Carolina — One of the best point guard prospects in the nation, Smith is a great athlete who started to improve his efficiency towards the end of last summer.
Terrance Ferguson, 6-foot-6 wing, Dallas, Texas — Another high-flyer in the 2016 class, Ferguson also has a feathery jumper from deep and can really score if he gets rolling.
Lonzo Ball, 6-foot-5 wing, Chino Hills, California — One of the best passers of the last few years, Ball, a UCLA commit, can make baskets easy for others while also improving his own offensive game.
Malik Monk, 6-foot-3 guard, Bentonville, Arkansas — The son of former Arkansas star wide receiver Marcus Monk, Malik is one of the best volume scorers in the class and he can score from nearly anywhere on the floor.
Derryck Thornton, 6-foot-1 point guard, Henderson, Nevada —If he doesn’t reclassify to the 2015 class, Thornton will push for the top point guard in the country honors.
T.J. Leaf, 6-foot-9 forward, El Cajon, California — The Arizona commit is one of the most skilled forwards in the class and a real threat from the perimeter at 6-foot-9. Seeing how he plays against physical competition will be something to track.
De’Aaron Fox, 6-foot-3 guard, Katy, Texas — Fox can dabble in a bit of both guard spots and he’s quick and athletic enough to be a force off the dribble. He’s also a good scorer off the ball as well.
V.J. King, 6-foot-7 wing, Fairfax, Virginia — A natural wing scorer, King gets at done at multiple levels as a shooter and has pretty solid ball skills.
Kobi Simmons, 6-foot-5 guard, Alpharetta, Georgia — Simmons has a ton of upside as a big guard who can play some point, but his play has been erratic at times over the last year. If more consistent, he can push for top guard honors.
Tyus Battle, 6-foot-5 guard, Gladstone, New Jersey — One of the premier off guards in the country, Battle can score with the best off them and will be coveted by the schools still on his list.
Jamal Murray, 6-foot-3 guard, Kitchener, Ontario — One of the next big things out of Canada, Murray was strong at the end of last summer and can do a lot of damage as a scorer.
Seventh Woods, 6-foot-1 guard, Columbia, South Carolina — The electric guard can rise with the best of them, but can he recapture his elite form after missing much of last spring and summer with injury?
Markelle Fultz, 6-foot-4 guard, Hyattsville, Maryland — One of the biggest stock risers of the high school basketball season, now Fultz gets to test himself on the national stage.
Isaac Humphries, 6-foot-10 center, La Porte, Indiana — After moving from Australia and attending La Lumiere, now Humphries gets to face all of the top national talent on the grassroots circuit.
Braxton Blackwell, 6-foot-7 wing, Nashville, Tennessee — A multi-faceted wing talent who can do a bit of everything, Blackwell
Class of 2017
DeAndre Ayton, 6-foot-11 center, San Diego, California — Some national scouts believe he’s the best prospect in all of high school basketball and Ayton has the physical tools to dominate this summer if he wants.
Michael Porter, 6-foot-8 forward, Columbia, Missouri — His dunk during the high school season had the nation buzzing, but there’s far more to Porter’s game than his athleticism.
Troy Brown, 6-foot-6 guard, Las Vegas, Nevada — With great size at guard, Brown can do a lot with the ball in his hands and he is the current leader in the clubhouse as 2017’s top guard prospect.
Jarred Vanderbilt, 6-foot-7 forward, Houston, Texas — A versatile forward who has many layers to his game, Vanderbilt is noted as a good passer in the front court while also being able to score.
Zach Brown, 7-foot center, Miami, Florida — A massive prospect, Brown owns a good set of hands and is nearly unguardable at the high school level when he gets good post position.
Jalek Felton, 6-foot-3 guard, Mullins, South Carolina — The nephew of Ray Felton is already committed to North Carolina but now comes the time when he has a chance to be in the conversation for top guard in the 2017 class.
Class of 2018
Marvin Bagley, 6-foot-10 power forward, Tempe, Arizona — Already the owner of multiple high-major scholarship offers — beginning when he was 14 — Bagley has been tabbed the next big thing by many national recruiting analysts.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

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

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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

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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.