Elite Class of 2016 guard De’Aaron Fox focuses on defense and leadership this spring

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LEXINGTON — When the spring grassroots basketball season gets in the full swing of things around every April, the nation’s best high school basketball players are almost always asked to compare their games to another player.

This answer will generally vary by player and position, but for the most part, whoever the NBA’s alpha dogs are for that season are typically the most popular answers. When Derrick Rose became the league’s youngest MVP ever in 2011, every high school kid wanted to be the next D Rose — even if they weren’t necessarily point guards. As Kevin Durant took the MVP away from LeBron James last season, every big man, wing and player in between admired the former Texas star’s ability to score from all over the floor.

The common answer heard this spring seems to be Russell Westbrook.

Because of Westbrook’s penchant for filling up box scores and his intense demeanor on the floor, high school basketball players seem to be gravitating towards the former UCLA star’s game. But very few players look at Westbrook from the defensive end of things first and that’s what makes Class of 2016 guard De’Aaron Fox stand out among the pack.

Fox is already known as a five-star prospect, and Rivals rates him as the No. 10 overall player in the class, but the 6-foot-3 Fox might be the best two-way guard in his class. With a tremendous intensity on the defensive end, Fox stands out among his peers because he never seems to take a possession off on either end of the floor.

Not surprisingly, Westbrook is mentioned by Fox when he brings up his approach to the game.

“I pride myself on defense. Not too many young people do that,” Fox said to NBCSports.com “If you know me, Russell Westbrook is my favorite player and he does the same thing. So right now that’s what I’m trying to do.”

At the college level, Fox also admires Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis, for many of the same reasons. Ulis is small in stature, but he plays tight defense against any opponent he’s facing.

“I watch Tyler Ulis. He’s the type of guard that can [defend] any type of guard, bigger guard or smaller guard, and it really wasn’t a mismatch. I pride myself off defense and I go after any challenge that I can.”

With the defensive portion of his game covered, Fox is also focusing on becoming more of a point guard and a leader as he transitions to the next level. With an ability to play either guard spot, Fox wants to become a player who gets others more involved this spring.

“[My] focus [is] on playing the point guard position, getting my teammates involved and when I need to score I can do it,” Fox said. “Being a double-double type of guy. And just making my teammates better.

“I think I’m making my team better and right now I just want to keep winning. If I don’t play well and we win, I’m okay with that.”

Fox mentioned to NBCSports.com that Arizona, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, LSU, Texas and Texas A&M are currently recruiting him the hardest. The main factor that will play into Fox’s decision will be his relationship with the head coach and the style of play within the program he chooses.

“The style of play and really the head coaching relationship. You could be recruited by the assistant coach but ultimately the head coach is making the decisions,” Fox said. “So I think, especially me being a point guard, me having a great relationship with the head coach is important.

“Their trust in me. If the coach doesn’t trust you, there’s not too much you can do. If the coach trusts you, you have a lot of leeway, you can get away with a couple things — a little turnover here or there — and they put the ball in your hands.”

Taking a page out of many of the top Class of 2015 players, Fox is currently taking his time in the recruiting process and he hasn’t cut a list. With so many good options to choose from, Fox isn’t in any hurry to make a decision.

“At first I had it to where I was going to commit by the end of the summer but now I’ll probably let that go and I’m just taking my time right now,” Fox said.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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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

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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.

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.