How Jaylen Brown’s commitment made a huge impact on the finalists recruiting him

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The long and strange recruiting journey of Jaylen Brown is finally over.

A Georgia native and consensus top-five prospect in the Class of 2015, the 6-foot-7 wing ended his recruitment on Friday night by committing to Cal after keeping America waiting in suspense for a few hours on Twitter.

Of Brown’s final four schools in Cal, Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina, this commitment has a big impact on three of the finalists recruiting him.

Sorry, Michigan.

You lost out on Brown, but you return arguably the best senior in college basketball next season in Caris LeVert and point guard Derrick Walton will also be back (and hopefully healthy) for 2015-16. Adding Brown would have surely helped the Wolverines, but with LeVert and Zak Irvin set to return on the wing, Michigan is already looking like a top-15 program heading into next season. They didn’t need Brown as badly as the other three programs based on returning personnel.

But how about the turnaround for Cal, and specifically, head coach Cuonzo Martin?

During the 2013-14 season, some Tennessee fans were calling for Martin’s head during an up-and-down tenure that ended in a surprise Sweet 16 appearance. Some in the fan base said Martin couldn’t recruit at an elite level. Some boosters reportedly cut off Martin from using private planes to go recruiting. Other Volunteer fans drew up an online petition hoping to get former coach Bruce Pearl back at Tennessee that had over 36,000 signatures.

Martin had enough of the drama in Knoxville and bolted for the West Coast right after making the Sweet 16 last spring. Fourteen months later, Martin has landed more top-10 prospects in the Class of 2015 than recruiting juggernauts like Arizona, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. With Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird returning to go along with Brown and local five-star big man Ivan Rabb, suddenly, Cal has a potential Pac-12 title team.

When you also factor in how Cal landed Brown, it’s even more impressive. The Golden Bears jumped into the Brown recruitment incredibly late. After taking all five of his official visits, Brown opted to pay his own way for an unofficial visit to Berkeley to see what Martin and his program had to offer. Clearly, Brown liked what he saw and the rest is now history.

Martin has proven his critics in Knoxville wrong by landing blue-chip talent at Cal. Now the pressure comes to win with those players.

For North Carolina, the loss of Brown further illustrates an already bleak recruiting picture of a proud program that can’t land blue-chip talent because of the uncertainty surrounding an NCAA investigation. The Tar Heels have arguably the No. 1 team in the country entering the 2015-16 season. They also have a J.P. Tokoto-sized hole on the wing in their starting lineup after his unexpected departure to the 2015 NBA Draft and they just missed on two five-star wings in the past week.

Losing Brandon Ingram, an in-state kid who North Carolina was recruiting before his rise into the top five in his class, certainly hurt. Missing on Brown means the recruiting future for North Carolina is even more murky.

And North Carolina can’t whiff on the Class of 2016, either.

The top Class of 2016 power forward (Harry Giles) and point guard (Dennis Smith) both reside in North Carolina and top-ten forward Edrice “Bam” Adebayo is also an in-state product. If this current Class of 2015 recruiting trend continues, the Tar Heels are going to miss on blue-chip talent in their own state for two consecutive seasons because of the concerns of potential NCAA sanctions. Things aren’t getting any better in Chapel Hill any time soon.

And when is the last time Kentucky was involved with so many five-star prospects in the spring, only to miss out on all of them?

At the McDonald’s All-American game in late March, there were eight uncommitted prospects playing in the game. Kentucky was still a finalist for seven of the eight uncommitted players when they spoke to NBCSports.com during the event.

They ended up with none of the eight uncommitted McDonald’s All-Americans.

Now head coach John Calipari is scrambling for spring recruiting scraps.

Just this past week, Calipari landed a junior college shooter in Mychal Mulder and tried to sway a Class of 2015 three-star forward, Shaun Kirk, from signing with N.C. State. Calipari missed on Kirk like he did the Burger Boys and it leaves Kentucky with some question marks entering next season.

The Wildcats still have a tremendous class coming in, highlighted by arguably the best Class of 2015 player (Skal Labissiere) and the best point guard in the class (Isaiah Briscoe). Mulder and four-star wing Charles Matthews are not scrubs either. Kentucky’s four-man 2015 class would still be the envy of most college basketball programs in America.

But after gaming the one-and-done system for so long — culminating in four McDonald’s All-Americans joining a roster that had nine total McDonald’s All-Americans on last season’s team that started 38-0 — can Calipari ever reach the recruiting levels that he was at again?

I’m not saying Calipari can’t reach more Final Fours or win more titles at Kentucky, but no college basketball team has ever gone 38-0 and even that team fell short of the title game. Kentucky has made the Final Four in four of the past five seasons — largely with one-and-done players. This 2015 recruiting class is underwhelming compared to the past few classes, especially after seven Wildcats left early for the 2015 NBA Draft. The 2015-16 roster now also seems underwhelming by Kentucky’s recent standards and only one title came from those recent Wildcat juggernauts.

It’s not as if Kentucky wasn’t trying to get more blue-chip guys to come aboard for the 2015-16 campaign before sending them on their way to shake Adam Silver’s hand on draft night. They missed on seven All-Americans who they were in on as of late March.

Jaylen Brown even called Kentucky the, “best basketball program in the country,” to reporters at the McDonald’s All-American media day and decided not to go there.

Suddenly, Calipari and Kentucky’s system of landing the best one-and-done players has taken a serious hit. The Wildcats have been beaten by Duke at their own game for two consecutive recruiting classes and the Blue Devils were the ones hoisting hardware in Indianapolis a few weeks ago.

Are these spring recruiting misses merely an outlier, or the end of an era of recruiting dominance for Calipari and Kentucky? Did the platoon system Calipari used during the 2014-15 season mean that elite players in the Class of 2015 didn’t want to sacrifice minutes and shots to be apart of Kentucky’s program?

We’ll have to wait and see how things play out from here in regards to elite recruiting, but Jaylen Brown’s commitment definitely shook up college basketball at a time when the sport is usually dormant.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.