Seven takeaways from the Houston EYBL session

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HOUSTON — The third session of the Nike EYBL in Houston is always one of the best weekends for learning about high school basketball prospects in the country. The timing of the weekend — in which no other shoe company events are being held — means players from other leagues will pop up and find an EYBL team for the weekend. Since there have been two previous sessions of EYBL play, every player is pretty much adjusted to the level of play by the third session. It’s also the first EYBL session without the college coaches in attendance, so you see which guys are continuing production without them watching.

1. Harry Giles had a tremendous weekend and will push hard for No. 1 in 2016

Harry Giles had a huge weekend in Houston and had three very good games after missing Friday night due to a test he needed to take. The five-star, No. 2 overall player in the class, according to Rivals, is leading the EYBL in rebounding at 10.5 per game and he does a great job quickly getting off the floor to snatch up rebounds. Playing without his knee brace after a torn ACL over a year ago, Giles looked very comfortable this weekend and at 6-foot-10, he has has a chance to be the No. 1 player in the 2016 class. There just aren’t many forwards who compete and play intelligent ball the way Giles plays. He could still stand to protect the rim a little bit better, but Giles is even improving his shooting range by hitting some 3-pointers during EYBL play.

2. The intelligence and efficiency of Jayson Tatum is something to admire

Five-star wing Jayson Tatum is a well-known, top-five player in the 2016 class, but it’s easy to overlook how efficient he can be sometimes. The St. Louis native does have issues with turnovers from time-to-time (usually trying to force something from being constantly double teamed) but he takes smart shots and gets to the free-throw line far more than anyone else in the league. Through three sessions of EYBL play, Tatum has made 99 free throws and his next closest competitor is at 74. He’s second in the league in scoring at 22.2 per game and he does a great job drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he shoots 86 percent. With Tatum struggling from 3-point range this spring — he only attempted one 3-pointer in four games this weekend — he has still played at a very high level. His skill level on the wing is tremendous and Tatum will be very dangerous on the offensive end if he develops his outside shot.

3. Dennis Smith can get it done with any team

Over the weekend, Dennis Smith showed that he can also stand out in the EYBL as he made a weekend appearance with Team Penny. The electric, five-star point guard played more off the ball for the team and averaged 15 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2 assists per game playing only 19.5 minutes per game in four games this weekend. After a first-game adjustment period where Smith had a bit of a tough time getting comfortable with his new teammates, he poured in a big game on Saturday night that included a huge dunk. At the college level and beyond, Smith is probably best suited as a point guard who is a terror on high ball screens, but it was nice to see him play off the ball and do some work as well. Smith also played the passing lanes well and averaged 3 steals per game and guarded some bigger opponents and held his own thanks to his athleticism. He’s looking like a legitimate top-five prospect in the Class of 2016 going forward.

4. Freshman Marvin Bagley is generating huge buzz

Class of 2018 power forward Marvin Bagley isn’t playing on the 17U stage of the Nike EYBL, but his We All Can Go team is playing in 16U events with other Nike teams. Every time someone would come from the 16U event nearby this weekend, they would leave buzzing about the skilled, left-handed 6-foot-10 power forward, who some believe is the best prospect in the country regardless of class. Of the group of scouts that have seen Bagley, there is a consensus forming that Bagley is at least a top-five prospect in all of high school basketball and the No. 1 player in the 2018 class. The Arizona native already owns multiple high-major scholarship offers from his time in middle school and has a lot of upside going forward. Check out his ridiculous freshman year mixtape if you don’t believe me.

5. Texas is gaining a lot of recognition from elite prospects with Shaka Smart at the helm

One of the important things to track on the grassroots circuit in regards to recruiting in the spring is how often head coaches talk to certain players. New Texas head coach Shaka Smart is aggressively pursuing numerous national-level prospects and every time a Texas target speaks to members of the media, they usually mention talking directly to the head coach. Based on athlete response, Smart seems to get through to players more frequently than many other head coaches at that level, who often delegate initial recruiting to an assistant coach. The Texas fan base also seems to be enthusiastic about the arrival of Smart. In speaking with some local Texas media this weekend in Houston, the fan base is happy to have Smart in the picture and there is more of a demand for basketball and basketball recruiting coverage than the end of the Rick Barnes era. We’ll have to see if Smart’s persistence in calling recruits directly pays off in big commitments, but he seems to be off to a good start at Texas.

6. There are a lot of intriguing 2017 big men

The EYBL features a lot of intriguing big men in the 2017 class and there are many things to like with this group going forward. Miami native Zach Brown is a monster at 7-foot-1 and Georgia native Wendell Carter is skilled and improving rapidly at 6-foot-10. Both Brown and Carter are already established top-ten prospects while others like Illinois native Jeremiah Tilmon, New York native Nick Richards and California native Brandon McCoy all showed flashes of big upside over the weekend. And this group of sophomore big men doesn’t even include the No. 1 overall prospect in the class, DeAndre Ayton. Since all of these guys are only sophomores, it will be fun to see them develop and battle other elite big men this summer in the camp setting. Facing older and more experienced big men should be a good indicator of where some of these guys stand going forward.

7. Some 2016 guards are producing at a high level

While the 2016 class has a handful of elite-level guards, many low-end top-150 players are putting up big scoring numbers through the first three sessions of play. Class of 2017 guards Markus Howard and Trae Young have both put up a lot of shots, but also made a lot of shots this spring. Class of 2016 lead guards like New York native Shamorie Ponds and Indiana native C.J. Walker and New Jersey native Myles Powell have also scored at a solid clip as well. Of  the three 2016 guards just mentioned, only Ponds is a top-100 prospect and he comes in at No. 99 in Rivals‘ national rankings. There are plenty of capable guards in the lower end of the rankings that can hit shots and produce. Can they sustain this kind of production beyond 12 games? The live evaluation period in July will give us that answer.

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

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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.