Commencement speech an important honor for La Salle’s Jerrell Wright

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The spring can be an anxious time for college basketball seniors approaching graduation, as the need to finish strong academically combines with workouts geared towards lining up a job in professional basketball. That’s what awaited La Salle forward Jerrell Wright at the conclusion of his senior season, but there was something else on the Philadelphia native’s plate.

That additional responsibility was a special one however, as he was selected by his high school alma mater (Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia) to give the school’s commencement speech June 16. The opportunity arose when Rich Yankovich, who was the head basketball coach at Dobbins for 34 years, reached out to a former player who’s now an assistant at La Salle.

“One of the old coaches at Dobbins, Coach Yank, contacted coach [Horace] Owens and recommended that I speak at Dobbins’ graduation,” Wright told NBC Sports earlier this week when asked about how he landed this opportunity.

While Wright was certainly productive on the court for the Explorers, averaging 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and earning second team All-Big 5 honors, just as important was what he was able to do as a leader and in the classroom. Wright recently graduated with a degree in sociology, and throughout his time at La Salle the Philadelphia native made strides both on and off the court.

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“The way he grew was in confidence, especially socially and academically,” Dr. Giannini noted when asked about Wright’s development. “There are some really good students coming out of Philadelphia public schools, but there are others who are underprepared and college can be a big adjustment. I think it was an adjustment for Jerrell, but in his first year he won our program’s most dedicated student award.”

Wright’s commitment to doing well academically began even before he set foot on the La Salle campus, as before his senior year of high school he did something that few basketball players with Division I ambitions would be willing to do.

“The other really neat thing about Jerrell is that he chose not to play AAU going into his senior year,” Dr. Giannini said. “He had already committed to La Salle, and he chose not to play to focus on his academics to make sure he would be eligible as a freshman. How many kids are not making that decision and wind up not being eligible? He was making good decisions even before he got to La Salle, and he continued to work hard.”

Given his path to a college degree, which opens up doors outside of a possible career in professional basketball, Wright’s a good choice to address young people sitting in a position similar to his. And this won’t be the first speech that Wright’s given at his alma mater either.

Last summer Wright’s jersey was retired, a high honor at any school but especially at one that has produced some of the talent attended Dobbins Tech. Among those who played at the school are the aforementioned Owens, the late Hank Gathers, his close friend and Loyola Marymount teammate Bo Kimble, current South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, and former La Salle guard Doug Overton (just to name a few).

But the nature of this particular speech, one in which his achievements including basketball are the reason for his selection, makes it special in a different way for Wright.

“It’s an honor for them to bring me back, knowing how many people have graduated from Dobbins who have been successful in life,” Wright said. “I would like to thank them for allowing me to come back and speak. I’m proud that out of all the people they could have picked, they picked me to come back and give the commencement speech.”

Wright will be the second person with a connection to the La Salle program to give a commencement speech this spring. Dr. Giannini returned to his alma mater, Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois, to give the keynote speech at that school’s graduation in late-May. And the coach has been one of the people who have assisted Wright as he goes through the process of planning a speech that’s different than the one he gave last year.

“It’s been tough because this speech isn’t based [solely] on basketball, but on graduation overall,” Wright said when asked how the process was going, noting that he was nearly finished with the speech. “It’s been tough, but I’ve had the help of Coach G and my academic advisor Christine [Cahill] and we got through it.”source: Getty Images

People from many walks of life give commencement speeches, from the internationally famous to those whose greatest impact is felt within their own community. For some students, the words they most identify with come from those who have lived the experiences they’re going through themselves. And regardless of what he managed to do on the basketball court, Wright’s growth in other areas are what make him a quality influence for the youth of his neighborhood, and why he was chosen to speak at his high school alma mater.

“When you hear a message from one of your own who just a few years ago was in your position, a person who really had to work to get to where he is, the kids immediately recognize that,” Dr. Giannini said of Wright. “‘This guy had to work hard like me, and now he’s got a college degree, is on the verge of playing professional basketball and will get a good job whenever basketball’s over with.’

“I think the phrase “role model” is used a lot by adults and kids think it’s a little bit corny, but I really think they do look to Jerrell as a role model.”

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.