Sam Thompson navigates NBA Draft prep while finishing degree at Ohio State

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Going through the NBA Draft process is an exhausting experience for college basketball players looking to take the next step in their career. Between two-a-day workouts, weight lifting, getting up extra shots and traveling between team draft workouts, the focus is on basketball and making it at the professional level once players enter their name in the NBA Draft.

For some seniors in the NBA Draft process like Ohio State’s Sam Thompson, draft workouts continue on a daily basis along with completing the academic requirements that are necessary to earn a college degree. Thompson is one of many former student-athletes in the NBA Draft process who finished out the spring semester of classes.

After Ohio State’s season ended with a loss to Arizona in the Round of 32, Thompson started working out at Impact Basketball Academy in Las Vegas to prepare for the rigors of professional basketball. To earn his degree in finance after the spring semester, Thompson also needed to complete four more weeks in five finance classes.

Between the two-a-day workouts, weights and completing assignments, Thompson had a grueling four-week stretch where most of his free time away from basketball was spent studying. After his first two weeks in Las Vegas, Thompson returned home for a week for final exams on campus before returning to NBA Draft process.

Thompson walked at graduation May 10 with his degree in finance. Now he hopes to hear his name selected during the 2015 NBA Draft.

“I made arrangements with all of my teachers to work remotely. Turn in some assignments online and stuff like that,” Thompson said. “When I went away to workouts, it was a month before all my classes finished out. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But I knew that coming back and taking five classes was less likely than for me to finish up here and now. So that was just my biggest motivation.”

Besides his high-flying, four-year basketball career at Ohio State — in which he became nationally known as “Slam” Thompson to some because of his aerial displays at the rim –Sam focused on his finance degree to plan for his life after basketball. Coming from a family that values academics, Sam often heard from his parents and siblings about sticking with basketball and his degree track during his final weeks of school. One of Sam’s former teammates at Ohio State also had a similar experience with finishing up school while working out for NBA teams and it helped Sam to have the support of those people.

“The plan and the goal was for me to always get my college degree. [My parents] sort of set the standard in the house. They’ve been on me pretty hard about it,” Thompson said. “I remember Aaron Craft last year, he was pretty adamant about getting his degree. He was another guy that balanced the NBA Draft process with getting his degree, so we had a few conversations.”

Working out with other seniors like Penn State’s D.J. Newbill, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas at Impact Basketball Academy, Thompson noticed that other guys working out for the draft were also trying to complete a couple of classes. When his degree was finally completed, Thompson didn’t have to worry about checking emails from professors or handing in assignments. It was back to his basketball dreams.

“A few guys left to take exams and stuff. I’m not the only guy doing it. It’s just something that, as seniors, we have to do.” Thompson said. “I liked finance and I really enjoyed my time at Ohio State. Just to say that I finished school and to walk out of there with a degree is all I need. I know how hard of a grind it is balancing being a student and being an athlete. I know how hard it is to get a degree in finance from Ohio State University without being an athlete. To be able to do both is definitely something I wanted to do for myself and it’s something that’s going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”

Working on areas like his jumper and his handle the last few months, Thompson is hoping that he’ll get a shot in the NBA because of his ability to defend multiple wing spots right away. If professional basketball doesn’t end up working out, Thompson always has the backup plan of going into investment banking. Going back to school to get an MBA wouldn’t be out of the question for Thompson if it meant furthering his career in finance. Even if he has a long career in basketball, Thompson knows that investment banking will be there for him after he retires from basketball.

“Obviously, being a financial analyst for a major investment firm is an 80- or 90-hour week. So it’s not really feasible while I’m still playing,” Thompson said. “That is definitely the Plan B if I’m not able to play professional basketball. I haven’t exactly figured out how I want to use my degree while I’m playing, but I definitely want to stay sort of in the financial realm throughout my career so I can enter into it after my career. It’s something I really enjoy and I’ve spent a lot of time over these past four years studying it. It’s something that I’m definitely interested in going into.”

During the NBA Draft process, Thompson has worked out for Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, the Los Angeles Clippers, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Utah. Although a minor muscle pull forced Thompson to cancel four other workouts during the process, he remained focused on getting his degree while pursuing his basketball dreams. Thompson is fully healthy now and hoping for an opportunity. It wasn’t easy to go through five finance classes while working out for the NBA Draft, but Thompson got it done and he’s satisfied knowing that he’s done everything he can to put himself in position for success.

“Sometimes, I just needed some time to step away. But what choice do you have? You just have to suck it up and get it done,” Thompson said. “Everyone just basically said the same thing. Obviously, the NBA Draft is the biggest thing in your life and you want to devote all of your energy and your time to it, but at the same time, you have a couple of more weeks of academic responsibility. It’s just something you have to get done.”

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.