Wednesday Las Vegas Recap: Dennis Smith vs Lonzo Ball; Frank Jackson faces Kobi Simmons

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Frank Jackson and Kobi Simmons went head-to-head on Wednesday (Kelly Kline/adidas)

LAS VEGAS — The opening night of the third and final July live evaluation period kicked off with some fireworks, and we’re not just talking Thon Maker’s crossovers.

Dennis Smith Jr., Lonzo Ball face off on opening night: The debate as to who is the best lead guard in the Class of 2016 has been a spirited one, with multiple options being discussed. Two of those players are Dennis Smith Jr. and UCLA commit Lonzo Ball, and their respective teams played each other in the adidas Uprising Summer Championships opener for both.

With head coaches John Calipari (Kentucky), Mark Gottfried (NC State) and Danny Manning (Wake Forest) in attendance, Smith played well in relatively limited action since his team had a game at another event later in the evening. Per the adidas box score, Smith Jr. finished the game with 14 points, eight assists and one turnover. Ball (whose team’s stats weren’t posted for some reason) didn’t shoot as well as he’s capable of, but he did put together some solid passes in both the half and full-court.

With these two also having the opportunity to play Frank Jackson and Kobi Simmons later in the adidas Uprising Summer Championships, we’ll learn a lot about the point guard debate this week. (RJ)

Frank Jackson and Kobi Simmons do battle: While adidas opened the night with a heavyweight point guard battle with the aforementioned Smith and Ball game, it wasn’t the only enticing matchup on Wednesday night. Another battle of elite point guards went down as five-star Utah native Frank Jackson and five-star Atlanta native Kobi Simmons battled in a head-to-head matchup that saw Jackson — and his Utah Prospects team — get the best of it.

The 6-foot-2 Jackson was sensational at times in the first half, but slowed down in the second a bit as he finished with 20 points on 7-for-16 shooting. The 6-foot-5 Simmons erased a brutal first half by helping lead a second-half charge that got his Atlanta Celtics back into the game. Simmons tallied 22 points but was 6-for-17 from the floor and had eight turnovers. Also with a high turnover count of six, Jackson was more efficient with the ball in his hands and had a more complete game on Wednesday.

adidas set up the bracket in its “Creator’s Cup” so that Ball and Simmons play each other and Smith and Jackson play each other during the first game of Thursday’s action. It’s a fun tool to see how some of these elite guards matchup with each other. (SP)

Payton Pritchard taking his time with college decision: 2016 point guard Payton Pritchard’s recruitment took quite the turn earlier this month, as he de-committed from Oklahoma just before the start of the first evaluation period. Since then he’s been on the receiving end of a lot of attention from high-major coaches, with the Sooners being joined by the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona State, California and Oregon.

In discussing his recruitment with NBC Sports Wednesday night after a 30-point win over Eric Gordon All-Stars, Pritchard (22 points on 9-for-13 shooting, six assists, one turnover) noted that he and his family simply want to be sure before making a decision as important as deciding where he’ll attend college.

“I just want to look at [the entire situation] again and take all of my officials. I think I owe it to myself,” Pritchard said when asked about the state of his recruitment. “Oklahoma’s a great school, but as a family we just want to be 100 percent sure.”

While the Oregon native has taken a number of unofficial visits, Oklahoma was the only school to host him for an official. With four such trips still at his disposal, Pritchard will have opportunities to thoroughly evaluate schools before making a choice this time around and he plans on taking advantage. (RJ)

Jarrett Allen dominates with some big names watching: Class of 2016 center Jarrett Allen is firmly planted as a five-star prospect at No. 17 in the Rivals 150, but he doesn’t seem to get as much buzz as some of his classmates. The 6-foot-10 center did his best to make an impact on Wednesday night with a truly dominating performance in a win over the New York Rens.

Allen finished with 29 points, while going 13-for-14 from the field while adding seven rebounds. In helping Texas Pro defeat a very good New York Rens team by 20 points, there was simply no answer for slowing down Allen. He scored on hooks, advanced post moves and dunks in traffic. If he received a touch on Wednesday night, Allen was probably scoring or getting fouled.

It was an incredible opening night for Allen and he was watched by head coaches like John Calipari (Kentucky), Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Shaka Smart (Texas). After the contest, Allen told that Baylor, Indiana, Kansas State, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas and San Diego State are some schools involved in his recruitment, which is still very early in the process. (SP)

Multiple high-major head coaches watch 2016 PF De’Ron Davis: Davis was the headliner for a Colorado Hawks team that coasted to a win in its opener, and there were multiple high-major coaches in attendance to see him. Among the head coaches courtside were Sean Miller (Arizona), Bobby Hurley (Arizona State), Tom Crean (Indiana), Travis Ford (Oklahoma State) and Shaka Smart (Texas). Also in attendance were two Colorado assistants, with head coach Tad Boyle currently assisting Mark Few with the United States Pan-Am Games team.

Also playing well for the Hawks was Alpha Diallo, who finished the game with 16 points, ten rebounds and six assists. The 6-foot-5 small forward was able to make plays off the dribble throughout the contest, with Nevada and VCU among the schools that have offered him who were represented in the coaches’ section. (RJ)

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.