Thursday Las Vegas Recap: Dennis Smith and Frank Jackson battle; Lonzo Ball quiets critics; Wendell Carter talks visit

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Creator’s Cup ends with thrilling matchup between Dennis Smith and Frank Jackson: The adidas Uprising Summer Championships pulled off an intelligent scheduling maneuver in Las Vegas this week by putting two “Super Pools” in a mini eight-team tournament that constituted their matchups before the main tournament began. It meant a lot of games between five-star prospects in the Class of 2016 that started on Wednesday night and went well into Thursday.

After both advancing past the first round on the opening night, five-star point guards Dennis Smith (Team Loaded North Carolina) and Frank Jackson (Utah Prospects) both had tremendous outings in a fun back-and-forth contest on Thursday afternoon. Smith and his deeper Team Loaded squad ended up pulling out a 75-59 win as Smith had 26 points, four assists and zero turnovers on 10-for-17 shooting and 3-for-4 shooting from 3-point range. Jackson countered with 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting, but he didn’t have the kind of help that Smith had from teammates like five-star big man Edrice Adebayo.

While both five-star lead guards were very good, Smith was absolutely brilliant at times. When the Prospects started icing Smith and forcing him to go baseline, he made adjustments in his pick-and-roll setup with Adebayo and flipped the big man some effortless pocket passes for easy elbow jumpers. Smith’s ability to make reads and adjustments and operate in a number of different ways off of high ball screens is a big reason why he’s considered the top guard in the country and he’s been tremendous early this week.

“I love it. I love playing against anybody that they think is the best,” Smith said of the high-profile matchups. “I get to come out here and show what I can do against those guys.” (SP)

Five-star 2017 big man sure of at least one visit: 6-foot-10 power forward Wendell Carter Jr. has plenty of time before he has to make a college decision, as he’s one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. However that doesn’t mean that schools can’t make an impression on he and his family, which is the case for one SEC program in particular.

In speaking with Carter following the Georgia Stars’ comfortable victory in their second game of the day at the Las Vegas Classic, he mentioned that Auburn will be a school that he’ll definitely check out when he’s able to take official visits (January 2016 at the earliest).

“I just know that Auburn’s going to be my very first visit, my first official visit,” Carter told NBC Sports when asked about possible visits in the future, and he had a simple reason as to why.

“My mom. She really likes the school.”

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl was one of the head coaches in the gym for Carter’s game, with Kansas’ Bill Self and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton also in attendance. (RJ)

Lonzo Ball makes a statement against “real” competition: If you follow recruiting Twitter at all, you’ve probably seen some debate erupt over the competition that five-star guard Lonzo Ball and his brothers faced during the spring and summer in independent AAU events. Because the UCLA commit and his Big Ballers VXT program — which is coached by his father — don’t belong to a major shoe company, they haven’t faced the caliber of competition often seen in shoe events.

It’s led to some questioning Ball’s commitment to facing real competition and if he’s a legitimate five-star talent. With some strong games on Thursday against some of the best teams in the adidas Circuit, it’s safe to say that Ball and his teammates put some of those questions to rest.

In wins over the Atlanta Celtics and New York Rens, the eldest Ball filled up the stat sheet, registering 36 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against Kobi Simmons and the Celtics while notching the triple-double with 22 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds against Mustapha Heron and the Rens. Simply put, Lonzo Ball does everything on the floor while he’s out there and he has an exceptional basketball IQ and court vision that helps him make plays that others can’t.

Ball’s stats are a bit inflated because the Big Ballers play a pace similar to Grinnell — tons of quick shots, deep 3-pointers, home-run passes and traps at halfcourt on defense — but there is no questioning how talented he is as a basketball prospect. With younger brothers LiAngelo Ball (also a UCLA commit in the Class of 2017) and LiMelo Ball (a Class of 2019 prospect who is only 13 years old) also putting up good numbers for the Big Ballers, Lonzo Ball is happy to play on his small independent team with his family.

“It’s definitely been the best tournament we’ve played in since the AAU [July] period,” Ball said. “First day we came out a little lax so we got beat pretty bad but ever since then we got focused and picked some wins up.” (SP)

Former Arizona State commit focusing on a Big East program: After verbally committing to Arizona State in late January, 6-foot-10 forward Lucas Siewert wound up reopening his recruitment in mid-May with the head coaching change from Herb Sendek to Bobby Hurley serving as the catalyst.

And with, according to Siewert, the new coaching staff having not reached out to him since the stretch four has begun looking at other possibilities. The most prominent one is Creighton, as the Bluejays have an offensive system that can take advantage of big men who are capable of scoring not just around the basket but on the perimeter as well. And in speaking with Siewert, a system in which he can be used in multiple areas is something he’s looking for.

“I’m looking for a school where I can show my perimeter game,” Siewert told NBC Sports. “I’m still working on my ‘back to the basket’ game, but I want to be able to bring [opposing] big men out on the perimeter.”

In the Compton Magic’s loss to the New England Playaz Thursday afternoon, Siewert displayed the ability to score away from the basket on multiple occasions. And in regards to Creighton, the native of Brazil expects to visit the campus this fall.

“Right now, the school that’s been most active is Creighton,” Siewert noted. “I’ll be visiting in September.” (RJ)

Hot-shooting Brandon Robinson open to expanding list: While Dennis Smith Jr. and Bam Adebayo have been the headliners for Team Loaded North Carolina, another standout for them at the adidas Uprising Summer Championships has been four-star shooting guard Brandon Robinson. Robinson trimmed his list of schools down to ten in early July, but his play has led to even more interest.

Thursday morning it was reported that Louisville has offered the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who’s shooting with a great deal of confidence after going through a slump in the spring. And when it comes to Louisville their style of play is something that intrigues Robinson, who not only has displayed quality perimeter shooting but good athleticism as well.

“Yes, definitely,” Robinson told NBC Sports when asked if Louisville is now under consideration. “That’s a big-time program and they have a great history of basketball, and I like their style of play. So that’s definitely a school I’m looking into.”

Robinson also noted that the hope is to narrow his list even further at some point in August. (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.