Steady improvement turning Alize Johnson into valued Division I prospect

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LAS VEGAS — While the focus of the annual recruiting cycle is on whether or not prospects can play the game well enough to merit a college scholarship, there are many different paths that prospects take to reach that point. Some may be highly regarded players who seem destined for little more than a pit stop in the college game before cashing in on their NBA dreams, many others have a longer road to travel as they look to achieve their dreams.

One such player is Frank Phillips College (Texas) forward Alize Johnson, who as a 6-foot-8 guard/forward harbors ambitions of not only receiving a Division I scholarship but eventually playing in the NBA.

Johnson’s path began in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a town of just over 29,000 people known more for the fact that Little League was founded there than anything accomplished on the basketball court. Johnson began his high school career as a 5-foot-9 point guard at St. John Neumann, and the time spent on the perimeter helped him as he moved forward (and ultimately reached 6-foot-4 as a high school senior) in his basketball career.

“I’d say my passing ability,” Johnson told NBC Sports when asked about the strengths of his game. “I’m able to get out on the break and make plays. I was 5-foot-9 as a freshman and played point guard, and by my sophomore year I grew to 6-foot-4. [The growth spurt] has helped my game; I’ve been able to use my perimeter skills and height to my advantage in areas such as rebounding and post-up skills, along with handling the basketball.”

That senior season at St. John Neumann proved to be Johnson’s best, as he played well enough to earn Class A first team All-State honors alongside players such as Terry Larrier and Maverick Rowan. Yet while the perimeter skills have remained Johnson, who takes pride in his ability to set up teammates for scoring opportunities, has worked hard to improve as a rebounder and defender with an eye towards the Division I level.

And with that in mind having the influence of cousin Chevon Troutman, a tough forward who helped with Pittsburgh’s resurgence under Ben Howland in the early-2000’s and now plays professionally in Germany, has helped Johnson on the court. Troutman, a rugged forward who was also an adept passer during his time at Pitt, rebounds the ball at a level that Johnson is working hard to reach in his development as a basketball player.

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Alize Johnson/Frank Phillips College

“He’s a very good rebounder and competitor, a very strong and competitive guy,” Johnson said of Troutman. “I realize I don’t have the body structure that he has, but I try to take that part of his game and add it into mine. I think that’s why I’ve improved as a rebounder. That’s one of the biggest parts of the game, rebounding the basketball. I just feel that if there’s a rebound, I have to get it.”

The progress has been noted by college programs and scouts alike, especially in the aftermath of a freshman season that saw Johnson earn honorable mention all-conference honors in a conference that traditionally produces impact Division I products. And at the JucoRecruiting.com All-America Elite 80 West camp in Las Vegas this past weekend, Johnson improved throughout and earned a spot in the event’s all-star game.

“It was a combination of things. He’s skilled for his size and really gets out in transition well, and he excelled in that all weekend,” Brad Winton of JucoRecruiting.com said of Johnson. “I thought in the Sunday morning game he was more physical than I’ve seen in the past and really mixed it up, and then he elevated it in the top 20 game.

“In that (top 20) game there’s a high-level group of guys and a lot more size; there were four or five guys 6-foot-8 or taller, and he stood out there as well. He earned that spot with a really good set of games prior. He hit the glass really well, and was a bit of a matchup problem on the other end because of his ability to step out onto the perimeter.”

The weekend in Las Vegas was a productive one for Johnson, and his improvement as a rebounder and defender will be key in his progression to the Division I level. Prior to the event Johnson was already on the receiving end of a lot of interest from Division I programs, with Iona, Kent State, Stephen F. Austin, Idaho and Towson among those who have offered and Murray State, Hofstra and Memphis showing interest.

Johnson plans on revealing his visit plans in the near future, and one of the factors he’ll take into consideration is which coaching staff can best help him achieve the goal of playing professionally.

“Like every kid, my dream is to get to the NBA or play overseas,” Johnson said. “The school that I pick, I want to be in the best position to get there. I just want to join a program where the staff can help me reach that dream.”

Yet even with that goal, Johnson remains thankful for the support he receives from the people of Williamsport and the fact that he can serve as an example for the youngsters in his community. While Williamsport has produced basketball talent in the past, most notably Troutman, it isn’t labeled as a basketball hotbed per se. Having examples like Johnson to follow can only help younger players in Williamsport moving forward.

“I want to be a role model for the kids in Williamsport, because a lot of them think that things aren’t possible coming from a city like Williamsport,” Johnson said. “Me being recruited is opening a lot of kids’ eyes and making a lot of them want to attend my old high school. A lot of them look up to me, and I’m thankful for the support that everyone here shows for me.”

Wife, daughter of Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore killed in car accident

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The Wisconsin basketball program officially confirmed an awful piece of news on Sunday morning: Assistant coach Howard Moore was involved in a tragic accident early on Saturday morning that claimed the life of his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Jaidyn.

Howard and his son, Jerell, were both injured in the accident but are expected to recover.

“There are no words to describe how devastated we are for Howard and his family,” head coach Greg Gard said in a statement. “Our basketball program is an extremely close family and we are all grieving for the Moore and Barnes families. Howard is so much more than a colleague and coach. He and Jen and their children are dear friends to everyone they meet. Their positivity and energy lift up those around them. We will miss Jen and Jaidyn dearly and we will put our arms around Howard and Jerell and the entire family, giving them love and support during this unspeakable time.”

According to Michigan state police, the Moore family was driving on a highway in Ann Arbor, Mich., at about 2 a.m. on Saturday morning when they were struck head-on by a car driven by a 23-year old woman going the wrong way on the highway. The woman driving the other car died at the scene.

“I’ve known Howard ever since he was a student-athlete at Wisconsin and gotten to know his wonderful family through the years,” director of athletics Barry Alvarez said. “He has always been an incredible representative of our athletic department and a positive influence on everyone around him. We are truly heart-broken for his family and will be doing everything possible to help him through this tragic time. Our prayers, love and support go out to the Moore and Barnes family.”

NCAA reverses ruling on Silvio De Sousa, clears him for 2019-20 season

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Silvio De Sousa’s appeal has been approved.

On Friday afternoon, the NCAA announced that they will be reversing their original decision, allowing the Kansas center to be eligible to play during the 2019-20 season. He was suspended for the entirety of the 2018-19 season.

“Kansas appealed the NCAA staff decision of a two-season withholding to the Division I Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee, which determined additional relief was appropriate,” the NCAA said in a statement.

This decision came just hours after De Sousa’s final appeal formal appeal and not a moment too soon; Wednesday marks the final day that players that have declared for the NBA draft can withdraw and return to school. It is unlikely that De Sousa would get drafted should he be forced to leave his name in the draft.

The NCAA originally determined in February that De Sousa would have to sit out the remainder of the 2018-19 season and the entire 2019-20 season after allegations arose that his guardian, Fenny Falmagne, had accepted at least $20,000 in order to steer De Sousa to Kansas. These allegations arose as a result of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.

De Sousa was a freshman during the 2017-18 season, averaging 4.0 points and 3.7 boards as Kansas made a run to the Final Four. He will join Udoka Azubuike and David McCormick in the Jayhawks oversized frontline.

NCAA president Mark Emmert made $2.9 million in 2017

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Mark Emmert holds the top job of a major organization. It oversees thousands of people and generates billions in revenue. It’s not surprising the guy makes a lot of money.

It always just looks silly, though, as Emmert is the president of the NCAA, which does not allow its athletes compensation beyond the scholarships schools give them. So, we’ll take a minute to highlight that silliness here.

Emmert, who has led the NCAA since 2010, made $2.9 million in net compensation in 2017, USA TODAY reports after examining the organization’s tax filing.

The 66-year-old was credited with $3.9 million in total compensation, but $1 million of a deferred $1.4 million payment had been reported in prior years, according to USA TODAY.

Three other NCAA executives cleared $1 million in salary in 2017.

Again, given the scope, size and profitability of college sports, it’s not surprising that Emmert and his execs are well compensated, but it’s always worth pointing out that finances in college athletics – from administrative and coaching salaries to facilities to travel – are all inflated because athletes are prohibited from taking part in the profit-taking.

With news coming that athletes could be in line to profit off their name and likeness sometime in the near future and the NBA signaling the end of the one-and-done era, there is progress in player compensation, but during that time, there are a lot of checks getting cashed without players’ names on them.

Seven returning collegians among Team USA U19 invites

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USA Basketball is welcoming seven sophomores among its 34 total invitees to training camp next month ahead of the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece.

Incoming freshmen and Class of 2020 will vie for 12 roster spots with Kansas State coach Bruce Weber helming the team and being assisted by Washington’s Mike Hopkins and North Carolina Central’s LaVelle Moton.

The returning college players garnering invites are Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine), Tyrse Haliburton (Iowa State), Kira Lewis (Alabama), Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State), Trevion Williams (Purdue) and Bryce Willis (Stanford), along with Jayden Scrubb from the junior college ranks.

“The committee is excited at the level of talent that will be at training camp for the USA U19 World Cup team, and we expect to have a difficult decision trying to narrow down the group to 12 team members,” Matt Painter, Purdue coach and cahr of the junior national team committee, said in a statement.

R.J. Hampton, Samuell Williamson, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs are some of the headliners from the group of players without college experience.

Sophomores

Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine/Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)

Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State/Oshkosh, Wis.)

Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama/Meridianville, Ala.)

Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State/Mansfield, Texas)

Jayden Scrubb (John A. Logan College/Louisville, Ky.)

Trevion Williams (Purdue/Chicago, Ill.)

Bryce Wills (Stanford/White Plains, N.Y.).

Incoming freshmen

Eric Dixon (Abington H.S./William Grove, Pa.)

Dajuan Gordon (Curie H.S./Chicago, Ill.)

R.J. Hampton (Little Elm H.S./Little Elm, Texas)

Justin Moore(DeMatha Catholic H.S./Accokeek, Md.)

Casey Morsell (St. John’s College H.S./Washington, D.C.)

Zeke Nnaji (Hopkins H.S./Hopkins, Minn.)

Isaac Okoro (McEachern H.S./Powder Springs, Ga.)

Onyeka Okongwu (Chino Hills H.S./Chino, Calif.)

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (IMG Academy, FL/Overland Park, Kan.)

Isaiah Stewart (La Lumiere School, IN/Rochester, N.Y.)

Anton Watson (Gonzaga Prep/Spokane, Wash.)

Mark Watts Jr. (SPIRE Institute/Pontiac, Mich.)

Romeo Weems (New Haven H.S./Chesterfield, Mich.)

Samuell Williamson (Rockwall H.S./Rockwall, Texas).

Class of 2020

Scottie Barnes (University School/West Palm Beach, Fla.)

Nimari Burnett (Prolific Prep, Calif./Chicago, Ill.)

Joshua Christopher (Mayfair H.S./Lakewood, Calif.)

Sharife Cooper (McEachern H.S./Powder Springs, Ga.)

Cade Cunningham (Montverde Academy, Fla./Arlington, Texas)

Hunter Dickinson (DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md./Alexandria, Va.)

Jalen Green(Prolific Prep/Fresno, Calif.)

Walker Kessler (Woodward Academy/Newnan, Ga.)

Caleb Love (Christian Brothers College H.S./St. Louis, Mo.)

Evan Mobley (Rancho Christian School/Temecula, Calif.)

Ethan Morton (Butler H.S./Butler, Pa.)

Jalen Suggs (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.)

Ziaire Williams (Notre Dame H.S./Sherman Oaks, Calif.).

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: Transferring players need ‘deterrent’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The NCAA is granting too many waivers allowing players who transfer to compete immediately, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Wednesday, calling the requirement that players sit out a year a useful “deterrent” to players switching schools.

Brey made his comments at a meeting of the Knight Commission, a nonprofit that pushes for reform in college sports. While the commission has not taken a position on transfer waivers, it often advocates for players being given more freedom to pursue their professional ambitions.

“As coaches we’re concerned about the number of waivers, to the point where the NCAA has given too much of a blueprint on how to get a waiver,” Brey said. “Kids feel they can go and, you know, bring up enough of a case to get eligible right away. So they’re more apt to want to go.”

In April 2018, the NCAA relaxed its waiver requirements, allowing a transferring player to suit up immediately if there are “documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, 79 men’s basketball players requested waivers and 44 were granted, a 56% success rate, according to NCAA data. Men’s basketball accounted for 33% of all waiver requests, the NCAA said.

Commission co-chairman Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, declined to comment on waivers but lauded the “transparency” of the NCAA’s transfer portal, in which players submit their names if they want to switch schools.

Brey said he believes players should be free to transfer and that it’s up to coaches to make their players want to stay, but he said sitting out a year can be beneficial and prevents players from transferring for immature or capricious reasons.

“It’s a bit of a deterrent for a kid. The year in residency saves kids from themselves sometimes,” Brey said. “I’ve seen some kids then come back, stick it out, and now they’re in the lineup and they come back five years later and go, ‘I was an idiot.’ Because every kid thinks about (transferring) when he’s not playing.”

ROADBLOCKS TO REFORM

Brey’s comments were one of a few examples from Wednesday’s meeting of the basketball establishment pushing back against reforms that would give players more autonomy or promote transparency about the way schools profit from college athletics.

The Knight Commission is pushing the NCAA to release to the public the financial details of contracts between athletic departments and shoe and apparel companies, a proposal that has not gained much traction. In the past, the commission has persuaded the NCAA to release graduation rates and other financial data, including compensation for coaches.

“The shoe companies, there has to be agreement across the board, that there has to be willingness and openness to share all those records. Candidly, I think more work needs to be done,” said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I governance. “We don’t control all the third parties and their ability to cooperate with us. More conversation needs to continue to occur within the NCAA and between the NCAA and the third parties if we want to move the ball.”

Two NBA executives told the commission the league is in talks with the players’ union about lowering the NBA’s minimum age to 18, prompted largely by a recommendation by the Commission on College Basketball to rid the sport of the “one-and-done rule.”

But even that proposal is meeting some resistance in the NBA. David Krichavsky, the league’s senior vice president and head of youth basketball development, said some in the league would rather raise the age limit than lower it.

“Many teams and general managers would still be in favor of going to 20, given the additional scouting information you receive on players, seeing them compete at the NCAA level for two years after high school,” Krichavsky said, “but at the same time we recognize that the world has changed and will continue to change.”

COACHES BEHAVING BADLY

Brey, the president of the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said he’d like to see coaches reach a consensus about how to police their own behavior.

An ongoing federal investigation into illicit payments made to players during the recruiting process led Louisville to fire longtime coach Rick Pitino, but some other coaches implicated in the probe have held onto their jobs. Brey said schools ought to move more aggressively to fire coaches for cause when they violate NCAA rules.

“We all have clauses in our contracts about NCAA rules and behavior, all of us. If those are violated, doesn’t that start on the campuses?” Brey said. “And no question the NABC could make a stronger stand. We have not maybe been as vocal about some of the things that have gone on.”