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.

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 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 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.”

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.