Atlantic 10 Preview: Can Rhode Island unseat Davidson?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Last year, many people were reminded never to bet against Bob McKillop. The Davidson coach, in a new league for the first time in 23 years, took little time navigating his way to the top of the conference standings, leading the Wildcats to the Atlantic 10 regular season title.

Davidson graduated Tyler Kalinoski, the A-10 Player of the Year, but there’s reason to believe the Wildcats can repeat in the A-10 this season. The back court is anchored by Jack Gibbs and Brian Sullivan, both of whom averaged double figures and finished top-3 in the league in assists. Jordan Barham, as 6-foot-4 senior who led Davidson is rebounding, adds another upperclassmen on the perimeter. The front court will build off of last year’s experience with six forward logging 10 or more minutes, including Payton Aldridge and Jake Belford, who was missed all but six games last season.

The Wildcats may be a favorite to repeat, but no team in the A-10 has as much upside as Rhode Island. The Rams are coming off a 23-win season, bringing back all-conference selections E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, along sophomores Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett. The roster was bolstered by the additions of graduate transfer Four McGlynn, who will help with the Rams’ deficiency behind the 3-point line, and Kuran Iverson, the ex-Memphis forward and former top 30 recruit, who will create matchup problems for opposing defenses.

The Dayton Flyers have become a team no one wants to be paired with on Selection Sunday. Archie Miller’s team has won five games in the last two tournament appearances and is primed for another postseason appearance with Kendall Pollard, Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis returning. James Madison transfer Charles Cooke and redshirt big man Steve McElvene could both make an immediate impact. At the moment, Dyshawn Pierre is not with the team. It’s a blow to the roster, but remember, Miller was able to guide the Flyers to a 20-7 finish after dismissing two players last winter.

The major offeseason storyline in the Atlantic 10 occurred in April when Shaka Smart left for Texas. Chattanooga head coach and former VCU assistant Will Wade takes over a program dealing with the graduation of two of the program’s all-time greats, Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, and departures of some of Smart’s top recruits (Terry Larrier and 2015 commits Tevin Mack and Kenny Williams). However, Melvin Johnson, Mo Alie-Cox and JeQuan Lewis is a solid core to have in Wade’s first season.

George Washington and Richmond headline a list of teams that could fight to round out the top fiver. The Colonials have one of the best starting fives in the league, but depth could be a concern. The Spiders return Terry Allen and T.J. Cline, but lose Kendall Anthony. ShawnDre’ Jones will step into that role after earning A-10 Sixth Man of the Year honors.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Shaka Smart gone, Havoc remains: Texas was able to uproot Shaka Smart from VCU this spring. VCU was quick to hire Smart’s former assistant, Will Wade, who had built Chattanooga into a Southern Conference contender in just two seasons. In Wade’s introductory press conference, he made it clear, “Havoc still lives here.” Wade served on Smart’s staff for four years, which included the 2011 Final Four run.

Will Wade (AP Photo)
Will Wade (AP Photo)

2. Dyshawn Pierre suspended: The 6-foot-6 senior forward was suspended for the entire fall semester back in September. He was the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder at 12.7 points and 8.1 boards per game. The Flyers could be without the versatile forward for marquee non-conference games against Vanderbilt and at the AdvoCare Invitation in Orlando, which includes potential matchups against Notre Dame and Wichita State/Xavier. He is currently fighting this suspension.

3. Rhody rising: The fourth year of Dan Hurley’s tenure in Kingstown is expected to end with the Rams first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999. Rhode Island finished third in the A-10 standings last year, but settled for an NIT bid. Rhode Island has the most talent in the league, bringing back E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garett, while adding transfers Kuran Iverson and Four McGlynn, both of whom immediately eligible. Is that enough to dethrone Davidson and stave off Dayton and VCU?

4. Coming off a ‘down year?’: Following back-to-back seasons in which the league earned five and six NCAA tournament bids, the A-10 sent just three (Davidson, Dayton and VCU) to the Big Dance in March. Entering this season, you’d expect all Davidson, Dayton, Rhode Island and VCU to be in the conversation.

5. A big slate on NBCSN: Twenty-four Atlantic 10 Conference games, in addition to two rounds of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, will be aired on the NBC Sports Network.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “I think someone has to prove that they’re better than Davidson. I know they lost a good player, but their style of play is never predicated on a star system or on a single player. I’d have to go with Davidson until someone proves otherwise.”
  • Sleeper: “I’d say George Washington or Richmond. Those are two teams I’d really keep my eye on.”
  • Best player:
    • “DeAndre Bembry. When people use the phrase, ‘he does everything,’ it’s usually exaggerated. It’s not exaggerated in his case. He’s outstanding at just about every area of basketball. He can rebound, he can defend, he can pass, he obviously can score, he can make threes, he can finish. … I really think he’s a great NBA prospect.”
    • “Bembry. He can shoot the three, he post up, he can get offensive rebound. I think he can do it all. I think he’s the complete package. He’s too big for most small forwards to guard him and he’s too versatile and skilled for power forwards.”
  • Most underrated player:
    • “I think Kendall Pollard should have been all-league. I don’t know how underrated he is, but I think a guy who doesn’t get as much attention is Hassan Martin at Rhode Island. I think he’s terrific.”
    • “Probably, [Patricio] Garino. Are people talking about him? I think he’s gotten better every year. He had a great summer against a high-level of competition.”

PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s

Giving a guy on a sub-.500 team player of the years honors is a tough sell. Perhaps that’s why Bembry wasn’t named Atlantic 10 Player of the Year as a sophomore. No player in the Atlantic 10 has more of an impact on his team than 6-foot-6 forward. Bembry logged a ridiculous 38.6 minutes per game (tops in Division I) and won the A-10 scoring title at 17.7 points per game. He finished in the top-10 in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM:

  • Jack Gibbs, Davidson: The junior point guard went for 20 or more six times (missed seven games to injury). He also led the A-10 in assists at 4.8 per game
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island: The 6-foot-7 forward was a second-team A-10 selection, corralling 7.7 boards and blocking 3.1 shots per game, sixth-best in the NCAA.
  • E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: URI’s top returning scorer averaged 16.9 points per game and like Martin second team A-10 selection
  • Jordan Price, La Salle: The redshirt junior was second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 17.2 points per game.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Patrico Garino, George Washington
  • Melvin Johnson, VCU
  • Kuran Iverson, Rhode Island
  • Kendall Pollard, Dayton
  • ShawnDre’ Jones, Richmond

BREAKOUT STAR: Donte Clark, UMass

The 6-foot-4 freshman was inserted into the starting lineup in early January. He had his ups-and-downs scoring, but ending the season averaging 14.4 points per game in the last five games. Clark could be a big part of UMass’ future, one that has one of conference’s top recruiting classes coming in.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Jim Ferry, Duquesne

Ferry received a contract extension at the end of June despite failing to finish better than 10th in the A-10 standings in three seasons at the helm. While he doesn’t appear to be on the hot seat, that act of good faith comes with the expectations that the Dukes will improve this upcoming season.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The same old same old, arguing about the A-10 getting too many bids, or not enough bids

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Is there another surprising team?

Last season, newcomer Davidson was slotted 12th in the preseason before winning the regular season title. In 2013, George Washington, picked 10th in the preseason, reached the program’s first tournament in seven years. From the coaches’ quotes above, George Washington and Richmond will be in the conversation. But what about that next tier of teams? St. Joe’s and La Salle both benefit by having two of the top scorers in the league, while St. Bonaventure and Duquesne each have experienced lineups. Will any of those teams defy preseason projections?

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 16, Virginia at George Washington
  • Nov. 20, VCU vs. Duke (in New York)
  • Nov. 26, Dayton vs. Iowa (in Orlando)*
  • Dec. 5, Providence at Rhode Island
  • Dec. 6, Davidson at North Carolina

*Dayton could renew a rivalry with Xavier at the AdvoCare Invitational

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @CDiSano44

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Davidson: Yes, Tyler Kalinoski is gone, but Bob McKillop returns three guards who averaged double figures, including Jack Gibbs. Wildcats also have a experienced frontline.
2. Rhode Island: The Rams is the most talented team in the A-10 led by E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin. But that February slate is brutal. URI is at VCU, at Davidson and at Dayton in three of their last six regular season games.
3. Dayton: The Flyers were expected to return four starters, but as of right now, the status of Dyshawn Pierre remains uncertain. Dayton still has the chemistry and depth to make a run at the A-10 title.
4. VCU: Depending on how graduate transfer Korey Billbury fits in to the offense alongside JeQuan Lewis, Melvin Johnson and Mo Alie-Cox, this could be a really good first year for Will Wade.
5. George Washington: A veteran lineup of brings back Joe McDonald, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen and adds 6-foot-10 transfer Tyler Cavanaugh. But do the Colonials have the depth to support a talented starting lineup?
6. Richmond: The loss of Kendall Anthony is tough, but the trio of ShawnDre’ Jones, Terry Allen and T.J. Cline make the Spiders a real sleeper in the A-10 this season.
7. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies could be another surprise team, returning Marcus Posley, Dion Wright and Jaylen Adams.
8. La Salle: The Explorers took an early foreign tour to Prague in May, hoping to jumpstart a 2015-16 campaign in which players are stepping into larger roles alongside the returning Jordan Price.
9. Duquesne: Derrick Colter and Micah Mason, two of the better 3-point shooters in the A-10, will have no issues putting up points, but the Dukes will need to focus on limiting points on the other end. Duquesne gave up the most points per game in the A-10 last season.
10. Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks have arguably the best player in the conference, but DeAndre Bembry will need some help.
11. Saint Louis: Four starters back could lead the Billikens to a higher finish. In order to do so, Saint Louis will need to make major improvements to its offense, which ranked the worst in the conference.
12. UMass: A streak of three straight 20-win seasons was snapped in 2014-15. Despite a stable back court, Minutemen are likely enter a rebuilding season after losing Cady Lalanne, Maxie Esho and Derrick Gordon.
13. George Mason: A rebuilding effort begins under Dave Paulsen, who is taking over a program that will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Final Four run this spring. The Patriots return three starters, including 6-foot-11 center Shevon Thompson, who averaged a double-double last season.
14. Fordham: Jeff Neubauer inherits a 10-win team that saw Eric Paschall, the 2015 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, transfer to Villanova.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

Coaches 4 Change: Siena’s Carmen Maciariello spearheads social justice initiative

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Carmen Maciariello found himself in the same place so many of us did in the days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

Devastated by what he was seeing. Motivated to find a way to use his platform as the head coach at Siena College to enact change. Struggling with how, as he puts it, “a white head coach from privilege at a school in New York,” can have real, honest, open dialogue with his majority-Black roster.

So he picked up the phone. He called Louis Orr, his former college coach and now an assistant coach at Georgetown. He called his closest friends in the coaching business. He called his advisor, Brad Konerman, an entrepreneur who connected him with a couple of talented website designers. By early June, 25 like-minded people from all walks of life were on a zoom call.

“I’ve never been pulled over and feared for my life for not using my blinker,” Maciariello, who is white, told me. “We had those conversations. How are we talking to our teams about that? What are we doing with the police? How can we help our young people navigate through these tough times?”

That’s how Coaches 4 Change was born.

Maciariello has grand plans for the organization. On a zoom call with nearly all of the 43 coaches that have committed to the group to date, he said he wants “to try to change the world. Let’s not think small, we’ve gotta think big with this.” He is not lacking for ambition.

But Maciariello also understands that something like this has to start small and it has to start locally. It’s why he limited the first group of invitees to coaches that are “doing this for the right reasons.”

“I didn’t want to have a donate link and bring in coaches that felt like, ‘I donated money, I did my part supporting it,” he said. “It was about the time commitment and the vision. We have to focus on one thing first.”

That first thing?

Voting.

C4C developed a sleek, interactive website to help educate young people about social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, things as basic as the difference between systemic and systematic racism and Jackie Robinson’s impact on sports. But the site also provides users with all of the information necessary to vote in this year’s elections, information on what makes voting so important in a democracy and — most importantly — a tutorial for how a person in every state can register to vote, where their polling stations are and whether or not they are eligible for mail-in voting. Their website also has a ‘Keep Learning‘ page that links to all documentaries, podcasts, audiobooks and literary resources available on all streaming platforms, including content for children.

C4C has partnered with Vote.org with a goal of “100 percent voter registration for all college athletes” regardless of the sport they play, Maciariello said.

Currently, the only coaches involved with C4C are men’s college basketball coaches, but that will change. They are in the process of reaching out to counterparts on the women’s side, and will eventually invite staff members from other sports as well. One of the barriers to entry to become a member will be ensuring that every player on a coach’s team is registered to vote.

Eventually, Maciariello envisions C4C developing community outreach initiatives. He wants the members of C4C to connect with their campus communities and put together voter registration drives for students. He wants to eventually connect with lawmakers and work on changing legislation that helps systemic racism continue to exist.

No one ever said he wasn’t ambitious.

But he knows he has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is this platform.

“I want to engage people in issues,” he said. “Educate them, empower them to change, encourage them to grow and evolve.”