Associated Press

Tyrone Wallace looks to lead Cal’s resurgence

Leave a comment

The point guard position has changed in recent years, evolving as basketball has become a more free-flowing, position-less game built around spacing and perimeter ability.

Look at the best of the best in the NBA: For every Chris Paul, there is a Russell Westbrook, or John Wall, or (healthy?) Derrick Rose. And that’s impacted what NBA front offices look for in a point guard.

Tyus Jones slipped to the end of the first round in June’s NBA Draft, with “new era” point guards such as D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Cameron Payne all getting snagged in the lottery.

That’s why, even with his shooting percentages and turnover numbers, Providence’s Kris Dunn is held in such high esteem by NBA types. Another player in that mold is California senior point guard Tyrone Wallace, who ranks among the best point guards in the country. But unlike Dunn, Wallace spent his first two seasons in college playing off the ball as Justin Cobbs ran the show for Mike Montgomery’s teams.

That’s what makes Wallace’s first season as a full-time point guard at the college level all the more impressive.

Averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, Wallace ranked in the top five in the Pac-12 in each of those categories. As a result he was not only a first team all-Pac-12 selection but a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award as well.

“The thing about his being a slasher is that it was the position he (played) in the previous system, and that’s how they felt he fit into their program,” California head coach Cuonzo Martin said when asked of Wallace’s transition. “For us, he could already handle the ball so it’s not like we had to teach him how to dribble. He had the handle and he could make plays off the dribble, that was his biggest strength.”

“Now, the game has changed from a ‘traditional’ point guard in the last 15-20 years to a guy who can make plays, get to the rim, defend, score the ball, post up,” Martin noted. “So there’s a variety of things in being a point guard, it’s not the traditional point that you’re used to seeing. He fit that mold very well as far as attacking and making plays, and I thought his biggest adjustment was facilitating and getting guys involved within the offense.

“I think the thing he had to continue to learn was the ability to run the point at this level,” Martin continued. “Because it’s one thing to score, but now you have to facilitate and get other guys involved; you have to have eyes in the back of your head.”

It isn’t as if Wallace entered the 2014-15 without any experience in that kind of role. At the high school level Wallace was a standout at Bakersfield HS, setting a school record for career points and leaving ranked the 13th-best point guard in the Class of 2011 by Rivals.com. Wallace’s athleticism, versatility and motor were some of the things that set him apart from the competition in high school.

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Pac-12 Season Preview

“When he came in as a freshman he was really long and skinny, but he was very competitive,” Wallace’s high school coach, Greg Burt, noted. “He had a motor that just wouldn’t quit. He didn’t play varsity as a freshman, but his JV team went undefeated that year. He just never quit. He played offense, defense, he rebounded. He could do it all. He was just so competitive, and with the motor he has he’d outwork people.”

Wallace’s versatility allowed him to fill multiple roles on both his high school and grassroots teams, so the adjustment process wasn’t as difficult as it can be for a player making the move from a wing position to the point. And according to him, the process of improving his ability to play on the ball began back in middle school and he continues to see the benefits of learning multiple roles.

“It prepared me for any situation on the court,” Wallace said. “Whether I’m on the ball or off of it I can stay on the floor (and have an impact). I don’t have a set position that I have to play, and so I think that helped my skill set. Coach Burt prepared me well for college basketball, and now that I’m here I’ve constantly gotten better thanks to Coach Martin and the previous coaching staff.”

Wallace’s versatility has been a factor throughout his first three years at Cal, but there’s also the leadership that will be critical for the Golden Bears this season. And while Wallace is the type of leader who more often than not sets the tone through actions as opposed to words, his behaviors have made him someone worth following according to his high school coach.

“Tyrone never really been a vocal leader, and I know that’s something he’s really worked hard on in college,” Burt said. “But the one thing that he had was character. We like to say that ‘character wins,’ and he was an outstanding student, never had to worry about him missing class, he always did his homework and he never missed practice.

“He was just a guy that you could depend on every single day, and he was going to have a good attitude. He was more of a ‘leader by example’ kind of guy, but it was a great example.”

Leadership was also something Wallace, who had the option of turning pro but decided to return to Berkeley for his senior season, has focused on during the offseason.

“I’m transitioning into being more vocal,” Wallace said. “That’s one thing Coach and me talked about, and that’s something I’ve been working on this offseason. Whether it’s been in weight training or workouts, just being that vocal leader on the court because when it comes down to it I have to be able to do that.”

Cuonzo Martin and Tyrone Wallace at media day, AP Photo
Cuonzo Martin and Tyrone Wallace at media day, AP Photo

Wallace’s leadership, whether it’s vocal or through actions, will be critical for the Golden Bears this season. While he won’t be the only experienced returnee in the rotation — guards Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer and Jabari Bird are all juniors and sophomores Kameron Rooks (coming off of a torn ACL) and Kingsley Okoroh return in the front court — Wallace runs the show for a revamped roster that faces raised expectations.

California put together one of the nation’s top recruiting classes in the spring. Power forward and top ten prospect Ivan Rabb committed in April and top three recruit Jaylen Brown followed suit a month later. And with Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo available after sitting out last season, many expect this group to not only contend in the Pac-12 but nationally as well.

But it’s important to note that there are strides to be made, especially on the offensive end of the floor.

California won ten of their first 11 games last season before hosting eventual national runner-up Wisconsin in a game that presented the home team with another opportunity to make a statement nationally. Cal’s 68-56 loss to the Badgers began a stretch in which they dropped eight of nine games, with offensive struggles being the biggest issue. Just twice during that period did Cal manage to score 60 points or shoot better than 40 percent from the field, turning a team with NCAA tournament aspirations into one fighting to remain above .500.

In conference games only, Oregon State (55.5 ppg) scored fewer points per game than Cal (65.2 ppg), which ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in free throw percentage and ninth in both overall field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage.

Given those stats, it’s no surprise that Wallace was asked to carry the burden of both primary provider and primary scorer last season. This time around, Wallace won’t have as much of a load to carry from a scoring standpoint.

At least that’s the plan.

But does that mean Wallace turns back the clock and becomes a “traditional” point guard who looks at scoring as a last resort? No, and frankly that drastic of a move would be to the detriment of both Wallace individually and the Golden Bears collectively.

Martin wants his point guard to continue to be the attack-minded decision maker who is hailed as one of the nation’s best. What helped in this process was the team’s summer trip to Australia, which gave the coaches a good look at their personnel in a competitive setting and provided to players with valuable on-court time to establish chemistry within the flow of a game.

That’s something that cannot always be replicated in the few hours during summer school that coaches get to work with players or in pickup games.

“You don’t want to change [what he did last year]. You want him to keep being aggressive,” Martin said. “When you add Ivan and Jaylen Brown, and also Stephen Domingo, I don’t think it changes what Tyrone does for our team. He still has to facilitate, still has to score, make plays, defend, rebound.

“Now he doesn’t have to carry such a load offensively, and that was really a need for us,” Martin continued. “We need him to score in situations and force the action, but now he doesn’t have to do that as much. But he still has to be aggressive.”

And that aggression isn’t just about Wallace’s numbers. It’s also about setting the example for his teammates, especially the soon-to-be stars that have yet to experience college basketball. The lone player on the roster to have experienced a win in the NCAA tournament, Wallace is now being asked to lead a team viewed as being capable of playing deep into March.

Actions are both great and necessary, but there will be times when Cal looks to Wallace to provide the words needed to reach their goals. Whether or not Wallace can rise to that particular challenge will determine just how far the Golden Bears go, and it’s a responsibility he embraces.

“I definitely think it’s necessary,” Wallace said when asked about his increased vocal leadership. “With so little time to practice, when we’re playing in games it’s important that I be vocal because it’s my fourth year and I’ve been through it before. Just to get guys in right spots, get their heads up, whatever it may be, just to constantly be talking and vocal with my teammates to help them.”

After going 7-11 in conference play a season ago, California enters this season with lofty expectations. And while this group doesn’t lack for the tangibles needed to reach their goals, the intangibles picked up by Wallace throughout his basketball career could determine just how far the Golden Bears go.

New York senator the latest to propose bill to abolish amateurism

Johnny Nunez/WireImage
Leave a comment

A second state now has legislation in the works that would make it legal for college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness.

Kevin Parker, a New York state senator from Brooklyn, has proposed a bill similar to California’s Fair Pay To Play act, not only giving college athletes the ability to sell their NIL rights but also requiring athletic departments to give a 15 percent share of their annual revenue to the student-athletes. California’s bill, which will go into effect in 2023 if it is signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, would make removing a student-athlete from their scholarship for accepting endorsement money illegal.

“It’s about equity,” Parker told ESPN. “These young people are adding their skill, talent and labor to these universities.

“You don’t need the shortcuts and the end-arounds because now we’re providing some real support for these student-athletes.”

New York joins the growing list of organizations that are pushing back against the NCAA’s rules on amateurism. South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado and Washington have had legislators discuss whether or not to make similar changes to the law, while Congressmen from North Carolina and Connecticut have made pushes at the federal level. Democratic Presidential candidate Anrew Yang has blasted the NCAA over their amateurism rules, while just last week, NBA agents made public the fact that they will be refusing to register for the NCAA’s proposed certification process.

Rick Pitino, Louisville settle lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The University of Louisville and former head coach Rick Pitino have reached a joint agreement to drop their lawsuits against each other.

The two sides “have mutually agreed to dismiss their legal claims against each other, designate his departure as a resignation and move forward,” according to a joint statement that was released by the University and Pitino. Pitino will not be paid any money as a result of this settlement, but he departure will now be classified as a resignation, effective Oct. 3rd, 2017.

Pitino had sued Louisville for somewhere around $40 million.

“For 17 years, Coach Pitino ran a program that combined excellence on the court with a commitment to the program’s student-athletes, their academic achievement, and their futures in and out of basketball,” the state said. “Nevertheless, there were NCAA infractions during his term which led to serious consequences for the university. Although these infractions may not have occurred at Pitino’s direction or with his knowledge, the problems leading to NCAA infractions happened under his leadership. We thank Coach Pitino for his years of service to the University of Louisville basketball program and wish him well.”

“Today I move on to a new chapter in my life,” a statement from Pitino reads. “Against my lawyer’s advice, I’m dropping my lawsuit with ULAA. I am very proud of the many accomplishments my teams achieved at Louisville. I’m so thankful and honored to coach such dedicated athletes. I’m also disappointed in how it ended. But as head coach I am held responsible for the actions of all team members. I still have so much passion for the game and so many goals I want to achieve. From this day forward I start my climb.”

Kentucky lands commitments from two more elite prospects

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Calipari is getting his work done early in the 2020 recruiting class, as he added two more commitments over the weekend.

On Thursday, it was Lance Ware, a 6-foot-10 post player from Camden, New Jersey, that announced his commitment. Ware is a top 50 recruit that held offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Miami. The bigger news, however, came on Saturday afternoon, when Terrance Clarke announced that he will be enrolling at Kentucky whenever he ends his high school tenure. Clarke is currently a member of the Class of 2021, but the plan is for him to reclassify and graduate high school this year.

Clarke is a consensus top three player in 2021 – and he may be the No. 1 player in that class, depending on who you ask – and should immediately vault into the top five of the 2020 recruiting class. An athletic, versatile wing that stands 6-foot-6, Clarke is a potential lottery pick given his physical tools and the way that he projects as multi-positional defender with the ability to create off of the dribble. Ware, like Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery before him, projects as the kind of player that will spend 2-3 years in Lexington.

Clarke and Ware join top ten prospect B.J. Boston and another top 50 recruit, Cam’Ron Fletcher, in Kentucky’s 2020 class. That’s three wings in the class with Johnny Juzang, Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen and Keion Brooks currently on campus. Throw Montgomery into the mix, and that’s eight players that fit somewhere into a lineup as a wing or a face-up big man, and it seems rather unlikely that all five of the guys currently at Kentucky will leave the school this offseason. Put another way, this looks like the end of Kentucky’s pursuit of the likes of Jalen Green and Josh Christopher.

Calipari is still recruiting Cade Cunningham despite the fact that many expect Cunningham to end up at Oklahoma State, where Mike Boynton hired his brother Cannen, but Cade has skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings as he has transitioned to playing the point. Kentucky is still in the mix for a handful of other forwards, including Scottie Barnes, Isaiah Todd and Greg Brown.

Tony Bennett turns down raise, signs contract extension

Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images
5 Comments

Virginia announced that they have signed head coach Tony Bennett to a contract extension, keeping him under contract through the 2025-26 season.

This is not unexpected. He just won the national title. I think he earned a new deal.

What is unique here, however, is that Bennett turned down a raise. He asked for more money for his assistants and for some cash to be put towards improvements in both his program and the other Virginia sports teams, but he passed on getting more money put into his own bank account.

“[My wife] Laurel and I are in a great spot, and in the past I’ve had increases in my contract,” Bennett said in the news release. “We just feel a great peace about where we’re at, all that’s taken place, and how we feel about this athletic department and this community and this school. I love being at UVA.

“… I have more than enough, and if there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much [in men’s basketball], that’s my desire.”

That’s the dream scenario right there, being rich enough to turn down more money.

NCAA urges California governor not to sign ‘fair pay’ bill

AP Photo
4 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The NCAA Board of Governors wants California Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject a new attempt to pay college athletes.

And it is prepared to take the fight to court if necessary.

In a six-paragraph letter released Wednesday, the board urged Newsom not to sign the legislation known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their names, likenesses and images. The move comes two days after approval of the measure by the California Assembly, with the state Senate expected to consider the measure later this week.

The board warned that California schools may be declared ineligible for NCAA competition if the bill becomes law because they would have an unfair recruiting advantage.

“We’ve explored how it might impact the association and what it might do. We believe it would inappropriately affect interstate commerce,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, told The Associated Press. “It is not intended to be a threat at all. It’s a reflection about the way California is going about this.

“I’m not saying there will never be a day we would consider that (legal action), but it is not meant to be a threat,” Remy said.

The NCAA said the measure would affect more than 24,000 athletes in the nation’s most populous state.

Should the bill pass, Newsom would have 30 days to sign or veto it. If he does nothing, the bill would become law. It would be the first measure of its kind and the outcome is being closely watched as one of the biggest challenges in years to the NCAA’s longstanding and far-reaching model of amateur sports. Over the past decade, that model has come under increasing pressure – and attacks in court – as critics push for big-time college athletics to clear the way for the athletes themselves to benefit financially.

NCAA rules prohibit athletes from profiting off their athletic skills. The organization, however, has recently begun considering rules changes to loosen those restrictions, though NCAA President Mark Emmert – and the board again on Wednesday – insist that players cannot be paid or become the equivalent of a university employee. Formal recommendations are expected to be made at the board’s October meeting.

It appears there is an appetite for significant changes.

Board members met with the working group studying these issues in August but neither Remy nor board member Denis McDonough would discuss specific proposals.

“The rules that we operate under, many of which date to 1975, may not be suitable for us in 2021 with the challenges and opportunities student-athletes face,” said McDonough, the White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama. “So we are and have been taking a very close look at how we can modernize those rules. We’re hoping the state of California would recognize that modernizing those rules for student-athletes across the country is the best way to do that.”

Supporters think those changes are already overdue and believe California’s elected officials should act now.

“The NCAA’s assertions are purposefully misleading,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. “The 9th Circuit upheld a ruling concluding that the NCAA’s ban on player name, image, and likeness compensation does not bring forth a level playing field. The Big 12 commissioner stated competitive equity is `largely an illusion.’

“NCAA amateurism is a fraud. It’s a $14 billion a year industry with millionaire coaches. An NCAA ban on California colleges would amount to an illegal group boycott that would violate federal and California antitrust laws.”

The NCAA believes the California measure would violate the federal Commerce Clause and may not withstand a legal challenge; Remy cited a previous case in California in which the state tried to inhibit the NCAA from enforcing its rules. The NCAA won that case.

Should the measure pass, Remy said, the NCAA would penalize the schools, not individual athletes.

“There are two parts to this and part of this is the membership and that includes the California schools,” Remy said. “Schools and universities agree to comply with the rules of (NCAA) membership and there are a set of eligibility criteria that go along with being member institution. The California schools have consented to that criterion. So in that context it would be the schools that would directly impacted.”