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Tacko Fall’s issues highlight need for NCAA to get out of initial eligibility process

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The wait is over for us.

College basketball will be back this Friday, with actual games that actually count on campuses all around the country. There will be 156 real, live games played on Friday, and while that will fill airtime for the cable networks and provide fodder for hacks like me to bloviate about, the season will not be beginning for far too many players across the country.

Which is why it is past time for the NCAA to get out of the initial eligibility game.

Before I get to that, let’s take a quick rundown of some of the players whose eligibility is currently being held hostage. Keep in mind, starting next season, a list like this is going to be much, much longer when the NCAA’s initial eligibility requirements are increased.

Cheick Diallo at Kansas is the most notable name that has yet to be cleared. A top ten prospect from Mali by way of a high school in Long Island, Diallo’s eligibility situation has resulted in him hiring an attorney in his fight against the NCAA. The hold up for Diallo, according to reports from Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, has to do with both his academic history and his relationship with guardian Tidiane Drame, a fellow Malian-American.

The association has requested more than 2,000 pages worth of homework from Diallo’s classes at Our Savior New American, a private school on Long Island that has been in the NCAA’s crosshairs for a while, that he began attending as a ninth-grader. They’ve asked for transcripts from as far back as sixth grade, when he was still in middle school in Mali.

Diallo, for what it’s worth, is already into his second semester of college classes.

Diallo’s high school teammate, Kassoum Yakwe, is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA as well. Yakwe’s teammate at St. John’s, Marcus Lovett, was next to Yakwe in street clothes when the Johnnies lost an exhibition game to St. Thomas Aquinas by 32 points last week; he hasn’t been cleared yet, either.

Ohio State freshman Mickey Mitchell has not yet been ruled eligible. Auburn’s Danjel Purifoy will not be playing this weekend unless the NCAA sorts out what they’ve deemed a questionable ACT score. UMass guard Luwane Pipkins is still await word as well, while former Syracuse commit Moustapha Diagne was forced to go to Junior College after a class that he took in Senegal was flagged by the NCAA.

I’m sure there are more that I’m not even aware of, but by far the most egregious eligibility misstep is Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-6 center at Central Florida. The NCAA told UCF on Friday that it will only be accepting 7.5 of his core courses from high school and that he is no longer allowed to practice with the team, according to ESPN.com. Here’s the thing: Fall isn’t dumb. I’d actually wager that he’s smarter than most of the folks that are working at the NCAA. He had a 3.6 GPA in high school, and while elite prospects tend to have their grades inflated, do they normally get those grades in calculus and chemistry?

Do they usually declare as engineering majors during their freshman year?

Because that’s the case with Fall.

The issue, however, is the high schools that he attended.

Fall is a native of Senegal. He came over to the United States after spending his first two years of high school in his country. When he first arrived stateside, he bounced around from school to school during the 2012-13 school year as he and his family tried to find him a stable environment to learn and play basketball. He eventually landed at Liberty Christian, where he spent two years and earned a diploma. But the NCAA has been looking into that high school, and the fact that he spent an academic year trying to find a landing spot was a red flag as well.

Like Diallo, Fall has hired legal representation and will be filing a lawsuit against the NCAA in an effort to be allowed to play.

Here’s the cruel irony of it all: Fall should be the poster-boy for college athletics. He should be the kid that the NCAA touts as what college sports should be all about. He’s a student-athlete in the truest sense of the word, a kid that is trying to use his God-given gifts — he is 7-foot-6, after all — to better his lot in life, whether that’s as a college-educated engineer, a professional basketball player or both.

Chew on this for a minute: Fall sends the money he gets from his cost of attendance stipend back home to his family in Senegal so his mother can afford to send his younger brother to school. If he’s declared a non-qualifier by the NCAA, that scholarship — that cost of attendance stipend — could end up disappearing.

“We are exploring every option available to us to support Tacko through this process,” head coach Donnie Jones said in a statement released to NBCSports.com.

This is what the initial eligibility process has come down to.

The NCAA has a high school under review, so a Senegalese engineering major that had a 3.6 GPA may not be allowed to play this season. He’s still on scholarship, according to his guardian, Amanda Wettstein, and he’s still attending classes — all A’s and B’s this semester, in case you were wondering — but as of right now he can no longer practice with the team.

If a kid like Tacko Fall cannot make it through the NCAA’s Eligibility Center untainted, then it is time to declare the process broken. It is time for them to get out of determining initial eligibility.

This isn’t a new sentiment, either. A core function of colleges and universities is determining what high school students are worthy and capable of being admitted. There is literally an entire department — probably named the Office of Admissions, maybe you’ve heard of it — where employees are paid by the school to determine whether or not applicants can succeed academically based on those same transcripts that the NCAA uses.

The NCAA’s initial eligibility process replicates that.

And theoretically, it makes sense. The NCAA wants a level playing field and they have to protect that student-athlete ideal. I get it. But the way the system is currently operating, the majority of these investigations tend to be focused on kids from foreign countries or impoverished backgrounds, kids that are trying to use their athletic ability to further an education and, quite possibly, break their family out of a cycle of poverty.

Fall, at this very moment, is getting A’s and B’s in chemistry, calculus and engineering classes at UCF.

And the NCAA is wasting time, money and resources in trying to determine whether or not he’s truly capable of holding his own academically? Is this real life?

More to the point, college basketball games start in 72 hours and there are still players that will not know if they are going to be able to play in them.

Or at all this season.

It’s ludicrous.

If the system can’t ensure that a kid like Fall is cleared and if it can’t get all of the paperwork and decision-making done before the games actually begin, then the system is flawed.

And it needs to be changed.

 

 

High school basketball player collapses, dies at AAU event

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James Hampton, a member of Team United and a senior at Liberty Heights, a private high school in Charlotte, collapsed and died during a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League game on Saturday night.

Hampton was 17 years old.

In the second half of a game against Nike Phamily, a Phoenix-based program that is run by the father of Marvin Bagley III, Hampton collapsed to the floor unresponsive. Trainers at the event began CPR on and administered chest compressions. Parademics arrived within 10 minutes, but Hampton could not be revived.

The cause of death has not yet been released, but this is not the first time that Hampton had an issue. Last spring, at an event in the Washington D.C. area, Hampton collapsed on the court and had to be given CPR.

“He just fell down on the floor,” Team United director Jacoby Davis told the Charlotte Observer. “He had seizures a year ago and I remember (one of the Team United coaches) telling me that, ‘I saw his eyes rolling back in his head.’ I ran on the court thinking he was having a seizure. A trainer came over and said he didn’t know what was wrong. Another trainer checked his pulse. He said he didn’t have a pulse. It got crazy after that.”

RIP James Hampton.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.