Seton Hall Athletics

Braeden Anderson’s journey from academic ineligibility to law school

Leave a comment

Today, Braeden Anderson is the NCAA’s poster boy, everything they could dream a student-athlete to be.

He finished his undergraduate degree with two years of eligibility remaining, transferring from Fresno State to Seton Hall so he can use scholarship money to pay for his first two years of law school. He did that despite being uprooted from his first school midway through freshman year. He did that despite being in a car accident that should have left him paralyzed.

Today, Braeden Anderson is talking to the media about the importance of student-athletes being, yanno, students. He’s trumpeting the value of an education. He’s pleading with his basketball and football-playing peers to take advantage of the scholarship that’s put in front of them.

“The benefit that you’re getting, the reason that schools are able to make millions off of you, is because you’re getting an education,” he says, as if reading off of a notecard that Mark Emmert slipped him before answering a call from NBCSports.com. “You better be actually taking advantage of that education. That’s what you’re getting paid with!”

But four years ago, an NCAA ruling made it clear that the association did not believe that he would be capable of handling the rigors of a college classroom. Shortly thereafter, a Big 12 ruling forbid him from taking advantage of the scholarship that he had been given by Kansas head coach Bill Self. He wasn’t, they said, enough of a student to be an athlete in the NCAA.

My oh my, how time flies.

—————————-

Tacko Fall was the latest social media cause célèbre in the fight against the NCAA, a battle that was won by the masses on Friday. Braeden Anderson knows all too well about the fight that Fall had on his hands.

Fall is a freshman at Central Florida, a 7-foot-6 center from Senegal that is getting As and Bs in Calculus, Chemistry and Engineering classes as we speak, yet the NCAA, last week, told Fall that he was no longer allowed to practice. According to the NCAA, Fall was not prepared to handle the academic rigors of a college curriculum.

Laughable, I know.

It all stems from some bad advice that Fall got when he first arrived in this country in 2012. He spent a year bouncing between sketchy prep schools before finally landing at Liberty Christian, a school that is under extended evaluation by the NCAA. He spent two years there, which is part of the reason the NCAA initially only accepted 7.5 core credits.

It’s not that Fall didn’t do the work, it’s that the NCAA does not trust the school he did the work at, a school he probably never should have been at in the first place.

The good news? The NCAA reversed course and cleared Fall to play this season.

Anderson, however, was nowhere near as lucky.

Despite getting a 1450 on his SATs and earning two As in summer school classes when he first arrived at Kansas, Anderson was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA. He was allowed to go to school and practice with the team, but he was not allowed to suit up on game day. An academic redshirt, if you will. The Big 12, however, decided against allowing him to receive his scholarship, and Anderson, as a result, was forced to leave the school that September, transferring to Fresno State, because he could not afford to pay his own tuition. He sat out the 2011-12 season and was forced to miss the first 20 games of the 2012-13 campaign.

A member of the high school Class of 2011, Anderson didn’t see his first minutes on a college court until February 6th, 2013.

That initial eligibility ruling?

It essentially cost Anderson two years.

And like Fall, it all stemmed from some bad advice Anderson, a native Canadian, received when he came to this country. Anderson followed his AAU coach — Ro Russell, who founded the Grassroots Canada program — to North Carolina with the intention of attending Christian Faith Center Academy. This was back in 2009, before Canadians like Andrew Wiggins and Tristan Thompson made our neighbors to the north the latest recruiting hotbed. “I was really, really good over there,” Anderson, who was averaging 30 points and 15 boards as a 14 year old, “but I couldn’t get any exposure. It wasn’t like it is now.”

But Russell’s promises never came to fruition, and it’s unclear if the school, as Russell described it, ever actually existed. According to an investigation by the CBC’s Fifth Estate — Canada’s equivalent to Dateline NBC — the 11 players that Russell brought to North Carolina weren’t enrolled at CFCA. Instead, they were in a school with a similar name that was owned by Russell. They practiced at CFCA’s gym and, as Anderson put it back in 2011, “our basketball jerseys said ‘Christian Faith Center’ on them,” but they didn’t attend class, according to Fifth Estate. They took online courses while their parents continued to send tuition money to Russell.

Whether this was a scam by Russell or simply a way for him to try and work around a delay in student visas is unclear. What is clear, however, is that it was those online courses that weren’t accepted by the NCAA, and Anderson was far from the only player that got caught up in the wake of the scandal.

“I was not a bad student when I was ruled a partial,” Anderson said. “I cared about education more than most kids.”

The irony here is that Anderson is actually thankful for the opportunity that Russell provided him, even though the mess Russell created at CFCA cost Anderson a chance to play at Kansas, even though he went 20 months between his first college class and his first college game. The school may not have been real, but the exposure was. The recruiting letters and scholarship offers were, and Anderson firmly believes that, were it not for that school year, he would not be in a position today to be receive an athletic scholarship to attend law school.

“Am I mad at him? Of course not,” Anderson said. “If it wasn’t for him giving me that first shot, I wouldn’t have had all the other opportunities that came after that.”

“At that point I had options I didn’t have before. Basketball-wise, it was great. The legal, technical stuff, that was a mess.”

That mess may have damaged Anderson’s basketball career, but it couldn’t put a dent in his spirit.

—————————-

The a typical day for a first-year law student that plays college basketball in the Big East begins at roughly 6:00 a.m. That’s when Braeden Anderson gets out of bed to make the protein shake that he drinks every morning while reading over the roughly 100 pages of notes that he took for class that day.

He’s in class by 7:30 most mornings, although a couple days a week he has the luxury of waiting until 8:30 before the learning commences. He’ll be in class until 12:30, when he has a chance to head back to his apartment to get some food before practice. He’s usually there more than an hour early so he can get treatment, watch film and maybe get a quick lift in — his morning classes mean that he’s not there for Seton Hall’s individual workouts, team lifts or film sessions — before practice, which normally lasts until about 6:00 p.m.

After he gets dinner, Anderson’s night consists of … studying. He’ll read, take notes and prep for the next morning’s rigorous course load.

“Law school is different from normal school in the sense that they’re not there to teach you what the law is. They’re not there to teach you what you need to know,” he said. “Your job is to go home and teach yourself the law through what you read, and when you come to class you need to be prepared to solve problems with the tools that you learned on your own time.”

He’s normally in bed by 1:00 a.m., giving him a full five hours of sleep on a good night.

“I could do a half-assed job and get to bed by 10, but I want to be doing my best. I want to really understand everything and I’ve done everything that I’m expected to do,” he said. He wants to get the most out of that $90,000-a-year law school education. “Sleep is not one of the luxuries I have at the moment.”

Seton Hall Athletics
Seton Hall Athletics

“He’s a very determined young man,” said head coach Kevin Willard, who recruited Anderson knowing exactly what he would be doing this season. Anderson’s official visit dealt more with law school than it did with basketball. “He’s very smart and very opinionated, which will probably make him a good lawyer.”

“He has a very mature presence about him, which is really nice in the locker room,” Willard continued. “That’s what I’ve seen, that some of the grab-ass that my younger guys used to do [has ended].”

That’s the result, Willard believes, of just how much Anderson has been through in his life. Because forget moving to a new country at age 15. Forget having to wait 20 months to play college basketball. Both of those pale in comparison to the fight Anderson had on his hands after the car accident that should have ended his career.

It happened on September 3rd, 2013. Anderson was a passenger in a car driven by a Fresno State walk-on Kyle Jackson. Two other teammates were in the car when it was involved in a wreck caused by a drunk driver. One person died in the accident No one else in Anderson’s car was injured, but Anderson’s neck hit the ceiling of the vehicle that he was in. He fractured and displaced his C5 and C6 vertebrae, an injury that surgeons told him had a 0.4 percent chance at a full recovery. He had multiple surgeries. He spent a month and a half in the hospital, losing 60 pounds while spending his days getting poked and prodded with so many needles — getting blood drawn, getting morphine pumped into his veins — that his veins turned rock hard.

“They call them heroin veins,” Anderson said. “one nurse came in and tried to do an IV and asked me if I was a drug addict because my veins were so bad.”

“I didn’t know what pain was until I went through this experience,” he continued. “I kind of wanted to die. In a lot of instances, it was like, ‘OK, I lived long enough.’ It was that bad. You can’t sleep for days at a time because of the pain, and all you can think of is pain, for days on end. There goes a point where you’re like, ‘Hey, I’ve lived a pretty good life, I’ve accomplished some things. I’m a good person. You know what? Just take me.'”

He missed the entire 2013-14 season as he recovered.

To look at it another way, Anderson’s first full season of college basketball came in 2014-15, when he should have been a senior.

Those NBA dreams he had when he committed to Kansas four years? They were more or less dashed, and as disappointing as that was, it reinforced Anderson’s belief in the educational system. It opened his eyes to how the value and the importance of the scholarship that he was receiving. That will happen when your basketball career — your ability to walk, your life — is dangled in front of you.

“Not to be dark about it, but let’s be honest, the basketball stops bouncing very, very shortly after college,” he said.

And not just for him.

For the overwhelming majority of college athletes as well.

That’s why he’s speaking out.

“I have a problem with what’s going on right now with college athletics and with my peers and my fellow student-athletes,” Anderson said. “I don’t want to pigeon hole football and basketball into a corner here, but it’s mostly those guys that I want to talk to and want to set an example for.”

“When you’re a college athlete, and the NCAA wants to say, ‘hey, you’re an amateur, you’re a student-athlete’, that’s what you are! The benefit that you’re getting. The reason that schools are able to make millions off of you, is because you’re getting an education. You better be actually taking advantage of that education. That’s what you’re getting paid with right now. And that’s something that’s overlooked by so many student-athletes.”

He’s not saying college athletes don’t deserve more. He believes they should.

So don’t get it twisted.

But even with cost of attendance scholarships, even with stipends and money for books and unlimited per diem, Anderson has has a message he believes college athletes need to hear.

“Find a major. Find a degree that actually falls in line with something you might want to do when you’re done playing ball. Research. Make [education] something that’s important. Think about [your] future after [you]’re done playing the sport. You play pro, great, but you still gotta have skills to fall back on after you’re done playing.”

—————————-

The root cause of the NCAA’s need for academic regulation and initial eligibility testing is tied to the idea of amateurism and the student-athlete. They need to keep up the facade lest they admit that the athletes whose performance generates billions of dollars for the school and the association are, in fact, professionals and do, indeed, deserve a bigger cut of the profits.

They’ll sell you on the idea that the existence of the NCAA Eligibility Center is to create a level playing field, that it is to ensure that the athletes that are accepted into, say, Auburn have an academic background that is as legitimate as the athletes that can get accepted by Vanderbilt.

But that’s not really the case.

The truth is that the Eligibility Center exists so that the NCAA can say they are doing everything they can to ensure that the athletes accepting those scholarships are capable of utilizing them. It’s the association’s way of testing the academic aptitude of incoming athletes, making sure that they’re functionally ready for college courses. It’s their way of saying these kids are going to be able to reap the benefits of the compensation they’re receiving for playing their sport.

There are a myriad of lawsuits that the NCAA is facing that could change the system entirely. The charade can’t end now.

The issue is that the current process for determining initial eligibility doesn’t measure an athlete’s ability to handle a college classroom moving forward, it evaluates the decisions they’ve made in the past; decisions that, more often than not, were made by an advisor that shouldn’t have been trusted. Did the kid with a sketchy transcript pick the right diploma mill to attend, the one that the NCAA has deemed worthy enough to accept kids from? Did they take the right online courses? Were they able to obtain an accurate transcript from their school in another country or from the public school they attended early in their high school career in a school district that can barely afford to pay their teachers?

The NCAA has reportedly requested the sixth-grade transcripts of Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo, who has yet to be cleared to play this season. Diallo came to America from Mali when he was in ninth grade, completed his summer school classes at Kansas and is well past the midway point of a full load of courses for the fall semester.

But the NCAA needs evidence from when he was 12 years old to determine if he can handle the college courses currently enrolled in? The classes he’s already completed?

And that is the fatal flaw in the initial eligibility process.

A year at a shady prep school run by a con man made the NCAA believe that Braeden Anderson couldn’t handle being a college student. They ignored his SAT score. They ignored the As he had already received in college classes. But they can’t ignore that he’s graduated early, and they can’t ignore that he’s currently enrolled in law school while still playing college basketball.

If that isn’t proof that the initial eligibility process is broken, then I don’t know what is.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

Getty Images
3 Comments

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

Getty Images
3 Comments

McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

jared butler baylor
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

Getty Images
3 Comments

TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

xavier tillman nba draft
Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.