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Braeden Anderson’s journey from academic ineligibility to law school

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim comment on death of Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna

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Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach of the USA Men’s National team for nearly a decade, and in that time, he won two gold medals with Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, and his daughter Gianna, died on Sunday morning after a helicopter that they were flying in crashed in Calabasas, Cali.

“We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time with the passing of Kobe Bryant,” Coach K said. “He was an incredibly gifted person who was universally respected. He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport.

“I had the amazing honor of coaching Kobe in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and I will always remember how much he cherished representing his country in a first-class manner playing the game he so loved. The game of basketball is better today because of Kobe, and he deserves eternal appreciation for that. This is a devastating loss, made even more tragic by the passing of his daughter, Gianna, and all others on board. The entire Krzyzewski family is saddened as we genuinely loved and admired Kobe. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Vanessa, their daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and the families of those involved.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was an assistant on the 2008 Gold Medal winning team, dubbed the Reedem Team. That squad restored the image of USA Basketball after winning bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.

“I first saw him in person when he came to the qualifier in ’07 before the Olympic year,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com. “He came in the first day and worked twice as hard as everybody else. He taught all the young players, LeBron and Carmelo and all those guys: ‘This is what you gotta do. You gotta go after this.’

“We lost in the World Championship the year before. And he just showed everybody — this is what you do. And we overpowered everybody in that tournament, then we went to the Olympics and overpowered everybody. When it was a close game against Spain in the finals, he took the ball, made the play to win the game.

“That’s who he was. He set a high standard. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. Jordan, I didn’t coach, but Jordan was the same. Of all the guys that I’ve ever coached and ever seen, he worked harder than everybody.”

Tom Izzo broke the news of Kobe Bryant’s death to Cassius Winston on live TV

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While the shock and immediacy of Kobe Bryant’s death spread through my network of friends and social media follows like wildfire on Sunday afternoon, one thing I kept thinking about was how many people involved with the game of basketball were actually playing while this was happening.

Take Michigan State and Minnesota, for example. The news of Bryant’s death broke around 2:30 p.m. ET. This game tipped off at 3 p.m. ET. Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s resident all-american, found out about Kobe’s death live on TV after the game came to an end:

 

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu breaks down during moment of silence honoring Kobe Bryant

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Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu was moved to tears during a pregame moment of silence in honor of Kobe Bryant prior to a rivalry game against Oregon State on Sunday:

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday morning in a place crash that also resulted in the death of one of Gianna’s teammates and a parent.

Ionescu is the best women’s player in the country, recently surpassing Gary Payton for the Pac-12 career assist record, and she has developed a friendship with Kobe Bryant over the years. Gianna, a budding basketball star in her own right, was a huge fan of Sabrina Ionescu’s game, and Kobe Bryant had brought her and her teammates to a number of Oregon games in recent years.

These are the details of the crash, according to our Kurt Helin:

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northeast of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant. It was a foggy day in Southern California, which could have contributed to the crash.

The crash killed five people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

 

Saturday’s Things To Know: Kentucky survives, Ayo Dosunmu’s on a tear, Roy and Huggs reach milestones

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It was actually a relatively slow day for a Saturday in late-January in college hoops, but there is still plenty to discuss. Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. No. 15 KENTUCKY KNOCKED OFF No. 18 TEXAS TECH

Nick Richards went for 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks and Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points of his own as Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off the Red Raiders in overtime. A full breakdown of that game can be found here.

2. TEXAS TECH IS IN REAL BUBBLE TROUBLE

I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

3. AYO DOSUNMU CONTINUED HIS TEAR

In case you haven’t noticed, No. 21 Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten, sitting all alone in first-place in the conference standings and Ayo Dosunmu — who scored 27 points and hit the game-winner at Michigan today — has been the best player in the Big Ten this month. More on the Illini and their star here.

4. ROY WILLIAMS PASSED DEAN SMITH ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

It’s ironic when you think about it: North Carolina was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak since 2003, and it just so happened to come after Williams had tied Smith on the all-time wins list. He finally broke the streak on Saturday, blowing out Miami, 94-71, to win his 880th game as a head coach. It is, quite literally, the first win for the Tar Heels in 2020.

5. BOB HUGGINS PASSED ADOLPH RUPP ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

No. 14 West Virginia blew out Missouri in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to give Huggy Bear is 876th career win, good for seventh on the all-time list, one better than Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky head coach.

6. No. 1 BAYLOR UPSET UNRANKED FLORIDA

This might sound ridiculous, but if you subscribe to the theory that any underdog that wins a game is an upset happening, then No. 1 Baylor going into the O-Dome and knocking off Florida is, technically, an upset. The Gators entered the game as 2.5 point favorites, jumped out to a big league and then proceeded to watch as the nation’s best team proved that they are, in fact, the nation’s best team.

We have spent the majority of this season explaining away the reasons why there isn’t an elite team in college basketball, but I’m beginning to think that there’s a chance Baylor could be that team. They’re never going to be the darlings of the metrics and they don’t have much NBA talent, but they are so balanced, so effective in crunch time and elite on the defensive end of the floor.

7. MEMPHIS BLEW AN 11-POINT LEAD IN THE FINAL SIX MINUTES

This one was hard to do.

The Tigers were up 70-59 with less than six minutes remaining in the game and then never scored again. They would give up a 15-0 run in that stretch and go on to lose, 74-70, at home to an SMU team that is not very good. Penny Hardaway’s team has found themselves in a bad, bad spot this season.

8. ARIZONA BLEW A 22-POINT LEAD

The No. 22 Wildcats led Arizona State in Tempe by 22 points in the first half. With 1:40 left before the break, they were ahead 43-24. At halftime, they were up 43-30. With 16:30 left on the clock, the Sun Devils had cut that lead to 43-40, and after Alonzo Verge scored with 10 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils had a 66-65 lead and went on to win by that score.

The importance of this win for Bobby Hurley’s club cannot be overstated.

9. SAN FRANCISCO WORKED THEIR FOULING MAGIC AGAIN

Last weekend, San Francisco fouled a ball-handler at the end of the first half in order to get the ball back. It was a sneaky bit of math that gave the Dons an extra two points on their lead heading into the break.

On Saturday against BYU, Todd Golden drew up something similar. With 22 seconds left in the game and the Dons clinging to a 79-77 lead, he had his team intentionally foul Yoeli Childs, BYU’s star center who just so happens to be a 60 percent free throw shooter and coming off of a broken finger. The reasoning was simple: Since BYU was in the one-and-one, Childs shooting free throws meant that A) BYU’s xPPP for that possessions was 0.96, lower than the average possession for a team that had scored 77 points in 39 minutes and shot 15-for-27 from three on the night. If he made both, USF had a chance to win on the final possession. If he missed one, BYU’s best rebounder was shooting the free throws. Turns out, he missed the first, and USF hung on to win, 83-82.

10. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON MAY HAVE HAD HIS BREAKOUT GAME

Last weekend, it was freshman David Johnson that had his breakout game for No. 6 Louisville. He went for 19 points and seven boards as the Cardinals went into Cameron and beat Duke. This weekend, it was fellow freshman Williamson, who scored 14 points for the Cards as they blew out Clemson in the Yum! Center. Is this the start of his star turn?

No. 1 Baylor smothers Florida 72-61, 16th straight win

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo scored 16 points apiece and No. 1 Baylor extended its winning steak to 16 with a 72-61 victory over Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.

The Bears improved to 6-1 in the annual inter-conference series – the best record of any team in either conference – and themselves another week atop The Associated Press poll.

Baylor also gave the Big 12 an even split (5-5) in the daylong series.

The Bears (17-1) overcame an eight-point deficit early and led by 19 points in the second half before Florida mounted a minor rally. The Gators (12-7) had a chance to make it a single-digit game with a little more than 7 minutes to play, but they missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones. Kerry Blackshear Jr. misfired twice on back-to-back possessions and then Noah Locke did the same seconds later.

What could have been an eight-point game was still a comfortable lead for the Bears.

Florida eventually managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 on Andrew Nembhard’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining. But the Bears answered on the other end thanks to their 13th offensive rebound, which led to two free throws for Bandoo.

Davion Mitchell finished with 11 points and six assists for Baylor, which was a slight underdog entering the game. Jared Butler chipped in 10 points.

Baylor’s length, athleticism and defensive prowess posed problems all night for Florida, which shot 44% from the field and 23.5% from 3-point range.

The Gators fell to 2-17 against the No. 1 team, including 10 consecutive losses.

Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 20 points. Nembhard added 16 points and eight assists, but he missed more shots (8) than he made (6), including all four 3-pointers. The Gators missed 13 of 17 from behind the arc.

Baylor took control of the game with a 13-2 run to close the first half, turning a tie game into a double-digit lead. The Bears hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes – twice as many as Florida – and had seven offensive rebounds.

They got help from an unlikely source. Bandoo, who averages 7.5 points off the benched, scored 11 in the opening half on 4 of 6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears matched their best 18-game start in school history. They also started 17-1 in 2011-12 and 2016-17. They landed No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament after those regular seasons and were eliminated both times by SEC teams (Kentucky in ’12, South Carolina in `17).

Florida: The Gators appeared to be taking strides while beating then-No. 4 Auburn last Saturday and nearly stunning LSU on the road earlier this week. But the team’s offensive woes returned against Baylor – no surprise given the Bears are one of the best defenses in the nation.

STILL HOBBLING

Florida forward Dontay Bassett missed his second consecutive game with a calf injury. Bassett averages 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor: Returns to Big 12 action and plays at Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Bears have won three of the last four in the series, but lost to the Cyclones in the conference tournament last March.

Florida: Returns to SEC play and hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs last year to end an eight-game winning streak in the series.