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Why Buddy Hield’s proof that the new NBA Draft early entry deadline will be a good thing

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HOUSTON — The latest change to the NBA Draft early-entry deadline is going to be a major talking point over the course of the next two months.

For those that haven’t been paying attention to the deluge of players putting their name into consideration for the draft, the difference is this: Testing the waters is a thing once again. Players can declare for the NBA Draft and go through the process, attending workouts and interviewing with teams and going through the NBA combine, and return to school as long as they withdraw from the draft within 10 days of the end of the combine. They can do this up to three times in their career.

This is phenomenal for the kids. They’ve never had a chance to be this informed about what is arguably the most important decision of their basketball career. But it’s not necessarily a good thing for the college game — Will this mean that more kids end up turning pro? — and it certainly won’t reduce the stress level of the guys that are coaching them — These control freaks aren’t going to know what their rosters look like until late-May and you expect them to be happy about it?

So don’t be surprised when this becomes a major talking point once the season ends and the draft season begins.

And through it all, what you need to remember is that allowing players to get the access to information is the most important point in all of this.

Because without it, Buddy Hield wouldn’t have turned into #BuddyBuckets.

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“He comes in at 5:30 a.m. and shoots.”

That’s how Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler sets up his favorite story about teammate Buddy Hield’s notorious work ethic.

“I used to come in at 7:00 a.m., so by the time I was getting there at 7:00 a.m., he was coming out,” Spangler continued. “I come back at 11 and he’s there before me again. He had four workouts that day. I came up there with my roommate [that night] and we go on The Gun and he was still there at midnight.”

“That’s an everyday thing, not just one day.”

That is how Hield operates. That is how he went from being a 23.8 percent three-point shooter as a freshman to the guy that put together a season that can be favorably compared to J.J. Redick’s senior year, to a guy that is shooting 46.5 percent from beyond the arc while firing up nearly nine threes a night.

A change like that is possible, but it requires putting in the effort, and there’s no question that Hield is willing to put in the effort. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that that’s all he did in his spare time over the course of the last two years.

He’ll even admit it.

“I’m always in the gym. I’m always shooting. All I do is shoot in the gym,” Hield said.

But that was also part of the problem.

Because he focused all of his energy on ensuring that he’ll be a threat to shoot from beyond the arc, it meant that the rest of his game was lacking. Specifically, his ability to handle the ball, and when he was able to get feedback from NBA people about his potential as a pro after last season, they gave him the cold, hard truth.

“I wasn’t a good enough ball-handler and I couldn’t create a shot for myself,” Hield said of the feedback that he received. It was that inability to put the ball on the floor that limited the Big 12 Player of the Year to being a likely second round pick if he had decided to enter the NBA Draft as a junior.

And as you might imagine, that didn’t sit well with Hield.

“It was embarrassing,” Hield said. “You either fix it or you don’t fix it. I had to fix it this summer, and I did.”

“I just went out there and did what they say I couldn’t do.”

His teammates noticed.

“His first three years he just shot on the gun, so his first two or three years of college he was a set shooter pretty much,” Spangler said. “So he got feedback last year from the NBA saying he had to work on his handles, and I haven’t seen him on the gun since then.”

“Everything that he’s doing in his workouts is coming off ball-screens, double moves, combo-moves, shooting that way. That’s why he’s shooting so good this year. Obviously he can hit his set shots, but if someone wants to come up in him, he can break them off and get his shot, too.”

The end result of that hard work is a handful of National Player of the Year awards, leading Oklahoma to the Final Four and, in all likelihood, a spot in the top ten of the NBA Draft. That would not have been possible without Hield’s ability to get feedback from the NBA.

And in the end, that is what matters the most in this situation.

Because Hield’s deal was different. He didn’t declare for the NBA Draft. He didn’t go through the draft process. He didn’t attend the combine or workout with NBA teams. He simply got some information from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee and went to work.

But Hield is a different beast, bordering on the insane. Most of the greats are. You need to have certain physical gifts in order to be a player at that level, but you also have to have a drive that’s almost inhuman. It’s not normal to be as good at something as they are at basketball, and it’s certainly not normal for any player to make a jump like this their senior year.

“He was Player of the Year last year after his junior year,” head coach Lon Kruger said. “If they had a most improved player in the league, he maybe would have won that this year.”

The love of basketball, the desire to get better, has been in Hield since he was still a kid back in the Bahamas. As he tells it, he used to sneak out of his house when his mother would go to church at night, heading up to the park that had a basketball court. He just had to make sure that he would get home before she did to avoid getting in trouble.

That didn’t always happen.

“I heard her van come squeaking and I just ran home through a shortcut,” Hield said, telling the story of one of the nights he lost track of time. “After I got home, I hopped in the shower and acted like I was sleeping. She came in and started beating me. She is short, 5-foot-2 or 5-foot-3, but no matter how short she was she would still start slapping me or get a wire hanger and hit me.”

“It was all worth it, I’m not going to lie.”

That’s who this dude is.

He’s the kid that was so focused on getting better at basketball that he would risk getting hit with a wire hanger just to play.

Not every kid is like that.

Not every kid is going have the drive to take a couple of sentences from an advisory committee and use it to turn a weakness to a strength in the span of a summer.

Most of them are going to need to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

And that’s what makes the chance to test the waters so important.

The way the system is set up is probably not perfect. Do we really need kids having the ability to declare three times before their senior seasons? Once should really be enough, and then they either improve enough to raise their draft stock or they don’t. And the idea of a player going through this process without representation is risky. If he has an agent, and a team promises that they’ll use a second round pick on him and then balks on that promise, there will be repercussions. I’m not sure any team wants CAA mad at them. But if it’s just the kid and his parents? How many NBA teams are going to honor that handshake agreement?

So there are inefficiencies in the process that can be improved upon.

But the point is that there is a process.

And if Buddy Hield showed us anything, it’s that the process may be more valuable than we realized.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.