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How Kris Jenkins went from Villanova recruiting afterthought to indisposable player

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HOUSTON — The Kris Jenkins of today and the Kris Jenkins from his first two-and-a-half seasons at Villanova are two totally different players. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior has gone from being a defensive liability that chucked too many threes to the player that has become Villanova’s most difficult matchup.

On Monday night, Jenkins is quite possibly the most important player for the Wildcats as they look to win the program’s second national championship. Five years ago, when Jenkins first visited Villanova, he was the guy that head coach Jay Wright let tag along in the hopes of landing point guard Nate Britt.

The Wildcats made Britt a recruiting priority and wanted him to visit campus. As Britt’s brother through legal guardianship, and also his high school teammate, the Britts wanted to bring Jenkins along for Nate’s visit to Philadelphia. The Villanova coaching staff knew that Jenkins could hit shots and put up points, but they didn’t believe Jenkins would be disciplined enough to thrive in their program.

“The Britts are a really tight family. We were recruiting Nate. We liked Kris, but we thought he’s overweight and he’s not going to want to do all the stuff we do,” Wright said. “[The Britts said] ‘Do you mind if we bring him?’ [We responded] ‘Yeah, we love him.'”

“When we met with Nate, we met with Kris. You heard all the things we’re saying to Nate, but you’re going to have to come in here and work hard, get your body fat tested. That’s what we want you to do. As the recruiting went on, Nate Britt, Sr. said, ‘Kris loved it.’ [We thought] If he loved that, we want this guy.”

Nate Britt Jr. ended up at North Carolina, Villanova’s opponent in Monday night’s national championship game, but the Wildcats rolled the dice on Jenkins, the undersized, out-of-shape forward who had a knack for getting buckets.

It took some time at Villanova for Jenkins to get his body into proper shape. Thanks to a strength-and-conditioning program, an improved diet and a lot of time riding the bike, Jenkins eventually got into the kind of shape the Villanova coaching staff was looking for.

There would be days in practice, and in games, where Jenkins would light it up in the scoring column, but he still wasn’t figuring things out all the way as a defender and rebounder.

That approach to defense and rebounding began to change midway through the 2015-16 season.

People around the Villanova program admit that Jenkins has always had the intelligence and toughness to be a good defender and rebounder but it’s been his improved conditioning and preparation that has led to increased minutes.

Around the time Big East conference play started this season, teammates and coaches noticed that Jenkins was pouring over scouting reports on defense after he went through a rough stretch where he was held to six points or less in six of nine outings. He started becoming a vocal leader on the defensive end of the floor as his confidence grew at that end.

“I think once we got in conference play, Kris started to lock in and be more focused on defending and rebounds, and in turn, because he did those things, he’s out on the floor longer and he gets to do what does best on the offensive end,” Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard told NBCSports.com. “As his commitment to defense has gone up, his offensive production has gone up. Now he’s in a groove, he’s playing at a high level and he’s still playing well on both ends.”

Jenkins has grabbed headlines for the offensive production he’s put up during the last few months of the season — scoring double-figures in 14 consecutive games — but his improved commitment to rebounding and defense has enabled him to stay on the floor longer to put up better numbers.

The increase in minutes means that Villanova can put Jenkins in a number of different positions to hurt an opposing defense. Jenkins is versatile enough as an offensive threat to score inside, but he’s also lethal enough as a shooter to knock down 3-pointers at a high clip. Jenkins went 8-for-10 from the field and 5-for-6 from 3-point range in a Sweet 16 win over Miami as he finished with 21 points. Through out the tournament he’s also drawn fouls, created for teammates and provided ball movement in the flow of Villanova’s offense.

“We’ve been playing through Kris a little bit more, posting him up a little bit more, so now he’s getting more touches and he’s in more of a rhythm offensively,” Howard said. “Now he doesn’t feel the need to come down and take every 3-point shot that he gets. He’s using those opportunities to help create for his teammates and get fouled and that ability to mix up his offense helps us a lot.”

In the Elite Eight it was Jenkins who guarded Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis for most of the game when Ellis only scored four points on 1-for-5 shooting with four turnovers as the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four. And on the offensive end, Jenkins countered with 13 points as he nabbed Most Outstanding Player in the South Regional.

“I’ve always thought that he’s taken defense to heart,” teammate Darryl Reynolds said. “Even when there’s times where guys have criticized him for such you can tell they still got under his skin and that makes him a good defender at this point. It’s something that he’s worked on over the last couple of years here. I think that’s really what separated him.”

A few months ago, Jenkins was the type of player that made you wonder how he would fit on the floor and who he would match up against on the defensive end. Now that he’s earned the respect and admiration of his teammates for his contributions on defense and on the glass. Jenkins has become the indispensable jack-of-all trades forward who has become a matchup nightmare for Villanova.

“He’s improved a lot. We always knew he was a great offensive player who could do stuff in the post out to the 3-point line,” teammate Daniel Ochefu said. “The way he’s been committing to our scouting reports, taking pride in guarding guards, getting in the paint and rebounding against guys my size, it’s definitely big for us and we have a lot of respect for him.”

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.