Villanova beats North Carolina on buzzer-beater to win national title

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HOUSTON — They call it “Nova.”

They practice the play every day during the “Wildcat Minute.” The purpose is to be prepared, regardless of the time on the clock, the score of the game and how many timeouts they have available. It’s a play that’s been in Jay Wright’s arsenal for years. Before Monday, the most famous shot during Wright’s tenure at Villanova came using “Nova” as point guard Scottie Reynolds took the ball the length of the floor in 5.5 seconds and finished a runner in traffic to beat Pitt in the 2009 Elite Eight.

The 2016 version of “Nova” substitutes Reynolds for Ryan Arcidiacono. Villanova’s trusted senior point guard is given the ball and tasked with taking a shot or finding an open option.

With 4.7 seconds left and Villanova tied with North Carolina at 74 with the national championship on the line, Arcidiacono made the right read, as he found trailing teammate, and inbounder, Kris Jenkins for the game-winning 3-pointer from the right wing as the Wildcats captured their second national championship in program history with a 77-74 win over North Carolina on Monday night.

The Jenkins buzzer-beating 3-pointer came out of a timeout right after a desperation, double-pump 3-pointer from North Carolina senior Marcus Paige that tied the game at 74, capping a wild sequence that will help this game go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA tournament history.

North Carolina trailed by 10 with 4:42 remaining but made a furious late rally to get back into things as Paige and his teammates wouldn’t give up.

But Jenkins, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward who was a recruiting afterthought for Villanova, had the final word as the confident junior hit the biggest shot of his life despite sitting on the bench for a good chunk of the game with foul trouble. Jenkins finished with 14 points as his buzzer-beater will go down in basketball lore as one of the best shots ever to win a championship.

“When I take the ball out, the defender usually follows the ball. So I was able to get in [Arcidiacono’s] line of vision,” Jenkins said. “I screamed his name, and he was able to flip it back to me.

“To have this opportunity to hit a game-winning shot, from a senior who was unselfish enough and gave up the ball, that could have been the final shot of his career. And I’m happy it turned out that way.”

Arcidiacono finished with 16 points, as he was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 NCAA tournament.

“The play is going to become famous now but all it really is is get the player you trust the most with the ball to make a decision and kind of open up the court,” Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy said of “Nova.” “The final option was Kris coming behind, and give Ryan credit, he saw Kris’ man right in front of him and got it to him.

“Our scout team knows the play so it never works. But, of course, it works in the Elite Eight in 2009 and the final game in 2016. But, no, it never works in practice.”

The unselfish nature of the final play of the season perfectly captured the essence of Villanova basketball during the 2015-16 season — as well as the four-year career of Arcidiacono. The Big East regular season champions were constantly doubted during the season after some early tournament exits the last few years and early-season, double-digit losses to quality opponents like Oklahoma and Virginia. Without a bonafide future NBA player, the Wildcats relied on balance, toughness and keeping a positive attitude as they became an offensive juggernaut during most of the NCAA tournament.

Arcidiacono is the backbone to the Wildcats. A starter since his freshman season, the 6-foot-3 guard has made a ton of huge plays during his Villanova career. When you go over the history of Arcidiacono making big plays in critical moments, it’s easy to see why Villanova wanted the ball in his hands to make an important play.

“His freshman year, he had a buzzer-beater against Syracuse. His sophomore year he hit the huge buzzer-beater against Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Last year, at Butler, he had the ball in his hands with six seconds left, opportunity to make a play, found Darrun Hilliard open for a three at the buzzer,” Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard said of Arcidiacono. “He’s been our guy, man. In crucial situations we’ve always gone to him. He’s always came through. I can remember at Providence last year, overtime game, he comes off a ball screen, gets to the basket, layup with two seconds left. He’s unflappable in those moments. He made the right play tonight and his legacy is going to be enormous at Villanova. Enormous. I’m proud of him.”

Arcidiacono was so impressive during the tournament that veteran broadcaster Jim Nantz approached the senior after the game and gave him the tie from around his neck. It’s a little-known tradition that Nantz does with a senior at the conclusion of every NCAA tournament.

“Jim Nantz came up to me, stopped me. I just thanked him for a great tournament, everything he did,” Arcidiacono said. “He said at the end of the tournament I always go to the winning team and I pick a senior who has inspired him throughout the tournament. He gives him the tie at the end. He said it was me. I was in awe. I didn’t know what to say. It was just a great honor from a really nice person.”

(Scott Phillips)
(Scott Phillips)

In the postgame locker room, Arcidiacono and Jenkins sat side-by-side as a media throng gathered around each of them. Jenkins was sitting in his chair, holding the national championship trophy and doing his “champions dance” while Arcidiacono had Nantz’s tie around his neck. Other players and coaches in the Villanova locker room could be heard repeatedly watching different angles of the Jenkins buzzer-beater on phones as they tried to wrap their heads around being a part of one of the greatest basketball games of all time.

“That’s been our team all season. Nobody cares who gets the credit,” Howard said. “Guys play hard for each other on both ends of the floor. And that last play was just a testament to that. Ryan could have easily forced a shot, game goes into overtime, no big deal. But he made the right play because he trusted his brother and Kris came through for him.”

Arcidiacono, Jenkins and the rest of the 2016 Villanova Wildcats will undoubtedly be legends around campus and Philadelphia — mentioned now in the same breath as the 1985 team that is still the highest-seeded team to ever win the NCAA tournament.

Meals will be bought for them and photos will be taken, babies might even be named “Arch” or “Kris.” A city that has dealt with a pro basketball team that has (semi) purposely lost for years to go with slumps in baseball and football now has a champion to cheer for.

“Hopefully [Kris buys his own cheesesteaks], so he doesn’t get an NCAA violation. Let’s hope he pays for it until he graduates,” Villanova guard Jalen Brunson said with a laugh. “But Kris is going to be a legend, not for that shot, but for everything that he’s done.”

Race and Sports in America: Steph Curry, Charles Barkley on impact of George Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter

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Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley were among the athletes that say down and spoke with NBC about the intersection of sports and race in America.

The Black Lives Matter movement reached a crescendo in late May, when a police officer knelt on the neck of a Minneapolis man named George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, suffocating him while knowingly being recorded. The murder, which followed the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbary, set off weeks of riots and has led to two months of protest across the country and around the world.

Race and Sports in America: Conversations is a one-hour show with two segments that debuts on NBCSN on Monday, July 13 at 8 pm ET.

It will be simulcast on Golf Channel, Olympic Channel, and the regional sports networks. Along with Curry and Barkley, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, San Diego Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, golfer Troy Mullins, tennis player James Blake, former Saint Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith and former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis participated in the discussions.

Below, you can find an excerpt of Barkley and Curry discussing the way they are treated by white America as famous, Black athletes.


DAMON HACK:  It’s interesting.  You guys have all played at the highest level.  You’ve had people that would cheer for you when you were in uniform.  But if you were walking down the street and not wearing your uniform and you had a hoodie on, they might look at you a little bit different.

How do you navigate that?

CHARLES BARKLEY:  The notion that rich and famous Black people are treated like regular Black people, that’s not right.  We get treated great.  But I always worry about how we treat poor Black people.

You know, there’s a great thing  and Spike Lee, who I really admire and respect  in that movie, “Do The Right Thing,” that’s a perfect illustration what Ozzie is talking about, what I’m talking about, when the guy says, you know, you hate Black people.  He says, yeah, I hate Black people.  He says, who is your favorite entertainer.  He says Michael Jackson.  He says, who is your favorite jock.  He says, Michael Jordan.  He’s says, they’re Black.  And he said, well, they’re not “Black.”

And that’s the disadvantage that us four we’re at a disadvantage because White people treat us great.  And, like I say, I’m not worried about how they treat us because it really comes down to economics, too, at some point, because rich Black people aren’t treated like poor Black people.  And that’s the thing we’ve got to really engage conversation.

How can we get more Black people and poor White people also, but they’re in the same boat, give them economic opportunity.  That’s what America’s really got to grapple with.

STEPH CURRY:  I think one thing you said, too, is the preconceived notions of how they view rich, successful Black people as anomalies and our intelligence and our well spokenness, that’s always the first thing you hear.  If somebody knows how to be articulate, if they know how to

ALL:  So well spoken.

STEPH CURRY:  Come into a room  that’s the subtle racism and prejudice that kind of starts to add on itself.  And if another White person hears that comment, they’re going to think the same thing.  And it’s not going to trickle down to anybody else, and be able to create opportunities for somebody else to get that in that room and prove their value, prove their worth.

It’s just shifting perspectives and, again, holding everybody accountable whether it’s a private conversation, whether it’s a tweet, whether it’s a video.  Whatever it is, to do the right thing, no pun intended, but to see everybody as equal and that’s all we’re asking for.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.