Getty Images

John Calipari takes a shot at Duke, Coach K

Leave a comment

No one embraced the idea of the one-and-done era as quickly as John Calipari did. Even dating back to his days at Memphis, he had no issue in locking down the best freshmen in America even if it meant that A) he’d only get them for one season and B) that he would be on a never-ending run of the most intense and high-profile recruiting battles.

And it worked.

He’s won a national title and been to another national title game, two more Final Four and an Elite 8 in his seven seasons with the Wildcats while churning out some of the NBA’s best talents in the process. The only year he didn’t get to the NCAA tournament in this run was when his best player — Nerlens Noel — blew out his knee in the middle of the season.

People noticed, and the likes of Duke and Kansas tried to follow in Kentucky’s footsteps. Bill Self has won 12 straight Big 12 regular season titles and landed the No. 1 player in the country in two of the last four recruiting classes, but the two Final Fours that he’s reached with the Jayhawks came when his team was led by upper-classmen. Coach K, on the other hand, has been able to replicate that success. After winning the national title in 2010, five of the next six seasons his best player has been a one-and-done star. Kyrie Irving in 2011, Austin Rivers in 2012, Jabari Parker in 2014 and Brandon Ingram in 2016 all had terrific individual success, even if it didn’t lead to success in the NCAA tournament.

But the tipping point in the mind of many observers came when Duke won the 2015 national title in a year where they were led by Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, three guys who were all somewhere between surefire one-and-done prospects and kids that were hoping to have a good enough season to allow them to jump to the NBA after one year. They landed another loaded recruiting class for the following season, and while the impact of guys like Derryck Thornton and Chase Jeter was somewhat limited, it was a stepping stone on the way to the 2016-17 season, one where the Blue Devils should enter the year as the consensus No. 1 team in the country.

And they’re not done yet: Duke is still battling Kentucky for the services of Marques Bolden, a 6-foot-10 center with the length, athleticism, strength and low-post game to have an immediate impact while filling a void on both rosters.

That’s where this thing gets interesting.

On Monday, Coach Cal posted an open letter on his website discussing the state of the program. In it was this shot at Duke and Coach K:

“Some of these kids may only stay a year or two. We must recognize that. I refuse to go in a home and paint a picture saying things like, “If you come with us you’ll be taken care of for the rest of your life by the program and by our alums” even though you may only be in school for a year or two. How preposterous does that sound? What if I say that same thing and the young man decides to transfer for one reason or another? Does that still hold true that we’re going to take care of them the rest of their lives? Our approach is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish.”

How was this a jab at the Blue Devils, you ask?

For starters, look at this quote that Hamidou Diallo, a star shooting guard in the Class of 2017 that is being pursued by both programs, game to the Louisville Courier-Journal:

“Kentucky’s pitch was just the NBA thing,” Diallo told the paper. “Duke’s pitch was if you come to Duke, you’re going to be set for life. It’s more than just basketball. [John Calipari’s] pitch was he gets guys ready for the next level. Look at the numbers: it shows. It’s the best place for you if you want to make it to the NBA.”

It goes further than that, because Cal makes a not-at-all-veiled reference to point guard Derryck Thornton, who transferred out of the Duke program after one season. What, exactly, went wrong between the two sides in that relationship is unclear — Duke will tell you that Thornton’s family (his father) had unrealistic expectations for how good Derryck is, the Thorntons will tell you that they were lied to during the recruiting process, a impartial observer may comment on how rushing Derryck into college a year early was probably a mistake — but that doesn’t matter when you’re John Calipari and you have a chance to publicly take a shot at the program that is threatening your dominance on the recruiting trail.

Duke assistant coach and ace recruiter Jeff Capel seemingly responded on twitter later on Monday:

I love it.

Duke and Kentucky are the two biggest brands with the two biggest coaching celebrities in the sport currently competing for the best players in the country every spring and summer. They’re the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25. Of course they aren’t going to like each other. Of course it will stir up a bit of a rivalry.

And if that spills over into the public, it makes the sport just that much more intriguing.

The only downside here?

Duke and Kentucky played each other in the Champions Classic last season.

Which means that we probably won’t get these two squaring off until the Final Four.

And that, my friends, will be awesome.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

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
1 Comment

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
6 Comments

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

Getty Images
3 Comments

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

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

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.