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Six Takeaways from the 2016 NBA Draft Combine

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CHICAGO — The 2016 NBA Draft Combine offered some interesting twists this year since the rule changes meant college players could still play and opt to later go back to school. The combine has been a bit stale in recent years, but this new development meant that current college players got to play against each other in front of nearly every relevant NBA person and it made for an intriguing few days.

1. The new format is a good thing for the players and NBA teams

It quickly became apparent that the new rules to allow college players to test the waters and return to school multiple times has paid off for quite a few underclassmen who were invited to the combine and allowed to play. It seemed as though the NBA opted to select underclassmen who haven’t signed with an agent rather than some battle-tested seniors, but it shed some light on where a lot of on-the-fence college players stand entering the May 25th deadline.

Since players can actually get seen by NBA personnel and they have a chance to interview with NBA teams, this is really a win-win scenario for both parties. If a college player goes through this combine process and still decides to go back to school, they’ll have done so after playing in front of every NBA team while also likely interviewing with at least a dozen of them. That’s a tremendous amount of feedback and it also amounts to relationship building for a future employer.

Jobs are constantly changing in the league and a player could impress someone in an interview one year and that person could become a general manager elsewhere by the next offseason and make a move on that player. It starts to get players involved in the professional conversation and helps them get mentally prepared to make the pro transition, even if they don’t decide to turn pro right away.

2. On-the-fence college players are working out a lot for local teams

One of the interesting things I learned at the NBA Draft Combine is how the players who are still amateurs are going through this NBA Draft process. In the past few years, everyone had an agent with professionally-run training sessions and workout regimens. But with the new rules in place, a lot of players without representation are training on campus with their college strength and conditioning coach.

It also means they have to be aware of NBA workouts. Under the new rules, college players who haven’t signed can also workout for NBA teams, but they must repay any costs if they decide to return to school. This means a lot of players who could return to school are trying to stay local and work out for NBA teams in their region.

Players from the Big Ten seemed to workout with a lot of Central Division teams within driving distance of campus while the same could be said for ACC and Big East players on the East Coast. It means that proximity becomes a new and interesting recruiting tool if a program embraces getting players to the professional ranks. If a college program is in a major market, or close to a lot of NBA teams, that could be an additional recruiting tool as long as these rules are in place.

3. This draft doesn’t appear very strong

The NBA Draft Combine doesn’t feature a lot of potential first-round picks playing in the 5-on-5 scrimmages. Even without that kind of talent on the floor, the games this year showed how this class just isn’t very strong when it comes to depth or star power. There wasn’t a lot of positive chatter from folks at the combine this year in terms of a group of prospects that would bring big returns.

There are some promising potential role players who appeared at the combine, but a lot of players have glaring holes that need to be addressed before they’re ready to really contribute at the pro level. Many have projected that this first round could see a lot of draft-and-stash overseas prospects in the first round. This allows teams not to spend money now against the salary cap while also letting a player develop with more time away.

A lot of teams are also beginning to stockpile second-round picks and use them as assets for potential D League guys and end-of-bench skill guys. There are plenty of players from the college ranks who will likely fall in this category and get a chance to prove themselves in Summer League after falling to the second round.

4. Cheick Diallo takes advantage of 5-on-5

During his freshman year at Kansas, former McDonald’s All-American Cheick Diallo played a total of 202 minutes. Issues with the NCAA and his former high school along with falling out of the Kansas rotation forced Diallo to spend a lot of time on the bench, but he still opted to test the pro process as a highly-regarded player coming out of high school.

Diallo made a statement on the first day of the Combine as he had people buzzing with his 18-point, 4-block performance as he seemed comfortable in the setting. The second day, Diallo followed that up with a solid nine points and 10 rebounds, so it comes as no surprise that he’s staying in the draft after hiring an agent after this weekend.

On an NBA floor in an up-and-down setting, Diallo looked really solid and he could see himself move into a few team’s first-round boards with the way he played. But he also has to show that he can produce in the half court and there is still a lot of time before next month’s draft.

If the motor is running like this and Diallo continues to show well in workouts, this is a pretty weak draft, so he could see himself shoot up draft boards.

5. People are fascinated by Thon Maker

One of the players who drew the biggest media gatherings was Thon Maker. The center is going from high school straight into the draft and it’s a shame he’ll never get a chance to play college basketball because there’s just so much intrigue surrounding his game and his persona.

With a media gathering about two-to-three deep Maker was poised as he went over his background and his process of getting into the draft.

But a lot of question marks remain.

Maker didn’t play in the 5-on-5 games at the NBA Draft Combine and he’ll likely only work out for a select group of teams. When you talk to people about his NBA draft stock it ranges anywhere from lottery to second round. People just don’t know what to make of Thon at this point and he’ll have to do well in workouts to rise in the draft.

This current group of college freshmen will be a ton of fun to watch but Maker would have added a unique player to that crop.

6. Small guards are still finding a way

Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas has become a popular man among players. Not only was the point guard the last pick in the NBA Draft in 2011, but he’s also 5-foot-9.

The rise of Thomas into All-Star has given new motivation to smaller guards like Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and Oakland’s Kay Felder.

Ulis just opted to through testing and didn’t play in the combine, but he is still a likely first-round pick after being one of college basketball’s best players this past season. Felder played very well at the combine and has a lot of confidence going into the draft.

With the NBA game going smaller and putting a focus on perimeter shooting and ball handlers, there is still plenty of room for smaller guards who can still make plays. Ulis and Felder are both elite playmakers who should be able to make a roster if given the right tools to work with.

New York senator the latest to propose bill to abolish amateurism

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A second state now has legislation in the works that would make it legal for college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness.

Kevin Parker, a New York state senator from Brooklyn, has proposed a bill similar to California’s Fair Pay To Play act, not only giving college athletes the ability to sell their NIL rights but also requiring athletic departments to give a 15 percent share of their annual revenue to the student-athletes. California’s bill, which will go into effect in 2023 if it is signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, would make removing a student-athlete from their scholarship for accepting endorsement money illegal.

“It’s about equity,” Parker told ESPN. “These young people are adding their skill, talent and labor to these universities.

“You don’t need the shortcuts and the end-arounds because now we’re providing some real support for these student-athletes.”

New York joins the growing list of organizations that are pushing back against the NCAA’s rules on amateurism. South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado and Washington have had legislators discuss whether or not to make similar changes to the law, while Congressmen from North Carolina and Connecticut have made pushes at the federal level. Democratic Presidential candidate Anrew Yang has blasted the NCAA over their amateurism rules, while just last week, NBA agents made public the fact that they will be refusing to register for the NCAA’s proposed certification process.

Rick Pitino, Louisville settle lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The University of Louisville and former head coach Rick Pitino have reached a joint agreement to drop their lawsuits against each other.

The two sides “have mutually agreed to dismiss their legal claims against each other, designate his departure as a resignation and move forward,” according to a joint statement that was released by the University and Pitino. Pitino will not be paid any money as a result of this settlement, but he departure will now be classified as a resignation, effective Oct. 3rd, 2017.

Pitino had sued Louisville for somewhere around $40 million.

“For 17 years, Coach Pitino ran a program that combined excellence on the court with a commitment to the program’s student-athletes, their academic achievement, and their futures in and out of basketball,” the state said. “Nevertheless, there were NCAA infractions during his term which led to serious consequences for the university. Although these infractions may not have occurred at Pitino’s direction or with his knowledge, the problems leading to NCAA infractions happened under his leadership. We thank Coach Pitino for his years of service to the University of Louisville basketball program and wish him well.”

“Today I move on to a new chapter in my life,” a statement from Pitino reads. “Against my lawyer’s advice, I’m dropping my lawsuit with ULAA. I am very proud of the many accomplishments my teams achieved at Louisville. I’m so thankful and honored to coach such dedicated athletes. I’m also disappointed in how it ended. But as head coach I am held responsible for the actions of all team members. I still have so much passion for the game and so many goals I want to achieve. From this day forward I start my climb.”

Kentucky lands commitments from two more elite prospects

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John Calipari is getting his work done early in the 2020 recruiting class, as he added two more commitments over the weekend.

On Thursday, it was Lance Ware, a 6-foot-10 post player from Camden, New Jersey, that announced his commitment. Ware is a top 50 recruit that held offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Miami. The bigger news, however, came on Saturday afternoon, when Terrance Clarke announced that he will be enrolling at Kentucky whenever he ends his high school tenure. Clarke is currently a member of the Class of 2021, but the plan is for him to reclassify and graduate high school this year.

Clarke is a consensus top three player in 2021 – and he may be the No. 1 player in that class, depending on who you ask – and should immediately vault into the top five of the 2020 recruiting class. An athletic, versatile wing that stands 6-foot-6, Clarke is a potential lottery pick given his physical tools and the way that he projects as multi-positional defender with the ability to create off of the dribble. Ware, like Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery before him, projects as the kind of player that will spend 2-3 years in Lexington.

Clarke and Ware join top ten prospect B.J. Boston and another top 50 recruit, Cam’Ron Fletcher, in Kentucky’s 2020 class. That’s three wings in the class with Johnny Juzang, Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen and Keion Brooks currently on campus. Throw Montgomery into the mix, and that’s eight players that fit somewhere into a lineup as a wing or a face-up big man, and it seems rather unlikely that all five of the guys currently at Kentucky will leave the school this offseason. Put another way, this looks like the end of Kentucky’s pursuit of the likes of Jalen Green and Josh Christopher.

Calipari is still recruiting Cade Cunningham despite the fact that many expect Cunningham to end up at Oklahoma State, where Mike Boynton hired his brother Cannen, but Cade has skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings as he has transitioned to playing the point. Kentucky is still in the mix for a handful of other forwards, including Scottie Barnes, Isaiah Todd and Greg Brown.

Tony Bennett turns down raise, signs contract extension

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Virginia announced that they have signed head coach Tony Bennett to a contract extension, keeping him under contract through the 2025-26 season.

This is not unexpected. He just won the national title. I think he earned a new deal.

What is unique here, however, is that Bennett turned down a raise. He asked for more money for his assistants and for some cash to be put towards improvements in both his program and the other Virginia sports teams, but he passed on getting more money put into his own bank account.

“[My wife] Laurel and I are in a great spot, and in the past I’ve had increases in my contract,” Bennett said in the news release. “We just feel a great peace about where we’re at, all that’s taken place, and how we feel about this athletic department and this community and this school. I love being at UVA.

“… I have more than enough, and if there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much [in men’s basketball], that’s my desire.”

That’s the dream scenario right there, being rich enough to turn down more money.

NCAA urges California governor not to sign ‘fair pay’ bill

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The NCAA Board of Governors wants California Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject a new attempt to pay college athletes.

And it is prepared to take the fight to court if necessary.

In a six-paragraph letter released Wednesday, the board urged Newsom not to sign the legislation known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their names, likenesses and images. The move comes two days after approval of the measure by the California Assembly, with the state Senate expected to consider the measure later this week.

The board warned that California schools may be declared ineligible for NCAA competition if the bill becomes law because they would have an unfair recruiting advantage.

“We’ve explored how it might impact the association and what it might do. We believe it would inappropriately affect interstate commerce,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, told The Associated Press. “It is not intended to be a threat at all. It’s a reflection about the way California is going about this.

“I’m not saying there will never be a day we would consider that (legal action), but it is not meant to be a threat,” Remy said.

The NCAA said the measure would affect more than 24,000 athletes in the nation’s most populous state.

Should the bill pass, Newsom would have 30 days to sign or veto it. If he does nothing, the bill would become law. It would be the first measure of its kind and the outcome is being closely watched as one of the biggest challenges in years to the NCAA’s longstanding and far-reaching model of amateur sports. Over the past decade, that model has come under increasing pressure – and attacks in court – as critics push for big-time college athletics to clear the way for the athletes themselves to benefit financially.

NCAA rules prohibit athletes from profiting off their athletic skills. The organization, however, has recently begun considering rules changes to loosen those restrictions, though NCAA President Mark Emmert – and the board again on Wednesday – insist that players cannot be paid or become the equivalent of a university employee. Formal recommendations are expected to be made at the board’s October meeting.

It appears there is an appetite for significant changes.

Board members met with the working group studying these issues in August but neither Remy nor board member Denis McDonough would discuss specific proposals.

“The rules that we operate under, many of which date to 1975, may not be suitable for us in 2021 with the challenges and opportunities student-athletes face,” said McDonough, the White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama. “So we are and have been taking a very close look at how we can modernize those rules. We’re hoping the state of California would recognize that modernizing those rules for student-athletes across the country is the best way to do that.”

Supporters think those changes are already overdue and believe California’s elected officials should act now.

“The NCAA’s assertions are purposefully misleading,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. “The 9th Circuit upheld a ruling concluding that the NCAA’s ban on player name, image, and likeness compensation does not bring forth a level playing field. The Big 12 commissioner stated competitive equity is `largely an illusion.’

“NCAA amateurism is a fraud. It’s a $14 billion a year industry with millionaire coaches. An NCAA ban on California colleges would amount to an illegal group boycott that would violate federal and California antitrust laws.”

The NCAA believes the California measure would violate the federal Commerce Clause and may not withstand a legal challenge; Remy cited a previous case in California in which the state tried to inhibit the NCAA from enforcing its rules. The NCAA won that case.

Should the measure pass, Remy said, the NCAA would penalize the schools, not individual athletes.

“There are two parts to this and part of this is the membership and that includes the California schools,” Remy said. “Schools and universities agree to comply with the rules of (NCAA) membership and there are a set of eligibility criteria that go along with being member institution. The California schools have consented to that criterion. So in that context it would be the schools that would directly impacted.”