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Where do the undecided prospects from the 2016 NBA Draft Combine stand?

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CHICAGO — The 2016 NBA Draft Combine had more than a dozen players who are still trying to decide whether or not to return to college basketball or go pro immediately.

CBT caught up with many of them and also watched workouts at the combine and spoke to a handful of NBA scouts to get a feel for where each prospect stands as the May 25th deadline approaches. While some players have already officially signed with an agent or opted to go back to school, many others are still weighing their options for next season.

Already leaving

Cheick Diallo, Kansas – After a freshman season that only saw him play 201 total minutes, the former McDonald’s All-American has signed with an agent and will stay in the draft. With the way he played at the combine, this is probably the best decision for Diallo.

Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville – Rick Pitino is expecting his sophomore center to stay in the draft. The 6-foot-10 big man is having a minor heart procedure on Monday and will likely keep his name in the draft. At the combine, Onuaku measured well and showed that he can be a solid rotational big man in the NBA thanks to his ability to score around the basket, rebound his area and defend.

Malachi Richardson, Syracuse – Richardson signing with an agent and staying in the draft doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since the freshman wing had opted not to play in the combine. The 6-foot-6 Richardson will have a great chance to be a first-round pick if he works out well for a few teams.

Already returning to school

Justin Jackson, North Carolina – The sophomore is returning to North Carolina after a so-so showing at the combine. Jackson told NBCSports.com that he interviewed with 11 teams at the combine and got a lot of feedback regarding his shooting and ability to put on strength. Jackson could have been a second-round selection this year, but with another year of work on those problem areas, maybe he tries to test again next year.

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Players who should go

Ben Bentil, Providence – Showing at the combine that he didn’t need Kris Dunn to be productive, Bentil was very good after an outstanding sophomore season. One of the more productive players in the camp’s scrimmages, Bentil hit shots from the perimeter, scored inside and also measured at a solid 6-foot-8 with a 7-1.5 wingspan. Providence could be in for a rebuilding year and Bentil won’t have Dunn making life easier on him, so it might be time for him to leave school.

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson – One player who will likely make a late decision is Blossomgame, as the junior forward was very solid at the combine as he has a week of important workouts ahead. Blossomgame told reporters at the combine that he’s hoping to stick somewhere in the 25-to-40 range, and that’s very possible after he measured well and showed some good traits during combine scrimmages. With the way Blossomgame performed at the combine, a lot of NBA teams have positive things to say about him and he might be in position to be a late first-round pick.

Marcus Lee, Kentucky – It was not a good camp for the Kentucky junior big man, as he wasn’t productive in scrimmages and didn’t impress that much in athletic testing. Since Lee needs to add weight and increase his skill level, returning to Kentucky might seem like the obvious option. But is Lee going to get that many minutes when Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Isaac Humphries, Tai Wynyard, Sasha Killeya-Jones and, potentially Marques Bolden, are all on the roster? Lee probably won’t be drafted, but he might as well get paid to sit on the bench and develop rather than sit a lot during his senior season.

Malik Newman, Mississippi State – One of the draft’s most intriguing players is Newman, a freshman guard who was up-and-down in his first year under Ben Howland. Many have believed that Newman would always be a one-and-done player but he’s seriously considering returning to school with a Mississippi State roster that is much better next season. Newman performed okay at the combine, as he showed he can take (and make) tough jumpers, but he wasn’t great in any one facet. With Mississippi State’s backcourt looking crowded next season, Newman might be best served to leave now if a team really likes him.

Pascal Siakam, New Mexico State – The junior big man is in a solid spot after the combine as Siakam measured in with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and showed that he can be a high-motor big man with a developing skill set. Since his former head coach, Marvin Menzies, is now at UNLV and Siakam is already 22 years old, he might be best served to leave now while his stock is the highest.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall – While the consensus seems to be that Whitehead will stay in the draft, he told reporters at the combine that he’s still deciding on things as his decision will come on Thursday. With his ability to score and distribute a bit, Whitehead is an attractive guard for some teams who want a boost off the bench while others don’t want to deal with the potential headaches of a bad decision maker. Since Whitehead is coming off of a big sophomore season — in which the Big East produced two expected lottery picks and the national champions — I’m not sure his stock is going to get any higher if he returns and has another good year.

Players who should stay:

Josh Hart, Villanova – The defending champion and Wildcat junior guard told NBCSports.com that he’s “50/50” right now with his decision. I went a lot more in-depth on Hart and Villanova’s situation here. Given the way Hart struggled to adapt at the combine scrimmages, another year of building his offensive skills would help a lot.

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin – Wisconsin junior forward Nigel Hayes has already played in two Final Fours and a Sweet 16, but he’s also trying to get a feel for what his draft stock is. “All the teams are asking, ‘why are you here?’ They want to see if they’re wasting their time speaking to me and evaluating me and if I’m here to have fun or go on to the next level and be prepared,” Hayes said. With the way he passively went through combine scrimmages, it would be surprising to see Hayes stick in the draft. But this is a good learning experience for next year when Hayes is a senior.

Dedric Lawson, Memphis – One of the combine’s youngest players, Lawson didn’t look prepared at all for this setting as he was completely overmatched during most of the scrimmages. With Lawson’s brother and father still around at Memphis next season, a return to play for a year under Tubby Smith — at the very least — seems like a wise decision for Dedric’s NBA prospects.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – Because of a calf issue, Swanigan has been working through therapy and had to cancel a couple of team workouts. He told NBCSports.com that he’s about 85 percent at the moment and he didn’t look particularly great at the combine. Swanigan was sluggish at times and didn’t do much to help his own offense. He still hasn’t decided on next season, but he’d be wise to consider returning to a solid Purdue team. “I haven’t really thought about [signing with an agent or not]. Just focused on playing and enjoying the process,” Swanigan said.

Melo Trimble, Maryland – One of the more intriguing decisions left is from Maryland sophomore guard Melo Trimble. Since Trimble would be the only returning starter for the Terps, it gives him a unique perspective. “It makes it a lot harder. You’re not going to have any starters come back at all. For me, being the only starter coming back, it would be very difficult,” Trimble said. “If I went back to Maryland I also have people that have been there since I’ve been there — Damonte [Dodd], Jared [Nickens] and Dion Wiley — and everyone keeps getting better. That’s just how it is. The NBA is new faces all the time. It’s tough to think about how [last year’s starters around me are] not going to be back.” With the way he measured poorly, didn’t look in great shape and didn’t play well in scrimmages, another year of Trimble showing he’s a developing lead guard wouldn’t hurt.

Troy Williams, Indiana – It wasn’t a great week at the combine for the Indiana junior wing, but he’s still weighing his options for the future. “I would say I’m in the middle still. I’ll most likely make my decision after this week. Sometime next week, I go back to Indiana, I’ll talk to my family then,” Williams said. Williams shot the ball poorly, was reckless with the ball in his hands and didn’t show that great of a basketball IQ at the combine. I’m not sure Williams has a ton to gain by returning to Indiana, but he would have a potentially great team to play on in Bloomington.

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

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.