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Five Observations from the Peach Jam

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NORTH AUGUSTA, SC — The Nike Peach Jam is the best event of grassroots basketball as the incredible atmosphere and top-notch talent makes for some memorable games. This year’s event was no different was the top 24 teams from the Nike EYBL did battle before the Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young-led MoKan took home the title.

CBT’s Rob Dauster broke down some of the top players from Peach Jam here, but here are some more observations from the week.

1. DeAndre Ayton is improving at handling adversity (but it’s still a concern)

DeAndre Ayton sits at the top of the Class of 2017 in-part because he has a ridiculous amount of upside. The 7-footer moves incredibly well for being nearly 240 pounds and he has the type of skill level and frame that NBA franchises crave.

But there have been times during his career when Ayton got hit in the mouth (so to speak) and he didn’t respond well. After going head-to-head against other elite big men at Peach Jam, it’s safe to say that Ayton is staying at No. 1 for now, but he’s also getting better at handling situations that don’t necessarily go his way.

Ayton outplayed highly-touted big men like Marvin Bagley, Mitchell Robinson and Wendell Carter in head-to-head matchups but the Robinson matchup is what was particularly eye-opening. In the first half of that one, Robinson came out the aggressor and it helped lead to Ayton picking up three quick fouls and sitting on the bench for most of the first half. Visibly frustrated, Ayton roared back in the second half and had a monster 16 minutes of basketball, as he gave Robinson everything he had on both ends of the floor. Robinson still got some things done (more on him in a moment) but Ayton showed why he’s the top dog in the class.

In the past, I’m not sure Ayton would have responded that way because he had a tendency to kind of fold when that sort of thing would happen. There are still some questions about his motor and how he’ll handle a prolonged period of adversity, but Ayton answered some of those with a solid Peach Jam.

2. Michael Porter Jr. remains a polarizing figure

After another monster week at Peach Jam, Class of 2017 wing Michael Porter Jr. is still firmly in the discussion as the  potential No. 1 prospect in the class, but he remains a polarizing figure among the basketball community.

Speaking with other media members, talent evaluators and college coaches, they all recognize how good Porter is as a player, but they always seem to have some kind of condescending remark about his toughness or the way he plays.

I’m not really sure why this is the case.

Maybe it’s backlash from Porter likely following his dad — recently-hired assistant coach Michael Porter Sr. — to Washington or maybe it is because Porter has been a top-five prospect during his whole high school career? But there seems to be some sort of underlying animosity towards him as a player that I haven’t seen a lot of top prospects face the last few years.

At USA Basketball’s U18 tryouts in June, Porter was one of the best players on the floor even though he was also playing with a lot of players a grade level older than he was. At Peach Jam, Porter was sensational and put on a title-game performance that will be remembered. But despite all of those great performances, people don’t seem to be embracing Porter’s game as much as others in the past. It’ll be interesting to see if Porter continues to play this way the rest of July and how he’ll ultimately be viewed entering college basketball as a one-and-done freshman.

3. Mitchell Robinson has a chance to be scary good

After leading the EYBL in blocked shots this spring, Class of 2017 center Mitchell Robinson flew up the national rankings and now finds himself hovering around the top ten in many of them. At Peach Jam, Robinson proved that he might be even better than the back-end of the top ten as his athleticism and improving skill level left a lot of people surprised.

The matchup with DeAndre Ayton, in particular, was eye-opening as Robinson stole one inbounds pass and raced past everyone on the floor for an easy finish. Not many big men make DeAndre Ayton look like an average athlete, but Robinson did on that play with his pure speed and change of direction. At 6-foot-11 with a 7’2.5″ wingspan and 9-foot standing reach, Robinson has the measurables to be a great shot blocker and his lateral quickness and speed means that he can cover an insane amount of ground.

He also has the best instincts as a shot blocker in the class. During Peach Jam, Robinson had many plays that left observers shaking their heads because they didn’t think he would be able to close ground that quickly. Robinson has a lot of upside, but there are also some concerns about his offensive game, skill level and general basketball IQ. He’s still very much a project who needs a lot of reps before he can step in and dominate at the college level and beyond. But Robinson has had some ridiculous stretches of play this year and he keeps improving every time out, so he’s one to keep an eye on these next few weeks.

Western Kentucky and new head coach Rick Stansbury have already landed a commitment from Robinson, and if Robinson does end up playing in Conference USA, he could be a major problem.

4. Mohamed Bamba is still raw in a lot of ways

Entering July, many believed that Mohamed Bamba could push for the No. 1 spot in the Class of 2017 because of his insane measurables and increasing skill level. Let’s face it: there just aren’t many dudes playing basketball that are pushing 7-feet tall with a 7’9″ wingspan that move so well. He’s a freak.

But for as much upside as Bamba has, he’s still way more raw than anticipated after not being at his most productive during bracket play in Peach Jam. The biggest problem for Bamba comes with his offense. Because he lacks the strength to play on the block against some stronger post players, he can get knocked off-course in the paint rather easily before he even catches the ball. It also seems as though Bamba just doesn’t have a feel for what he is or what he can do offensively yet. And there’s nothing wrong with that; he has plenty of time to figure things out there.

Defensively was the surprising part. Bamba didn’t appear to have the natural rim-protecting instincts that many believed and that was backed up by him only recording only two blocked shots during 89 minutes of bracket play. Bamba jumped at inopportune times during pump fakes and didn’t wall up as effectively as he could have at the rim. Again, strength absolutely plays a factor in that and he will improve as he grows. And you have to applaud Bamba for being able to guard smaller players on the perimeter, something I watched him do very effectively against top-end prospects like Brian Bowen and P.J. Washington during crunch-time situations.

When Bamba had to face the best of the best at Peach Jam in those three bracket play games he only averaged 9.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and he looked like he was still finding himself on the court. Keep in mind that Bamba has been out a good chunk of the spring and early summer with a lingering ankle issue, so that could have also played a factor in him not being as good as we’ve seen in the past.

There’s still plenty of time for Bamba to develop his skill level over the next few years, but he definitely remains a prospect at this point in his career.

5. Trae Young looks like a different player than the spring

I’m not sure if it’s a comfort thing playing with a team he is familiar with, or some other factor, but Trae Young looked so much better at Peach Jam than he did during the month of June at the Pangos All-American Camp and USA Basketball U18 tryouts.

Always known as a long-range specialist who can also make plays for himself or others off the dribble, Young was red-hot at Peach Jam as he looked like the best player on the floor multiple times over the course of the week. The biggest difference came in his three-point efficiency. Young only shot 30 percent from three-point range during the spring in EYBL play and that went up to 47 percent from three-point range during Peach Jam. And Young was dropping some deep threes in North Augusta.

Besides the perimeter shooting coming through for him, Young also was crafty finishing around the basket and did a great job of running the offense and setting up teammates for each finishes. If Young can knock down threes at a 40 percent clip, he’s going to be incredibly tough to defend at any level, because he can shoot from anywhere within 27 feet off the dribble and isn’t afraid to take those kinds of shots. It’ll be interesting to track how he shoots the rest of July.

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

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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.