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.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.