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Three Observations from the adidas Gauntlet Finale

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SPARTENBURG, SC — The Nike Peach Jam gets most of the love during the first week of the live evaluation period, but a few hours north, adidas held the finale for their spring adidas Gauntlet league — an event which featured a ton of talent.

Although the 17U level of the Gauntlet isn’t on par with Nike this year, there were still tons of high-major players and a lot of younger talent that college basketball will keep an eye on the next few years. Here’s a look at some of the happenings from adidas.

1. Nick Weatherspoon will push All-American status in the Class of 2017

A few weeks ago at the NBPA Top 100 Camp, Hoop Seen’s Justin Young told me that he believed that Class of 2017 guard Nick Weatherspoon had a serious chance to be a McDonald’s All-American. He might very well be right.

The 6-foot-1 Weatherspoon continues to play well over the last few weeks as he’s a lethal scorer who can also rebound from the perimeter (5.5 rebounds per game in adidas games this spring and summer) and distribute a little bit. The younger brother of Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, Nick still has some room to grow in terms of becoming a more consistent shooter and limiting turnovers, but in a class with weak lead guards, he’ll draw plenty of attention for All-American honors. Weatherspoon told NBCSports.com that his main five schools are Louisville, Mississippi State, North Carolina, N.C. State and Ohio State.

It’ll be intriguing to see if Weatherspoon opts to try and play with his brother at the next level or if he wants to forge his own legacy at a more well established basketball power.

2. Class of 2017 wing John Walker is really intriguing

Over the last few years, bigger wings have become a huge priority for some schools looking to play taller and longer traditional lineups, or if they want more spacing by putting those players at the four. Players like Kevin Durant and Brandon Ingram have shown that having big wings who can shoot over defenders is very valuable.

Although Texas native John Walker isn’t nearly the caliber of prospect as the aforementioned big wings, he’s got a lot of things to like about him after watching him a few times at the adidas Gauntlet.

Walker is still trying to figure out what exactly he is on the floor, but he’s pushing 6-foot-9, and unlike a lot of tall and skinny wings, he’s willing to to battle from a physical perspective. Walker still needs to add strength to avoid being pushed around, but he grabbed some rebounds, wasn’t afraid to defend in the post and got to the free-throw line a bunch in one contest against D1 Minnesota.

With a decent-looking perimeter jumper, Walker is going to be one to track in July and it’ll be fun to see how good he eventually becomes.

Walker’s Texas Pro teammate, Jase Febres, also deserves recognition for some strong performances. The 6-foot-5 guard had some big-time shooting performances in Spartenburg and should get plenty of looks over the next few weeks.

3. Class of 2018 forward Zion Williamson continues strong stretch

After an MVP performance at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in late June, Class of 2018 forward Zion Williamson had a lot of momentum coming into July and he didn’t disappoint in multiple viewings. At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, Williamson is carrying a little bit of extra weight, but he’s still absurdly explosive as a leaper and that enables him to rebound in traffic over bigger post players while also playing well above the rim on offense.

The intriguing part of this five-star prospect’s game is going to come in how he expands his perimeter game. Many people around Williamson told NBCSports.com that he’s a much better perimeter shooter than advertised, he just has to play the four with Game Elite and still isn’t completely refined in that area. Williamson even acknowledged to me that he has to take that tremendous leaping ability and uses it to get good lift on his jumper because he tends to shoot more of a set shot for the moment.

Besides the developing jumper, Williamson is also a very good passer for a player his size and has a great feel for the game. To me, it’s a positive that he’s not launching perimeter jumpers right now, because he’s playing within himself and doing whatever his team needs. The Class of 2018 doesn’t have many exciting prospects at the moment, but Williamson has firmly placed himself in the top-5 discussion and could push even higher if he improves his perimeter skill level.

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.