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Sister’s death prompts USC coach’s crusade against cancer

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He remembers the day he got that call like it was yesterday.

Eight years may as well be eight minutes when recalling the worst news you’ve ever received, and for Martin Bahar, he knows exactly when and where he was when he saw those two missed calls light up his phone. It was the spring of 2008. He was in his second year as a graduate assistant at Georgetown, hanging out at a friend’s apartment, when a random Montgomery County, Maryland, number called him twice, back to back.

“I called back and it was a hospital in Bethesda, Suburban Hospital,” Bahar said. His father had worked there at one point, but not anymore, which was a red flag. So he called his dad who broke the news: His older sister, Maddie, was being taken to the hospital because she was showing symptoms that had him worried; there is a history of cancer in the Bahar family.

Maddie was diagnosed with plasma cell leukemia, a rare cancer with a grim prognosis, even when treated with chemo radiation and a bone marrow transplant, as Maddie’s was. She was moved to University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, and Martin spent that summer and fall making daily drives from D.C. to Baltimore, an hour each way even when traffic isn’t a disaster.

“I would wait until the morning traffic passed, putting in early hours at Georgetown, then drive up to Baltimore to try and help out and spend time up there,” he said. That summer, he had been promoted to video coordinator for the Hoyas. “John Thompson III was amazing at the time because I was not working or doing half days.”

“Every day I was driving to Baltimore at some point.”

Life was that way for only nine months.

Maddie passed away February 9th, 2009.

“It was a tragedy,” Bahar said. “It’s just so unexpected and shocking. To have her pass in less than a year from diagnosis was devastating.”

Maddie was just 25 years old.

Maddie Bahar, courtesy Bahar family
Maddie Bahar, courtesy Bahar family

Martin Bahar is now the Director of Scouting at USC. He landed the job after stints on staff at Princeton and Fairfield. He’s married. He has a daughter of his own. He’s moved forward with his life as much as you can when you suffer a loss like that, which is not always an easy thing to do.

What he and his family refused to do, however, was to let Maddie’s memory fade.

“We thought, ‘What does Maddie stand for? She’s about other people. She’s about helping people,'” Martin said. “What made her so special was that she donated so much of her time to other people and to those in need. She worked at the Delbarton house in Georgetown. Volunteered for DC Cares. Loaves and Fishes at St. Stephen’s Church in DC. She was so selfless and so willing to help others and willing to lend an ear to others, sacrifice her time for others. She was angelic, there’s really no other way to describe her.”

Which is where the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society came into play. The mission of LLS is fairly straight forward: to find a cure for blood cancers. But the organization does more than just simply fund scientific research, they also help people battling blood cancers get access to treatments, pay for those treatments and do what they can to improve the quality of life for those patients and their families.

It was the latter part that drew the Bahars in, not only because of what LLS did for their family, but after seeing what Maddie dealt with on a daily basis towards the end of her life, this was a cause that struck near and dear to their hearts.

“It’s so hard,” he said. “You see such a grueling time.”

LLS hosts an annual fundraiser called Light The Night Walk, an event held in nearly 200 communities, from Canada to Puerto Rico, to raise money. Participants spend months raising money in teams before walking through their city’s streets, holding lanterns that “light the night”. There is an annual walk in Rockville, Maryland, just ten minutes from where the Bahars grew up. They’ve become familiar faces at the event, and in the seven years since Maddie died, the family has raised more than $160,000 for LLS.

This year’s walk in Rockville will take place on Saturday, October 8th, but Martin Bahar will not be there.

He was not there last year, either.

He lives in LA now and has started participating in their Light The Night event, which takes place October 22nd. It will be his second time walking out west. Last year, forward Chimezie Metu, whose Godfather died from pancreatic cancer, joined him, and this year, Metu and Bahar are busy recruiting other members of the team to make it out.

Photo courtesy Martin Bahar
Photo courtesy Martin Bahar

“Martin’s a really good guy,” Metu said. “We just clicked from the first time we met. I thought it would be a good idea to go out there and show some support.”

That’s been special for Bahar, but not as special as what happened the first time he sent an email to the Athletic Department asking for volunteers and donations. A member of the department whom Bahar declined to identify called him into his office. “I’m battling blood cancer right now,” Bahar recalled the man saying. “Eight years ago, they told me I had no more than five years to live.”

What changed? He had access to new treatments, ones that weren’t widely available eight years ago.

Bahar broke down crying in the man’s office. He always knew that the work he was doing was for a good cause, that the money they were raising helped people and helped fight a cruel disease, but that benefit wasn’t tangible until that moment. It totally changed his perspective on the work, the money, the cause.

“I know somebody who is a good friend and a co-worker who has benefitted directly,” he said. “Whether it was LLS or another non-profit, what I do know is that the advancements in science, our proceeds go in-part to that, have helped him live longer. So when you hear that, that only inspires you more to keep on trucking on and keep on trying to spread awareness and fundraising. It reignites what you believe in.”

“The more money we put in, the better chance of people surviving in the future, of people to be able to keep on fighting and believing. Because it’s so hard. You see such a grueling time. It’s such a grueling battle that our family is so motivated to try and help cure this thing. We have to find a way to keep the money coming in, the keep the science improving, to keep the patient care improving, to keep the medicine improving. That’s what fuels it.”

Nothing will bring Maddie back. Bahar knows that. His family knows that. But seeing just one person live a better, longer life means that Maddie’s death wasn’t meaningless.

“What it does is help Maddie continue to live even while she’s not on earth. It gives her a presence on earth,” Bahar said. “When you’re hit with tragedy, having something like this and thinking about who your sister was and what she stood for, what LLS stands for, it brings everything together.”

“It keeps the world remembering your sister and helping others the way she always would.”

To donate to the Bahar’s fundraising page, click here. To contribute to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, click here. To find a local Light The Night Walk, click here.

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

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

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.