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US steps up security for U19 basketball tournament in Egypt

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John Calipari would prefer to focus on the players he wants and the offense he’ll run.

This time, there are other concerns.

When he leads the U.S. basketball team into the Under-19 World Cup for men, they will travel to Egypt, home to enough violence lately that the Americans questioned whether it was safe enough to even go defend their title.

Calipari spoke to parents seeking answers he didn’t even have for himself, but he knew where he could get them. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is now USA Basketball’s chairman, and a conversation a few weeks ago that detailed the Americans’ security plans and procedures put Calipari’s mind at ease.

“I’m trying to figure out basketball, let alone trying to figure out security and so all I can say to the parents is I’m comfortable making this trip,” the Kentucky coach said. “And believe me, three or four weeks ago I was like, ‘Come on now, talk to me, how are we going to do this?’ And from that point when I was on the phone with Gen. Dempsey, I knew at the end of the day either he was going to feel real comfortable with what was going on or we wouldn’t go.”

USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said the U.S. and other federations raised concerns with basketball’s governing body a year ago when it selected Cairo to host the July 1-9 event. Any fears only heightened in recent months when more than 100 people were killed since December in four separate attacks targeting Christians claimed by the Islamic State group.

But Dempsey stressed that most of the danger is beyond Cairo, while the capital city is well protected. And Tooley said that during a recent discussion with FIBA it was revealed that security for the event had now fallen under the control of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, rather than the office of sports ministry.

“So while we are very much aware of the challenges of security in Egypt, we have concluded that the venue — that is to say where the games will be played, the hotel, the transit zones — will be secured adequately and gives us confidence to send a team over there,” Dempsey said.

USA Basketball took the unusual step of deciding that the U-19 team would be given the same level of security as an Olympic team, with more staff on the ground and greater intelligence shared. The Americans have been criticized for the lengths they go to comfort their millionaire players, such as staying on a cruise ship rather than the athletes’ village in Rio, but NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant said he’s always felt safe while winning two Olympic golds and a world title with the Americans.

“I’m sure they’ve been doing their work for years in advance on this thing and trying to make sure it’s perfect for the players, so I have no concerns that USA Basketball won’t get it done,” Durant said. “So hopefully everybody’s comfortable going and have a great time and win a gold.”

Though the Americans have won two straight golds in the 16-nation tournament, fielding a team is challenging. Many college coaches would prefer their incoming recruits on campus in summer school, and with the security concerns this time, Tooley figures some players Calipari may have wanted passed on invites to training camp next week.

But Chuma Okeke of Atlanta, who will be a freshman next season at Auburn, will be among the 28 players in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His mother, Renee, reached out to a USA Basketball official with some questions, but ultimately decided to let her son attend after getting the answers and doing enough research on her own into the situation in Egypt that she said she’d even feel comfortable going.

“It was explained to me that the USA Basketball security team is really experienced in that area so I really don’t have any worries,” she said. “They reassured me that my young man will be safe so I’m OK with it. And you know what, even if I wasn’t, I could not stop Chuma from going. I could not. He understands what the climate is but he still wants to go.”

And Dempsey feels the Americans should, not only to give their younger players experience with the international game, but to show FIBA they’re a good partner. With their precautions in place, Dempsey said the Americans have done everything they can to be prepared — and now it’s Calipari’s turn.

“I said, ‘OK Cal, now that we’ve got this behind us, how about you stop worrying about that?'” Dempsey said. “‘We’ll keep worrying about that, you go win us a gold medal.'”

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter @briancmahoney

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.