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LaMelo Ball left to carry the burden of LaVar’s actions

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Did you really need LaVar Ball to get a female referee removed from a game for the simple act of doing her job to know that he’s a jerk?

This is the same guy that has gotten his son’s high school coach fired after a 30-3 season for “not being experienced enough,” told a female radio host to “stay in your lane” before selling BBB branded t-shirts with that saying for $50 a piece and spent all spring and summer berating officials as the head coach of LaMelo Ball’s Big Baller AAU team, once pulling his team off the court before the game was over. The only surprising part of last week’s confrontation was that adidas actually acquiesced to LaVar’s demands.

Seriously.

Think about that.

The organizers of an AAU tournament being hosted by a billion-dollar apparel company sided with the coach of an AAU team that went 3-3 at the event instead of the referee that was being paid to officiate the game.

It’s absolutely baffling.

And it’s about par for the course for LaVar, who has just about completed an eight-month journey from entertaining sideshow — a loudmouth sports dad trying to create buzz for the Big Baller Brand, a startup apparel company he’s running to try and change the shoe game, by saying he’s better than Michael Jordan and getting into verbal battles with Charles Barkley — to misogynistic egomaniac.

LaVar Ball (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LaVar isn’t a total zero, mind you. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would have anything negative to say about his three sons beyond the fact that they’re his children, and it’s not easy to raise three boys who all excel at their craft — Lonzo was the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, LiAngelo will play at UCLA starting next season and LaMelo is a 15-year old in the Class of 2019 putting up 50-point nights while playing in tournaments against kids two years his senior — and have never, to my knowledge, been in any actual trouble. He can be overbearing while loving his children and raising them to be great kids; that doesn’t preclude him from being a good father.

Personally, the antics have reached a critical mass for my taste. I’m over him, but I’m not naïve enough to think he’s going away anytime soon. Lonzo has a better shot than anyone from the loaded 2017 draft at turning into a Hall of Fame-level talent, and LaMelo still has two more years left of high school. At minimum, LaVar is going to be in the national consciousness for another decade, and simply being a misogynist isn’t going to keep his family’s celebrity from rising, not in a country where Chris Brown beats up Rihanna and remains a star, R. Kelly still has fans and our President can be caught on tape explaining how, exactly, you’re allowed to grab women when you’re famous and still win an election.

LaVar Ball’s actions are incomparable.

As far as we know, he just thinks that women should stay in their lane and keep out of sports, and he’s far from the only man that believes as much.

Welcome to America. It is what it is.

Which is why my concern here is LaMelo and what kind of negative impact this could have on him in the long-term.

He is a celebrity in every sense of the word, the first athletic prodigy that has had to deal with the kind of fame and media attention typically reserved for the likes of a young Hollywood star.

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 22: Lonzo, right, and LaMelo Ball (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

He has 2.3 million followers on Instagram. He’s been on TMZ often enough that he has his own searchable tag. He had mobs of fans trying to rush past security to get pictures with him at a game on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, a game that was so crowded that LeBron didn’t even bother trying to get in, a game that more than 8o,000 people were watching at one time and that has been viewed 1.3 million times in total. When his teams left games in Vegas they had to do so through the back exit of the gym.

And he’s 15 years old.

Fame like that is hard for anyone to handle, let alone someone that isn’t old enough to drive or grow a mustache. I can name a dozen can’t-miss prospects that never lived up to their hype, and it’s not hard to find a long list of child stars that couldn’t handle the fame of Hollywood. LaMelo has to navigate both of those paths and do so while growing up in the age of social media. For LaMelo, the downside of this notoreity is palpable. Any post he makes on Instagram or Twitter gets hammered by trolls. Back in May, someone edited together a lowlight reel of a game LaMelo played, a two-minute clip of turnovers and airballs and porous defense that ended up trending on just about every social media platform in existence.

LaVar’s personality, and the public’s rejection of it, isn’t the only reason that there is a backlash against LaMelo.

Part of it is the way that he, and the Big Ballers, play. It’s reminiscent of the last pickup game of the day: They shoot a lot of threes, they play very little defense, they cherry pick layups and they try to win every game 130-120. It’s not the prettiest brand of basketball. It’s also not all that different from the way they played when Lonzo was running the show. What’s changed is the exposure; Lonzo’s teams were a story that you were told, something you heard about second-hand. LaMelo’s games play out for everyone to see.

The way LaMelo himself plays doesn’t help matters, either. He’s a point guard that is quite literally allowed the freedom to do whatever he wants, whether that is firing up 40-footers as he dribbles across half court or trying to weave his way through five defenders before throwing a no-look pass.

Sometimes those things work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes he looks like a ball-hog, sometimes he looks like Steph Curry.

And while it’s difficult to watch, there are three things that are important to remember:

  1. LaMelo is 15 years old, on the young side for a member of the Class of 2019, playing against kids that are 17.
  2. LaMelo’s shot up from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-3 in the last year and he may not be done growing just yet.
  3. Behind all the pomp and circumstance there is a set of skills that makes LaMelo a player with some real potential. He’s ranked between 7th and 21st by the major recruiting services, meaning he’s projected as a player with a pretty good shot at the NBA but a step below being a can’t-miss player. He could be D’angelo Russell. He could be Isaiah Briscoe.

Enter Tyus Jones.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

By any account, Jones is a terrific basketball player. He was a McDonald’s All-American and, at worst, a top ten player in his high school class. He was the starting point guard for a Duke team that won the 2015 national title. He was a one-and-done player that eventually went as a first round pick in the NBA Draft. He is one of 450 people in the world that can say that their job title is “Current NBA Player”. By definition, that makes him one of the roughly 100 best point guards on the planet. He was a multi-millionaire before he could legally buy a drink. I don’t think you can look at his career and think of him as anything other than successful, and he’s still only 21 years old.

He’s also played in just 97 games through two seasons in the NBA. He’s never started a game and is averaging just 3.8 points and 2.7 assists to date. In a league now driven by superstar point guards, he’s so far removed from being in the conversation with Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and James Harden, John Wall and Kyrie Irving that the casual NBA observer probably hasn’t heard of him.

In the NBA, he’s ‘just a guy’ despite the fact that simply being in the NBA means that there’s nothing normal or average about his basketball ability.

Tyus Jones made it, and the truth is that LaMelo will have “made it” if he gets to the league.

It’s also true that the perception will be that LaMelo was an overhyped fraud if he ends up being nothing more than Tyus Jones through his first two seasons. If he’s not a transcendent talent, or at the very least a reliable annual pick to make the all-star team, he’s a disappointment.

And that would not be fair.

So LaVar better hope he’s right about his youngest son.

Because that is a lot of baggage to ask him to carry.

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.