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Tubby Smith vs. Penny Hardaway intensifies at Memphis

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There are plenty of reasons that Memphis might fire Tubby Smith after this season. Attendance is way down, the Tigers are set to miss the NCAA tournament for a second-straight year and the general health of the program is in question after losses to the likes of East Carolina and South Florida.

Plus, recruiting hasn’t been very good. Smith’s 2017 class featured a bunch of marginal recruits and junior college players. Things don’t look much better in 2018. So while the present isn’t great for Memphis, the future, in large part because of the recruiting, isn’t exactly appearing bright.

Well, Smith’s long-time attorney has a theory why recruiting may be such a struggle for Smith, and he points the finger at his rumored potential successor, Penny Hardaway, who heads the ultra-loaded grassroots program Team Penny in Memphis.

“If you’ve got somebody that wants the job and they’re controlling most of the talent in the city, I’m not casting aspersions. I’ll let you draw conclusions,” Ricky Lefft told the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Friday “But (Smith) gets hit with by the local media that he’s not getting the Memphis kids. They’re recruiting the Memphis kids. They’re bringing them on official visits. They’re making the phone calls. They’re going to the games. They’re talking to the parents.

“It would only be speculation on my part on what’s going on there, but it’s the worst kept secret in America that (Hardaway) wanted the job and there may come a time when coach has exited that he’ll get the job.”

Team Penny currently has four players ranked in the top 100 in the 2019 class, and Smith hasn’t signed a Memphis kid in his two years on the job.

Whether it’s the case that Hardaway, a Memphis alum and former NBA all-star, is actually keeping kids from joining his alma mater as some point of leverage to drive Smith out is obviously unclear, but it’s a pretty pointed accusation to make. For Smith’s representation to say it to a newspaper is incredibly bold and probably a pretty good indication of how much jeopardy Smith’s job is with the Tigers.

The other thing is that it also serves as an indirect recommendation of the job for Hardaway. If he could keep kids from Memphis, it stands to reason he could get them there if he were the Tigers’ coach. Which would certainly help make the program more competitive.

Aside from throwing speculation Hardaway’s way, Lefft also claimed that Memphis brass told Smith that the Tigers were headed for the Big 12 when they lured him away from Texas Tech two years ago.

The first thing they told him is we’re going to the Big 12. It’s pretty much a lock,” he said. “He gets there and all of a sudden it appears as though they were never really a contender.

“There’s some people that now sit on the board that are some pretty significant folks, along with the president and both the athletic administrators who were part of the process, and (they) represented to him that this was going to happen.”

While the claims and innuendo are hard to prove or confirm, one thing is clear after Thursday – reporters should talk to Lefft more often.

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”