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Several Duke freshmen may follow Grayson Allen out the door

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Duke started another season at No. 1 but ended it before the Final Four. Now the Blue Devils await the NBA draft decisions from several potential one-and-done freshmen with next year’s top recruiting class arriving over the summer.

The Blue Devils started four freshmen and it is unclear if all have played their final game at Duke. In the locker room after the season-ending loss to Kansas, point guard Trevon Duval made it sound like at least some had. He expressed sadness that this particular group of players won’t play together again.

“It was a great season. I had a lot of fun, but every good thing has to come to an end sometime,” Duval said. “I’m just happy that I got to play with this group of guys and to play for (coach Mike Krzyzewski) and be a part of this program.”

An 85-81 overtime loss to Kansas in the Midwest Regional final brought an end to the season for Duke (29-8), and to the four-year college career of captain Grayson Allen.

Duke knows it won’t have Allen next year, with the Kansas loss bringing to an end a turbulent career that included a national championship as a freshman and a series of tripping incidents over the next two years that sullied his reputation. Allen’s jumper at the end of regulation that would have sent the Blue Devils to the Final Four bounced off the glass and off the rim but refused to fall through.

“I’ve learned so much in my four years here, coming out a completely different person and for the better,” Allen said.

Now the question is how many of the freshmen will follow him out the Cameron Indoor Stadium doors. Big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., and guards Duval and Gary Trent Jr. have big decisions to make in the coming weeks.

“This is all that’s on my mind right now, thinking about this year that I had with my brothers,” Bagley said after the game. “And whatever happens after this, we’ll sit down and talk about it and just take it day by day.”

No matter how many of them opt to enter the NBA draft, the Blue Devils have another batch of five-star freshmen coming in next season.

Duke has the nation’s best recruiting class locked up for 2018-19. Forwards R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish have already signed letters of intent, forward Zion Williamson has publicly declared his intention to play for the Blue Devils and Tre Jones — the younger brother of Tyus Jones, the one-and-done point guard on Duke’s last national championship team in 2015 — also has signed.

That group could have the Blue Devils starting next season in the same spot as the previous two years — atop the preseason Top 25.

The challenge is finding a way to end it in the same position.

That was tougher than expected for this Duke team, which had one of the nation’s most potent offenses, ranking ninth nationally with an average of 84 points. The biggest change took place on defense, with the Blue Devils making the midseason switch to a full-time 2-3 zone after the freshman-dominated team had trouble playing Krzyzewski’s preferred man-to-man style.

Duke finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, four full games behind a Virginia team that claimed the No. 1 ranking in the final AP poll. The Blue Devils lost to rival North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals, and reached their third regional final in six years.

For most programs, that’s a pretty good year. But it felt a bit unsatisfying for the Blue Devils, who wanted so much more.

“It hurts,” Carter said. “We fought, we crawled, we scratched — we did everything we could.”

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.”