Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Heaven sent: Chat with Sister Jean brightens up Final Four

Leave a comment

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Who needs “One Shining Moment” when you’ve got Sister Jean?

The 98-year-old nun who has become the face of this most-inspiring NCAA Tournament held court on Good Friday in one of the best-attended news conferences ever held at the Final Four.

Hundreds of reporters and cameramen jammed in, elbow-to-elbow, in an interview room that would normally draw two dozen journalists for a player.

“I walked by, and I thought it looked like Tom Brady at the Super Bowl,” Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser said.

It was more monumental than that.

This was the No. 1 fan of Moser and the Ramblers — the 11th-seeded team whose magical, miraculous run to the cusp of the title would’ve made for great theater, even without a nun.

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt has added a completely new, unexpected and, yes, wonderful twist to the proceedings. Her 15-minute Q&A on the eve of Loyola’s game against Michigan illustrated precisely why.

She fielded questions about everything from whether God cares about basketball — “more the NCAA than the NBA” — some light trash talk with former Michigan star Jalen Rose’s 100-year-old grandma — “Somebody said, ‘Maybe you need a pair of boxing gloves’ and I said, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens'” — and what it takes to really have your prayer heard — “God always hears, but maybe He thinks it’s better for us to do the ‘L’ instead of the ‘W,’ and we have to accept that.”

A lot has changed, Sister Jean says, since the Ramblers last made history — back in 1963 when they completed an equally unexpected run by knocking off Cincinnati for the national championship.

“I watched it on a little 11-inch black-and-white TV, and the game was (tape) delayed,” she said. “And then everybody got out of the house and walked down the line on Sheridan Road, men and women together.”

Sister Jean has been on a whirlwind since the Ramblers started this unexpected return to the college basketball promised land.

That this is all happening on Easter weekend makes it that much more hectic. But, as she has shown time and again over the past three weeks, sports and religion really can mix, so long as you keep everything in perspective.

“We’re having a university Mass together on Easter Sunday,” she said. “You know, I said Easter Sunday because we hope to stay, and we’re confident enough we will.”

Sister Jean is far from the only Catholic going for glory at this Final Four. On the other side of the bracket, the Catholic school, Villanova, is represented by Rev. Rob Hagan — aka Father Rob — who told The Associated Press the matchup is “kind of like fighting with your brothers and sisters. We’re all in the same family.”

Michigan coach John Beilein used a question posed to him about Sister Jean to remind folks that he, like the Loyola-Chicago players, is a product of a Jesuit education.

“And I had a priest, not even at my own parish, stop Mass and say, ‘They have Sister Jean, you have everybody here praying for you,'” Beilein said. “It’s been a lot of fun and it’s great.”

Not that this mix of sports and religion is particularly groundbreaking. Players thank God all the time, and more often than not, their prayers and thanks go largely ignored by the mainstream media and the fans.

But college basketball is going through some rough times these days, filled with dirty coaches and agents, payoffs to players and an FBI investigation that has unmasked corruption in many corners of the game.

Change is coming.

Sister Jean’s presence has reminded everyone that the game is about more than slam dunks, busted brackets, big money and the glossy “One Shining Moment” video that wraps things up at the end.

“It’s just cool that everybody in the world knows who she is now, and they’re starting to get to see how cool she is and how amazing she is,” Ramblers guard Clayton Custer said.

On Friday, Sister Jean’s 15 minutes of fame was just that: 15 minutes, and then it was time to move onto the day’s regularly scheduled menu of interviews with coaches and players.

But she was having a grand time.

“I could stay for an hour,” she said.

Spending an hour talking hoops with a nun?

Nary a soul objected.

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Al Bello/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.”