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International Jayhawks to reunite with family at Final Four

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Udoka Azubuike has waited several years for the thrill he’ll get when he looks into the Alamodome stands at the Final Four and sees his mother.

Sure, Azubuike appreciates the opportunity to play for a national title with his Kansas Jayhawks. But he is the starting center for one of the nation’s most prestigious college basketball programs, and his mother has never seen him play.

In fact, Florence Azonuwu hasn’t seen her son at all for six years.

“It is just going to be nice to see her again,” Azubuike said. “This is what basketball is all about. Reuniting with family and getting to meet your family. That is the best part about it.”

Azonuwu’s emergency travel visa from Nigeria to the U.S. was only approved Thursday, following some wrangling by the school, Kansas’ two senators and the U.S. State Department. If she can get through three flights over 24 hours while avoiding trouble from an Air France strike in Paris, Azonuwu expects to be in San Antonio by the time Kansas takes the court against fellow top seed Villanova.

Azubuike was 13 years old when he left Nigeria to play basketball in Jacksonville, Florida. While he grew into an impressive student-athlete, most of his contact with his mother and siblings has been limited to phone calls every few weeks.

“Can you imagine?” Kansas coach Bill Self asked. “You’ve never seen your son play basketball, and the first time you do it is in front of 70,000 people at this thing? I can’t even imagine what’s going to be going through her mind.”

And she won’t be the only parent taking advantage of the financial help provided by the NCAA, which gives several thousand dollars in stipends to family members so they can make the trip to the Final Four.

Silvio De Sousa’s father is planning to travel from Angola to see his son for the first time since last summer. Ukrainian guard Svi Mykhailiuk will welcome both of his parents, who have already made the trip stateside this season for Kansas’ senior night.

De Sousa also left Africa to play high school basketball in the U.S., and he spent the past four years learning English and becoming a student capable of thriving at Kansas while growing into one of the nation’s most coveted big men. He is looking forward to showing everything he has learned to his father, Jean-Jacques, since De Sousa was still in high school the last time they saw each other.

“I didn’t know everything would be so hard for me, but the past two years have been a lot better,” De Sousa said. “I feel more comfortable here, and since I get to see my family almost every summer, now I’m handling things a lot better. I made the decision, and I knew it was going to be a hard decision, a tough decision. I just took it day by day, and I’m glad so far.”

After committing to the Jayhawks last year, De Sousa completed his final high school exams in Florida shortly before Christmas, eager to get to Kansas in time to contribute to the current team.

De Sousa, who says he can’t sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time, credits his active mind and ferocious attitude toward self-improvement partly to his parents’ influence in their daily video phone calls. For instance, he learned his new language in a uniquely aggressive way.

“I talked a lot, even though I didn’t know English,” De Sousa said of his first year in the U.S. “I would just say something just to make sure I learn. And I love to make mistakes, because if you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn. So I made sure I made mistakes so that I would learn something.”

De Sousa arrived in Lawrence — wearing shorts, no less — on Dec. 26, and he played for the Jayhawks on Jan. 13. He has matured into a key reserve for the Jayhawks in a remarkably short time, backing up Azubuike and contributing on both ends of the court.

“He’s grown a lot,” said Marcus Garrett, De Sousa’s fellow Kansas freshman. “It’s hard when you’re coming in and you have to learn 40 plays in a week. He was thrown right into the fire. He was playing quick, like two weeks after he got here. He came in working hard. He didn’t come in with a lazy mindset, and when you’re trying to learn, you can pick things up.”

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.