Jamie Squire/Getty Images

International Jayhawks to reunite with family at Final Four

Leave a comment

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.”

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.”