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KU moves on without Preston; star recruit’s future uncertain

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Before Kansas set foot on the court this season, it was no stretch to say the team’s fortunes would rest on the shoulders of a blue-chip newcomer named Billy Preston.

Turns out, Preston never played a minute for KU, outside of a couple of exhibition games.

The Jayhawks did just fine without him, making their first Final Four appearance since 2012.

Preston did not do as fine.

Sidelined by Kansas after a one-car, on-campus accident in November that triggered an investigation into how he acquired the vehicle, Preston wound up in Europe in a detour that was nothing more than a dead end.

It’s a cautionary tale of a program trying to navigate the increasingly murky waters of college basketball while dodging its own unsettling headlines.

But it could also cost Preston millions.

“I don’t want to say he’s ruled out of being drafted. That’s not accurate,” says Jonathan Givony, the longtime draft analyst who now works for ESPN, in discussing Preston’s NBA prospects. “But I don’t think he’s helped his cause with the circumstance he’s in right now.”

As a McDonalds All-American and the eighth-ranked prospect in the country when he came out of Oak Hill Academy, Preston went to Kansas with the potential to make himself a “one-and-doner” — a player who goes to college for a year, then cashes in at the NBA draft.

A solid NCAA regular season, to say nothing of playing well on the outsized platform that a run to the Final Four can provide, can often send players vaulting up a draft board — from second to first round, or from the middle of the first round straight to the top.

Asked to whom he compared his game after signing with the Jayhawks, Preston told the Kansas City Star, “LeBron, LeBron James.”

“They wanted me to come in and right off the bat, make some changes,” Preston said. “Hopefully next year we can win a national championship. I just think Coach Self and the rest of the coaching staff saw the best in me.”

What Kansas coach Bill Self could not afford, however, was any more trouble — something the Jayhawks found at seemingly every turn during the 2016-17 season.

There was news that police were investigating a reported rape at the dormitory that houses the basketball team, though no suspects were identified and no charges were filed. There were drug charges, a domestic violence arrest, another report about a player striking a female student and a vandalism investigation.

Though none of those cases put KU in the crosshairs of the NCAA, neither did they put Self in the mood to be overly patient with those who couldn’t follow the simplest of rules. An NCAA investigation had laid bare the details of widespread fraud at the highest level of college basketball, and no one wanted to give credence to the notion that corners were being cut or rules were being bent.

It might have played into the coach’s decision to hold Preston out of the team’s season opener for missing curfew. Preston told Self he was late because he had illegally parked his car.

The next day, the car came up again. According to the KU athletic department, Preston’s car hit a curb on campus, resulting in minor damage to his tires. There was no property damage and nobody was hurt.

But KU held Preston out of the next game, against Kentucky, to get what Self called a “clearer financial picture” about Preston’s car.

“I’m certainly anticipating there being no issues, but I don’t want to positively say one way or another until I actually know for a fact,” Self said at the time.

Preston didn’t play another minute for Kansas.

Meanwhile, the investigation dragged on for more than two months — long enough that he finally gave up his college dreams and signed a contract to play in Europe.

Preston would play only three games for the team he signed with in Bosnia. Only two weeks before his one-time teammates started their run to the Final Four, he left because of a shoulder injury and returned home. He has been seen in San Antonio this week, hanging around in and near the Kansas team hotel.

The Associated Press reached out to Preston, his mother, his attorney and one of his high school coaches. None responded. Before this month, his mother took to social media to express her unhappiness about both the amount of time the inquiry was taking and all the speculation surrounding it.

“I don’t think they understand,” Nicole Player said in a series of tweets in January. “Billy is 6’10 240 lbs..I could’ve sent him overseas in Nov. when this started, he would’ve been an instant millionaire and a 1st round pick. I allowed the NCAA in my personal life for Kansas. Guilty people don’t do that.”

Preston is expected to attend an NBA scouting combine in May.

For the most part, though, he is a mystery to pro scouts. Most mock drafts have him going in the second round, if at all.

“We don’t have a crystal ball, so we don’t know how he would’ve played,” Givony says. “Ideally, how players build a resume is playing at places like Kansas. Having missed out on that, I don’t think you’ll get anyone to tell you that it’s ideal.”

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.