RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — College basketball played an entire season amid a federal corruption investigation that magnified long-simmering troubles within the sport, from shady agent dealings to concerns over athletes who’d rather go straight to the pros.
Now it’s time to hear new ideas on how to fix the complex, wide-ranging problems.
On Wednesday morning, the commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will present its proposed reforms to university presidents of the NCAA Board of Governors and the Division I Board of Directors at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. And that starts what could be a complicated process in getting changes adopted and implemented for next season.
“I expect the proposals will be strong,” NCAA president Mark Emmert told The Associated Press. “They’ll certainly break with the status quo. That’s their charge and their mission. That’s what we need.
“I think it’s going to be a very good day for college sports,” he said.
That would be welcome, considering there has been no shortage of bad days in recent months.
The Commission on College Basketball formed in October , a few weeks after federal prosecutors announced they had charged 10 men — including assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, USC and Oklahoma State along with a top Adidas executive — in a fraud and bribery scandal.
The case involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school, agent or apparel company. And it has entangled schools such as Kansas, North Carolina State , Louisville and Miami , among others, though prosecutors withdrew a criminal complaint in Feburary against one of the defendants, a youth hoops program director.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said that case has put college sports in the position of reacting instead of proactively heading off yet-to-emerge problems.
“Sometimes unfortunately that’s what it takes,” Swofford told the AP. “You’d like to think that collectively the basketball world could’ve seen this coming and had the foresight to get out ahead of it. But that’s not reality. Organizations and people, we all sometimes need wake-up calls. And I see this as a wake-up call, and therefore an opportunity.”
One the Rice commission wants to seize.
It was charged with finding ways to reform and modernize rules, including looking at the NCAA’s relationship with the NBA, youth leagues, apparel companies and agents. It was also set to review an enforcement process that frequently takes years to resolve complicated cases of potentially major rules violations.
The commission features several prominent names in the sport, including former NBA stars Grant Hill and David Robinson, former Georgetown coach John Thompson III, retired college coach Mike Montgomery and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.
“The stage is set, certainly, given what’s happened with law enforcement and what we’ve seen in media reports around men’s basketball at the collegiate level,” Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey told the AP. “You involve Condoleezza Rice because you want an impactful outcome.”
After Rice presents Wednesday morning, the boards will meet to consider adopting the commission’s recommendations, either fully or in part. The next stop would be the Division I Council, a group mostly made up of athletic directors, to craft legislation for implementation.
Emmert said the council is already forming subgroups to deal with the targeted areas the commission is expected to address, with the goal of having legislation ready to be presented by August in time for next season.
Swofford, for one, said he’d prefer to end the one-and-done model of top NBA prospects arriving in college for one-year pit stops before turning professional, though that would also take agreement from the NBA. Swofford prefers a model similar to baseball by allowing high schoolers to go straight to the pros but require players who enter college to spend two years there.
He’d also like to see the NBA-run G League become a stronger developmental option for athletes who don’t want to come to college, a path recently chosen by former Syracuse recruit and McDonald’s All-American Darius Bazley.
Regardless, Swofford said, changes must be broad-based because “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet here” to fix everything. And he expects the commission to offer “substantive” findings.
“If we can’t react to something like this in a way that brings significant improvement to the system and to what we’re doing, shame on us,” Swofford said.
LSU’s Will Wade denies working with Christian Dawkins to secure 2019 recruit
LSU head coach Will Wade took his time at SEC media day on Wednesday to declare his innocence after being linked to Christian Dawkins during the ongoing federal trial on corruption in college basketball in New York.
Wade’s name was brought up in court on Tuesday as lawyers for Adidas executive Jim Gatto tried to admit evidence that showed the LSU coach was prepared to offer benefits to land top-50 2019 big man Balsa Koprivica. The catch was that Dawkins had to get him to sign with the Tigers.
Attorney Casey Donnelly, representing Gatto, tried to introduce a wiretapped phone call between Wade and Dawkins. No date was provided from Donnelly, but court records show the FBI monitored one of Dawkins’ cellphones from June 19, 2007 through Sept. 15, 2017.
Donnelly read from a transcript that showed that Wade and Dawkins spoke about Koprivica. The context of the conversation is limited, however, and it has some gray area.
“So you said to me in Atlanta there was a 2019 kid I wanted to recruit, they can get him to LSU, you would have funded,” Dawkins told Wade on the call — according to Donnelly’s transcript. “Would you want Balsa?”
“Oh, the big kid?” Wade asked.
“Yeah,” Dawkins said.
“OK. But there’s other [expletive] involved in it,” Wade replied. “I have got to shut my door. … Here’s my thing: I can get you what you need, but it’s got to work.”
At SEC media day on Wednesday, Wade downplayed the comments, while only sticking to a prepared statement. After reading the statement, Wade refused to answer additional questions, while referring to the statement, when reporters tried to ask follow-up questions.
“It was a little bit surprising,” Wade said about the testimony at SEC media day. “I’m not really gonna react to what the defense attorney said. I will say I’m very proud of everything I’ve done as LSU’s head coach. … I or we have never, ever done business of any kind with Christian Dawkins. That’s what I’ll say about that.”
Wade and LSU are expected to have a promising 2018-19 season as sophomore point guard Tremont Waters is considered an All-American candidate. The team is also trying to overcome the loss of Wayde Sims, who was tragically killed when he was shot and killed in late September.
So to have Wade’s name mentioned in this trial is another subplot that the Tigers have to go through as the season approaches.
Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.
Today we dive into No. 8 Virginia.
In the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Virginia managed to accomplish the one thing that will ensure they will forever be remembered in the annals of history: The Cavaliers, as the No. 1 overall seed, not only managed to find a way to become the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed, but they did so while losing by 20 points.
They were run out of the gym in what was just their third loss of the season and their second loss since the first week of December, and we’re never going to forget about it.
History can be unkind when you’re the first to do something no one wants to do.
The question that everyone wants an answer to is simple: How does a team bounce back from that?
Virginia is already a program that has a reputation for choking in March. They’ve won three of the last five ACC regular season titles, two of the last five ACC tournament titles and they’ve entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed three times and a No. 2 seed once in that span. In those five years, they’ve only made it out of the Sweet 16 once. They lost as a No. 1 seed to No. 4 Michigan State in the Sweet 16 in 2014. They lost as a No. 2 seed to No. 7 Michigan State in 2015. In 2016, they blew a 15 point lead in the final ten minutes of the Elite 8 as a No. 1 seed taking on a No. 10 Syracuse team that barely deserved to get into the tournament in the first place.
And then there was last year.
That kind of streak is tough for any athlete to get out of their head, let alone a group of college kids that are fresh off one of the most embarrassing defeats in the history of sports.
That said, the narrative of being a ‘loser’ only lasts as long as the losing does. The Red Sox were cursed until they weren’t. Same with the Cubs. LeBron wasn’t clutch until he led Cleveland back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors. Peyton Manning wasn’t a winner until he won a Super Bowl. Bill Self, Jim Calhoun and Lute Olson couldn’t win the big one until they did. Hell, Villanova has won two of the last three national titles and prior to that, they were Virginia, the team that won a ton of games before getting bounced out early in March.
We know exactly what they are going to be, and we can take to the bank that they are going to excel doing it.
Tony Bennett’s team is going to play their vaunted Pack-Line defense. They are going to be one of the nation’s five-best defensive teams, if not they best. They are going to finish at or near the bottom of the 353 teams in Division I basketball in possessions per game. They are going to patiently and efficiently run their offense until they get a good look at the rim.
And, in the process, they are going to win a whole bunch of games.
The key is that they aren’t just a system this season. There is talent on this roster. De’Andre Hunter is the biggest name to know. A potential lottery pick and an NBC Sports second-team preseason All-American, Hunter is Virginia’s most versatile defender and the one guy that can really go out and create a bucket for himself. He’s an incredibly important piece to what Virginia wants to do. (More on that in a minute.)
He’s not alone, either. Kyle Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and he will pop up on some preseason All-American lists as well. He’s taken over the role in this offense that was played by Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris before him; the sharpshooter that gets run off of screens and who has plays called for him designed to get him open looks from three.
Ty Jerome is also back, and the steady-if-unexciting point guard is one of the best players in the country you aren’t really paying. With his size, defensive instincts, ability to operate in pick-and-rolls and deep, deep range on his jumper, he’s an NBA sleeper as well. Throw in pieces like Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt and Jay Huff, and there is plenty up front as well.
The issue for this group is not going to be whether or not the players on this roster are good enough.
The reason that Virginia lost to UMBC had quite a bit to do with the fact that the Cavaliers were missing De’Andre Hunter for that game; he broke his wrist prior to the start of the NCAA tournament.
Hunter is a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He’s athletic enough to defend down and he’s big and strong enough to defend up. He is the piece that allows Virginia to matchup with teams — like UMBC — who play four guards, and he also skilled enough offensively that he can go out and create a shot for himself, which is not exactly Virginia’s strength offensively.
Against UMBC, Virginia’s bigs were exposed guarding smaller players over and over again, and they weren’t enough of a threat offensively to punish smaller Retriever defenders at the other end. This wasn’t the sole reason that Virginia lost — UMBC played out of their minds, Virginia had an off-night and once the Cavs realized what was going on, they froze up and could never rally playing at their pace — but it was the root cause of what happened in ‘the game’.
The problem this season is that I’m afraid Hunter is going to be forced into playing the majority of his minutes at the three because, quite frankly, Virginia doesn’t have many guards that are actually good. Their perimeter depth as of today consists of a sophomore that played in 13 games last season (Marco Anthony), a redshirt freshman and a pair of true freshmen that are anything-but five-star prospects.
On the other hand, three of their top six players are big men — Salt, Diakite and Huff. Diakite is probably athletic enough that it won’t be a killer defensively if he ends up playing 25 minutes at the four, but it still would be suboptimal for the way that Virginia will need to score.
Which is why the key to Virginia reaching their ceiling …
… is probably the status of Alabama transfer Braxton Key.
Key is a 6-foot-8 junior that spent the first two years of his college career playing for the Crimson Tide. As a freshman, he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 boards, but he managed just 7.0 points and 5.3 boards in limited time last season after missing the first ten games following knee surgery.
Now, Key has his warts as a player. He’s turnover prone, he’s probably not quite as good of a perimeter shooter as he thinks he is and, like Hunter, he’s more of a combo-forward than he is a natural wing or a true four. But A) he can score, B) the fact that he’s a combo-forward is certainly not a killer given he’d spend time paired with Hunter, and C) there shouldn’t be an adjustment for him defensively. In the two seasons that Key was at Alabama, they finished in the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric both years.
The NCAA has been more lenient granting these waivers recently. Mustapha Heron at St. John’s was recently cleared to play this season. Key is hoping that he’ll be as lucky, and if he is, I think it changes what the ceiling for this team can end up being. He makes that much more difficult to create mismatches against.
Virginia is going to be right there in the mix again.
I think they can win the ACC regular season title again. Duke is far from a perfect team and North Carolina will be starting a freshman at the point. Once you get out of the top three in the league, the conference takes a pretty big step down. Put another way, there is a clear-cut tier at the top of the league, and Virginia is a part of that tier.
But their issue has never been winning during the regular season.
Hell, they have won two of the last five ACC tournaments. They can win in a knockout setting.
They just haven’t done it in March yet.
And until they do, until they get to a Final Four and make a run at winning a national title, this is going to be the talking point in regards to this program. We’re never going to forget about ‘the game’, but that doesn’t mean UVA can’t give us something else to talk about, too.
I may the only member of Villanova Island these days, but I’m fully bought in on the idea that the Wildcats are still national title contenders.
The narrative this team is currently facing is that they are young, which, in Villanova terms, is totally accurate. Three members of their rotation are going to be sophomores. They’ll likely play at least two, if not three freshmen significant minutes. For a program that has featured at least two players receiving social security benefits in each of the last five seasons, that is quite a bit of youth.
But Villanova also has as much veteran leadership as anyone in the country. Phil Booth is a fifth-year senior that has won two national titles and has more experience that any other player in the sport. Eric Paschall only played in one national title game, but he is also a fifth-year senior with two rings to his name. Joe Cremo is an Albany transfer, but Albany has a track record of winning and Cremo is a perfect fit for the way the Wildcats want to play.
And all that comes before we start talking about the way the Villanova program operates. It’s always been next-man-up, and there has always been someone ready to make that next step. Darrun Hilliard, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo. The beauty of the way Villanova operates is that there are NBA-caliber players willing to play a role for the betterment of the team, and this season I think that Paschall is going to be the guy that is the next-man-up.
A 15.9-ppg scorer at Fordham as a freshman, Paschall is a terrific athlete, an excellent three-point shooter — he shot 46.1 percent in the final three months of the season after a 1-for-25 start — and a guy primed for a breakout year. If he ends up being an All-American as I expect he will be and Booth becomes that secondary scorer, all Jay Wright needs his new faces to do are to thrive in their roles, and there is no reason that they can’t.
At these odds, a $10 bet pays off $300. That’s more than worth the risk.
2. Auburn (+4000), No. 10
Auburn has plenty of question marks this season. How will they handle the loss of their leading scorer, Mustapha Heron? Will the team able to effectively integrate Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy without messing with their style of play and their ego-less brand of basketball? What happens when the Tigers are no longer sneaking up on anyone? They are the reigning SEC co-champions and a preseason top ten team. They will be one of the biggest games on the schedule for every team they play this season.
But the key here is that while there are a couple of question marks, Auburn brings back the two most important pieces to their space-and-pace system. Jared Harper is their junior point guard and the floor general that make their fast-paced offense work. He declared for the draft but returned to school.
More importantly, however, it appears that Anfernee McLemore is healthy after a devastating ankle injury (think Gordon Hayward) that he suffered in February. McLemore is the piece that brings everything together for the Tigers. He’s a hyper-athletic 6-foot-7 big man that led the SEC in blocked shots (2.7 per game) despite playing less than 20 minutes per night. He led the nation in block rate. And he shot 39.1 percent from three.
There are real concerns about this team, but the risk is baked into the odds. At 40:1, Auburn is getting better odds than Michigan, UCLA and Oregon and is at the same level as Wichita State and Indiana. I like those odds.
3. Tennessee (+2500), No. 7
I’m still not totally sure how I feel about Tennessee this season. It’s impossible to deny the success that they had last year, coming out of nowhere to win a share of the SEC regular season title. And they bring everyone back from that team, including reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams.
They are going to win a lot of basketball games this season. They are very likely going to end up getting a top three seed again. They are old, they have some star power, Rick Barnes has been to a Final Four before.
At 25:1 odds, I see the value, I’m just not sure I’m ready to pull the trigger yet. If I’m betting on someone from the SEC, it’s probably going to be Auburn.
WORTH A LOOK
4. Virginia (+2000), No. 8
Look, I get it.
Virginia is scary.
In the last five years, they’ve been a No. 1-seed three times and a No. 2-seed once. In each of those four NCAA tournaments, they lost to a team seeded lower than them, including blowing a 15-point lead in the last ten minutes against No. 10-seed Syracuse and becoming the first No. 1-seed to ever lose to a No. 16-seed. So I understand why you would be hesitant.
But you’re also getting 20:1 odds here. Remember back in 2016, when Villanova was the team that always choked in March? Or when Mark Few, or Bill Self, or Jim Calhoun, or Lute Olson couldn’t win a big game? Or when the Cubs were those lovable losers that were never going to win a World Series?
This may not be the year that Virginia finally sheds the label of choke artist, but when a $100 bet pays off your phone bill for the entire year, the risk is worth it.
5. Kansas (+800), No. 1
There is a clear-cut top four in college basketball this season: Kansas, Kentucky, Gonzaga and Duke. They are the four teams with the lowest odds to win the national title, they are the four teams at the top of the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and they will be the four teams that inhabit the top four of both preseason polls.
The order that they wind up in will vary from place to place. Personally, I have Kansas at No. 1. Not only do they have a potential Player of the Year in Dedric Lawson and another potential All-American in Quentin Grimes, this is a team that has a terrific combination of talented youngsters and quality veterans. I’m a little worried about point guard play and I think that shooting will be an issue, but this group has the roster build of Bill Self’s best teams: big, athletic perimeter players, a hoss at the five and a face-up four that can get 20 points on any given night.
If you want to bet on one of the top four teams this season, Kansas — who has the best odds of the four — is the one I’m looking at.
I don’t see all that much of a difference between the Zags and the Wildcats this year. I think Kentucky probably has a higher ceiling, although their dependence on freshmen guards and the questions about who will be their go-to guy (Tyler Herro) in crunch-time are concerns. Gonzaga might have the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, but betting on them to win a national title means that you are betting on a team that will be run by Josh Perkins, and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that.
Either way, I doubt that I’ll invest in any futures for either of these teams. But at their cost I don’t think either are worth the payoff.
I’M STAYING AWAY
8. Duke (+500), No. 4
Everyone has a blind spot, and I think Duke might be mine. I am lower on the Blue Devils than the rest country. I did not really consider them for the top three in my rankings because I am really concerned about the way the pieces on this roster are going to come together.
There is no questioning the talent that will be on display here. RJ Barrett looks like the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Cam Reddish might have the highest upside of anyone in the draft class. Tre Jones has all those point guard qualities Duke has been trying desperately to find for the last three seasons. Zion Williamson is Zion Williamson.
What concerns me is that the Blue Devils’ four best players are all going to operate best with the ball in their hands. There is also going to be a lack of shooting on this roster, and I’m not fully convinced that Coach K has figured out how to make these one-and-done rosters as good as he needs them to be defensively.
If they do end up winning the title, I will not be cashing a ticket. At the lowest odds of any team in the country, I’ll let someone else make that bet.
9. Nevada (+1200), No. 6
When the odds for the 2019 national title were first posted, Nevada checked in at (+6000). I would have been all over the Wolf Pack at 60:1, but once the Martin twins both announced that they would be returning to school for their final year of eligibility, those odds fell to 12:1. They now, according to the Westgate, are the sixth-most likely team to win the national title. I have them sixth-nationally heading into the season.
If you feel strongly that this is the year Eric Musselman’s crew can win a title, make the bet. I don’t hate it. But at these odds, I won’t be there with you.
10. North Carolina (+800), No. 9
I actually think the Tar Heels have a chance to be pretty good this season. I have them ninth in the preseason top 25. They have an All-American in Luke Maye and a future top three pick in Nassir Little. They might win the ACC. They’re good.
They’re also getting the same odds as Kansas — who I have as the preseason No. 1 team in the country — and are sitting between Tennessee (+2500), Virginia (+2000), Auburn (+4000) and Kansas State (+8000) in my rankings.
They could win the title, but at 8:1 odds I’m not going to be the guy betting on it.
Auburn landed its fifth verbal pledge in the Class of 2019 Tuesday evening, as four-star combo guard Tyrell Jones announced his commitment. The 6-foot-1 Jones, who currently attends West Oaks Academy in Orlando and played for the Showtime Ballers program on the adidas Uprising circuit, took his official visit to Auburn in mid-September.
Jones is one of three four-star commits in Auburn’s 2019 class to date, with wings Allen Flanigan and Jaylin Williams being the others, and guard Isaac Okoro and forward Babatunde Akingbola round out the quintet.
During Bruce Pearl’s rebuild at Auburn the program’s had multiple perimeter players who can create off the dribble, opening things up for themselves and their teammates, and Jones fits the mold. At minimum Auburn will have to account for the loss of senior guard Bryce Brown after the upcoming season, with junior guards Jared Harper, Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick all being upperclassmen as well.
Add in senior wing Malik Dunbar and junior Danjel Purifoy, and Auburn has six perimeter upperclassmen on the current roster. The 2019 recruiting class will go a long way towards bolstering that area of the program, with regards to both depth and talent.
Recruitment of Zion Williamson discussed during Tuesday’s FBI trial proceedings
The trial focused on James Gatto, Merl Code Jr. and Christian Dawkins continued Tuesday, and the biggest news out of New York City focused on information that attorneys were not allowed to use in building their case. As a result, the information was discussed before jurors entered the courtroom for Tuesday’s session.
The name of Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson was mentioned for the first time, by way of the transcript of a phone conversation between Code and current Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend that was read by defense attorney (representing Code) Mark Moore.
Per the transcript, Code and Townsend discussed the recruitment of Williamson, with Code saying that the prospect’s father was asking for “opportunities from an occupational perspective,” money and housing in exchange for his son’s commitment according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports.
Moore would go on to read Townsend’s response per the transcript, with the coach being recorded saying that “so, I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way. Because if that’s what it takes to get him for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”
Due to the lack of context to the conversation, this evidence cannot be used by either the prosecution or defense in the case. That being said the recorded transcript doesn’t match the testimony of T.J. Gassnola, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in late April and is working as a federal witness as part of the plea deal.
Gassnola testified that neither Townsend nor Kansas head coach Bill Self knew anything of any payments being made to prospects or their families in exchange for their commitment to Kansas, one of the adidas brand’s most important college partners.
Two other names mentioned on Tuesday were those of LSU head coach Will Wade and four-star 2019 prospect Balsa Koprivica. The transcript of the conversation between Wade and Christian Dawkins, which according to Gatto attorney Casey Donnelly included the head coach saying that “I can get you what you need but it’s got to work” regarding the recruitment of Koprivica, was not admitted as evidence due to the fact that none of the defendants are being charged for any activity involving Wade, LSU or Koprivica.
The Brian Bowen recruitment was also discussed during the session prior to the jury’s arrival, with attorneys reading a transcript of a conversation between Bowen Sr. and Dawkins in which the former said that he favored Michigan State for his son. Bowen Sr. told Dawkins that Michigan State hadn’t offered anything for his son’s commitment, but that never happened since Bowen Jr. did not want to go to Michigan State. He ultimately landed at Louisville, with his pledge coming just days after an alleged payment of $100,000 was agreed upon.
This case has seemingly focused on the question of what laws/rules the trio of Gatto, Code and Dawkins have broken. The prosecution has argued that the they’ve broken federal laws (in addition to NCAA rules) as the prosecution has argued, with the defense arguing that they haven’t broken federal laws but instead ran afoul of NCAA rules on behalf of the coaches they worked with. Beyond what the jury ultimately decides, there’s also the matter of what the NCAA could do to the programs and coaches mentioned during the trial.
One day after Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said that he felt this current scandal was nothing more than a “blip” on the radar of the sport, a member of his highly-regarded freshman class was mentioned in the courtroom.
While there’s no telling where this will all end, and how the cases will impact college basketball moving forward regardless of the verdicts to come, this trial feels like more than just a blip.