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Three Takeaways from April Live Evaluation Period

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The April live evaluation period is in the books as college basketball coaches spent the past two weekends traveling all over the country while evaluating the top high school basketball prospects.

Spending time in Dallas and Indianapolis at the Nike EYBL and Under Armour Association, I came away with three big-picture takeaways from the April period.

1. Things remain the same on the grassroots circuit 

For all the talk of the FBI investigation and everything that’s gone down in the world of college basketball recruiting and “AAU” over the last eight months, things remained pretty much the same on the grassroots circuit the past two weekends.

Things didn’t feel any different at all with regard to event management, structure or where coaches were placed. The normal NCAA enforcement people you see out at events were there and hanging around the gym. Games felt the same and the players didn’t seem to feel any distractions about what is going on during postgame interviews.

While a lot of outsiders bemoan the existence of grassroots basketball, and shoe-company leagues, they continue to serve a very important purpose during live evaluation periods. That showed this weekend by everything remaining, essentially, the same during the first live period since these FBI investigations rocked college basketball.

If things were going so poorly, then everything would change and we wouldn’t see college coaches and players so thoroughly involved in attending and participating in these events. But a few bad situations and a few bad people doesn’t change the fact that a lot good happens because of grassroots basketball. This is a major time when high school players earn life-changing scholarship offers and opportunities to play at the next level.

It’s going to be tough for the NCAA to make sweeping changes to grassroots basketball when so many people are currently invested in how the current scene stays going.


2. Reclassifying is a major topic of discussion

Reclassifying has always been around in college basketball. It just seems lately it’s become a key trend for many of the top players in high school basketball. Whether it’s going up a class, or down a class, reclassifying was a huge talking point with many recruits during the April live evaluation period.

Some previous top players like Marvin Bagley made the jump early as they played in grassroots events during spring and summer before enrolling and immediately playing college basketball during the fall. That could very well happen with some of the Class of 2019 prospects currently on the grassroots circuit as they look to enroll early as freshmen for next season.

Five-star Class of 2019 guard Tyrese Maxey has openly discussed the possibility of playing in college next season, with many considering Kentucky to be the favorite. Five-star guard and Kentucky commit Ashton Hagans is also playing on the circuit in the Class of 2019. Hagans is also potentially making the leap to play for John Calipari next season.

It’s happening in other classes as well. Class of 2020 five-star guards R.J. Hampton and Nico Mannion are two of a number of prospects potentially jumping into the Class of 2019 as they start to really see the college interest coming on strong.

The reclassification rumors are so rampant throughout high school basketball right now that many players got asked about it while getting puzzled responses. There are still plenty of players not looking to make any moves between classes. But it’s reached the point where college basketball teams are constantly searching for new ways to bring in talent. That means an accelerated high school career for some of the top players who are ready to make the leap.  Expect the talk of reclassification to remain constant in basketball recruiting over the next several years.

3. The Class of 2019 is lacking star power

In recent weeks, some negative reviews of the Class of 2018 have come to light after the group finished up poorly during the spring all-star game circuit. One report by Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader even had plenty of on-the-record quotes about the Class of 2018 lacking effort and being underwhelming as a whole.

Some of those same sentiments currently apply to the Class of 2019.

This group is also lacking some star power while some of the top players don’t seem content on competing some of the time. While big crowds emerged in Dallas and Indianapolis last spring for players like Zion Williamson, Bol Bol and Shareef O’Neal, no one player seemed to emerge as a must-see player this spring. There were still great crowds at both stops. But there wasn’t any one particular player that consistently drew overflow crowds that camped early just to see one player.

That’s not to knock any of the top players who have played well so far. Five-star point guard Cole Anthony has looked dominant at times in the EYBL while big men like Vernon Carey and James Wiseman also had flashes of greatness the past two weekends. Other five-star players have looked inconsistent and haven’t stepped up to make a big difference yet.

There’s still plenty of time to correct things while finding late-blooming prospects. The Class of 2019 just doesn’t seem to have a lot of major difference makers right now.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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.