Advisers aid baseball prospects, might do same in basketball

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Evan Skoug had a decision to make his senior year of high school in 2014: go pro or go to college?

He was rated the No. 1 prospect in Illinois for the Major League Baseball draft that year, and he had signed a letter of intent to play catcher at TCU.

Skoug ended up going to TCU, but not before he and his family weighed the pros and cons with and had many conversations with an adviser.

“It was good for me to have someone there to help me through the professional process because nobody in my family has played professionally and nobody knows the industry,” Skoug said this week. “It was nice to have somebody invested in the sports industry, invested in myself, there to help me make the correct informed decision.”

NCAA rules governing baseball and ice hockey allow high school players to hire advisers as long as those advisers are paid their normal fees. Also, baseball and hockey players who are drafted are allowed to retain college eligibility as long as they don’t sign a contract.

Under proposals put forth by the Condoleezza Rice-headed Commission on College Basketball, facets of those baseball-hockey rules would be applied to high school and college basketball players.

One recommendation would have the NCAA create a program for certifying agents and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers. The NCAA already allows players in college to retain advisers.

“I think information and data are power, so to speak,” Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles said. “I think that’s really important — to educate the parents, to educate the players to this whole process.”

Another recommendation would allow high school and college basketball players who declare for the draft and aren’t drafted remain eligible for college unless and until they sign a pro contract. That recommendation assumes the NBA changes its rules and allows high school seniors to be drafted instead of requiring a player be 19 years old or one year removed from high school.

Miles said he favors that proposal as well, but he sees a potential problem. He currently has two rising seniors who have declared for the June 21 draft without signing an agent, and they have until May 30 to pull out of draft consideration and retain their eligibility.

If the recommendation were in place now, and those players stayed in the draft pool but weren’t selected, their status for next season might not be known until well into the summer. That, Miles said, could present a roster-management issue. Typically, a coach has a good idea if any of his underclassmen will be drafted, and he can plan for that. But what if the undrafted player decides not to return to school after the draft and chooses to pursue opportunities in the G League or overseas?

“I think you need a clear conversation with the student-athlete and his family asking ‘What are your intentions?'” Miles said. “Those are things that should be decided earlier than June 21.”

The baseball agent-adviser rule, as it applies to the power-five conferences, changed in 2016. As part of the autonomy movement, high school players who are drafted are permitted to hire an agent for contract negotiations, but the relationship must be severed if the player decides to enroll in college. Conferences outside the power five are allowed to adopt that rule if they choose. Previously, advisers could not perform agent duties such as negotiating a contract whether for a high school player or a player who’s draft-eligible in his third year at a four-year school.

Skoug said he knew he needed help sorting out the MLB draft process as he neared his senior season at Libertyville (Illinois) High. His high school coach recommended a friend, Scott Pucino, who heads the baseball division for Octagon sports and entertainment agency.

Pucino gave Skoug tips on how to word answers on the multitude of questionnaires sent by major league clubs, explained what life would be like in a rookie league if he chose to turn pro and stressed the importance of finding an experienced and trusted wealth manager.

The Skoug family paid a few hundred dollars for Pucino’s services — “inconsequential for what we got,” said Evan’s father, John Skoug.

“We had 28 of the 30 major-league teams march through our living room and asking a bunch of questions. We didn’t know what to really expect,” John said. “You hear stuff from Person X and Person Y, and each of these scouts will tell you, but I’d rather have an independent party telling me what’s going on.”

The most important conversation dealt with setting the minimum amount of money it would take for Evan Skoug to sign. Only he and his family could make that decision, but Pucino had input.

“The question for Evan: life-changing money, what was that going to be?” Pucino said. “The thing I tell these players is if you don’t make it, at least you have three years of college education done. So for (MLB) to buy you out of that college education — even though there’s a scholarship program (through clubs) — it should be a pretty good amount of money. It’s easy to finish a year if you’re drafted as a junior. It’s not the same to be 28 or 29 and now do three or four years of college.”

Evan set his price at $1.5 million — more than any club was willing to pay. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Washington Nationals, what he called a “courtesy pick.”

“The Nationals wanted to follow my career at TCU, so it was nice to hear my name get called and to be drafted,” he said. “But once I heard that the number wasn’t going to be there, my mind was totally set on college.”

At TCU, Skoug started 198 of 199 games, batted .286 with 36 homers and 168 RBIs and was the 2017 Big 12 co-player of the year. His draft stock rose accordingly. He was picked in the seventh round last year by the Chicago White Sox and signed for $300,000. He now plays for the Kannapolis (North Carolina) Intimidators in the Class A South Atlantic League.

Pucino — who represents Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, the New York Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera and the Chicago Cubs’ Ben Zobrist, among others — went from being Skoug’s adviser to agent.

“I would have been very confused and out of the loop as to what was going on throughout the upcoming months of the (2014) draft without Scott,” Evan said. “He did a great job of preparing me and my family for what was coming, so that was a big help to us, because we had no idea.”

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.