Deandre Ayton after workout for Suns: ‘I know I’m going No. 1’

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PHOENIX — Deandre Ayton spent Wednesday with the Suns with the feeling that this was the start of a beautiful relationship.

The 7-foot-1, 250-pound center went through what he said would be his only pre-draft workout and expressed supreme confidence that the Suns will use the No. 1 pick to select him.

“I know I’m going No. 1,” he told reporters.

Not that the Suns have assured him of that; he’s just that confident that the team won’t pass on his combination of size, strength, athleticism and shooting touch.

“Nobody told me,” he said. “That’s just me. I think I deserve that. I’ve worked hard.”

It would be a comfortable fit for Ayton, who was born in the Bahamas and moved to the Phoenix area during high school. He said most of his family now lives here. Ayton played his one year of college basketball a couple of hours down Interstate 10 at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Deandre Ayton is the No. 1-rated NBA draft prospect, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports
“Everybody knows us now,” he said. “This is our second home, so we just feel welcome, and it would be a blessing if I become the No. 1 pick and stay here and make this home.”

Ayton said teaming with young Suns star Devin Booker would be “Shaq and Kobe 2.0.”

“We could really make something happen in Phoenix,” Ayton said. “We could really have a spark and start a winning legacy.”

There hasn’t been much winning in Phoenix lately. The Suns have missed the playoffs eight years in a row, and they had the NBA’s worst record last season at 21-61, which was the second worst in franchise history.

But there is a young core of talent, and most of those players, including Booker and Josh Jackson, watched what Ayton described as “a pretty intense” individual workout.

For nearly an hour, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov and his staff put Ayton through a series of game situations, as much as possible given the fact that no other players were on the floor.

“It was everything that we expected form Deandre,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. “Obviously, we’ve watched him closely at Arizona and we’ve scouted him heavily in person in games, at practice and on film. He showed us what we expected to see.”

McDonough said “it’s pretty rare” to find such a player.

“I think this is my 16th draft in the NBA,” McDonough said, “and you can probably count on one hand the number of guys with his size, athleticism, footwork, balance, touch. It’s a unique package.”

He was particularly impressed with Ayton’s outside shooting touch.

“We knew he was big and strong and athletic and moved well at that size, had good length, had great hands,” McDonough said, “but to see him make shot after shot in a workout in different scenarios.”

And he’s just 19 years old.

The Suns plan other workouts with candidates for the No. 1 pick later this week. The group won’t include Luka Doncic, who is still playing in Europe.

Phoenix is not tipping its hand, but Ayton will be hard to pass up.

“The strength of our team right now are young perimeter players, led by Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and TJ Warren,” McDonough said. “We’ve been looking for a center to kind of anchor our team offensively and defensively. We think Deandre has that kind of potential.

“He’s certainly a unique player and a unique talent that I think would fit in great with the rest of our roster.”

Ayton averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds in his one season at Arizona. He brushed aside questions about his defense.

“I don’t think that’s a weakness,” Ayton said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to really guard any bigs in college. I was always on the perimeter with the guards.”

Still, he pointed out, he averaged 2.3 blocked shots per game.

On offense, Ayton said, “I can score inside and out.”

“There will be a lot of mismatches because if I guard them they have to guard me at the end of the day,” he said. “I can score, I can pick and pop, I can pick-and-roll, I can put the ball on the ground, rebound, push the ball. It’s an open floor now. Nobody is really double-teaming or triple-teaming.”

Ayton said there is no current player on which he patterns his game. But he mentioned two pretty good ones from the past.

“Kevin Garnett, his intensity on both ends of the floor, how he changes the game, rebounding. From offense to defense, him starting the pick and roll, stuff like that,” Ayton said, “how he’s so vocal with his teammates. And Hakeem Olajuwon, with his footwork down low, I try to really pick up a lot of stuff with those guys.”

Ayton called himself the most competitive player in the draft. He said there’s none of the laid-back attitude that’s a trademark of his homeland.

“I left at age 12, so I got a little Americanized with the competitive level,” he said.

Ayton planned to get together with Booker and other Suns players to watch Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.