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Las Vegas Takeaways: Three things you need to know after the final live period in 2018

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LAS VEGAS — The final week of the July live evaluation period commenced with most of the top players ending up in Las Vegas. With over four events and multiple shoe-company circuits overlapping in final events, it made for some fun competition that we usually don’t see. Here are five takeaways from the week there.

1. Las Vegas is more important than the Peach Jam

This summer drew a ton of praise for Peach Jam since it looks like the summer college recruiting model could be changing. Peach Jam is a wonderful event. One of the most competitive events during the entire year. Las Vegas is better. It’s also more important for recruiting than Peach Jam.

Peach Jam gets so much hype and coverage because it’s grown in mythical proportions as Nike’s top event and championship. But Peach Jam is only a handful of Nike’s top teams playing in one small town. It also competes directly with important events, that are hours away, from Adidas and Under Armour.

Las Vegas has top teams from all shoe company circuits in one city. Which means all of the top college coaching staffs focus almost all of their energy on Vegas. It also means that coaching staffs have to make difficult selections when going to see players they are recruiting. And by the third week of the live period, players are noticing which schools are consistently at their games.

“Last week, the second live period there are so many events, so all the coaches can’t be everywhere. Everyone is in Las Vegas. It means a lot to see the coaches recruiting you at your games because you know they’re in Vegas. It just depends on if they’re going to your game, or someone else’s game,” Class of 2019 prospect Samuell Williamson said.

That quote hits Vegas on the head as an event.

Players are competing for the final time ever on the AAU circuit. The emotion of playing in one last tournament, while fighting for scholarships for one final time in front of college coaches, is a lot to deal with. When you also add in the overall excitement of Las Vegas as a city, the number of prominent NBA players in attendance at all Vegas events, and the hyped cross-shoe-company games and it makes for a tremendous week of basketball if properly planned.

Peach Jam is great. But Las Vegas is the most important week of the July recruiting calendar.

2. Jaden McDaniels is a talented but polarizing prospect 

There has already been a lot of talk this July about how there is a glaring lack of star power at the top of the Class of 2019. Some really good players are up there. But when it comes to the NBA talk and traditional “one-and-done” chatter,  there won’t be as much with the Class of 2019.

Which is part of the reason why Seattle native Jaden McDaniels has generated so much attention over the last several months. The younger brother of San Diego State forward Jalen McDaniels, Jaden is also a late-blooming forward who brings a lot of intriguing things to the table at 6-foot-10. McDaniels shoots an effortless-looking perimeter jumper. He can guard four or five positions. He’s long, rangy and athletic. Those traits have led to some scouts becoming enamored with McDaniels as he’s received some talk as the best long-term prospect in the class.

But there are others who aren’t so high on McDaniels. While McDaniels has a lot of intriguing tools at his disposal, he doesn’t always play hard, or put up the production, that you would like to see from a five-star talent. McDaniels is also a classic player who is good at a lot of things but not great at any one particular skill — quite yet.

These polarizing viewpoints among scouts also qualify within the college ranks. The west-coast schools are all over McDaniels, but he’s never really ascended into a national-level recruit. Duke and Kentucky haven’t shown serious interest. It means that McDaniels is going to be one of the most fascinating players to watch in this class. Some think he could be the guy while the best schools aren’t even all that interested. Something has to give on this one.

3. The Orlando area has some intriguing talent

The Orlando area isn’t exactly known as a high school basketball hotbed. But with North Carolina freshman Nassir Little hailing from the area, and Orlando having even more high-end talent in the Class of 2019, it is becoming an area to keep an eye on.

Forward C.J. Walker was one of the most interesting players to track in Las Vegas after a strong summer start that included positive play at Pangos and Peach Jam. The 6-foot-7 Walker didn’t disappoint with E1T1 at the Fab 48 as the high-motor Walker piled up points and rebounds while adding blocks and steals. Showing an improved perimeter game, Walker is the type of versatile, positionless player who could rocket up national rankings after his recent play. Arizona just jumped into the mix with a scholarship offer as Walker might become a national recruit. His ability to play up to four spots looks very attractive at the college level.

Kai Jones is another forward who played in the Orlando area having a solid summer. After leading Orlando Christian Prep to a state title last season, the 6-foot-10 Jones earned double-digit high-major scholarship offers as he’s quickly getting a feel for American basketball. A native of the Bahamas, Jones can make plays around the basket using his athleticism as he is quick off of his feet. He eventually plans to transition as a wing forward who is expanding his game to the perimeter.

But because Jones is the biggest guy on his guard-heavy grassroots team, he has to play inside.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable every time I play,” Jones said. “I feel like I’ve expanded my game, and being comfortable with the ball and knowing when to attack and when not to attack. Making the right reads. This is the first chance I’ve gotten to showcase my perimeter game. The more and more I play for this team, I’m getting more comfortable.”

So why does the Orlando connection matter? Last year, Little went from being a back-end five-star player the beginning of July and ascending into a top-five national talent by the end of senior season. Orlando players don’t get the national spotlight of other areas. Their players can be slept on. Will this be the case with Jones and Walker?

Jones and Walker are two of a handful of really good players coming from the Orlando area. It seems as though Florida in general and Orlando has a lot going on when it comes to developing basketball talent as Jones and Walker are two under-the-radar guys to watch.

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

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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.