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Lagerald Vick’s surprise return has buoyed No. 2 Kansas through uneven start

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BROOKLYN — Lagerald Vick was long gone.

After a terrific preseason and a better start to his junior year, Vick hit a brutal slump right around the start of conference play last season. He averaged 17.4 points over the course of the first two months of the season. Then, in a home loss to Texas Tech at the start of league play, he had just two points and two boards in 34 minutes. He scored single digits in five of his next six games, and despite being forced into playing major minutes for a team that didn’t have any depth, Vick’s performances — and, more importantly, his effort — never reached the level or the consistency that Bill Self demanded or expected. He was benched after an embarrassing home loss to Oklahoma State for Mitch Lightfoot.

Self did not think that he was getting the most out of Vick, and he was right. Vick did not think that he could do anything please the man that he was playing for, and he may have had a point. By February, they knew they had to go their separate ways.

Vick declared for the 2018 NBA Draft with the intention of signing with an agent.

Kansas gave away his jersey, No. 2, to Charlie Moore.

Then he went through the draft process, and reality clapped back: He wasn’t going to get drafted. Unless he wanted to learn a new language and play in a place where basketball is secondary to soccer, he options were limited. Accept a G League salary and hope he could play his way onto an NBA roster, or return to Lawrence, hat in hand, and hope that he would be welcomed back.

Vick never actually signed with that agent. He never cost himself his eligibility.

So when Vick pulled his name out of the draft, he was still able to return to play college ball for another year. After reaching out to Self, Vick and his family met with the Kansas coaching staff. The staff then met with their team. Everyone was on board. Vick agreed to buy into what the coaching staff wanted from him. The players who would lose minutes to Vick were fine with losing those minutes if it would help Kansas win games.

And Self?

He knew the talent that he was getting back.

It’s a decision that may have saved Kansas from an embarrassing start to their 2018-19 campaign.

Vick has been Kansas’ best player in the first two weeks of the season, and it’s not particularly close. After a quiet outing in the season-opening win over Michigan State, Vick has averaged 24.0 points in the last four games. He scored 32 points and hit all eight of his threes as the Jayhawks won a game against Vermont in Allen Fieldhouse where they trailed in the second half and Dedric Lawson went scoreless. He scored 33 points in a come-from-behind win over Louisiana, a game in which the Jayhawks trailed by as many as 12 points.

“We went through a period of time where the only basket Dedric could make was where he was sitting on his butt,” Self said after No. 2 Kansas stated their claim to the No. 1 spot in the polls with a come-from-behind 87-81 win in overtime of the NIT finals at the Barclays Center on Friday night. “We may not have won those last two home games we had if Lagerald wasn’t going 15-for-20 from three, so I’m very happy to have him back.”

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Vick was not Kansas’ best player on Friday night. That title belongs to Lawson, who looked every-bit the part of the All-American that he was entering the season, finishing with 24 points, 13 boards and six assists. But Vick did make a major impact on Friday. Tennessee outplayed Kansas in the first half. They pushed their lead to nine points midway through the second half before Kansas finally woke up.

The first Jayhawk lead of the second half?

That came via Vick, who buried back-to-back threes and a third jumper in the span of 1:19, a personal 8-0 run that turned a 56-53 deficit into a 61-56 lead. That Kansas immediately gave that lead right back says just about all you need to know about this Kansas team two weeks into the season.

“We’ve got a little bit of experience returning, but that’s a pretty young team out there,” Self said. The Jayhawks have started two freshmen in their backcourt all year — point guard Devon Dotson and off-guard Quentin Grimes — which is to say nothing of how new this group is. They lost three starters from last year’s team, they are playing three transfers major minutes and five of their rotation players did not play last season.

“I think if I had returning guys then I could have a decent feel within a month or so,” Self said. “I don’t really know what we have yet. If you’ve watched us play so far or studied us, it’s been a different guy almost every night. Go through a period of time where guys can’t scratch. Lagerald couldn’t scratch against Michigan State. The good thing is that different guys are stepping up different nights.”

And that’s where Vick’s impact is truly felt.

Look, the truth is this: Vick is truthfully just a piece for Self this season. Kansas’ best player is Lawson, a do-it-all four that is tailor made to play the power forward spot for Kansas. He can pass, he can score on the block, he can make threes, he’s effective in high-low actions and mid-post isolations. You can’t ask for much more.

The most important player for the Jayhawks is probably Udoka Azubuike, the low-post hoss that will be the player Self builds around. Grimes is the most talented player on the roster. Dotson is probably the x-factor at the point.

Vick?

He’s more-or-less out there to do a job. But he’s also the most experienced piece in the Kansas perimeter attack, a player that can pop-off for 30 points on the nights where Azubuike is in foul trouble, or Lawson is struggling, or Grimes can’t get out of his own head.

The concern with Vick’s return was whether or not he would be fine playing that role.

It looks like he is.

“Lagerald has been great from an attitude standpoint, a leadership standpoint, a playing standpoint,” Self told me when asked if he’s glad his senior guard returned to school. “He’s been a ten so far. I’m very excited about Lagerald being a part of it.”

“He’s been terrific.”

Maybe that new numbers suits him.

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.