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Florida’s Jalen Hudson goes from valued veteran to erratic enigma

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jalen Hudson unwittingly offered a microcosm of his season in a 13-second span against Mississippi.

The 6-foot-6 Florida guard followed an impressive offensive rebound with a driving, off-balance, left-handed shot that barely reached the front of the rim and an over-the-back foul 90 feet from the basket with the opponent in the double bonus.

He was scintillating and silly, robust and reckless, what his team needs and what it can’t have — all a few blinks apart.

It’s about what the Gators have come to expect from Hudson.

The fifth-year senior, the team’s leading scorer a year ago, has been more of an erratic enigma than a valuable veteran this season. He’s averaging a career-low 6.2 points, down nearly 10 a game from his junior year and shooting less than 30 percent from the floor and just under 25 percent from 3-point range.

He looks lost at times, often forcing shots and/or failing to hustle on defense.

The strangest part is no one — not his coaches, his teammates or even Hudson — seems to know exactly what’s happened to him.

“The most gut-wrenching thing for me is not being able to figure it out,” Gators coach Mike White said. “I feel for him. I really believe he’s better than this and he believes in this. … It’s just, it’s tough. He’s going through something tough. Obviously our team is. I haven’t been able to figure it out. That’s the hardest thing. But there’s time.”

Florida (12-8, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) hosts seventh-ranked Kentucky (17-3, 6-1) on Saturday, with Hudson once again trying to snap out of the funk.

“I really couldn’t put my finger on it,” Hudson said recently, eventually adding that a lack of confidence was partly to blame. “I feel like that was a part of it. Other things, too.”

Some wonder whether he ever mentally recovered from entering the NBA draft last March and then failing to land an invite to the combine. He ended up returning to school.

Others pin his struggles on no longer having speedy point guard Chris Chiozza and heady shooting guard Egor Koulechov around. Chiozza’s elite quickness opened up the floor, and Koulechov did so many little things that made the game easier for Hudson.

Hudson’s output has dipped dramatically without them. He’s no longer a starter, having come off the bench in 12 of the last 16 games as White opted to go with highly touted freshmen Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard. It’s the first time since 1999 that Florida has started three freshmen.

Johnson, Locke and Nembhard have been bright spots in a sub-par season in Gainesville and give the Gators hope for the future, especially considering White has a top-10 recruiting class joining them this summer.

In the meantime, White will keep trying to get Hudson back on track.

“Jalen will have a really, really good practice and you’ll be reminded of what he’s capable of,” White said. “It’s in him. Our guys will tell you, he was dominant in practice. He was. He went off at practice. And it’s not too late. I mean we can sit here and be depressed about it, ‘Woe is me. Didn’t go as I planned.’ … We want him to play well.

“I know that if he shows up saying, ‘I’ve got to score 30,’ you’re not going to score 30.”

Hudson looked like he might end his season-long slump with 14 and 11 points, respectively, in lopsided wins against Florida Gulf Coast and Butler in late December. But he’s yet to reach double digits in the eight games since.

And three of his four worst performances in terms of plus/minus scoring have come in the last two weeks. He was minus-15 in 10 minutes of playing time during a three-point loss at Mississippi State, minus-9 in 19 minutes of action in a five-point loss at TCU and then minus-12 in 16 minutes in an overtime victory against Ole Miss on Wednesday night.

“I feel like with him it’s just, you know, personally just coming out there and just playing his game,” Locke said. “I think sometimes he might go out there and think too much, thinking about maybe the past games he’s had, thinking what he has to do. Maybe sometimes he might think that he had to do a little too much when he really doesn’t have to.

“He can just play within the game and stuff will fall his way. I think it’s a lot of mental with him. I feel like it’ll get better, but that’s what I really think it is.”

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.

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.