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What You’ve Missed: Now that football is over, get caught up on college hoops

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Football is finally over.

It took two weeks for the Super Bowl to get here, and after a defensive snooze-fest that made UConn’s 53-41 title game win over Butler in 2011 seem like a thriller, it’s time for basketball to take centerstage.

In between the massive trade, petty squabbles and reality television drama that is the NBA these days, we have a college basketball season to play out and the Madness of March to look forward to. 

Here is everything you need to know about college basketball if today is the day that you are getting caught up on everything. 

1. DUKE IS LIVING UP TO THE HYPE

Prior to the season, all anyone could talk about was just how good Duke had a chance to be. They were bringing in three of the top five prospects in the class and, potentially, had the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft on their roster.

Of course we were going to go overboard with the hype train.

And you know what?

It’s worth it. Zion Williamson has proven to be an absolute revelation, becoming a lock to the the National Player of the Year and a near-lock as the first pick in June. R.J. Barrett has had his ups-and-downs, but at the end of the day he is a lethal scoring that leads the nation’s No. 2 team in scoring. Tre Jones has emerged as a star as a floor leader and a potential lottery pick himself, and all of this is happening as Cam Reddish is still fluctuating between a slump and trying to figure out how to thrive in his role.

Love them or hate them, the incessant hype that Duke is getting this year is, unlike years past, earned.

2. ZION IS NOT THE ONLY MUST-SEE ATHLETE

Zion is the headliner when it comes to highlights, and that’s because the things that he does on a nightly basis are just absurd.

But he’s not the only must-see athlete in college basketball this season.

Let’s start with Murray State’s point guard Ja Morant, a 6-foot-3 lead guard averaging 24.1 points, 10.3 assists and 5.6 boards. He could end up being the No. 2 pick in the draft, and not just because he can do this:

And then there is Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, who is responsible for the best block that I think I have ever seen:

SPEAKING OF BRANDON CLARKE, GONZAGA IS LEGIT

Here is the scary thing about the Zags: We learned how good they can be in November, when they beat Duke in the title game of the Maui Invitational. They’ve lost to North Carolina and Tennessee since then, but no one that watched that performance against the Blue Devils will forget it.

The reason that’s scary is because the Zags played the entirety of their non-conference schedule without Killian Tillie, who is such an important piece for them given his ability to pass the ball and the fact that he’s a 6-foot-10 shot-blocker than can make threes. He’ll bring a different dimension to this team, and while there will be tape of him playing available, only Mark Few is going to know how Tillie will be used against elite competition. Can you say x-factor?

SPEAKING OF JA MORANT, HE’S NOT THE ONLY SUPERSTAR MID-MAJOR PLAYER

There are always fun player in the mid-major ranks, but I think this year there is a particularly high number of stars at smaller schools. Campbell’s Chris Clemons is going to end up as one of college basketball’s all-time great scorers and is coming off a week where he went for 39 points twice. Detroit’s Antoine Davis is a freshman and averaging 27.1 points for Detroit. Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman is the nation’s third-leading scorer and has led the Pride to a two-month winning streak. Wofford’s Fletcher Magee. Buffalo’s C.J. Massinburg. South Dakota State’s Mike Daum.

We need these guys in the NCAA tournament.

SPEAKING OF SUPERSTARS, MARQUETTE’S MARKUS HOWARD

Howard leads all of the high-major programs in the country in scoring, and it’s his ability to take over a game that has turned the Golden Eagles into a top ten basketball team. He had 53 points in a game earlier this year. He has gone for 45 points twice. The only player on the planet that is more dangerous as a step-back three-point shooter is James Harden. He’s lethal — and absolutely enthralling to watch — when he gets into a rhythm. It’s why the Golden Eagles have a very real shot to win the Big East.

SPEAKING OF THE BIG EAST, VILLANOVA’S BACK

If all you know about Villanova is that they were embarrassed by Michigan (and Furman, and Penn) early on this season, you haven’t been paying attention of late. As veterans Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have started playing like all-americans in recent weeks, the Wildcats have turned back into the favorite to win the league. They are undefeated in conference play through the first half of the season, and once against look like a threat to get to the Final Four.

3. THE BIG 12 TITLE IS TOTALLY UP FOR GRABS

Kansas has some real problems that they are working through that stem from the fact that seven-foot center Udoka Azubuike is injured and his backup, Silvio De Sousa, was ruled ineligible to play this season by the NCAA.

That’s created a situation where the Big 12 is the weirdest conference in college basketball. The two teams currently in first place in the league are Baylor and Kansas State, the former who lost to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin in November and the latter who spent the first two months of the season totally incapable of scoring. Kansas and Iowa State who might be the two best teams in the league, are both a game out of first place in the loss column. Texas Tech, who might be the third-best team in the league, is two games back in fifth place.

I have no idea.

But seeing this thing play out is going to be fun.

4. TENNESSEE IS THE SEC’S BEST

The Vols are the best team in the SEC. They might be the best team in college basketball — they are, after all, ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. Grant Williams is a legit superstar at the college level, while Admiral Scholfield is one of a handful of Tennessee players that could end up having an NBA future.

Tennessee is one of college basketball’s elite offensive teams, and with the way that this group of tough, physical veterans can defend when they want to, the idea that this could be a national title-winning team is very real.

BUT KENTUCKY IS BACK AFTER BEING EMBARRASSED

The first time we saw Kentucky play this season, they lost by 34 points to Duke on a night where they gave up 118 points.

Since then, things have changed. Quade Green transferred out of the program, Ashton Hagans took over as the starting point guard, P.J. Washington has turned into a legitimate all-american candidate and Reid Travis seems to finally have a feel for what his job is on this team. They’ve turned into one of college basketball’s elite defensive teams, and with the way their bigs can overpower opposing frontlines, I feel very comfortable saying the Wildcats are back as one of the five-best teams in college basketball.

5. THE PAC-12 SUCKS

The Pac-12 sucks.

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

6. VIRGINIA IS BETTER THAN THEY WERE LAST YEAR

As it stands, the Cavaliers are sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC and are proud owners of the No. 1 ranking in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, the NET and Torvik’s efficiency rankings.

But more importantly, I think the difference with the Wahoos this season is their versatility. They can play big. They can play small. They can play with three guards. They can play with two combo-forwards and a five-man that can switch onto anyone. They are as good defensively as they’ve always been, and this year they are shooting the cover off the ball.

They are better than they were last season, and this is going to be the year they finally get to the Final Four. Can you think of a better story than that?

BUT THE ACC IS LOADED

Duke is awesome.

We all know that.

But North Carolina, while having their moments of insanity, has turned out to be really, really good, especially on the nights when Coby White gets it going and despite the fact Roy Williams is still trying to find the best way to work in Nassir Little. Virginia Tech has been arguably the nation’s most dangerous three-point shooting team, and as long as Justin Robinson’s health isn’t a major concern, the Hokies have one of the best backcourts in the country. Syracuse is figuring out how to score. Louisville has been drastically better than anyone expected.

There are legitimately six Final Four contenders in the ACC.

That is tough.

7. THE BIG TEN MAKES NO SENSE, BUT IT SURE IS A ROLLER COASTER RIDE

The two favorites in the league are the Michigan schools, which is not exactly unexpected.

What we didn’t necessarily expect was Purdue developing into a team that, entering February, who be keeping pace with Michigan and Michigan State atop the league. We didn’t expect Iowa to be 17-5 and coming off of a 15 point beatdown of the Wolverines. And we certainly did not see Indiana taking a nosedive, losing seven straight games and then going into East Lansing without one of their best players and beating Michigan State.

And I haven’t even gotten to Wisconsin and Maryland playing well or Ohio State and Nebraska falling off cliffs.

What a wild league.

8. KEEP AN EYE ON HOUSTON

We all know about Nevada and how good they can be this year, but Houston is in the same boat. They were the first team to 20 wins this season, they have super-talented guards and a coach in Kelvin Sampson that has proven over and over again to be one of the best in college basketball. They are legit.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

Coaches 4 Change: Siena’s Carmen Maciariello spearheads social justice initiative

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Carmen Maciariello found himself in the same place so many of us did in the days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

Devastated by what he was seeing. Motivated to find a way to use his platform as the head coach at Siena College to enact change. Struggling with how, as he puts it, “a white head coach from privilege at a school in New York,” can have real, honest, open dialogue with his majority-Black roster.

So he picked up the phone. He called Louis Orr, his former college coach and now an assistant coach at Georgetown. He called his closest friends in the coaching business. He called his advisor, Brad Konerman, an entrepreneur who connected him with a couple of talented website designers. By early June, 25 like-minded people from all walks of life were on a zoom call.

“I’ve never been pulled over and feared for my life for not using my blinker,” Maciariello, who is white, told me. “We had those conversations. How are we talking to our teams about that? What are we doing with the police? How can we help our young people navigate through these tough times?”

That’s how Coaches 4 Change was born.

Maciariello has grand plans for the organization. On a zoom call with nearly all of the 43 coaches that have committed to the group to date, he said he wants “to try to change the world. Let’s not think small, we’ve gotta think big with this.” He is not lacking for ambition.

But Maciariello also understands that something like this has to start small and it has to start locally. It’s why he limited the first group of invitees to coaches that are “doing this for the right reasons.”

“I didn’t want to have a donate link and bring in coaches that felt like, ‘I donated money, I did my part supporting it,” he said. “It was about the time commitment and the vision. We have to focus on one thing first.”

That first thing?

Voting.

C4C developed a sleek, interactive website to help educate young people about social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, things as basic as the difference between systemic and systematic racism and Jackie Robinson’s impact on sports. But the site also provides users with all of the information necessary to vote in this year’s elections, information on what makes voting so important in a democracy and — most importantly — a tutorial for how a person in every state can register to vote, where their polling stations are and whether or not they are eligible for mail-in voting. Their website also has a ‘Keep Learning‘ page that links to all documentaries, podcasts, audiobooks and literary resources available on all streaming platforms, including content for children.

C4C has partnered with Vote.org with a goal of “100 percent voter registration for all college athletes” regardless of the sport they play, Maciariello said.

Currently, the only coaches involved with C4C are men’s college basketball coaches, but that will change. They are in the process of reaching out to counterparts on the women’s side, and will eventually invite staff members from other sports as well. One of the barriers to entry to become a member will be ensuring that every player on a coach’s team is registered to vote.

Eventually, Maciariello envisions C4C developing community outreach initiatives. He wants the members of C4C to connect with their campus communities and put together voter registration drives for students. He wants to eventually connect with lawmakers and work on changing legislation that helps systemic racism continue to exist.

No one ever said he wasn’t ambitious.

But he knows he has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is this platform.

“I want to engage people in issues,” he said. “Educate them, empower them to change, encourage them to grow and evolve.”