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Best Bets: Previewing Duke-North Carolina, Michigan-Michigan State, Saturday’s slate

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Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.

As always, this is coming out before the Vegas lines for Saturday’s games, so we are using projections from KenPomTorvik and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out. 

No. 4 DUKE at No. 3 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: North Carolina 84, Duke 83
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: North Carolina 87, Duke 85

This game is going to be one that is difficult to project because we don’t have an absolute answer on Zion Williamson’s status as of this writing. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski hinted at the idea that he would not be playing after their 71-70 miracle win over Wake Forest in Cameron on Tuesday night, so I would guess that he will likely be out.

I also have no feel for what the line or the total is going to end up being because there is no way that Vegas is going to rely on the projections for this one. Put another way, if the line opens at North Carolina (-2), I will bet everything I own including the dog on the Tar Heels.

Remember, this is a North Carolina team that went into Cameron and beat the Blue Devils by 16 points when Zion Williamson wasn’t playing. This time, they will be playing at home with a chance to land a sweep over their archrivals with a share of the ACC title — or, if Virginia loses to Louisville earlier in the day, the outright ACC title — on the line.

PICKS: We have talked plenty about just how much Williamson’s absence affects Duke, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Without him, they lose rim protection. They lose their best rebounder. They lose the guy that forces live-ball turnovers and pick-six layups. They lose the guy that they can put on Luke Maye and know that they’ll have him neutralized.

But beyond that, they lose a guy that can score in transition and a guy that can get them easy buckets on the offensive glass. North Carolina isn’t exactly known for being a defensive powerhouse, but they are 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency this season and Duke, as we know, can struggle to score when they are forced into the halfcourt and their shots aren’t falling.

Put another way, there is no chance that I am going to be on the Duke side of this bet. The question is just how high the line needs to be before I think the Tar Heels lose value, and for me, it’s probably right around (-9). I also want no part of betting the under here, but I would probably only consider the over if the total opens around the mid-150s.

No. 7 MICHIGAN at No. 9 MICHIGAN STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Michigan State 69, Michigan 65
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Michigan State 68, Michigan 66
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Michigan State 70, Michigan 64

A rivalry game between two top ten teams with a Big Ten regular season title on the line. That sounds like a great way to end the final Saturday of the college hoops regular season.

The first time these two teams got together, Michigan State was playing just their second game after Nick Ward fractured a bone in his hand. We don’t have a definitive answer on Ward either way, and there was some speculation earlier this week that he might be ready to go, but for now I am going to operate with the mindset that he is not playing. The same can be said about Charles Matthews.

When these two teams squared off just 13 days ago, Michigan State changed the way that the defend ball-screens to tailor their defense to Michigan’s personnel: They went way under every ball-screen that Zavier Simpson was involved and, when it was Jon Teske setting those screens, they switch 1-to-5. The Wolverines haven’t played since Sunday, meaning that John Beilein will have had a full week to figure out a way to attack that defense.

I also think that it’s important to note that Zavier Simpson is as competitive as anyone in the country, and that he is not going to be happy about just how badly Cassius Winston cooked him when they played. Winston had 27 points and eight assists, and of the 57 possessions that Michigan State had before the Wolverines started fouling, 36 were a result of Winston ball-screens and another nine were run through Winston. He shoulders a massive load offensively, and Simpson is going to be the guy tasked with stopping him.

PICKS: This will likely be a stay-away from me, depending on what the lines opens at. I don’t want to bet on Michigan on the road, but I also don’t want to bet on Michigan State sweeping their archrival without three of their top seven or eight players. I fully expect this game to be close, so if the line gets to, say, Michigan (+5.5), I’ll buy the Wolverines.

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No. 8 TEXAS TECH at IOWA STATE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPNNews)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 69, Iowa State 68
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Texas Tech 70, Iowa State 68
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 72, Iowa State 67

These are two teams trending in very, very different directions.

Texas Tech has won eight in a row and ten of their last 11. They are currently tied for first in the Big 12 title race with Kansas State, and a win on Saturday afternoon would guarantee at least a share of — and possibly the outright — Big 12 regular season title. Iowa State, on the other hand, has lost two in a row and five of their last seven. They were blown out at Texas and at West Virginia in the last six days and they have lost three games in Hilton Coliseum this season.

The Red Raiders lost at home against the Cyclones earlier this year, but that was a different time and place for both of these teams. Texas Tech has been the best shooting team in the country over the course of the last six weeks, vaulting themselves from outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency into the top 40. Iowa State, on the other hand, may or may not have had a fight in practice that may or may not have resulted in Marial Shayok possibly breaking a toe by kicking a door. He did not play against WVU. On Wednesday night, Talen Horton-Tucker and Michael Jacobson had a bit of a shoving match on the court in the second half.

It’s a mess in Ames right now.

PICKS: I’m going to be very interested to see where this line opens. up. The average of the projections is about Texas Tech (-2.5), and while this game is going to be played in Ames, I think that number will climb. Considering that the Red Raiders have won three straight road games by an average of 15 points and that they will be playing with the Big 12 title on the line, I’d probably take Tech up to about (-8). There’s only one side that I want to be on in this game.

OKLAHOMA at No. 18 KANSAS STATE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas State 65, Oklahoma 59
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 60
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma 61

The first thing to note here is that Kansas State is going to know what they are playing for. If Texas Tech wins, they will be playing for a share of the Big 12 title. If Texas Tech loses, they get to be the first team not named Kansas to win an outright Big 12 title since Oklahoma State in 2004. Either way, there is a ton of motivation here for K-State.

I also think it is worth noting that Oklahoma more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a win over Kansas on Tuesday night. Now they are turning around and playing on the road against a team that beat them by 13 points in Norman.

PICKS: Oklahoma has finished the season strong after losing five straight in the middle of Big 12 play. They’ve won four of their last five games, and while their defense has regressed to the mean a little bit, they are still better on that end of the floor than they are offensively. I think they can make it interesting, and I think that brings the over into play.

But the best bet here is, I think, Kansas State (-5.5) or so. I’ll be a little bit worried if the line climbs past (-7.5) because, like I said, I can see Oklahoma hanging with the Wildcats.

That said, this game will be played on Senior Night in Bramlage Coliseum, which has been known as the Octagon of Doom. They will be playing for the right to either be co-Big 12 champs or outright Big 12 champs in the first year that Kansas has not one the league in 14 years. To get a sense of what that rivalry means to Kansas State, the Wildcat fans stormed the floor after beating Kansas earlier this year despite the fact that they were in first place in the Big 12 at the time.

That building will be rocking on Saturday.

No. 5 TENNESSEE at AUBURN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 76, Auburn 75
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 76
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 77, Auburn 75

Do you trust Tennessee’s defense? In the last two games, the Vols have put together their best two defensive performances of the season. They held Kentucky to 52 points and Mississippi State to 54 points. They’ve forced 17 turnovers in each of the last two games and held them to a combined 31 percent shooting from the floor and 25.7 percent shooting from three. Auburn, as we know, shoots a ton of threes, and the two biggest weaknesses the Vols have had defensively this season have been the defensive glass and running opponents off of the three-point line.

And that brings me to a larger point: The status of Austin Wiley. Wiley is a guy that might be able to play the role that Reid Travis did for Kentucky the first time the Vols and the Wildcats played, someone that can keep Tennessee from sealing in the paint and force Grant Williams out of the lane. He’s missed the last three games and has say eight of the last 14 in SEC play. There are only two high-major programs — Arkansas and Washington — that are worse on the defensive glass that Auburn, and Tennessee does have some guys that can create second chance points.

PICKS: Auburn is going to have a lot to play for here — they really don’t have many great wins — but I have a hard time seeing Tennessee losing. The Vols will be playing for an SEC title, and while LSU plays after them, the Tigers are playing Vanderbilt (0-17 in the SEC) at home. The Vols have to win, and rolling the way they are rolling, I can’t see them losing.

And the more I think about it, the more I like the under … despite the fact that I said the opposite on the podcast. (Whoops.) Tennessee’s defense is playing much better and so much of what Auburn does offensively comes off of their ability to force turnovers. They lead the nation in defensive turnover rate. Tennessee is 23rd nationally in offensive turnover rate.

No. 23 VILLANOVA at SETON HALL, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Villanova 70, Seton Hall 68

Seton Hall more or less punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament on Wednesday night with a come-from-behind win over Marquette, and while they’ll still have something to play for — better seeding in the NCAA and Big East tournaments, senior night, etc. — Villanova will have a lot more on the line. The Wildcats are playing for the outright Big East regular season title. Win and they get it.

PICKS: I am probably staying away from this game. I have no interest in betting against Villanova to win a championship of any sort. I also have no interest in betting on Villanova to win on the road when they have lost their last four games on the road.

No. 12 HOUSTON at No. 20 CINCINNATI, Sun. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Cincinnati 63, Houston 62
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Cincinnati 64, Houston 63
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Cincinnati 65, Houston 64

Houston picked off SMU on Thursday night, but Cincinnati could not fulfill their side of the bargain. The Bearcats lost at UCF, which means that the Cougars now hold a one game lead on Cincinnati. Instead of a game that is being played for the outright AAC regular season title, Cincinnati is hoping to earn a share of the crown.

PICKS: When it comes down to it, in a game like that, I tend to lean towards the home team. Unless Houston is getting three or four points, I’ll probably end up on Cincinnati.

FLORIDA at No. 6 KENTUCKY, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 58
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Kentucky 67, Florida 59
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kentucky 68, Florida 56

The is a must-win game for Florida, who has found a way to lose close quite a bit this season. They are 17-13, but thanks to the fact that they haven’t lost a game by more than 14 since Nov. 6th, they are still 30th in KenPom and 32nd in the NET.

PICKS: That is more or less where I am at with this game. Kentucky has struggled in the last weeks. Florida has lost two in a row, both at home, but they almost always play teams close.

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.”