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New agent rule leaves Division II player in limbo

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The new NCAA rule designed to help players explore their NBA draft potential by allowing them to sign with an agent and still return to school surprisingly doesn’t apply to all college players.

It was a stunning revelation for Phil Bledsoe from tiny Division II Glenville State in West Virginia when he learned the rule adopted amid the college basketball scandal only applies to Division I players.

Though Bledsoe followed the meticulous guidelines outlined by the NCAA to take advantage of the rule, he found out Tuesday that the restriction leaves him entangled in bureaucratic limbo and his college status unclear. He pulled out of the draft before Wednesday night’s 11:59 NCAA deadline for underclassmen to withdraw if they plan to return to campus.

“This didn’t need to happen,” Bill Lilly, the dismayed compliance coordinator at Glenville State who made the mistake, told the Associated Press. “I could’ve avoided it, but we could’ve had help in avoiding this thing, too, because we weren’t trying to sneak anything by anyone. We were just trying to give the kid the option we thought he had, and now he doesn’t have it.”

The NCAA did not immediately respond to inquiries about why the rule doesn’t apply to all college basketball players.

However, one thing is clear: Compliance officers play a pivotal role in deciphering the rules. The NCAA allows schools to communicate directly with the NBA when notifying the league of a player’s intent to enter — then withdraw — from the draft.

Bledsoe sought out Maryland-based agent Jerry Dianis as he declared for the draft with the intent of maintaining his college eligibility. Dianis had previously attended a National Basketball Player Association seminar in recent months, where NCAA representatives had attended to discuss the new rule, while Lilly said he spoke with colleagues and twice consulted with the NBA — which is focused on who is entering the draft and who is withdrawing, not who plans to return to school per NCAA guidelines.

Still, no one working with Bledsoe foresaw a problem for the 6-foot-6 junior, who played his first two college seasons at Marshall in the Division I ranks.

“Everyone collectively, there was no division in thought in this,” Dianis said, “from the agent to the compliance officer to the head coach to the player. We were all on one accord.”

The rule was implemented last August amid numerous reforms proposed by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Commission on College Basketball. It permits agents to cover minimal travel expenses for team meetings and workouts, though those contracts must end if the player withdraws from the draft and returns to school.

Sounds simple enough, until trying to determine whom the rule applies to.

The rule was adopted by the Division I board of directors overseeing only the NCAA’s top division of athletics. The NCAA launched the “Committed to Change” web page to explain the reforms, and broad terms such as “basketball student-athletes” and “college basketball players” are used when referencing the new agent rule without definitively saying it does not apply to Division II or Division III players.

It takes a deeper dive into the NCAA’s legislative database to make that distinction.

All three divisions have a starting point of General Rule 12.3.1, which prohibits athletes from agreeing to be represented by an agent either verbally or in writing. But there’s an exception outlined in the Division I rules permitting players to sign with an NCAA-certified agent (Section 12.3.1.2), yet that exception doesn’t appear in the Division II and Division III rulebooks and was never adopted at those levels.

“You just don’t think of this being separated between Is, IIs and IIIs, and if so, why?” Lilly said. “What’s the purpose of not allowing a Division II kid to have the same opportunity a Division I kid has?”

Some Division I players took advantage of the rule, following the same steps that Bledsoe took, including one player who also worked with Dianis without any problems.

The agent helped Kevon Harris of Stephen F. Austin get feedback on his game before he withdrew from the draft to return to school.

“Just having somebody that’s just for you, that’s looking out for you, that’s calling and talking to teams — just for you,” Harris said. “Because your coach, he can only do so much. He’s got a team full. Of course he’s going to look out for you, but an agent is supposed to do his part and talk to GMs himself and call around. … I’ve got my name out even more. I’m just excited to be able to do it.”

Northeast Conference Player of the Year Keith Braxton, of St. Francis in Pennsylvania, agrees with Harris.

Braxton, a 6-foot-5 guard, signed with agent Pedro Power but hopes he has generated NBA interest as he returns for his senior season after withdrawing from the draft.

“Just having an agent helps you build those connections that you might not have had beforehand,” Braxton said, adding, “It’s very helpful, very helpful. I couldn’t imagine doing it without him.”

Bledsoe took the same route and followed the same steps, but because he plays at a Division II school, the accounting major, whom Dianis said has a 3.7 GPA, now is waiting to see what’s next for him.

Dianis doesn’t believe this is what Rice and the commission had in mind, and he is optimistic Glenville State and the NCAA will be able to resolve Bledsoe’s situation.

“I’ve had the conversation with the NCAA, and I don’t anticipate there will be any issues at all in reference to his continued playing,” Dianis said. “Rational minds realize it’s just an oversight on the NCAA’s part, is the way I look at it. You just have to be more clear.

“How hard is it to add a sentence or to add ‘Division I’ just to include that in the information that was sent out?”

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.