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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?”

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)