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After 87 underclassmen declare for draft, giving athletes name, likeness rights will save sport

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The deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA draft and retain their collegiate eligibility came and went on Wednesday night, and in total, there are 87 players that opted to keep their name in the draft when returning to school was an option.

Remember, there are only 60 picks in June 20th’s draft, and while second round picks make more guaranteed money than you probably realize and the G League, combined with the advent of two-way contracts, has made it more attractive to be a borderline NBA player than in the past, the truth is that many — if not the majority — of those 87 kids are going to have to grind out paychecks from the lower levels of professional basketball, here and abroad.

They dream of NBA riches, but the truth is that quite a few of these guys are going to be fortunate if they clear six figures in salary. If they do, it’s unlikely that they first digit will be a crooked number.

Let me be clear, making $100,000 in your early 20s is not something to scoff at, but we’re hardly talking about generational wealth here. These contracts aren’t going to be for more than a year, maybe two, and anyone that has spent time around guys that have played overseas will know that it is sometimes a battle to even get the paycheck that your contract says you are owed.

Put another way, there is absolutely nothing that the NCAA can do that would convince a Zion Williamson, or a Ja Morant, or even guys like Brandon Clarke or Ty Jerome, to return to school if they don’t want to be back. The money is just too good when they are all-but guaranteed to be able to live out their dream of playing in the NBA.

But those aren’t the guys that the NCAA should be worried.

If the NCAA wants to keep college basketball from turning into college baseball, they need to focus on keeping around the guys that you never hear from again once they decide to leave school.


Creighton forward Martin Krampelj (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

In the days since R.J. Hampton made his decision to skip college and head straight to the professional ranks in New Zealand, much has been made of the fact that he is the first player to do so without having eligibility issues hanging over his head. Terrance Ferguson, Emmanuel Mudiay and Brandon Jennings were all going to have a difficult time getting cleared. Hampton would have been ready to go on the first day of practice.

The question was whether or not this would start a trend, if Hampton’s successes would lead to more American kids following his lead. And it may, especially if he ends up being a top two or three picks after his year abroad.

But the truth is that Hampton is part of a bigger story. He may be the first elite prospect to skip college and willingly head overseas, but he is hardly the first elite prospect to skip college. Thon Maker, Anfernee Simons and Jalen Lecque all found loopholes in the NBA’s rules that allowed them to enter the draft after a year at a prep school. Darius Bazley followed Mitchell Robinson’s path, sitting out during his one-and-done year, training on his own instead of playing in college.

This is college basketball’s problem moving forward.

The best players don’t want to be there, and it will only get exacerbated three years from now when the NBA’s age limit is reduced and high school players can declare for the draft.

These kids, and the people advising them, know their worth. They know how much money they can make playing professionally, whether it is in the NBA or in a lesser league. They know that athletes have a very limited window in which they can earn a living playing a sport.

More importantly, they also know how much money is floating around college basketball. They know how much their head coach makes. They know how much CBS and Turner are willing to pay for the right to broadcast the NCAA tournament. They know they are the only people that are not getting paid in a multi-billion dollar industry.

And frankly, those elite level kids are not the ones that the NCAA should be worried about.

Guys like R.J. Barrett and Romeo Langford and Nassir Little have no business being in college.

What the NCAA should worry about is just how many of those 87 underclassmen are leaving school knowing that their chances of making the NBA are relatively small. What they should be focusing on is how to keep those players on campus for as long as possible, and the answer is simple: Give them back the rights to their name and likeness.

Let’s take Martin Krampelj, for example.

Krampelj is a 6-foot-9, 235 pound Slovenian center that spent the last three years starting at center for Creighton. He averaged 13.5 points and 6.9 boards, and with a year of eligibility remaining, his impending return was one of the biggest reasons the Bluejays were projected as a top 20 team by just about every outlet. He would have been the anchor of a team that has plenty of firepower on their perimeter, but Krampelj opted not to pull his name out of consideration for the draft despite knowing that he’s only slightly more likely to hear his name called than I am.

The reason for that is pretty obvious. He’s 24 years old. He’s already fought through multiple ACL tears. He graduated this month. In a best-case scenario, he probably has ten seasons where he can earn money playing professionally, and that’s assuming he stays healthy and his surgically-repaired knees hold up well. It makes perfect sense for him to leave. It is time for him to start earning.

But what if he was able to earn in college?

Omaha is a unique place. Nebraska does not have a professional sports team. The rest of the state has the Cornhuskers. Omaha has Creighton. They sell out an NBA arena every night despite being a city of less than 500,000 people. If the NCAA removed the restrictions on players profiting off of their name and likeness and local business were able to sponsor Krampelj — if a car dealer could pay him for the right to use his image on a billboard, or a restaurant could pay him to appear in a commercial touting their steaks, or if Omaha Steaks could use some of the money they poured into advertising on podcasts into having Krampelj promote their sizzling 12 steak sampler — then he could probably realistically come close to matching what his salary would be playing professionally.

That might make it worth it for one last run at a Big East title in a year where the league is open at the top.

Or what about Rayjon Tucker?

He is a grad transfer that committed to Memphis but opted instead to turn pro. He is a guy with NBA potential — he’s 6-foot-5, crazy athletic and shot better than 41 percent from three last season — but he never played at a level above the Sun Belt. Are there enough advertising dollars in the city of Memphis to match what he would earn as a G League or two-way player this year? And just how much better would the Tigers be if they actually had a star on the roster that wasn’t a freshmen?

The list goes on and on. Think about what Kansas would be this season if Dedric Lawson was able to make some money as a fifth-year senior. Oregon’s chances of being a tournament team would be drastically better if Kenny Wooten was back in Eugene. Minnesota has a number of good, young pieces coming back, but they really could have used Amir Coffey’s senior leadership with Jordan Murphy graduating. West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. LSU’s Tremont Waters. UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins. Iowa’s Tyler Cook. Syracuse’s Tyus Battle.

The key to keeping college basketball relevant once the best 18 year olds in the world head straight to the NBA is simple: Find a way to make staying in school attractive for the all-league players that don’t have long NBA careers in their future.

Allowing them the chance to profit off their name and likeness is the answer, and in an era where rosters flip quicker than a house bought by Chip and Joanna Gaines, the sport will be better for it.

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.”