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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.

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)