2020 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: LaMelo Ball is this year’s best prospect

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There is not a player at the top of the 2020 NBA Draft class who has red flags that are more obvious and well-defined than that of LaMelo Ball.

He’s a gunner that doesn’t shoot the ball all that well, finishing his two months in Australia shooting 38 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three. His effort level defensively is, at best, wavering. He shot selection is questionable, to put it nicely, and selfish when we’re not being so generous. The path that he took to get to this point — from Chino Hills to Lithuania to the JBL to Spire Academy to Australia — was, in a word, circuitous.

And that’s to say nothing of the concerns that teams will have given who his father is.

We’ll get into all of that.

But before we do, I think it is important to say this up front: There is a strong argument to make that LaMelo, even with all the red flags, may actually have the highest ceiling of any prospect in this draft class.

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First and foremost, it needs to be said that LaMelo is no longer that 6-foot-nothin’ kid with braces and a blonde mohawk jacking up 45-footers and cherry-picking to try and score 100 points so he can go viral. He’s now 6-foot-7, and while he has a frame that could clearly use some time in an NBA strength and conditioning program, he is a late-bloomer. He won’t turn 19 until August 22nd. He’s throwing down tip-dunks now, and there’s still plenty of room for him to develop physically.

I think it’s also important to note that LaMelo has never really been coached all that hard. Before he got to Australia, every team LaMelo played for was either controlled by his father or coached by his now-manager. And while he was only with the Illawarra Hawks for a little more than two months, you could see him starting to figure things out.

In the first six games LaMelo played in the NBL, he averaged 12.0 points, 5.7 boards and 5.3 assists while shooting 34 percent from the floor, 15 percent from three and 68 percent from the line. Over the last six games, however, he averaged 22.0 points, 9.2 boards and 8.2 assists with shooting splits of 40/31/75. He closed out the season with back-to-back triples-doubles — including 25 points, 12 boards and 10 assists in his final game, which came against R.J. Hampton’s team — before an ankle injury led to him shutting things down.

Offensively, LaMelo has the potential to be special. He is, simply put, an unbelievable passer, able to make any and all reads out of ball-screens while also being capable of throwing every pass in the book with either hand at whatever angle is necessary to get the ball where it needs to be. He knows how to move a defense with his eyes, creating angles and space to get his teammates dunks, layups and open threes. He’s just as adept at hitting rollers — with both pocket passes and pinpoint lobs even when dribbling at full speed — as he is at reading what a tagger is doing on the weakside of the floor. He’s terrific at firing full-court passes to bigs that get out and run the floor, both in transition and off made baskets. He’s exceptional at anticipating when and where a player is going to come open in transition.

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He is a basketball savant, and I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that he will be one of the 10-15 best passers in the league by the end of his rookie season. In recent years, we’ve seen other lead guards with elite passing ability — Trae Young, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, etc. — have a major impact early in their career.

Now, it’s also important to note that LaMelo really is not anything like any of those players. Young is an elite shooter, LaMelo is not. (More on this in a second.) Morant is an elite athlete, LaMelo is not. Doncic was 19 years old when he won MVP of the Euroleague, the second-best league on the planet, and MVP of the Spanish ACB while LaMelo’s Illawarra team was just 3-9 with him on the roster in the NBL, a much less competitive league. Some of that was not his fault — Aaron Brooks was injured early in the season, and his teammates shot just 32 percent from three in the games LaMelo played in — but LaMelo should not be mentioned in the same breath as any of those three just yet.

There are essentially two reasons for that.

The first is the shooting.

LaMelo shot just 20-for-80 from three during his 12 games in the NBL. Like his brother Lonzo, LaMelo has a weird shooting stroke. His release has seemingly not changed since he was young. It’s a push shot, one where his left hand remains on the ball for far too long. His lower body is never consistent, and he relies on floaters from as far out as 20-feet because, it appears, he cannot actually shoot mid-range jumpers. The fact that he has a bad habit of settling for deep, deep threes way too early in the shot clock certainly contributed to those numbers, but shot selection is why he’s a 25 percent three-point shooter instead of 30 percent. Either way, it’s a concern.

LaMelo is also a mess defensively, and that’s putting it kindly.

He consistently finds himself out of position, failing to rotate from the weakside of the floor and and unaware of when he is supposed to be tagging rollers. He really struggled to keep drivers from getting right to the front of the rim. He’s a gambler, preferring to try and jump a passing lane than to play solid defense even if it leaves his teammates out to try, and while he does have the anticipation and IQ to pick off a few passes, overall it was a net-negative.

But to be frank, all of that is, theoretically, fixable. He can be taught to shoot. He can be taught how to better position himself defensively. If he’s held accountable on the defensive end — like, for example, if he has a coach that will park him on the bench if he gets caught wiping his shoes instead of rotating defensively — I think he has a chance to at least be an average defender. He has the tools.

And that, to me, is what makes LaMelo so intriguing.

The basketball IQ is there. The passing ability is there. The athleticism to get to the rim, the size, the physical tools, it’s all there. For the most part, the things that he struggles with can all be coached up. I hesitate to compare him to Lonzo because they are very different players, but we’ve seen the oldest Ball brother develop into an excellent defender and a 38 percent three-point shooter after getting to the NBA.

LaMelo should be able to follow a similar developmental path.

The risks are always going to be there. If he ends up in an organization that is too close to home or doesn’t have veterans that will hold him accountable if he doesn’t put in the work, it may not end well for him. You have to know that when you draft him.

But you cannot teach his basketball IQ, his passing savvy, his understanding of the game.

And in a draft where there is no one that is a clear-cut NBA superstar, I think that makes him worth the risk at No. 1.

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.”

CBT Podcast: Pat Chambers, moving the season up, Running Back Buddy Hield’s 46 points at Kansas

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In the latest edition of the Run It Back podcast, Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan recap Buddy Hield’s memorable 46-point outburst in a three-overtime loss to Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 1 back in 2016. The game was unbelievable. Before they dive into the game itself, the boys talk through Pat Chambers’ noose comments to Rasir Bolton and the potential for the college basketball season to get moved up.