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Ex-Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves acquitted in sex assault case

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FLINT, Mich. — A jury acquitted former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves Tuesday on charges alleging he sexually assaulted a woman in a motel room four years ago.

The verdict announced in a Genesee County courtroom in Cleaves’ hometown of Flint came after a nearly-two week trial that included the testimony of the Mount Morris woman, who told jurors that she had wanted to leave the motel room but Cleaves continued to force himself on her.

Evidence against Cleaves included a video that prosecutors contended showed the woman pulling away from Cleaves. Prosecutors argued she tried twice to escape from the motel room.

Cleaves did not testify. One of his attorneys, Frank Manley, said Cleaves had consensual sex with the woman who was in the motel room “of her own free will” after a charity golf tournament and visit to a bar. Cleaves’ attorneys told jurors that the woman lied about what happened because she felt guilty about cheating on her boyfriend.

The 41-year-old Cleaves was acquitted on all charges, including unlawful imprisonment and assault with intent to commit criminal sexual penetration. He had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison had he been convicted.

Cleaves has long denied the allegations, saying in a March 2016 tweet that he was “innocent and the allegations are without merit.”

The trial itself came after a long legal battle that started in late 2016 when a district judge dismissed the charges, saying that there were a number of factors that suggested “something else was going on” between Cleaves and the woman.

But in 2017, the charges were reinstated after the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal that contended the judge had abused her “discretion of power” in dismissing the charges. Then last year, the Michigan Supreme Court refused to review that decision, clearing the way for the trial.

Cleaves is a revered figure in Michigan, an integral part of a Michigan State team that won the national championship in 2000 before his six-year NBA career.

And on Tuesday, sitting in a courtroom was another reminder of that team: Coach Tom Izzo. Izzo told The Detroit News that he did not know the details about the allegations against his former star player but wanted to be in the courtroom to support Cleaves as he would “any of my guys.”

Arkansas dismisses forward Gabe Osabuohien

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas has dismissed forward Gabe Osabuohien from the men’s basketball program.

Coach Eric Musselman announced the move Thursday without disclosing the reason.

“We have set a level of expectations for our student-athletes on and off the court,” Musselman said. “After discussions with Gabe, it was decided that it would be best to part ways. We thank him for his time at Arkansas and wish him well.”

The 6-foot-8 Osabuohien was born in Toronto but played at Little Rock’s Southwest Christian Academy. He played in 54 games with eight starts in two seasons with Arkansas. He scored 128 points (2.4 per game) and had 136 rebounds (2.5).

Ollie gets win over UConn in one arm of dispute

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The arbitrator in the dispute between UConn and Kevin Ollie has ruled that the former basketball coach is protected by a union contract when it comes to the standard the school must meet in proving his firing was justified.

The collective bargaining agreement between the school and the American Association of University Professors, of which Ollie is a member, requires a showing of serious misconduct in order to fire an employee for “just cause” and also affords Ollie other union protections

UConn had argued that Ollie’s personal contract superseded the union deal, allowing it to fire him in March 2018 for a broader range of offenses.

Arbitrator Marcia Greenbaum, in a decision filed on July 31, found that neither Ollie nor the union waived his union protections when signing his latest contract.

The arbitrator plans hearings to determine whether UConn fired Ollie for just cause, or if he is owed more than $10 million that was left on his contract, which was through June 30, 2021.

“Serious misconduct is the standard that now has to be proved by the university,” said Michael Bailey, executive director of UConn’s chapter of the AAUP. “I think, as the arbitrator said in her discussion, that is a heavy burden to be placed on the university.”

The school acknowledged Tuesday that the ruling will make proving its case more difficult.

“Nonetheless, UConn remains confident it can prevail in this matter, even against the higher standard, especially in light of the recent NCAA ruling,” said Stephanie Reitz, the school’s spokeswoman.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions last month placed the UConn program on two years of probation and sanctioned Ollie individually for numerous violations of NCAA rules during his tenure.

The Committee on Infractions said the violations mainly stemmed from improper pickup games at which student managers kept statistics for coaches, the use of a video coordinator as a coach, which resulted in more than the allowable number of coaches, and free training sessions provided to three players by a trainer who was friends with Ollie.

The NCAA issued a three-year, show-cause order for the former head coach for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance and providing misleading statements to investigators and failing to monitor his staff.

That means that any NCAA member school that might hire Ollie must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows why those restrictions should not apply.

But Ollie’s attorney, Jacques Parenteau, said that does not mean the firing was justified.

“One should not assume that the NCAA’s recent action, which was totally lacking in due process protections, will have any relevance before an impartial arbitrator,” he said.

Bailey said he is hopeful that, in the absence of a settlement, the arbitration process can be concluded by the end of the year.

Penny Hardaway, Jerry Stackhouse bring NBA edge to Tennessee

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former NBA stars Penny Hardaway and Jerry Stackhouse have taken on new challenges with both trying to revive a pair of struggling college basketball programs about 200 miles apart along Interstate 40 in Tennessee.

Hardaway played 14 seasons in the NBA and is embarking on his second season at his alma in Memphis. Stackhouse, now at Vanderbilt, lasted 18 years league before the former North Carolina star’s tenure coaching in the G League and a season as an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies.

New athletic director Malcolm Turner, the former G League president, lured Stackhouse to Vanderbilt in April despite being a candidate for an NBA head coaching job.

“That’s a huge win for not only for the state but for the SEC,” Hardaway said of Stackhouse being at Vanderbilt. “He’s going to bring a lot to the table. He definitely understands the game and is very knowledgeable, so yes, it definitely helps the state.”

Vanderbilt is hoping Stackhouse has the same impact in Nashville that Hardaway has had at Memphis.

Hardaway has a head start with the rebuilding job at Memphis . He was hired in March 2018, and his arrival came amid much fanfare. He helped Memphis attendance jump by an average of 7,840 per game, and Hardaway has followed that up by landing the nation’s top-rated recruiting class headlined by a pair of five-star players heading into this season.

Stackhouse, who coached Toronto’s G League team to the finals twice and won one championship, spent only one season with the NBA’s Grizzlies, though he brought with him both Adam Mazarei as an assistant coach and Nicki Gross as special assistant. Stackhouse also filled out his coaching staff hiring a Memphis high school basketball coach in Faragi Phillips, which could help the Commodores compete with Hardaway in Tennessee’s top pool of talent.

Phillips spent the past four seasons at Whitehaven High School where he coached Matt Murrell, ranked 53rd nationally for 2020 by 247Sports.com’s composite rankings.

“My staff didn’t really have any contacts in Tennessee,” Stackhouse said. “It wasn’t Memphis. I don’t think really we’re recruiting the same players. We have to go a different way.”

Stackhouse has to recruit to the SEC’s only private university, a school with such tough academic standards Nashville native Ron Mercer couldn’t get in and instead helped Kentucky win the 1996 national championship. Hardaway’s Tigers just notched their highest grade point average in school history, but Memphis is a public university.

“No discredit to Penny, he can go into a gym and see a kid and more than likely he can get that kid in,” Stackhouse said. “I have to go in and try to figure out which kids academically make sense for us.”

While Hardaway beat out Kentucky and Duke for the top recruiting class, Stackhouse scrambled to fill out a roster for a program that lost every SEC game and finished on a 20-game skid last season. Matt Ryan transferred to Chattanooga, while Yanni Wetzel left for San Diego State. Stackhouse brought in D.J. Harvey as a transfer from Notre Dame and retained recruit Scotty Pippen Jr. among his incoming freshmen.

It didn’t hurt that Pippen’s father, former NBA player Scottie Pippen, had been advocating that an NBA team hire Stackhouse as a head coach before he went to Vanderbilt.

“Now all of a sudden, I get the job where his son had previously committed so it was just some good synergy there to retain those commits,” Stackhouse said.

While Hardaway leaned on NBA experience in making Mike Miller an assistant coach last year, Stackhouse added people with both recruiting links and college experience he lacked. Associate head coach David Grace has spent his career out West, most recently as an assistant at California and UCLA, and senior advisor Ricardo Patton, a Nashville native, was head coach at Colorado and Northern Illinois. Even his chief of staff, Adell Harris, is a former head coach at North Carolina-Wilmington.

Hardaway said his first season was a “huge eye opener” as the Tigers went 22-14 and lost their second game in the NIT.

“We understood that it was going to be hard,” Hardaway said. “And once we got into the fire, it was actually harder than what we thought. But we all about we’re all about learning as a staff. We’ve learned a lot from our losses.”

Hardaway and his staff also studied what Virginia, Texas Tech and Auburn did to reach the Final Four last spring to help with his second season and Memphis’ vaunted recruiting class. That’s why Hardaway is taking his Tigers to the Bahamas on Monday for some games hoping to shorten the learning curve so his seven freshmen will be prepared for the faster, more physical games to come along with sky-high expectations.

“I love being in that position,” Hardaway said. “I love being the hunted instead of the hunter. Even though we were the hunters last year, now everybody’s hunting after us even though we haven’t proven ourselves yet. But we’re in a good position when everybody’s talking about you.”

Right now, Stackhouse is busy adapting to the NCAA limitations like the one that turned his plan of four one-hour sessions this summer into a pair of two-hour practices. But he doesn’t expect any issues when it comes to actually coaching, not after running his own AAU program in Atlanta or coaching in the NBA, especially in the G League when he didn’t know what players he had.

His job is helping Vanderbilt see just how good the Commodores can be in men’s basketball.

“We’re going to find a way to have a great, great amount of success, and I really believe that,” Stackhouse said.

NCAA unveils independent investigation unit

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The NCAA on Thursday unveiled a new arm of rules enforcement made up of independent investigators, advocates and decision-makers to handle what it calls complex cases involving serious infractions.

Creating a new process for dealing with some infractions cases was one of several recommendations made last year by the Rice Commission on college basketball. The commission concluded that the NCAA’s traditional investigation and enforcement structure was rife with potential and perceived conflicts of interest.

The Independent Accountability Resolution Process will consist of four groups, including the Complex Case Unit, which will conduct investigations and provide representation for schools and individuals accused of violations. Among those chosen for the CCU were former FBI director Louis Freeh and attorney Tom Mars, who has recently helped several high-profile football players gain immediate eligibility after transferring.

Ex-Rutgers player pleads guilty in domestic violence case

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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A former Rutgers University basketball player has pleaded guilty to two charges stemming from domestic violence at his dorm.

Issa Thiam pleaded guilty Monday to a weapons count and making terroristic threats as part of a deal with prosecutors in Middlesex County, New Jersey.

He will now enter a three-year pretrial intervention program, and the charges will be dismissed if he successfully completes it.

Thiam, who is from Dakar, Senegal, was dismissed from the team after his arrest in March and still faces possible deportation.

During Monday’s hearing, he admitted trying to intimidate his girlfriend with a kitchen knife following a verbal dispute at his dorm.

Thiam’s attorney told the judge his client is in talks to potentially sign with a team in Spain.