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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.”

NCAA clears Division-II player after agent-rule error

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The NCAA cleared Glenville State’s Phil Bledsoe for his senior season after the Division II college basketball player mistakenly used a new rule permitting only Division I players to declare for the NBA draft and sign with an agent while maintaining college eligibility.

He has been “reinstated immediately with no conditions,” NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn told The Associated Press on Saturday.

That came about a week after the West Virginia school submitted a reinstatement request, starting a process that first requires a school to declare an athlete ineligible in order to ultimately clear him for competition.

Compliance coordinator Bill Lilly told the AP then that the request noted he had offered incorrect guidance to Bledsoe amid confusion about the rule adopted in August following a federal corruption investigation into the sport.

Both Lilly and Maryland-based agent Jerry Dianis — who had worked with Bledsoe during the draft process — had publicly expressed optimism the NCAA wouldn’t penalize Bledsoe for using a rule perceived by many to apply to any early entrant to the NBA draft.

“They made the right decision,” Dianis said Saturday. “And the rule itself is a solid rule. But sometimes you have to work out the preliminary or initial kinks.”

Bledsoe followed guidelines to use the rule before seeking out Dianis, then withdrew from the draft ahead of the May 29 deadline for players to pull out and preserve their college eligibility.

He played his first two seasons at Marshall in the Division I ranks before transferring to Glenville State, where he averaged 19.9 points and 11.3 rebounds last season at the school with an enrollment of about 1,800 students.

The agent rule was implemented amid numerous reforms proposed by the basketball commission led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It permitted certified agents to work with players and cover minimal expenses for team workouts, though those contracts must end when the player returns to school.

In the NCAA’s legislative database, all three divisions have a starting point of General Rule 12.3.1, which prohibits athletes from agreeing orally or in writing to be represented by an agent.

The Division I rules include the new exception permitting players to sign with an NCAA-certified agent (Section 12.3.1.2) while maintaining eligibility, but that exception doesn’t appear for Division II and Division III.

Additionally, the NCAA has at times publicly used broad terms such as “basketball student-athletes” and “college basketball players” about the rule without explicitly stating it is unavailable outside of Division I.

Dianis said he hopes the NCAA “makes sure there’s clarity” going forward with the rule, adding: “Obviously I think Division I, II, III … all of the NCAA student-athletes should be able to benefit as a result of this (rule) in the future.”

Osburn has said previously the lower divisions will evaluate the rule’s impact in its first usage through Division I before considering whether to adopt it.

Three ex-Oregon players accused of rape lose appeal of dismissal

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SEATTLE — A U.S. appeals court has rejected an appeal brought by three University of Oregon basketball players who said they were discriminated against when they were kicked out of school over rape allegations.

A female student accused Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin of raping her at a party in 2014, allegations that prompted protests on campus. No criminal charges were filed, and the three maintained that the sexual contact was consensual, but the school dismissed them over code-of-conduct violations.

The players sued in 2015, saying they suffered gender discrimination, among other claims. A federal judge threw out their lawsuit. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that decision.

The panel said the three failed to make a plausible claim of discrimination.

Northern Arizona’s Jack Murphy joins staff at Arizona

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Northern Arizona men’s basketball coach Jack Murphy is leaving the Lumberjacks to become the associate head coach at Arizona, his alma mater.

“It’s very exciting to welcome back Jack Murphy and his family to the University of Arizona,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said in a statement Sunday. “Jack combines invaluable head coaching experience, recruiting at the national level of college basketball, and an NBA pedigree. More importantly, Jack brings a love for Arizona Basketball and our community like no one that I have met in coaching. He is a tremendous person, a caring family man, and an outstanding coach. All of us in our program look forward to working with him as we prepare for an exciting year ahead.”

Murphy spent the past seven seasons as Northern Arizona’s coach, but he was entering the final year of his contract.

The Lumberjacks set a school record with 23 wins in 2014-15 before injuries started to take a huge toll.

Northern Arizona won 19 combined games over three seasons from 2015 to 2018 before taking a step forward with 10 wins last season. He went 78-149 in Flagstaff.

Shane Burcar will serve as NAU’s interim coach heading into next season. Northern Arizona plays at Arizona on Nov. 6.

Murphy graduated from Arizona and started his coaching career as a student manager under Lute Olson. He went on to serve a variety of positions at Arizona from 1998 to 2006 before becoming an assistant coach under former Arizona player Josh Pastner at Memphis.

“I am very excited to be back at the University of Arizona,” Murphy said. “The great part about Arizona Basketball is that you never leave the family. You’re just returning home after a long vacation to get to work to help Coach Miller achieve all the goals he has set for Arizona. I just can’t wait to get started.”

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?”

Wisconsin assistant coach up and walking after crash

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin said Monday assistant men’s basketball coach Howard Moore was up and walking at a hospital after a weekend automobile wreck in Michigan that killed his wife and daughter.

The school also said Moore’s son, Jerell, had been released from a hospital and was in the care of family.

Moore’s wife, Jennifer, and daughter Jaidyn were killed early Saturday in the crash on the M-14 highway in Washtenaw County. Authorities said a 23-year-old woman was driving west in the eastbound lanes of the Detroit-area freeway when she struck a car head-on that was carrying the Moore family. The woman was also killed.

Moore, a Chicago native, played at Wisconsin from 1990-95 and was head coach at Illinois-Chicago before returning to his alma mater during the 2015-16 season.