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Oklahoma’s Brady Manek preparing for bigger role without Trae Young

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NORMAN, Okla. — Brady Manek’s strong freshman season was largely overlooked while the college basketball world was enamored with his Oklahoma teammate Trae Young.

The 6-foot-9 forward was Oklahoma’s No. 3 scorer last season with 10.2 points per game. Now that Young has left for the NBA, Manek will be depended upon more.

“I feel like people really sleep on Brady,” Oklahoma guard Christian James said Thursday morning after a conditioning session. “He’s going to have a great year.”

Manek is hard to overlook for other reasons, too. He’s given up his buzz cut, and with the longer hair and mustache, he bears a striking resemblance to Larry Bird in the late 1970s. Manek gave no specific reason for the new look, though he said his mother likes it and his father isn’t a fan.

“I’ve never had it this long, ever,” he said. “Why not?”

Manek is undergoing another physical change, too — filling out a slender frame that got knocked around a bit last year. He also is working to diversify his offensive skills. Last season, more than half his shots were 3-pointers.

“Mainly just trying to create my own shot, not just catch it and shoot it,” he said. “Working down low, going for the offensive rebound every time. Little things in the game to make me a little bit better.”

The results are already starting to show.

“He’s improved so much,” James said. “Just ballhandling, being relentless on the boards, and his shot is getting so much better.”

From December to January last season, Manek shared the marquee with Young. He scored 21 points against Wichita State, 22 against Northwestern State, 28 against Oklahoma State and 22 against TCU.

Manek reached double figures just once in his final eight games, but still shot 47 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3-point range for the season.

“He was incredible,” James said. “He knocked down big shots. He rebounded the ball well. I feel like for a freshman, he had an unbelievable season.”

Manek will have to adjust without Young to set him up. Aaron Calixte, a graduate transfer from Maine, will compete with graduate transfer Miles Reynolds and freshman Jamal Bieniemy for the chance to replace Young.

“It’s a little bit different,” Manek said. “When you have a player like Trae on the court, he does a lot of things. When you lose that, you bring players that have other advantages to them and strengths to them. You figure out how to play with them and play with each other.”

Manek already has left an impression on Calixte.

“He’s tough,” he said. “He’s a hard-nosed forward. He plays hard all the time. He can really shoot it from deep. He just plays hard. He brings that every single day.”

NC State’s Yow savors Top 25 goal, even amid FBI hoops probe

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State finally owns the Top 25 national status that athletics director Debbie Yow has sought during her eight-year tenure.

Yet amid the excitement there’s concern: The men’s basketball program is entangled in the federal investigation into corruption within the sport. That’s left Yow to balance the best overall season in school history with potential trouble ahead for one of the Wolfpack’s highest-profile programs.

“You tell the truth, always,” Yow said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We know what our culture is. My goodness, you’ve heard us talk about ‘ERA: Establish the culture, reinforce the culture, act with integrity when the culture is threatened.’ . If there has been an errant individual who’s acted outside of the stated and expected culture, so be it. We’ll deal with it.”

Federal prosecutors last fall charged 10 men — including assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, USC and Oklahoma State and a top Adidas executive — in the fraud and bribery scandal, though prosecutors later withdrew a criminal complaint against one defendant.

The case involves hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school, agent or apparel company. It has touched schools such as Kansas, Louisville , Miami and Maryland , among others.

In N.C. State’s case, it received a grand jury subpoena in January for records tied to former one-and-done guard Dennis Smith Jr., former head coach Mark Gottfried and ex-assistant Orlando Early. And in April, a rewritten federal indictment alleged the former Adidas representative arranged $40,000 for the parent of an athlete committed to the school — and that an unnamed Wolfpack coach was involved in delivering the money.

The staff of current coach Kevin Keatts, who replaced Gottfried in March 2017, is not linked to the case. The school has said it is cooperating with investigators.

Asked if the case puts a damper on the overall season, Yow said: “I will always be disappointed if there’s an issue. Always. But that takes us back to who we really are and what our culture is. You have to go back to that.”

The rest of the news was better.

The Wolfpack finished 15th in the Directors’ Cup rankings of overall college programs, up from 89th when Yow arrived in summer 2010. The previous high was 27th in 2014-15.

“I think it gives us a different level of confidence in our ability to advance the program across the board,” Yow said, adding: “The next step is going to be consistency. It’s one thing to do it once, it’s another thing to make it a habit.”

The school had all-time highs of 12 teams with Top 25 rankings finishes and 12 individual national champions. The highest-profile programs did well, with football earning its second nine-win season in 15 years and reaching a five-year deal to keep Dave Doeren after he talked with Tennessee about its opening.

Keatts led men’s basketball to wins against Arizona, Duke and North Carolina before returning to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. Wes Moore led women’s basketball to its first NCAA Sweet 16 since 2007, while baseball was an NCAA regional host under Elliott Avent.

The school also said athletes posted a cumulative GPA of better than a 3.0 for the first time.

N.C. State is spending $6.6 million to create broadcast and production space at the football stadium for the 2019 arrival of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s TV channel, a requirement for all schools. A $2.5 million update to football’s sports medicine facility is planned, though the $15 million Case Commons project to build a centrally located dorm to house the basketball teams is shelved amid rising steel costs.

The 67-year-old Yow is entering the final year of a contract that ends next July. She’s sticking to that timeline, including when pressed on whether uncertainty from the FBI investigation could change her plans.

“I look at it and say I need for that to be settled before I retire,” she said. “I need to have closure on that for this place. Now, if I didn’t, the head of compliance is still here. The chancellor is still here. So it isn’t like I have to be here. It’s just a matter of personal comfort. I want things settled.”

Former Louisville players file suit against NCAA over vacated 2013 national title

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A group of former Louisville men’s basketball players have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA over the organization’s vacation of the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship and 2012 Final Four.

John Morgan, one of several attorneys representing former Cardinals captain Luke Hancock, the 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and four teammates from that title team, said a lawsuit had been filed and described the NCAA as “a morally bankrupt organization” that exploits student-athletes during a Wednesday news conference.

The suit filed Wednesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court does not specify monetary damages. It states the NCAA cast the plaintiffs in a false light and seeks declaration that it wrongfully vacated the plaintiffs’ wins, honors and awards.

Morgan added, “If all we get is this championship back for Louisville, and the players, and the city, and Luke’s MVP back, that’s going to be plenty pay for us.”

The attorney also mentioned former Louisville players Gorgui Dieng, Tim Henderson, Stephan Van Treese and Mike Marra as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The NCAA stripped Louisville of the title as part of sanctions for violations discovered during an escort scandal investigation .

Hancock stressed that his title ring “is not coming off” and said the embarrassing scandal continues to dog him despite not being involved.

“It’s been five years and I can’t tell you two days where I’ve gone without having someone come to me and ask me if I had strippers or prostitutes in the dorm,” he said.

“I’m excited that Morgan & Morgan has partnered with us and is going to represent us because enough is enough.”

The governing body in February denied the school’s appeal and vacated 123 victories, including their third NCAA title, following an escort’s book allegations in October 2015 that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers for sex parties. Louisville removed the championship banner from its home arena soon afterward.

“We are used to fighting giants,” Morgan said. “In the sports world, I don’t think there is any Goliath that exists like the NCAA. The NCAA is a giant, but the NCAA is a morally bankrupt organization that has taken advantage of economically disadvantaged young people throughout our country.

“They answer to nobody but are bad for everybody.”

The liability attorney did not mention former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who has denied knowledge of the activities alleged by Katina Powell in her book “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.”

Hancock said he frequently talks with Pitino but did not specifically ask if he wanted to be involved.

Several investigations soon followed after Powell’s allegations, including ones by the school and the NCAA. Louisville’s own investigation found that violations did occur and imposed penalties including sitting out the 2016 postseason in an effort to mitigate NCAA penalties.

The organization in June 2017 ordered Louisville to vacate victories that included the championship and Final Four appearance for activities it described as “repugnant” in its decision. Pitino was suspended for five games for failing to monitor McGee and vowed to fight the penalties. The school and the coach vowed then to fight the penalties.

As the appeals process unfolded, the Hall of Fame coach was suspended and eventually fired after 16 seasons last fall following Louisville’s acknowledgment of its involvement in a federal corruption of college basketball.

Pitino is not named in the federal complaint and has denied knowledge of any payments made to the family of former Louisville recruit Brian Bowen. The coach is suing the school along with sportswear maker Adidas, which dropped him after his firing.

Tyler Honeycutt’s former high school coach grew concerend before death

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LOS ANGELES — A former coach and family friend of onetime Sacramento Kings and UCLA basketball player Tyler Honeycutt says he had grown increasingly concerned about the young man before he was found dead following a standoff with Los Angeles police.

Bort Escoto, who coached Honeycutt in high school, told the Los Angeles Times that Honeycutt’s mother called him early Saturday to say her son had killed himself.

Escoto told the Los Angeles Daily News that Honeycutt had ”been going through some things.”

The day of his death, Escoto said he was planning on going to Honeycutt’s home after the 27-year-old called him.

”I planned on going to his house to talk, but his mom called me 45 minutes later saying, ‘He had a gun and was talking crazy,”’ Escoto said. ”I told her to call 911.”

Los Angeles police said they responded to a call reporting a man with a gun. They were talking with Honeycutt when they say he fired his weapon. Officers returned fire and a standoff ensued.

When police went into the home hours later, they found Honeycutt dead. The department said on Twitter that his injuries were consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Escoto, who remained close with Honeycutt through college and his pro career, said the young man had been calling him recently ”and thanking me for all I’ve done for him.”

”He has been acting very unusual lately, and our conversations would leave me concerned for him,” he said.

Escoto told the Times that he never imagined Honeycutt would take his own life but knew the young man was having a hard time adjusting to life in Russia, where he was playing basketball in the Eastern European Professional Basketball League.

”It’s hard for an L.A. kid to go to Russia, not know the language or surroundings,” he said. ”I just kept telling him he needed to get out and meet people.”

He said Honeycutt was supposed to sign a new contract with either Russia or Israel the day he died.

AP college basketball writer Jim O’Connell dies at 64

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NEW YORK — Few held court like Jim O’Connell.

Whether you were Coach K, a TV analyst, a fellow sports writer or a fan, he had the same effect on everyone: In just a few minutes, he had you hooked, drawn into his colorful basketball world.

And you were calling him Oc, too.

O’Connell, the longtime college basketball writer for The Associated Press and a member of the Hall of Fame, has died. He was 64.

He died Monday after a series of ailments, his son Andrew said.

“He was a great man,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He was a guy you looked forward to seeing. Always had a good word and a smile.”

“He wrote sports, but he did it in a positive way, always. He was always good to players, coaches, fans — everybody,” he said. “He was a unique individual, always had a good word for everybody. Always.”

And always told a tremendous story, often entertaining and educating AP co-workers in between bites of his nightly, well-done hamburgers and chocolate egg creams.

He also was a fixture at college basketball games. TV analysts, other writers, fans, coaches and referees would gravitate toward a man with a long memory, Irish wit and perfect timing.

“You gotta hear the one about …” he would start, and then everyone would stop and listen.

O’Connell — he signed his name Oc, pronounced it “Ock” — was a former president of the United States Basketball Writers Association and entered that organization’s Hall of Fame in 2002. The same year, he accepted the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award for his coverage of the sport.

O’Connell served as the AP’s national college basketball writer since 1987 and was a fixture at major events from the Final Four to the Big East Tournament to the Maui Invitational.

“For more than 30 years at The Associated Press, Jim O’Connell represented the very best in sports journalism. His tireless and unparalleled coverage of college basketball elevated our entire sport,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

“We all owe Oc an incredible amount of gratitude for the way he handled himself, the way he covered our game and for the positive impact he had on so many,” he said.

Oc covered the Dream Team at the Barcelona Olympics and worked as a desk supervisor, overseeing the entire sports operation for the world’s largest news-gathering organization. In 1982, Oc was the one who pushed the button that told the sports world that tiny Chaminade had beaten No. 1 Virginia and Ralph Sampson in Hawaii, still considered the greatest upset in college basketball history.

“He was the source on college basketball,” said Terry Taylor, the AP’s sports editor from 1992-2013. “He knew coaches, players, games, dates of games and final scores — all manner of factoids — off the top of his head. And when you looked it up, he was always right.”

He was a mentor to journalists in the AP and elsewhere. For decades, he coached young reporters in bureaus around the AP on how to cover a game, making sure the play-by-play, the NCAA Tournament implications and the star performances were all put into context.

O’Connell built deep relationships with colleagues, players, executives, referees and coaches, including fellow Hall of Famers Jim Calhoun, John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca.

“Oc and his wife, Annie, were great friends to my wife, Patty, and me when we moved to Long Island to take the job at Hofstra,” said Jay Wright, coach of current NCAA champion Villanova. “Oc is the most knowledgeable, ethical, humble college basketball expert ever. He is dependable as a friend and as writer.”

A stick boy for the New York Islanders as a teen, O’Connell went to St. John’s and joined the AP’s sports department in the mid-’70s, soon turning a part-time job into a career covering a sport he loved. After leaving to become sports information director at Fordham — where he met his wife, Anne Gregory, the best female basketball player in school history — Oc returned to the AP in 1978.

By 1979, he was boosting the AP’s coverage of the Final Four as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird went head-to-head in Salt Lake City. O’Connell had a long chat about basketball with Bird, who was famously reticent about speaking with the media. It was only when O’Connell pulled out a notepad that the Indiana State star clammed up.

O’Connell covered every Final Four from then on, until this year. He kept his Final Four streak alive in 2015, just months after an operation that required partial amputation of his leg. The NCAA made sure O’Connell had a seat at the end of the media table, so he could stretch out his prosthetic.

O’Connell was just as knowledgeable about teams like Rider and Wagner as he was about powerhouse programs like Duke and Kentucky. If a fan asked him about any team, he could tell them what he thought of their chances. For decades, if there was a college basketball game in the New York area, Oc would probably be courtside — whether he was working or not.

Oc’s creativity wasn’t solely applied to his writing — he did delight, though, in a preseason preview he once began with: “It will be a declaration of independents. …”

So much a jokester that he once convinced a colleague in the office that World War III had broken out, Oc could make an entire staff of writers and editors crack up even while on deadline.

“Perhaps most importantly, he was beloved by his AP Sports colleagues,” Taylor said. “He told funny stories like no one else, and he always had one. He lit up the room when he walked in for his night shift.”

AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said: “Oc was a true gentleman: Funny — sometimes bitingly so, but gentle, calm, and totally dedicated to his craft. He was loved by his colleagues and by people far, far beyond the AP.”

Oc was especially popular around March Madness time, when his pals — even other college basketball experts — would check in to see if he had a sleeper pick for their pools. For three decades, through Magic-Bird, the birth of the Big East, Coach K’s entire Duke career, to the one-and-done era, whomever made it to the Final Four, Oc was there to see how it ended and to add more stories to his bottomless supply.

O’Connell is survived by his wife, Anne; sons James and Andrew; and sisters Winnie and Mary.

Michigan coach John Beilein: Offer from Pistons would have been tough decision

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — John Beilein said he was never offered the Detroit Pistons’ coaching job.

“I never really had to make the decision,” the Michigan coach said. “That would have been a tough one.”

Beilein is now looking ahead to another season of college basketball after briefly emerging as a candidate for the Pistons. Not long after the news broke about Beilein’s talks with Detroit, he said he would be back at Michigan. The Pistons eventually hired Dwane Casey earlier this month.

On Tuesday, Beilein held a news conference to talk about the offseason. He led Michigan to the national title game this year before falling to Villanova, so the possibility of losing Beilein to the NBA was a jolt to Wolverines fans.

“I was not offered the job by the Pistons,” Beilein said. “We certainly had some mutual interest. I think they had a great candidate in Dwane Casey.”

Beilein said he was intrigued by the possibility of coaching in the game’s top league.

“I love coaching basketball a lot, and you’re watching the NBA playoffs, and you’re seeing what guys are doing, and you’re looking, like, they’re running stuff that we run,” Beilein said. “I don’t know if they watched us or I watched them. You can see, boy, if you have really highly skilled players — [Boston Celtics coach] Brad Stevens kept telling me, ‘I’m having a blast.’ When you hear those words, and your season’s over — so that was appealing.”

With the Pistons’ search behind him, Beilein can prepare for the 2018-19 season with the Wolverines. Michigan announced Tuesday that the team will go on a tour of Spain from Aug. 17 to Aug. 26 that will include exhibition games.

The Wolverines lost star big man Moe Wagner early to the NBA, but some key players return from what was one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers will be joined by what is expected to be a strong group of new recruits.

So Beilein has plenty to look forward to at the college level, and he indicated there might not be any more flirtations with the NBA.

“I think that I ran that race, and you can’t run that race too many times,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done, but I was really impressed with everybody in that organization, and I’ll be rooting for them like I always have.”

The other intriguing bit of recent news that at least partially involved the Michigan basketball program was Chris Webber’s appearance with Wolverines football coach Jim Harbaugh on Ann Arbor’s WTKA radio last week. Harbaugh asked Webber to be an honorary captain for the football team next season, and Webber sounded amenable to the idea.

A return to Ann Arbor by Webber — even if it’s for football — would be a big deal. He led the Michigan basketball team to the Final Four in 1992 and 1993, but a federal investigation revealed that a booster gave Webber and three other players more than $600,000 while they were student-athletes, and the NCAA forced the school to dissociate from them until 2013.

“There was five or six years where I was limited what I could say about that era. Since the ban’s been off, I’ve reached out to Chris several times,” Beilein said. “I continue to do that, and we’re going to continue to try and build bridges and just really work at making sure there’s a lot of healing going forward.

“I want every player that ever played here to feel like he’s a part of that building, including Chris and anyone else.”