Kobe Bryant

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VIDEO: Kobe Bryant shows up to support Coach K, Duke

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West No. 4 Duke is taking on top seed Oregon Thursday night in Anaheim, and the proximity to Los Angeles opened up the possibility of an esteemed guest showing up to support the Blue Devils.

That guest: Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who’s played for Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski on the United States Olympic Team (winning gold at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics) and has been a family friend for years. Shortly before tipoff Bryant made his way to his seat in the Duke cheering section, exchanging pleasantries with Krzyzewski’s wife and grandsons in the process.

And during the first half Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield got to meet the “Black Mamba.”

Bryant’s playing career will come to an end this season, as he announced in mid-January that he won’t be representing the country in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Kobe Bryant rips AAU basketball

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Much has been made over the past few years about the American model of youth basketball, and specifically, AAU. We’ve already heard from retired NBA players like Charles Barkley and Robert Horry on the matter, but one of the game’s greatest players spoke up against it on Friday night.

After a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant opened up about his disdain for the AAU model and how basketball players are developed in the United States. Bryant has an interesting background to speak on the subject since he was raised in Italy for part of his youth and honed some of his basketball skills overseas before becoming a high school prodigy and going straight to the NBA out of Lower Merion High School.

ESPN.com‘s Arash Markazi had plenty of Kobe’s takes on how European players and American players are trained.

“I just think European players are just way more skillful,” Bryant said Friday night. “They are just taught the game the right way at an early age. … They’re more skillful. It’s something we really have to fix. We really have to address that. We have to teach our kids to play the right way.”

The main culprit, Bryant believes, is AAU basketball:

“AAU basketball,” Bryant said. “Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It’s stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. It’s stupid.”

But Bryant went even further. He knows that the American youth basketball model isn’t going to change overnight, so he lamented on how the players are often treated as “cash cows” and how everyone is trying to profit off of them. He has some ideas on how to change the model:

“Teach players the game at an early age and stop treating them like cash cows for everyone to profit off of,” Bryant said. “That’s how you do that. You have to teach them the game. Give them instruction.”

“That’s a deep well because then you start cutting into people’s pockets,” Bryant continued. “People get really upset when you start cutting into their pockets because all they do is try to profit off these poor kids. There’s no quick answer.”

This is one of the more fascinating bits I’ve seen in regards to a NBA player speaking on the youth basketball model, mostly because Kobe Bryant is indirectly criticizing one of his employers: Nike.

Instead of playing AAU, top American basketball prospects often play in shoe company leagues like the Nike EYBL, the adidas Gauntlet and the Under Armour Association. The shoe companies are the ones who gobble up all of the elite talent at the high school level and put them in leagues and camps all spring and summer to cultivate a potential future client while also honing basketball skill development.

Nike, in particular, set the agenda for how the current American youth basketball dynamic works with the creation of its Elite Youth Basketball League in 2010. Under Armour and adidas have since followed suit with leagues of their own and it’s where 95 percent of the high-major talent in America plays before they move on to play college basketball.

Bryant’s take on the American basketball model isn’t incorrect, though. Youth basketball players in the United States spend way too many weekends playing in meaningless weekend tournaments to showcase their abilities in front of national scouts and college coaches. Wins and losses don’t matter as much when there is another game to play in a few hours. If a player gets disenfranchised with a coach or a lack of playing time, they can simply hop to another team or another league with no consequences. Instead, these players could be working on skill development and trying to focus on weaknesses in individual or group workouts.

But playing in games and playing on an elite travel team has plenty of perks, as well. Besides all of the cool shoe company gear that kids get if they play for one of those shoe company teams, they’re playing in organized leagues that feature the best talent in the country. All three leagues are working to integrate a shot clock, something that many states still don’t have in high school basketball.

In some shoe-company games it’s not out of the realm of possibility that all 10 players on the floor are high-major talents, with even more high-major talent coming off of the bench. The overall talent on these teams often far exceeds what these players see game-in and game-out during the normal high school season. And there are plenty of really good grassroots coaches as well who focus on skill development and actually making players better.

While peers like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry specifically work with elite high school players every summer, Kobe has been absent from this scene for many years. Bryant still holds a youth camp every summer, but it’s for kids ages 8-to-18 and you have to pay (or receive a scholarship from a charitable organization) to participate. I’m not blaming Kobe Bryant for not working with the elite high school basketball players in America. He’s still chasing rings and Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list. But he’s pointing fingers at a model he could help fix with more direct involvement.

If Kobe Bryant wants to help fix American youth basketball, he’d be best served talking to Nike and figuring out the most effective way for the organization as a whole to develop the skills of American basketball players. Bryant carries an incredible amount of clout because of his legendary credentials and jaw-dropping work ethic and he’s seen how things work in both Europe and the United States. It would be really interesting to hear Kobe’s ideas on how to change things and how he would implement those changes.

But until then, we just have another NBA player groaning about the youth while doing little to actually help out.

How Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak can avoid an NCAA violation

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I’m going to have to go ahead and stand up for Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak.

I don’t think he committed an NCAA violation.

Let me explain.

Last night, as I was trying to wrap my head around the latest episode of Homeland, this tweet from, Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune, popped up on my feed:

Here’s the rule that Drew is referencing:

Before the signing of a prospective student-athlete to a National Letter of Intent or an institution’s written offer of admission and/or financial aid, a member institution may comment publicly only to the extent of confirming its recruitment of the prospective student-athlete. The institution may not comment generally about the prospective student-athlete’s ability or the contribution that the prospective student-athlete might make to the institution’s team; further, the institution is precluded from commenting in any manner as to the likelihood of the prospective student-athlete’s signing with that institution.

By the letter of the law, yes, Krystkowiak committed a relatively minor violation. He should have known better, and the television station that aired the clip should have known better as well.

But, frankly, Krystkowiak may as well be talking about Kobe Bryant, because he has absolutely no chance of landing this nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013. Let’s forget, for a second, that the Utes are coming off a season where they weren’t even an afterthought in a Pac-12 that was barely able to get their regular season champ an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Utah isn’t on Parker’s final list of five schools, and he wasn’t on the list of 11 schools that he was considering prior to that.

You know who is on that list, though? One of Utah’s biggest rivals, BYU. BYU also happens to be the flagship university for Mormons. Parker is Mormon. If he decides to spend his one season in college in the state of Utah, he’ll be doing so at BYU. I have a better chance of getting him to play for me men’s league team than Krystkowiak does of getting him to become a Ute.

With that in mind, you cannot honestly consider that Parker to be a “prospective student-athlete” for Utah.

Lawyered.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Former U.S. collegians join UK olympic bid

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The Olympics will be full of basketball players who attended U.S. colleges. Perhaps more on non-U.S. squads than on Team USA, given that stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James never set foot in college.

Team Great Britain is excited about a chance to defend its home turf as hosts of the event, and the group from across the pond isn’t short on U.S.-seasoned talent. In fact, steel yourself for a blast from the past: remember former George Washington standout Pops Mensah-Bonsu? The big man from Ghana by way of Tottenham is a major player for the UK team, posting 16 points, 6 boards and 4 blocks in a warm-up loss to Lithuania on June 29.

Whether the GB team win a game in London or not, they’ll put some familiar faces on the floor. Ogo Adegboye (St. Bonaventure), Matthew Bryan-Amaning (Washington) and Eric Boateng (Arizona State) all suit up for the Brits, and the team is eagerly awaiting the arrival of former Duke star Luol Deng, who is resting his wrist and will only appear in matches that count this summer.

It’s kind of cool to see players from all around the world get together and play for national pride, including those that got a little training on U.S. soil before heading back to play for their national teams. Be sure to tune in and watch the games, not just to watch the U.S. all-stars dominate (?), but to welcome back some familiar faces from around the globe.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor and a new site called World Basketball Project.

Renardo Sidney, basketball’s latest cautionary tale

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The sad tale of Renardo Sidney is one that every single Division I basketball prospect should be told.

As a middle schooler, Sidney was a can’t miss talent. In eighth grade, he was considered the best player in the country in his age group. Most expected him to eventually become the next great one-and-done player, possibly even the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

In high school, Sidney bought into his hype, moving from his native Mississippi to California in an effort to get more exposure and compete against the best that the LA area had to offer. But all that ended up happening was that Sidney and his family not-so-subtly lined their pockets, enough that it drew the attention of the NCAA. UCLA got scared off. USC did as well. Sidney ended up enrolling at Mississippi State, where the NCAA suspended him for a full season plus nine games of the following season for the illegal benefits and the lies he told to try and cover it up.

By the time Sidney finally saw the court in college, he was far too overweight to play enough significant minutes. He seemed to lack the motivation to improve, both in regards to his conditioning and his off-court temperament. His second year at MSU, Sidney got into a pair of fights with teammates, including an ugly brawl with Elgin Bailey that was caught by ESPN’s cameras in Hawaii.

The irony?

If Sidney had given half the effort to getting in shape that he did in trying to drop Bailey with a haymaker he may have heard his name called by David Stern in the first round of Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Because for all the excess fat — Sidney weighed in at 304 pounds with 22.4% body fat, the second-highest in the database hosted by Draft Express — and the horrendous conditioning, the talent Sidney has was still evident. He was nimble, quick even, with good feet for a man his size. He had touch around the basket and range on his jump shot. His wingspan (7’4.5″ at the combine) and his vertical (30″ without a step, a good number for a 6-foot-10 power forward that’s actually in shape) should give you a glimpse of just what kind of player Sidney was earlier in his career.

Instead, Sidney has now burned through his second agent since the draft process started and has seemingly accepted the fact that his talent has officially been wasted.

“This whole NBA process is really tough and with me dropping two agents, it really doesn’t look good for me right now,” Sidney told Brandon Marcello of the Clarion-Ledger. “Like you said, it sounds like I’m lost. I can admit that I’m lost. I’m just trying to find my way back and see on Thursday what happens.”

So keep this in mind, recruits. Remember what happens when you buy into your hype and when you expect everything yo be handed to you. Guys like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant are exceptional talents with undeniable athletic gifts, but they also work incredibly hard at their craft. LeBron didn’t win a title until he developed a post-game. You think that happened by accident? Durant is a three-time NBA scoring champ because he’s 6-foot-10 with the perimeter skills of a shooting guard. You think that he was born with range out to 30-feet and the ability to handle the ball like a player eight inches shorter?

If I could ask Sidney one question right now, it would be ‘Where all the hangers-on and yes men are right now?’. Where are the people that told you how good you were? Where are the people that were funneling money to your family? Where are the runners and the agents and the shoe companies? Where is everyone who told you that you made it because a couple of websites wrote about you as a 14 year old?

They certainly aren’t going to be with you during the draft.

“I want to be around family when the draft comes on,” Sidney told Marcello. “I didn’t want to be alone.”

So if you are Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker or Julius Randle — or anyone that made this list, for that matter — keep that in mind. Bookmark this page.

Remember the plight of Renardo Sidney the next time someone tells you that you’re the next NBA superstar.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Reeves Nelson reportedly suing Sports Illustrated for $10 million, claiming defamation

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Former UCLA forward Reeves Nelson is suing Sports Illustrated for defamation, following the publication of a revealing article about the UCLA program, TMZ is reporting.

The $10 million suit, in response to George Dohrmann’s article, published March 5, 2012, says that Dohrmann “recklessly and negligently failed to investigate” the claims in his piece.

Most notably of the claims in question is a detailed account of revenge, when Nelson reportedly urinated on the bed and clothes of a teammate who “squealed” about a New Year’s Eve party.

The lawsuit also cites claims that Nelson intentionally injured players in practice and that he was disciplined for fighting with teammates.

Nelson was dismissed from the team in December of 2011, after a second disciplinary suspension. During his sophomore season at UCLA, he averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Keith Fink will be representing Nelson. Fink has been a part of a number of high-profile legal entertainment cases, including suits involving Ellen DeGeneres, Marilyn Manson, Courtney Love, and Kobe Bryant.

According to TMZ, the suit includes “declarations from 18 UCLA players and ex-players who deny every allegation about Nelson,” among them one from former Bruin Tyler Honeycutt, who claims that the urination incident never happened.

The suit is to be filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_