College Basketball is Far More Than a Four-Year Mission

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 15th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The lengths parents will go to control and obsess over their children’s youth sports development are legion. The process begins as far back as grade school when children with exceptional athletic talents are weaned off other athletic exploits and forced to devote hours upon hours to the sport their parents have identified as the one most likely to offer an expedient (and financially permissive) path through college, and for the best of the best, all the way to a professional career. Recent NBA draftee Shabazz Muhammad’s infamous age-change is the latest example, but there are countless other cases involving kids whose participation in youth athletics becomes more about the potential awards down the line – college scholarships, professional fame, shoe contracts, and the like – than the pure, blissful, unbridled joy typically inhering childhood athletic competition. Try the recent Wall Street Journal profile of 15-year old New Yorker Jerron Love, a supremely talented prospect with hyper-controlling parents who went as far as to start posting YouTube clips of their son at 11-years old titled, “Jerron Love 11 Year Old Basketball Phenom.” There’s also, more famously, the curious case of Demetrius Walker, chronicled in George Dohrmann’s tremendous book Play Their Hearts Out, which details the rise and fall of  a 12-year-old hoops phenom deemed the absolute surest of “sure thing” prospects before said sureness ever reached a high school basketball court.  Now more than ever, elite sports at the youth level are becoming a more career-oriented endeavor, replacing athletic enjoyment with long-term professional thinking. This shift in thinking has, naturally, gripped youth basketball at disturbingly young ages.

One of the biggest recruiting busts in recent memory, Walker is a popularized example of today's warped youth basketball culture (Getty).

One of the biggest recruiting busts in recent memory, Walker is a popularized example of today’s warped youth basketball culture (Getty).

It has reached the point where, for some prospects, a typical, uninterrupted, seamless progression through middle school is less important than preparing oneself in the most opportunistic way for the recruiting evaluation cycle. How do I know? A recent article in The Star-Ledger provided the newest detail to a culture of elite youth basketball that has officially become a professionally motivated enterprise, wherein some of the country’s most highly touted recruits are repeating grades in middle school to maximize exposure to college coaches and better position themselves to leverage a crucial evaluation window to their greatest possible benefit. All four of New Jersey’s most highly rated prospects in the 2014 and 2015 classes repeated grades, and other big-name talents – including 2013 stars Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Noah Vonleh (Indiana), Wayne Selden (Kansas), and lottery pick Nerlens Noel – have made the same choice. This is not a new practice. ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep, cited in writer Mathew Stanmyre’s article, states, “The genie is out of the bottle. It’s no longer a trend – it’s an accepted practice within high school basketball.” The thinking behind the move is simple: artificially place oneself in a younger age group so as to grant oneself the physical and skill advantages that come with facing a lesser level of competition. That’s the basic idea, but there are a few dynamics at work here, all of which go into making this practice not only a smart and efficient way to elevate one’s relative prep hoops standing, but a wise early career move.

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Morning Five: 07.15.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 15th, 2013

morning5

  1. Over the weekend much of the college basketball world was focused on Georgia for the well-known Peach Jam event but it is not the only significant recruiting event of the summer. As those who have followed the recruiting scene know there are a myriad of events over the summer. One of the newly created events called “The8″ will be played later this month and feature eight teams with top college recruits coached by current or former NBA players. We do not know who all of the coaches will be for the event, but it will include Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, and Kenny Smith among others. We are all well-aware of how AAU coaches can steer players to certain program so we would not be surprised to see these coaches guide their players to their former school although it probably will not violate NCAA rules since the coaches as former NBA players probably would not care about the type of payments that get AAU coaches to break NCAA rules and steer their players to specific schools.
  2. It seems like with each new day another Marshall Henderson report surfaces that makes his return seem more unlikely. The most news that Henderson had clashed with police for various issues that would be considered minor–playing his music too loud and not wearing a seat belt–if it were not for his issues with more serious arrests. Obviously these are relatively minor issues that would get overlooked for the vast majority of college athletes. The issue with Henderson is one of his disregard for the law and the more incidents he has had (no matter how minor they might be) the worse it looks for him and the program. At this point we would surprised to see Henderson remain with the program and if he does he probably will be sitting out a significant portion of the season. Given all of Henderson’s problems it would probably be best for everybody involved if that was the case.
  3. The issues surrounding P.J. Hairston may not move the needle like they do with the Marshall Henderson story for a variety of reasons, but at this point it seems like North Carolina will have to part ways with Hairston as a police report from Hairston’s June arrest indicates among other things that Hairston knowingly accepted the rental vehicle from Haydn “Fats” Thomas. The UNC administration has remained quiet on the issue and we guess they technically can do so up until the season starts in November, but even for a school that is involved in an academic scandal that should be of far greater concern from an institutional level than anything any other program has seen (Penn State excepted) the optics of this no matter the excuse look bad for the school. The NCAA is notorious for dragging their heels before releasing a judgement on eligibility issues so the onus is on the UNC administration to step in and sever ties with Hairston before the NCAA is forced to step in.
  4. We still are several months away from the season starting, but we already are seeing signs of what might be one of the biggest stories of the 2013-2014 season: the 2014 NBA Draft. Obviously we love the college game for what it is, but this season will also attract a fairly new breed of college basketball fans–NBA fans checking out college basketball for the player who could be their franchise’s savior. Most of the attention leading into the season has been focused on Andrew Wiggins, but as fans will quickly realize there are quite a few more potential saviors out there. We just hope that the players themselves do not get caught up in the hype and let their games speak for themselves without feeling the need to show off for the scouts.
  5. We usually do not cover programs like Mississippi Valley State (honestly do not know anything about it other than Jerry Rice went there) so when it gets mentioned in this space it is almost certainly for a bad reason. That is the case here as the school suspended head coach Chico Potts indefinitely with pay after he was arrested earlier this month for domestic violence. Potts, who went 5-23 in his first season as a head coach, will be replaced on an interim basis by assistant coach Marcus Thomas. The school says that it will keep Potts under suspension until it completes its review of the case. We are not sure what kind of budget Mississippi Valley State has to investigate these type of cases, but we suspect that if they are following that thoroughly we will not see a decision until the case is adjudicated.
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Morning Five: 07.12.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 12th, 2013

morning5

  1. The story surrounding Marshall Henderson‘s suspension continues to evolve with the latest news being that he was pulled over on May 4 for speeding (the article says “suspicion of speeding”, but we have no idea what that means). When the officer approached the car he smelled marijuana and Henderson handed him a bag containing marijuana and a subsequent search revealed a small amount of cocaine. Additional details around the traffic stop remain unclear, but it appears that Henderson was only issued a citation for not having insurance and somehow was not cited for possession of drugs. We are not clear on the drug laws in Mississippi, but it appears that an individual would not be prosecuted if the amount of cocaine was less than one-tenth of a gram so perhaps Henderson was able to escape the school’s radar for the time if they were not informed of this part of the citation.
  2. However, as Andy Katz notes the Mississippi staff tried to address Henderson’s substance abuse issues at least six weeks ago as when they reached out to former basketball star turned drug abuse speaker Chris Herren to help get through to Henderson. As you might have guessed the call was never returned and Henderson continued his downward spiral in some course leading to the announcement of his suspension yesterday. It appears that Henderson has finally spoken with Herren so it appears that at least that line is open to Henderson. We voiced our opinion on how the media (and the public) handles issues around substance abuse in particular when combined with race, but we just hope that Henderson is able to get his life together even if that does not involve a significant basketball career.
  3. The next round of criticism of the NCAA is set to begin with USA Today‘s analysis of the the NCAA’s 2011 tax return. Among the interesting aspects of the document the one that will probably get the most attention is the Mark Emmert’s compensation package totaling $1,674,095, which is primarily base compensation ($1,201,159), but also includes retirement/deferred compensation ($234,300), undefined reportable compensation ($214,947), and nontaxable benefits ($23,689). Although the overall size of his compensation package is not that outlandish compared to many CEOs of public companies it will certainly raise some eyebrows especially given the political environment surrounding the NCAA now. As the article notes there were three other executives who made more than $500,000 that year. The other interesting aspect of the tax return was that it spent $9.5 million on legal expenses during the fiscal year. We have no idea what the breakdown of that was in terms of legal action against it or to pay for its legal counsel in ongoing cases, but we figure that with the momentum behind the Ed O’Bannon case that number may rise over the next few years.
  4. One of the issues surrounding prep schools (aka basketball factories) is the concern that many of their players will not be eligible to play college athletics due to issues regarding their academic workload at these “schools”. Prime Prep, a school in Texas co-founded by Deion Sanders, appears to be one of those schools and yesterday the NCAA ruled that two of its graduates–Jordan Mickey and Karviar Shephardwere not academically eligible due to academic issues at the school. Mickey, a top-50 recruit who committed to LSU, and Shepherd, a top-100 player who committed to TCU, reportedly had been informed by the school that they would be eligible to play NCAA sports with their grades and the coursework they had completed. However, that appears not to be the case. Some people may point out that it is the student’s responsibility to make sure they are eligible, but realistically this falls on the school because you cannot expect a teenager, who is at most 18- (or 19-) years old to be able to navigate all the details of NCAA eligibility without the help of experienced adult. Both players will appeal the decision, but may have to sit out this season. It is worth keeping an eye on this because the school also has two players who are top-5 players in the next two graduating classes.
  5. Last December, Mississippi State and Loyola (IL) played a game to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their historic NCAA Tournament game where the Mississippi State players had to sneak out of Mississippi in order to play an integrated team. Many view it as one of the key moments in sports in relation to the civil rights movement of the era (one that would eventually be overshadowed in the annals of history by the 1966 NCAA Championship Game). On Saturday, Leland Mitchell, one of the most prominent players on that Mississippi State team died at his home in Starkville. Mitchell, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds in the game before fouling out with over six minutes remaining in the 61-51 loss, and his teammates acknowledged that they did not understand the significance of the game at the time in the context of the larger social change that was happening around them. As Mitchell noted, “We were making history. We were ambassadors for the South, though none of us realized it at the time.”
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2012-13 Indiana and the Effect of Early NCAA Tournament Exits

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 11th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn. 

There is one timeless drawback to the NCAA Tournament that makes its otherwise awesome and utterly thrilling single-elimination format a little bit unfair. When teams enjoy successful regular seasons and earn prime NCAA Tournament seeds but, for one reason or another, see their March livelihoods ended earlier than expected, upset losses serve as a referendum on that team’s entire body of work. If a team doesn’t advance to the round its seed implies – #1-seed Gonzaga getting done in by a wicked 23-point-in-nine-possessions run from Wichita State, for example – it is labeled an underperformer. The regular season accomplishments persist through history as nice adornments to dress up a given program or coach’s CV, but in the wake of an upset loss, there is only one description to accurately assess the better-seeded team: underachiever. I’ve heard this appellation tossed in Indiana’s general direction more than a few times in the wake of its Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse (whose customarily suffocating 2-3 zone, perimeter length, and shotblocking prowess, amounted to a terrible match-up for IU), and I suppose you can argue, relative to seeding, this is a completely fair judgment. The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen took it a step further in an article headlined “The Biggest Underachiever in NCAA History,” wherein he deems the Hoosiers’ 2012-13 season a massive failure due to their inability to turn two top-five NBA draft picks – a distinction shared by only 13 teams in the annals of the game – into Tournament-gauged success. According to WSJ, last season’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller-led IU team was one of only three teams with two top-five selections to lose as early as the Sweet Sixteen. The “Biggest Underachiever” designation owes to the other two Sweet Sixteen-losing teams, North Carolina in 1984 and Duke in 2002, having won national championships in seasons prior with those very same top-five picks on board.

A Tournament upset doesn't define an entire season (AP).

A Tournament upset doesn’t define an entire season (AP).

As you might suspect, Indiana coaches were none too pleased to read the ignominious title bestowed upon their newly-minted outright Big Ten conference championship team. Speaking of which, did I mention that? Indiana won the toughest league in basketball in a historically difficult year last season, posted 29 victories, groomed previously raw wing Oladipo into a lottery pick and saw its gradual ascent to the college basketball mountaintop (after the Kelvin Sampson wrecking ball that sent the Hoosiers into temporary hoops oblivion) realized in triumphant fashion. Tournament loss aside, it was a good year for Indiana basketball, and the coaches were going to make sure WSJ heard this message loud and clear. First came tweets from Tom Crean endorsing Oladipo and Zeller, their accomplishments at the school, and exclaiming the specifics of the well-compensated futures his two top-five picks are entitled to in their new professional basketball homes. Associate coach Tim Buckley followed up at the Hoosiers’ summer news conference Tuesday by highlighting his team’s perseverance.

“We’re pretty proud of this group,” Buckley said. “And we’re disappointed as much as anybody else with not going further in the NCAA Tournament. Our fifth-place team (Michigan) in the Big Ten played for the national championship. That’s how good this league was. And for us to do it night in and night out; I don’t think we ever lost two games in a row. “We had a resilient bunch. I’m really proud of what we’ve done, and I think everybody who’s associated with Hoosier Nation should be really proud of what we did.”

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Morning Five: 07.11.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 11th, 2013

morning5

  1. A little more than a decade ago, a brash young rapper by the name of Marshall Mathers asked us if the “real Slim Shady” would please stand up and take responsibility for his actions. He could have easily been talking about another Marshall in present day — a bad boy Rebel from Ole Miss who plays the game with a certain, shall we say, modernist panache. The most polarizing figure in college basketball, Marshall Henderson, was reportedly suspended indefinitely by the school for a drug violation. According to Gary Parrish, there are legitimate concerns within the university whether he will be allowed to return to the team. Given that Henderson finds trouble nearly anywhere he travels both on and off the basketball court, it’s certainly no surprise that he’s finally run afoul of Andy Kennedy’s team rules. Could this mean that the gifted but certifiable shooting guard who averaged over 20 points per game last season could find himself at his fifth school in five years? Stay tuned on this one – like Mathers, Henderson isn’t one to stay quiet for very long.
  2. Trouble just seems to stick to certain people, and at least lately, North Carolina’s PJ Hairston appears to be one of those unfortunate souls. Yet his school, an institution that outwardly takes its integrity very seriously, has been up to this point largely quiet on the ramifications of his June 5 arrest and subsequent revelations that he apparently has some unknown association with convicted felon Haydn Thomas. Athletic director Bubba Cunningham went before the media on Wednesday to discuss the matter, and the tone and general theme of his comments echoed the tried-and-true of the Carolina Way in recent years: Nothing to see at this time. Parroting Roy Williams’ statements from last week, the school does not plan on discussing or doing anything until all the facts are learned. For those of you unfamiliar with organizational theory and messaging, the last part is silent: …until we figure out how to mitigate and manage any possible fallout so that the outcome puts us in the best possible light. Thank you. At least one prominent writer thinks this is the correct play, at least until Hairston is back at school and enrolled in classes a little more than a month from now.
  3. There are meaningful statistics and there are manufactured statistics. The difference between the two is sometimes difficult to discern, but the Wall Street Journal has provided us with a fantastic example of such a debate this week. We’ll have more on this later this afternoon, but the analytical premise in this article by Ben Cohen is that college teams with two top five NBA Draft picks in their lineups should be really, really good. Even accounting for the fact that the NBA Draft has moved from a model of demonstrated production three decades ago to one today of relative upside and potential, it’s a reasonably safe tenet. But to make the next logical leap and to assert that a team with those two draft picks has markedly underachieved relative to its peers (Cohen found 13 such two-high-draftee instances), well, that’s where Indiana found itself this week. The Hoosiers only made the Sweet Sixteen with Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo in this year’s lineup, which when compared with Cohen’s cohort, ties 2002 Duke and 1984 North Carolina as the biggest underachievers in college basketball history. At least that’s the assertion of the piece — and it couldn’t be more wrong. This is a manufactured statistic, because what the analysis fails to tell you here is that there are a number of other talented players on each of those 13 other teams that had a significant effect on their season outcomes. Cohen also glosses over the regular season dominance of those Duke and UNC teams by suggesting that their draft picks had won titles in a previous year — true, but not relevant to that year’s team. IU head coach Tom Crean fired back in reference to the article, tweeting that the duo won 54 games in two seasons and have left the program in great shape heading into the future. Although we’ve consistently argued that Indiana was never as good as its ranking last season, we don’t think that the Hoosiers significantly underachieved relative to the overall talent it had on the floor, or the rest of the nation at-large. More on this later.
  4. Kentucky’s Rupp Arena is without question one of the iconic buildings in all of college basketball, but its off-campus location, sheer size and affiliation with a downtown hotel and shopping mall has always felt a bit too sterile and dissociated when compared to the more intimate campus sites around the country. Regardless of that, the mid-70s building is vastly in need of an upgrade, and the Lexington Center Corporation board announced on Wednesday that it had finalized an architectural firm and a builder to provide a two-year facelift that will move the building into the 21st century, and essentially, make the place much cooler. The most interesting aspect from our eyes is that the building will become a stand-alone entity, no longer affixed to the hotel/mall complex, so we’re wondering what that will look like. UK fans, even in mid-July, wasted no time in offering up some advice on possible corporate naming partners (the “Rupp Arena” part isn’t going away). Our favorite: Makers Mark Rupp Arena, with the entire building dipped in blue wax (h/t Jen Smith of the LHL).
  5. Finally, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports‘ annual report on collegiate sports was released on Wednesday, and the headline that was blasted all over the country is that college athletics received a gentleman’s B with respect to diversity in hiring. Digging a bit deeper, though, and some unsettling numbers come to light. Most notably, a “major area of concern” is the steady decrease of black head coaches in men’s Division I basketball, now at 18.6 percent of all positions. This number reflects the lowest percentage in the sport in nearly two decades (1995-96), and is down significantly from an all-time high of 25.2 percent of all head coaches just seven seasons ago (2005-06). Whether this downward trend simply reflects variance in the data or something more sinister is unclear, but it is definitely something that the NCAA should continue to track and take seriously. Given that over 60 percent of D-I men’s basketball student-athletes are black themselves, initiatives to ensure diversity in recruitment and hiring are definitely worth pursuing.
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For Better or Worse, Steve Alford and UCLA Are Now Tied at the Hip

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 10th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The merits of college coaching hires take years to assess. Coaches need time to develop their players. Recruiting strategies need to be overhauled. Fans need to buy in. Alumni need to be convinced their monetary contributions are being funneled to the right man with the right vision and the right process to lead their program to future success. All of these things require variously large stretches of time to take hold. For the black sheep among new hired coaches, maybe it never happens.

There shouldn't be any head coaching changes in Westwood over the next few years (AP).

There shouldn’t be any head coaching changes in Westwood over the next few years (AP).

But everybody at least deserves a chance, right? No matter how putrid a coach’s first few games are, no matter how many fans are calling for his head, no matter how many disparaging internet memes are created to popularize his dishonor, one can typically find reason to give him (or her) the benefit of the doubt. UCLA fans will have to do more than just that with new coach Steve Alford, who had the contents of his contract publicly explored by the Los Angeles Times Monday night. College basketball coaches at blue-blood programs make gobs of money, which Alford does. He also, thanks to a $10.4 million buyout clause (four times his annual pay, according to the Times), isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

By saddling Alford with such a large buyout — more than 10 times what it would have been had he stayed at New Mexico — UCLA is essentially making it impossible for him to do to Westwood what he did to Albuquerque.

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Morning Five: 07.10.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 10th, 2013

morning5

  1. Summer is the season for college basketball players to improve themselves. Whether that means lonely nights in the gym getting up thousands of shots, long hours in the weight room fantasizing about drawing contact and-1, or organized games against real teams from other countries, the point is the same. Get better. The FIBA U-19 World Championships featured a number of players either entering or returning to our game next season, and Mike DeCourcy breaks down the top eight performers from the Prague, Czech Republic, event where Team USA won gold. The article is in the dreaded slideshow format, but we’ll offer an olive branch in that DeCourcy actually writes a good several-paragraph narrative about each player — in other words, the click-throughs are worthwhile. And that Aaron Gordon kid headed to Arizona? He’s going to cause quite a stir next season, even though he’s one of the few impact freshman who won’t be residing in Lawrence, Lexington or Durham. 
  2. So who’s got next? We’ll find out very soon, as the first of three separate key four-day recruiting windows for college coaches opens this afternoon at 5 PM ET. For a nice primer on the where, the who, and the when, as well as the key storylines and coaches feeling the most pressure to perform, CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Borzello hooks it up with a comprehensive analysis. The biggest thing we’re interested in over the next few weeks are any tells that the Class of 2014’s top two prospects — Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones — end up as a package deal somewhere. It’s extremely rare that the top two players in a single class view themselves as an inseparable and dynamic duo, but that very well could be the case with these two. He also touches on the difficulties that new Butler head coach Brandon Miller faces, as well as UCLA’s Steve Alford and Minnesota’s Richard Pitino. Fair points, all. (Side note from the get-off-my-lawn crowd: Can we lose the recruitnik notion of the shortened usage of the word “commit” to refer to “commitment?” Commit is a verb. Seriously, there’s no gray area here.)
  3. One of DeCourcy’s summer stars at the U-19 was Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, and the defending national champions have managed to stay in the news in a variety of ways lately. The best news we’ve perhaps heard all summer is that Kevin Ware and His Broken Leg are rehabilitating at a phenomenal pace, so much so that head coach Rick Pitino believes that his rising junior will be ready to play basketball again in October. It turns out that the doctors who said the clean break of his femur was actually somehow a “good” thing compared to the alternatives were exactly on point. Pitino’s comments were made at a press conference announcing that Louisville’s 2013 Final Four floor will be auctioned off in pieces to raise money for pediatric cancer research and care. Kentucky did a similar thing last year — proving, once again, that these two programs will stop at nothing to one-up the other, even in causes of virtue — raising over $200,000 in the process.
  4. The old adage is to follow the money, and in the case of North Carolina’s PJ Hairston and his association with Haydn Thomas and his propensity for spending tens of thousands of dollars on rental cars (seriously, who does that?), the flow of cash keeps getting more interesting. USA Today Sports reported on Tuesday that four of Thomas’ (or his roommate Catinia Farrington’s) rental vehicles had received a total of nine unpaid parking tickets on the UNC campus between the dates of February 22 and May 28 of this year. And yet, Haydn in previous media reports said that he has no association with the school and doesn’t even like the Tar Heels. Roy Williams, for his part, is waiting until all “the facts are in,” and so is everyone else. But isn’t there really only one question that matters here — what is Hairston’s true relationship with Haydn and why is he driving around committing crimes in Haydn’s vehicles?
  5. Conference realignment has been largely viewed as a pox upon their houses by most of us in the college basketball community over the last several years, as traditional basketball leagues have been folded, spindled and mutilated into something resembling nothing like their former selves. But as ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil writes, “what if we were all wrong?” Her point is that the basketball armageddon that we all foresaw may not have actually come to fruition. The ACC, always and forever at its heart a basketball league, has improved its stock substantially with the addition of basketball schools Pittsburgh and Syracuse, not to mention a strong Notre Dame program (with Louisville to come). The new Big East is all about roundball, with Creighton, Butler and Xavier joining a strong group of the Catholic Seven headlined by stalwarts Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova. Even the national darling Mountain West added Utah State, a strong and well-supported program that will challenge the likes of San Diego State, New Mexico and the rest for wildest fan base. While we’re not completely sold that all these moves are for the greater benefit of the sport, what choice do we have? Let’s lace ‘em up and see what happens.
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Team USA’s U-19 Title Hints at an Awesome Upcoming Season

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 9th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The hype leading up to the 2013-14 college basketball season will be immense. It already sort of is, when you really think about it: Andrew Wiggins’ announcement to join Kansas set the college hoops world aflame. Duke’s Jabari Parker was plastered on the cover a Sports Illustrated magazine comparing him to LeBron James. Kentucky’s recruiting class is being described in the loftiest echelons of hyperbolic recruiting praise. A host of talented sophomores spurned probable NBA riches for another go with their respective college outfits. Everything about the upcoming season looks great. I can’t wait.

A championship run at the FIBA world championships is yet another testament to the quality and depth of the young talent college hoops will have on offer this season (Craig Miller, USA Today).

A championship run at the FIBA world championships is yet another testament to the quality and depth of the young talent college hoops will have on offer this season (Craig Miller, USA Today).

Over the weekend, some of the USA’s best players age 19 and under put those expectations on the line in international competition, and held serve in convincing fashion. Team USA beat Serbia Sunday, 82-68, to earn the gold medal at the FIBA U-19 World Championships. Taking home first prize was no guarantee for the Red, White, and Blue, who have won just three of the last eight U-19 FIBA crowns, including 2011’s lamentable fifth-place finish. International basketball – and all the well-coached, cohesively groomed, fundamentally-drilled international players, international rules, and international travel quirks compacted within – is an entirely different breed of hoops. Former US teams as high as the senior level have struggled to adapt to FIBA-regulated play, and this team, for all its massive talent advantages, was not immune to those very same issues. Basketball’s recent popularity worldwide – plus, you know, us not winning every single time we step on the floor – has made one fact exceedingly clear: There are no foregone conclusions in international basketball. Team USA’s U-19 group was not willing to make any.

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Morning Five: 07.09.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 9th, 2013

morning5

  1. There were a couple of big moves involving players that will be eligible to play next season. The biggest involves Memphis who announced that incoming freshman Kuran Iverson had been cleared academically by the NCAA to play this season. Iverson, a 6’9″ forward who is ranked in the top 40 by most recruiting services and happens to be the cousin of Allen Iverson, can add quite a bit to the Tigers lineup that is still waiting to hear if Michael Dixon and Rashawn Powell will be eligible to play. At this point it seems like neither will be eligible to play, which makes the addition of Iverson even bigger. The other move, which is also pretty significant, but is of a shorter duration involves Arizona State, which picked up Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall, who will be graduating next month and can play for the Sun Devils this coming season. Picking up a player of Marshall’s talent (averaged 15.3 points per game in the Big Ten) is a huge addition for a team that has hopes of contending in the Pac-12 next year. It will be interesting to see how committed Marshall is to the team since he initially was planning on going to Europe rather than look at another college. If his minutes dwindle or he struggles to fit in with his new teammates, we wonder how long it will take him to start looking at international flights out of Phoenix.
  2. Coming off a surprising Final Four appearance Wichita State appears to be flying high. Their hiring of Steve Forbes as an assistant coach might not register with casual fans, but it is quite a pick-up. You may remember Forbes from his time at Tennessee as an assistant before he received a one-year show-cause penalty for being evasive when NCAA authorities tried to investigate Bruce Pearl’s meeting with Aaron Craft at a cookout. Forbes had served as head coach at Northwest Florida State (a junior college) and becomes the first member of Pearl’s former staff to get a Division 1 job. Wichita State should benefit from Forbes’ experience as one of the top recruiters in the nation.
  3. This past Friday a US District Court Judge ruled that the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon case can amend the lawsuit to include a current NCAA athlete as a plaintiff. Of course, the obvious concern for any athlete would be that the NCAA will single out this individual for additional investigations that the individual would not otherwise be subjected to. Yesterday, the lawyers leading the anti-trust lawsuit sent the NCAA a letter asking the NCAA to agree that no such actions will be taken against such an individual and that joining the lawsuit would not jeopardize the individual’s eligibility. In theory this is nice, but we have a hard time believing that the NCAA would give a current athlete blanket immunity and since they will not we suspect that they will miraculously stumble upon evidence that leads to an investigation of that individual.
  4. Winning international titles might have been a foregone conclusion for the US National Team for years, but as we have seen in recent years that is not necessarily the case particularly when we are not sending our “A” team. So the Under-19 team winning the World Championship is certainly worth celebrating even if it will not get mentioned in most sports sections. The team, which was led by Billy Donovan, Shaka Smart, and Tony Bennett, defeated Serbia 82-68 to win the gold medal. Arizona fans will be particularly pleased with the performance of Aaron Gordon who was named Tournament MVP. Gordon was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Jahil Okafor (class of 2014; uncommitted). We expect several players from this team–primarily rising freshmen and sophomores–to have big seasons including Marcus Smart, who did not make the All-Tournament Team, but will probably be a Preseason First-Team All-American.
  5. With the World University Games going on most college basketball fans will be paying attention to the performances of some college stars, but as Andy Glockner points out the more interesting aspect might be the shot clock. It seems like we hear every year about how scoring is down in college basketball and how decreasing the shot clock from 35 seconds to 24 seconds would speed up the game and increase scoring. As Glockner points out international competitions use the 24-second shot clock and from the comments of many college players and coaches it seems that they prefer the 35-second shot clock. It may seem obvious that they would prefer something that they are used to, but the argument that Colorado coach Tad Boyle makes about a shorter shot clock making the game more homogeneous in terms of playing style is an interesting one. In the end, the NCAA should probably base their decision on the length of the shot clock around what makes it a better product for the public, but we are guessing that coaches will prefer to keep the status quo even if it hurts the popularity of the game.
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Brandon Miller Is An Excellent Choice To Replace Brad Stevens at Butler: What Happens Next?

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 8th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Familiarity and tradition has worked for Butler when executing coaching changes in the past, and it will have to work once more after watching Brad Stevens take an immense NBA leap of faith in agreeing to become the next head coach of the Boston Celtics. Butler wasted no time hiring Stevens’ replacement; shortly after his departure was made official Wednesday night, two candidates–Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan and Butler assistant Brandon Miller–were identified as the only two candidates with any conceivable shot at actually landing the job. Jordan was seen as the frontrunner, and for good reason: he is widely respected in Big Ten coaching circles, played and coached at Butler and was seen as the biggest guiding hand in elevating Trey Burke to First Team All-American/Lottery pick status.

The Bulldogs moved quickly to hire Miller. Navigating their conference jump won't be quite as simple (AP).

The Bulldogs moved quickly to hire Miller. Navigating their conference jump won’t be quite as simple (AP).

In the end, Butler went with what has worked in the past. Miller is the fourth consecutive Butler coach to be promoted from within, a quintessential Bulldogs hire. And not only did Miller play and coach for the Bulldogs, he is also, like Stevens, Matta, and Lickliter before him, getting his first opportunity as a college head coach at the school. Fortunately for him, this job likely would have gone to former assistant Matt Graves, the current South Alabama head coach and star Butler guard widely presumed to be Stevens’ successor whenever the possibility of Stevens leaving – which was basically, like, any time a high major job opened up over the past three seasons – cropped up. Miller returned to the Bulldogs bench once Graves left for South Alabama, and unwittingly positioned himself for a promotion few college basketball people saw coming at this stage of the offseason. His profile aligns with everything Butler has sought in its recent coaching hires, but this time, the stakes are even higher, and Miller has a more difficult mandate than the other in-house hires that preceded him.

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Morning Five: 07.08.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 8th, 2013

morning5

  1. The biggest news of the weekend was that Butler announced that Brandon Miller would be its next coach. The task of replacing Brad Stevens at Butler (or at least the idea of Brad Stevens) might be nothing short of Herculean so we hope that the administration at Butler will give Miller, who beat out former Butler star and current Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan for the job, some time to find his way. The Bulldogs will be returning plenty of talent, but will also be losing quite a bit with the departures of Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith. We would have expected Stevens to turn the team into a tough out by March, but that might be too much to ask for a new coach. So while many pundits may be quick to judge Miller we think he should at least be given a few years before judgement is passed.
  2. We still are not sure what to make of the continuing story surrounding P.J. Hairston and his arrests involving rental cars that were rented for long periods of time by individuals from the same address, but we are assuming it is not good for Hairston’s future at North Carolina. The arrest that everybody knows about is the one involving the possession of marijuana (and the mysterious gun that was never attributed to anybody). The news that the car had been rented by an individual with multiple aliases and prior arrests probably is not that bad by itself. The bigger issue comes from the fact Hairston had been arrested back in May for speeding while driving a car that had been rented by an individual with the same address as the individual who rented the car used by Hairston in his more publicized arrest. We are not sure if this will be enough for the NCAA to rule Hairston ineligible, but it should be enough for North Carolina to question whether it wants to continue to associate itself with Hairston.
  3. As we figured the case regarding the eligibility of Joseph Young was bound to get complicated. Young, who led Houston in scoring left the school after his father refused to accept a reassignment within the program. Now the Young family is seeking a hardship waiver enabling him to play at Oregon next season saying that Michael was essentially fired, but was forced to remain on contract while his son was still in school. We still are not sure how the NCAA will rule on this because it depends on how you define fired. From what we have been seen Michael was offered a comparable salary, but a different position within the program (one that he did not want). If that is true, we would have a hard time siding with the Young family here. If those are the facts and the NCAA sides with the Young family they should probably just get rid of the whole one-year transfer period. However, if Michael’s story is true then Houston should be facing some severe NCAA sanctions.
  4. Unlike some recent years this year’s NBA Draft Lottery featured players from 13 different schools (only Indiana had two players selected) so while no team was hit particularly hard by departures (see Kentucky in 2010 and 2012) many schools are trying to figure out how to replace key players. Jason King took a look at these 13 teams and what they have to do to make up for the loss of the departing players. Some teams like Indiana and Lehigh will have tough time figuring out how to make up for their losses in the next few seasons, but others like Kentucky and Kansas should have more than enough incoming talent to make their fans forgot about the departures within the first few months of the season.
  5. Most of the college basketball world will be focused on the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world when November rolls around, but for our money Rutgers might be one of the most interesting teams to follow this year as they try to recover from the fallout of the Mike Rice fiasco. The first step of that process came from Eddie Jordan trying to repair the damage that had been done when the news about Mike Rice’s abuse broke. Brendan Prunty took an in-depth look at the methods that Jordan used to help keep the program afloat once he took over. Jordan and the Scarlet Knights may struggle next season, but it will not be for a lack of work over the summer by Jordan.
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Gary Harris Feels Good and You Should Too About Michigan State’s Title Hopes

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 5th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The national championship trophy will return to the Bluegrass State next April. That is the national sentiment, however prematurely conceived, about the 2013-14 Division I men’s college basketball season. The reasons for this are easy to divine: Kentucky is bringing in not just their typical boatload of McDonald’s All-Americans and future pros, but the best recruiting class of all time, according to anyone who tracks these things historically. Louisville’s claim is arguably just as convincing. The Cardinals return every significant piece from last season’s championship roster save center Gorgui Dieng and welcome in a junior college point guard in Chris Jones, who, while not nearly as touted as top-ranked Wildcats’ signee Andrew Harrison, should play big backcourt minutes in his first season of major college basketball. Both of these teams are expected to make deep March runs; anything short of a Final Four will be deemed a failure.

A healthy Harris and a fantastic cast of complements makes Michigan State a true title contender in 2013-14 (Getty).

A healthy Harris and a fantastic cast of complements makes Michigan State a true title contender in 2013-14 (Getty).

There are a few other teams lurking in the championship hunt, only with much less preseason buzz. The most underhyped of all, and dumbfoundingly so, is Michigan State. Ah, right, the Spartans, you know these guys: Tom Izzo, six Final Four appearances since 1999, a defense and rebound-oriented identity that almost never fails in tight games. And to think, after year upon year of reproving themselves on the biggest national stage, Michigan State might enter this season as one of the most underrated teams in the country. Now is the time to start rating them accurately, because not only do the Spartans have all the discrete parts and experience and talent to break up Kentucky and Louisville’s early preseason championship stranglehold, they have a healthy star point guard ready to make a huge sophomore leap. From NBCSports’ Rob Dauster:

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