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Aaron Torres’ Take

The unintended consequences of removing the one-and-done for college and the NBA

Through the years I’ve written extensively about the “one-and-done” rule and why I think it’s good for all levels of basketball, from high school to college to the NBA. And as a guy who covers college basketball (and talks to high school parents, coaches and players regularly) I’ve tried to put the truth out there, even as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver continues to share half-truths about the one-and-done, with the hope of getting the rule removed. I even wrote an entire article for KSR (which you can read here) explaining why pretty much everything Silver has said about the rule is a total lie.

Of course, even as brilliant as I am (and according to my grandma, I am in fact brilliant), it doesn’t mean that my opinion about the one-and-done matters to NBA decision-makers. And if there was any doubt, we got proof of that Thursday night. There, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Silver and NBA Players Association head Michelle Roberts had a meeting with the new college basketball committee which was created to “clean up the sport” where they one-and-done rule was discussed at length.

Wojnarowski’s tweet is above, but that basically is the genesis of what was reported is that Thursday’s meeting is the next step in removing the “one-and-done” rule. It remains to be seen what the new rule would be, but most assume the new rule would allow players to go pro after high school. For those who elected to go to college, they’d have to stay for two years.

Ultimately time will tell what the new rule is, but that’s not important today. What is important is this: I truly believe that having the one-and-done rule in place has been a good thing for all levels of basketball, from high school to college to the NBA, and has created more interest in other things such as the NBA Draft and Summer League. I also believe that removing it could have unintended consequences that will unquestionably hurt college basketball, the NBA, and more importantly dozens of basketball players in the coming generation.

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Keldon Johnson’s high school coach explains what makes UK’s newest commit so special

While the 2017-2018 college basketball season is literally just a couple days old, it’s no surprise to anyone reading this that excitement is already growing for the 2018-2019 campaign in Lexington. Because Kentucky has so few sure-fire “one-and-done” players on this year’s roster, and because we already know that John Calipari is going to load up in recruiting (since that’s what John Calipari always does) it feels like 2019 could set up for a monster year in Lexington, one where a blend of talent, experience and depth should make Kentucky the title favorite from the moment the season begins.

Now obviously there’s quite a bit to figure out between now and the start of next season, but one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle fell into place over the weekend. There, the Wildcats picked up their second commitment in the 2018 recruiting class, when five-star wing Keldon Johnson chose Kentucky over NC State, Texas, Maryland and a host of other schools.

Johnson is a guy that many Kentucky fans probably aren’t totally familiar with, if only because the recruiting process with Kentucky didn’t pick up until late (Johnson wasn’t offered by Kentucky until a few months ago). But according to Johnson’s high school coach Steve Smith at Oak Hill Academy, once Calipari zoned in on Johnson, he made him one of his top priorities in the class.

“I think [Calipari] wanted him over other players, even over other players who might have been rated higher,” Smith, who has known Calipari for years, told KSR. “I think Coach Cal really wanted Keldon because of how he plays, and what he brings to the table. His style of play. All that.”

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Don’t believe the media: College basketball is in a good place entering this season

College basketball season tips off today (honestly, can you believe it’s really here??) but when it does, it comes with a bit of a black cloud. It was a rough off-season for college hoops, and because of it, countless media outlets have used it as an excuse to tear down the sport as a whole. From CBS Sports, to ESPN, everyone is focused on the negative, with Yahoo’s Pat Forde adding that the sport is “in a state of emergency” entering the 2017-2018 season.

But while that’s the narrative the media wants you to believe, don’t buy it.

Sure, it was a tough off-season for college basketball, with an FBI probe into several prominent programs, a sham NCAA investigation into sham classes at UNC and the latest Big Baller controversy in China. But now that the games are about to tip-off, let’s be honest: None of it matters. Or at least it doesn’t matter as much. College basketball is back, and that is a great thing. Regardless of what the headlines say.
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10 national storylines to watch the first week of the college basketball season

People, we’ve made it! I don’t know how else to tell you, but after eight long, cold months of the off-season, college hoops season is finally here. And I for one couldn’t be more excited.

Sure, the off-season was filled with some, umm, not so uplifting headlines (the FBI probe, the NCAA’s non-punishment of UNC, Rick Pitino getting fired, UCLA players getting arrested in China) but let’s be honest: Once the games tip off it will all be forgotten (or at least pushed to the back-burner). And with opening night now just 48 hours away, we are closer to real, meaningful basketball than we’ve been in a long time.

So as we get set for games to tip-off Friday night, what are 10 national storylines to watch? Here are 10:

Will the SEC get it’s you-know-what together

If you follow me at all on Twitter, you know that over the last six months I’ve spent more time hyping SEC basketball than your average soccer mom does her lousy, unathletic kid who will never play past JV in high school. It started last year when three SEC teams made the Elite Eight, and I truly believed it had a trickle-down effect into this year, where it felt like upwards of 7-8 teams could compete for NCAA Tournament bids. I even came up with a snazzy nickname for this whole deal. I called it “The SEC basketball revolution” and I damn near printed up t-shirts.

Thank god I didn’t though, because the “SEC basketball revolution” is falling apart faster than an NCAA Tournament bracket that has Kansas winning the national championship. Point blank, it’s been an ugly couple weeks for the league, where three different tourney-worthy schools are dealing with various issues.

It starts in Alabama, where both Auburn and Alabama have become engulfed in this FBI/college basketball case and the impact is just now being felt. Auburn recently held out two of its best players (Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy) while the FBI case continues to unfold and just this week we found out that Alabama is going to sit star freshman Collin Sexton for the foreseeable future as well. To be blunt that’s terrible news for SEC hoops, and impacts two teams that were in line for major seasons. Alabama was a tourney team and a threat to make a deep run with Sexton. They’ll struggle to make the tourney without him. Auburn can kiss their tourney hopes goodbye without Purifoy and Wiley as well.

Then to add extra insult to SEC injury, Texas A&M recently suspended four starters in total for their last exhibition game, and two won’t play in their opener against West Virginia. That includes star Robert Williams. It doesn’t appear that those suspensions will have a long-term impact on this team going forward, but it’s still an ugly deal for the SEC. It’s also an ugly deal for A&M which will probably get run out of the building on Friday night by Bob Huggins’ club.

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Don’t believe the headlines: Brian Bowen will almost certainly never play for Louisville

Don’t believe the headlines: Brian Bowen will almost certainly never play for Louisville

On Thursday, a weird, bizarre, wildly misleading headline swept across the college basketball, and for a moment sent everyone into a frenzy.

It came courtesy of the Louisville Courier Journal and read the following: “Feds tell University of Louisville it may consider reinstating suspended freshman Brian Bowen.”

Immediately, the college basketball world went up in arms. It led to some like ESPN’s Dick Vitale to say “This is major news” for Louisville, while Cards fans and people who cover the team immediately began to ask the question “should we try and get him eligible?” A few enterprising fans went as far to suggest that Thursday’s headline proved that Bowen had done nothing wrong and broken no NCAA rules. Honestly, you can’t make this crap up.

But while the headline looks good (and for the record, I have no beef with the Courier-Journal or writer Jeff Greer for putting it out there, since it is factually correct) as I said above, it’s wildly misleading. In theory, Brian Bowen could end playing for Louisville, and in theory, it could happen as early as this season. In theory, I could also walk outside today, meet Mila Kunis on the street and convince her to leave Ashton Kutcher. It doesn’t feel like either has a good chance of happening.

KSR’s Jack Pilgrim already did an excellent breakdown this morning, but let’s dig a little deeper here to explain why. And let’s start with the simplest tenant of this entire investigation: The FBI and NCAA have two entirely different motives in this case. The FBI is trying to put people in jail, and the NCAA is trying to figure out if a player is eligible to play basketball games. In essence, that’s also why Thursday’s headlines were so misleading. All the headline really means is that the FBI doesn’t believe the Bowen’s have committed a federal crime worthy of landing them in jail. And now Louisville can begin the process of trying to figure out if Bowen is actually eligible to play. It doesn’t however mean that he’ll ever actually be cleared.

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9 takeaways from Kentucky’s early exhibition games

9 takeaways from Kentucky’s early exhibition games

Guys, I don’t know how to tell you this, but we’ve made it. We’ve made it to college basketball season!

Well, not technically, since we’re still a week or so away from regular season games. But to quote Verne Lundquist, “My GRACIOUS” are we close! With the preseason underway it means that we’re no longer subjected to random chatter about closed scrimmages or fill-in-the-blank three-star recruit looks like an All-American early on. Instead, the games have begun! Preseason has tipped off, the TV cameras are rolling (well, except Monday night in Lexington) and we get games with a final score and stat sheet and everything. Amazing!

It really is fantastic, and like everywhere else, that enthusiasm has swept into the Commonwealth, where Kentucky is two games into their three-game exhibition slate.  Like most of you, I didn’t see Monday’s matchup with Morehead State (but did follow the other writers at KSR who were courtside) but did watch Friday night against Thomas More.

So what have we learned through so far? Here are nine things:

I’ve been hyping P.J. Washington all summer – and somehow he might be even better than I thought

If you’ve read my work since I began at KSR (and if you haven’t, what are you doing with your life?), you know that I’ve loved P.J. Washington since before he ever even put on a college uniform. As someone who follows the high school circuit, I knew he’d instantly be a fan favorite, as a guy who plays hard, crashes the glass and does all the little things to help a team win.

Only after watching him against Thomas More I may have actually undersold him. He may be even better than I thought.

If you watched the game Friday night you know what I’m talking about. In that game, Washington was everywhere, and finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. The best part was that he didn’t get those stats solely because he was bigger or stronger than the opposition – but instead, by outworking them. The dude played every possession like it was a tournament game and like his career depended on it. Heck, he had one putback dunk that he slammed so hard I practically got a concussion just watching on the couch.

That’s also why I’m so high on him entering the year. Admittedly, a lot of guys who come to Kentucky have talent, but few – from the very first game – understand that to produce in college basketball, you need to bring it every single night.

Washington does and that’s why it wouldn’t surprise me if he exceeds expectations this year. He doesn’t have the hype of Hamidou Diallo or Kevin Knox, but I bet he ends up as the team’s most productive player on more often than most fans might be expecting.

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Memo to the NCAA: Allow charity exhibition games every single year

Memo to the NCAA: Allow charity exhibition games every single year

photo courtesy of KUSports.com

A few days ago, I did something I wouldn’t normally do on a Sunday afternoon. I watched a meaningless, college basketball exhibition game on my couch.

Correction: I paid to watch a meaningless preseason college basketball game on my couch.

Actually, double-correction: It wasn’t meaningless at all.

The game was the Kansas-Missouri “Border War” revived, and I’ll be honest: I’d be shocked if I see 10 better college basketball games all season long. This game had it all. Great players (Michael Porter Jr., Devonte Graham), a Hall of Fame coach and two really good teams which are both capable of making deep NCAA Tournament runs. It also had 18,000 fans in the arena, and was hotly contested for the full 40 minutes. If you hadn’t looked at the calendar before tip-off and instead watched the game, watched how hard these two teams played and heard the crowd noise going bonkers after every big play, you would’ve thought it was a mid-March conference tournament game.

Only it wasn’t. It was an October exhibition game. And the best part was that it raised over $2 million for charity, according to a press release from Kansas basketball on Friday. The winner Sunday wasn’t Kansas. It was the folks in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands that need this money so desperately.

And as we all know by now, Kansas-Missouri is hardly the only one of these charity exhibition games that has or will be played before the actual season tips off. UConn played Providence College on Wednesday night, in a game which raised over $75,000. Kentucky will play Morehead State this weekend and BYU and New Mexico will revive an old Mountain West tonight. Texas and Texas A&M played a game on Wednesday where courtside seats went for over $1,000 in Houston, even as the Astros played a World Series Game 2 at the same time. That’s right, some folks paid more for tickets to a charity basketball exhibition in Houston than they did in Los Angeles for a World Series game. Bonkers, right?

It is, and to the NCAA’s credit, it seems like they’ve been rubber-stamping these games non-stop since the Kansas-Missouri proposal came to the table a few weeks back. On October 18th an NCAA spokesperson said that in total, 24 of these games had been approved – and that was a week ago. Who knows how many more have been added since.

Still, I’ll go ahead and take things one step further, and in the process, give the NCAA a free piece of PR advice as well: Go ahead and change your legislation right now, to allow one exhibition game, per team, per year, in the name of charity.

Fans love it. Players love it. And it’s for a good cause. There is literally zero downside. Make it happen NCAA.

For starters, these games are already happening. They’re called “secret scrimmages” and they’ve been going on for years. The reason most fans don’t know about them is because they’re not publicized, or open to fans or media members. Ultimately they’re there to serve the same purpose every exhibition game does: To allow teams to get better, and work things out in the preseason.

Those can still go on, but there is also little downside to having other, more public exhibition games as well. Again, there’s the charity money (which cannot be emphasized enough) and the fan interest too. For a sport that claims to continually be looking for new ways to make itself relevant before March, this feels like as good a bet as any.

Not to mention that these games are really great early season tests and – at least in the Missouri-Kansas game – games where the two teams played insanely hard. Again, I cannot emphasize it enough: Kansas-Missouri felt like a mid-March conference tournament game, and I doubt either team will play in more than 2-3 games this year with the stakes, pressure and intensity that Sunday brought in Kansas City.

And that’s another aspect in all this. Take out the money raised for a second and just focus on the play on the court. What is the downside to this? Don’t you think playing in a game that big, with that much pressure is only going to help a young Missouri team later on in the year? My hunch is outside of their trip to Lexington, it’s the toughest environment they’ll play in all year.

Remember too that Kansas lost Frank Mason and Josh Jackson off last year’s team. Don’t you think this will help them as they break in a combination of freshmen, transfers and players returning from injury as well? It certainly feels like it will better prepare them for the regular season than a game against some random DII team that the players don’t care about. And the best part for coaches is, these games don’t count in the standings. No one is getting hired or fired over these results, and no one will hold a loss in one of these games against them on Selection Sunday.

Again, no downside.

But really, the biggest reason the NCAA needs to put in legislation in now is this: These schools need the time to prepare properly. If we’re really going to do this for charity, why not go bigger, why not go better and why not raise the most money possible? To do that, you need time.

While Missouri and Kansas went off without a hitch, other games weren’t so lucky. Texas and Texas A&M had just a week to put everything together, which led to a small, mid-week crowd. That was due to a number of factors, but the most important one was that the Astros were playing in the World Series at the exact same time! You mean to tell me that with a little more planning and PR they couldn’t have had a better crowd? That they couldn’t fill the Houston Rockets arena? Crap, they could’ve played at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio as a test run for the Final Four there this year. Geez, do I have come up with brilliant ideas for everyone!?!?!? I should start charging.

How about other matchups that could’ve been coordinated with more time? Rekindle the Maryland and Duke rivalry from the old days, or Maryland and Georgetown (since Georgetown refuses to schedule them in the regular season). How about an old-school, St. John’s-Syracuse matchup at Madison Square Garden; we can even tip-off at noon on a Wednesday just like those glorious Big East Tournament days. Crap, can you imagine how much money an Indiana-Kentucky game would raise? Ticket prices would be through the roof, and a bunch of different companies would be battling for streaming rights to that game. Add in merchandise and everything else and I can’t even imagine how much money that game would make. In turn, I can’t imagine how many lives would be changed because of that money.

Which is why these exhibitions need to become an annual reality.

It’s good for the teams, good for the players and good for the fans.

Most of all, it’s for a good cause. And the money goes to a place of need.

There is no downside, and the NCAA needs to allow it to happen. ASAP.

Aaron Torres is covering basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”


10 national storylines every Kentucky fan should keep an eye on this season

It’s late October, and college basketball season is so close I can taste it. The leaves are changing, the — wait a second, this is exactly how I started my Friday column previewing Kentucky’s season. Sorry, my bad. I’ve been reading, writing and thinking way too much about this season ahead.

Anyway, while the focus of last week’s article was on this year’s Kentucky team and why I’m so high on them (you can read by clicking here) today is time to look at the national picture. The simple truth is that because Kentucky is always a fixture on the national scene, it’s important their fans follow what’s going on nationally. As the old saying goes, you’ve got to know you’re enemy, right?

Well as a guy who covers the national scene, I figure I’m as good as anyone to get you caught up on what you need to know. Here are 10 things entering the 2017-2018 season.

The continued FBI investigation into college basketball

It’s funny, a few weeks ago I was doing a radio interview and the host asked me “Outside of the FBI investigation, what’s the biggest story entering this season.” I mean, that’s basically an impossible question to ask. It’s like asking “So, outside the World Series, what’s the biggest story in baseball right now,” or “Outside our President, what’s the biggest story in politics?” Sorry, there isn’t one. Nothing is even close.

That’s because this FBI story is one that is going to continue to linger throughout the season, and unlike your typical NCAA investigation there is no clear end date. While you can circle your calendar in an NCAA investigation and say “OK, we’ll hear something by then” this is actually the exact opposite. It’s the FBI working covertly and continuing to build a case, under the secrecy that comes with working for the federal government. There are no “Notices of Allegations” or “leaks” — this is the damn FBI people! Therefore, this case could end tomorrow or go on five years. It could end with the next raid, or there could be 10 after. No one knows.

Also, can you imagine how much uncertainty that creates as well? Taking out the obvious “Your favorite coach could be headed to jail” story line, think about what it does for the season ahead. How many programs could be involved? When might their involvement be discovered? Could teams like Arizona, USC and Louisville (all teams that could win a national championship) or others be banned from the NCAA Tournament? How many players could be suspended? How many coaches might get arrested right in the middle of the season?

This really is fascinating, but again, it comes down to the fact that no one knows what’s next. It’s terrifying for college basketball programs, and will remain an incredible story to follow.

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9 Things I’m Excited To See With This Year’s Kentucky Basketball Team

Photo by UK Athletics

It’s late October, and college basketball season is so darn close I can taste it. The leaves are changing (at least I think they are, I live in California), the air is cooling and half the national media is already crafting their excuses for Duke’s first loss of the year. So you know the games are right around the corner!

It really is a wonderful time of year, and as usual Kentucky enters the season about as intriguing as anyone. With the Blue-White scrimmage tonight, exhibitions coming and the season around the corner, what is this outsider curious about with this Kentucky team? Here are nine thoughts:

Is Hamidou Diallo ready to be a star?

If you’ve followed me on Twitter for any period of time, you know that I have actually been pretty critical of Diallo over the last year. I saw him a bunch in high school and when he declared for the draft, I just didn’t see what everyone did. Sure, Diallo had all the physical tools – size, athleticism, wingspan – but lacked a feel for the game of basketball. That’s also why I insisted he should come back for another year of college, even as all the “experts” said he was a lock for the first round. As it turns out, I was right and the experts were wrong. Never doubt your boy Nostra-Torres.

That’s also what made Diallo’s performance at Kentucky’s Pro Day so awesome: It really looks like he has taken the feedback he got in the NBA Draft process last year constructively, and really does seem like he’s evolved as a basketball player. Diallo isn’t just about running and jumping and breathtaking play in the open court, but showed improved ball-handling and a much improved jump shot as well. Sure it was just one day of practice, but it felt like a major step in the right direction.

I always thought Diallo could be good for this team, but I questioned if he could become a “star” in his one year of college. Based on what I saw at the Pro Day, I’m not questioning that any more.

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Adam Silver’s comments about the one-and-done are (again) off-base and uninformed

The NBA season tips off tonight and as part of the league’s preseason media tour, commissioner Adam Silver was on Mike and Mike yesterday morning to promote the 2017-2018 campaign. In the interview, the trio discussed a number of topics (or at least I assume they did. I haven’t listened to Mike & Mike in years), and as usual, one of the topics that was eventually discussed was the one-and-done rule.

Of course it was.

The removal of the one-and-done has become Silver’s pet project, his personal crusade, the number one thing on his to-do list, even as the league enters a season with its greatest imbalance ever (barring injury, there is only one team that can win the championship). After all, who cares about stars joining forces or NBA players sitting out big games, when we can instead worry about an 18-year-old point guard being forced to spend a single season in Lexington, Durham or Tucson, right? Won’t someone please think of the children?!

Silver is thinking about the children, and in a vacuum I have no problem with it. He’s the NBA commissioner. It’s his league and his rule and he has every right to alter the rules as he sees fit. If he wants the best players to be able to enter the NBA out of high school, or put them in some kind of developmental program at 5, 10 or 15-years-old, so be it.

No, that’s not where my issue with Silver lies. Instead, my issue with Silver is this: In the midst of trying to make the argument against the one-and-done rule, he continues to twist facts and make up lies to prove his points. If Silver just wants the rule gone (likely to help beef up the D-League, which the NBA has invested millions in) that’s fine. But just say it. Don’t twist facts and alter the truth to hammer home the point.

Only that’s exactly what he’s doing, which is why I decided to write today, because if no one will call Silver on his B.S., I will. If he’s going to implement a rule which will fundamentally alter every level of basketball, and eventually impact hundreds of families let’s at least get the facts out there. Since no one else is willing to do it, I will.
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The NCAA proves to be weak and gutless in their handling of the UNC case

 

A live look at Ol’ Roy.

When the NCAA announced last week (which then became “this week”) that they would release findings on its multi-year, multi-layered investigation into North Carolina athletics, I’ll be honest: I kind of assumed that UNC would get off pretty easy.

I didn’t think that they would get off easy necessarily because they’re North Carolina, one of college basketball’s golden goose programs, but instead, because of the timing of it all. The Tar Heels are the defending national champions in basketball, and the idea that any major punishment – specifically a postseason ban – could come just days before they opened their season seemed impossible. For some historical perspective, even UNLV was allowed to defend their national title in 1991, despite NCAA violations committed that off-season (for those who care, they served the NCAA ban a year later).

But while I thought the sanctions would be minimal (scholarship reductions etc.) even I couldn’t have imagined what came down from the NCAA on Friday: Absolutely nothing. After a four-year investigation into a 20-year academic fraud case, which covered virtually the entire university’s athletic department (not just their basketball team) the NCAA did nothing. No tournament or bowl bans. No scholarship reductions. No fines. No coach suspensions, nothing. To say this is a “slap on the wrist” is insulting to slaps on the wrist. It’s the equivalent of a kid coming home with all F’s on their report card, and his or her parents saying “Meh, do better next time.”
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10 Takeaways from Kentucky Basketball’s Pro Day

Photo by UK Athletics

As weird as it sounds (and believe me, it’s going to sound weird) Kentucky’s Pro Day has become one of my favorite events on the college sports calendar. It has become the unofficial start to the college basketball season every year; meaning that long before March Madness, the first game or even Midnight Madness across the country, our first look at the college basketball season usually comes from a bunch of guys doing vertical jumps and cone drills in Kentucky practice jerseys in front of pro scouts.

And if I’m being totally honest, I couldn’t love it any more… if only because as soon as Pro Day hits, you know the season as a whole is right around the corner.

However as much as I always seem to enjoy Pro Day, this year I paid extra close attention. That’s what happens when you’ve basically got a clean slate for a roster, with eight true freshmen and just one player with any sort of on-court experience returning.  It also made Sunday that much more intriguing and important to gauge where Kentucky is entering the 2017-2018 season and how far they still have to go.

So what did we learn Sunday night at Rupp Arena? Here are 10 Takeaways:

Seth Greenberg had a great quote about the youth of this team:

While the opening few minutes of these type events are generally a song and dance where the announcers praise the team and throw out a few obvious buzzwords (guess what, Kentucky is going to play “positionless basketball” this year!!) I actually thought ESPN’s Seth Greenberg made a very important observation off the top. When discussing the team, and how young it is, Greenberg mentioned that “What they don’t have is a leader. They don’t even have someone to lead a drill.”

Woah, if that doesn’t put it into perspective, I don’t know what does. And above everything else that we’ll learn about this Wildcats’ team over the next few months, the most important might be who emerges as this group’s leader.

Remember, it’s not just about the leader on the court, the guy who calls plays and brings in the huddle, but also the leadership that comes every day behind closed doors. It’s about having a guy who knows the ropes. Knows the routine of the practice and game schedule. Knows to pat the young guys on the shoulder and say “It’ll be alright” when John Calipari is screaming at them for hours on end.

And unlike previous years, Kentucky doesn’t have that guy right now. They don’t have a Darius Miller or Tyler Ulis. Heck, they don’t even have a Derek Willis or Dominique Hawkins.

More than anything else, watching how leadership develops with this team will be fascinating.

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Getting you caught up on the latest with college basketball’s FBI scandal

College basketball’s FBI scandal is now more than a week old, but even roughly 10 days or so after the news broke this still remains the biggest story in college sports right now. Frankly, I don’t think there is a close second. Take a handful of the sport’s biggest programs, a major sneaker company, hundreds of thousands of dollars changing hands, the FBI and very real possibility of more to come, and we’ve got a real life soap opera on our hands. It’s like Blue Chips meets General Hospital, with a little Law & Order mixed in.

Yet what is truly insane about this scandal is that there is no end in sight. Unlike the typical NCAA case which goes through a pretty standard cycle, with a resolution set after a certain amount of time (except at North Carolina, where their academic probe is going on roughly 47 years now) there’s no end in sight here. There’s also no telling how many schools, programs and coaches could be ensnared when it’s all said and done.

Therefore, I figured it would be a good time to get everyone caught up on where things stand. I know most folks don’t have time to sit around and follow every little detail of this case.

But you do have a lot of questions. And after talking with all sorts of people over the last week, here are my best answers to the biggest questions:

No, Louisville isn’t getting the death penalty:

Obviously any conversation about this case has to start with Louisville. And while the death penalty was absolutely in play for the Cards early – I believe I was actually the first person, at any point to suggest it – it isn’t in play here. For any fan hoping the NCAA brings the hammer on the Cards, it just ain’t happening.

The simple truth is that the death penalty was only put into the rulebook as a way for the NCAA to police schools that couldn’t police themselves. And when this news first broke, Louisville was a textbook case of exactly that. I mean seriously, how do you get busted paying for players when you’re already on probation? That’s the college basketball equivalent of “How do you get fired on your day off” from the movie Friday. You’ve got to be really dumb to not only attempt it, but then get caught doing it.

Only that’s exactly what Louisville did.

But since then, Louisville has taken what is really the only step necessary to make sure they don’t get the death penalty: They fired Rick Pitino. In essence that was Louisville’s way of saying to the NCAA “mannnnnnnnn, we really screwed up on this one. And we’re ready to start getting things cleaned up” (assuming of course you believe that any of college basketball can be “cleaned up”).

And really, that’s all the NCAA really wanted to see. Remember, the NCAA doesn’t actually want to hand out the death penalty, it’s too costly for too many entities (the city of Louisville, the ACC, TV partners). They will only hand it out when they absolutely have to, when the school leaves them no choice.

But – to use a really bad pun – Louisville used their “get out of jail free” card here. They got rid of Pitino to save the program. And it worked.
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An update on Immanuel Quickley: Why he chose Kentucky and what’s next for the five-star point guard

Monday’s are generally about getting a fresh start, and that’s certainly the case in college basketball today, where programs, coaches and players are picking up the pieces after last week gave us the beginning stages of one of the biggest scandals in college sports history. For some schools, it’s about looking for a new head coach, for others, simply about evaluating their program internally and externally. For quite a few others, it’s just about proceeding with business as usual.

In terms of life at Kentucky, this week is about two different things. On the one hand, the staff is planning for the season ahead, getting ready for a daunting five-month stretch, against a daunting schedule, in which the Wildcats will field the youngest team John Calipari has ever coached (which is a helluva statement when you think about it). On the other hand, these next few weeks are also about continuing to put together the school’s 2018 recruiting class, one built around star point guard Immanuel Quickley.

That’s right, as it easy as it is to forget, Quickley committed to Kentucky just a few days before last week’s scandal broke, and before all the madness involving the FBI’s raid pushed every other college basketball story in America to the back-burner. Quickley’s decision also came just a few days after taking an official visit to Kentucky.

In assessing that official visit however, and what made him decide to Kentucky, ironically little had to do with basketball. Instead, it had to do with everything but basketball, according to Jide Sodipo, the founder of Quickley’s AAU program Team BBC, who accompanied the point guard and his family on the trip.

“We went last year on an unofficial for Big Blue Madness, so we had a pretty good feel on all the basketball stuff,” Sodipo said. “But the official is for trying to learn about all the non-basketball aspects of it. Like I’ve said to anyone I’ve spoken with, his mother is a teacher. She’s an educator. She’s very big into academics. [Whether it’s an] official visit to Kentucky, Kansas, anywhere, our main goal was to find out more [about the academics].”

Yes, academics. While talk about school and coursework sometimes feels hollow in the recruiting world (especially for a player who may only play a year or two of college basketball before turning pro) the academics were in fact an important of Quckley’s final decision to choose Kentucky. As Sodipo mentioned, Quickley’s mother is a school teacher, and the five-star point guard also boosts a high school GPA well above 3.0. He is also taking several honors courses this year, meaning that he’ll enter Kentucky with college credits and could – depending on how much he wants to load up on classes during summer and the school year – complete his college degree in two to three years.

Therefore, as important as John Calipari’s pitch was to the Quickley family, the pitch of Director of Academic Services Mike Stone was equally as important. He laid out what would be expected of Quickley (who plans to major in pre-communications when he gets to Kentucky), as well as what Quickley will need to do to get on track to earn that degree as quickly (sorry for the terrible pun) as possible.

“I think Mike Stone was their [Kentucky’s] best recruiter,” Sodipo said. “When I say he loves the student-athletes of Kentucky, he was the best recruiter all weekend. With all due respect to Coach Cal, the enthusiasm from Mike Stone, the goals, the plan he has in place [was excellent]. Not only is he talking about it, he has a plan in place, he has a plan that works, he gives you details. He basically lets you know that when your son comes on campus, he’s going to be like my [Stone’s] son. He’s going to push you.”

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Rick Pitino leaves college basketball with the weirdest legacy in the sport’s history

Rick Pitino leaves college basketball with the weirdest legacy in the sport’s history

As insane as it is to think about, this is probably the craziest week in college basketball history, and the one thing I can’t stop thinking about is the suddenness of it all. How on Monday, programs across college basketball were just floating along, getting ready for the start of the season… only to have the FBI banging down their doors hours later. How nobody – not even the NCAA itself – saw this coming. And how at Louisville, Rick Pitino went from a guy nobody thought could possibly be fired, to a man without a job, who will likely never coach another meaningful basketball game in his life.

That’s right, Rick Pitino is out at Louisville, and it seems like for the time being everyone is focused on the present. Pitino – in a way that only he could – isn’t so much concerned about the state of his school or basketball program, as much as making sure he gets paid as much money as possible after being dismissed. Meanwhile Louisville moves on with David Padgett as their head coach, with many wondering if they can convince someone (cough, Tom Crean, cough) to take over by the start of the season.

On the other hand, with Pitino’s career now essentially done, I couldn’t help but think one thing on Wednesday afternoon: Assuming he never coaches another game in college basketball, Pitino has to have the weirdest legacy of any coach I can ever remember. He’s a guy that is respected almost universally for his basketball expertise, while loathed by basically anyone who has come into contact with him. He’s also basically the only great basketball coach I can remember – maybe the only great sports figure – who won’t even be remembered fondly by his own fans. If anything, the fans who cheered for his teams the hardest are the ones who will hate him the most going forward.

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