St. Catharines, Canada: After the first day of the preliminary round at the FIBA U18 America’s Championships a hastily worded media advisory was circulated to all accredited media. It cautioned media that “player only” areas within the Meridian Center in St. Catharines had been infiltrated by media and scouts. Given that the scouts outnumbered the media one can only conclude that the perpetrators were not representing the fourth estate. Extra security was posted and tunnels were closed off to give tournament players and coaches some breathing room. 63 scouts had registered for the event with 34 representing American schools and 29 from the NBA.
College coaches, expert recruiters of young basketball talent, came draped in their own irony. They were nattily attired in logo infested ball caps, polos, tack suits and other colorful clothing items that invades the landscapes of most campuses. Coaches and Assistant Coaches could be seen scattered in clusters throughout the 5,000 seat arena. There was nothing subtle about their presence yet their availability for media requests drew a code of silence. Hall of Famers inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame mixed in with future Hall of Famers. Behind the baseline games were taking on the life of an exclusive country club while battling an endless list of NCAA do’s and don’ts. Recruiters were walking billboards advertising one of America’s biggest one sided sporting debates. “Is college basketball a business?”
For Marist College Assistant Coach Serge Clement the tournament was an opportunity for him to stop in to see the progress of Red Foxes new recruit Matthew Harasme. The slick guard was representing the talent rich but underachieving Dominicans. Harasme, a 6’3” New York City kid, had recently signed a letter of intent with Marist. It was the hope of Coach Clement that the infusion of talented players like Harasme would resurrect the Red Foxes basketball program, a D1 outfit that occupied the cellar of the MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) last season. Clement had his eyes wide open describing the talent pool at the FIBA event as being “tremendous.” You could sense he was there to see one recruit but could easily have been smitten by others.
“We are looking for anyone who can help Marist get to the next level in terms of play, so it could be a guard or a big,” announced Clement.
But interaction between scouts and players is limited by NCAA rules. In their senior year of eligibility high school players can only be contacted a maximum of seven times by recruiters.A friendly nod from afar while dressed in logo emblazoned clothes doesn’t seem to count. Using a friendly journalist to get the message across to a player may be a strategy worthy of detouring the NCAA rule book. Even meeting up in a hallway away from prying eyes to plant a seed with a player is a sound tactical maneuver. Much like a sharp backdoor cut.
For University of South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin the tournament gave him the opportunity to watch two high level USC recruits participating against each other in the international arena. Martin, who was dressed head to toe in Gamecocks’ gear stood out like an oversized garnet and black cheerleader. Even patrons in the private boxes near the rafters knew that USC was in the house. New Gamecock Alanzo Frink of the Dominican Republic and American International Josiah James are the centerpieces of Martin’s 2018 recruiting class. Frink, a mountain of a man at 6’7” in height and weighing 260 pounds is a tough post player with a daft outside shot to appease requirements of the modern game. Basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla described the Dominican big man as: “a classic wide body, he’s a human Humvee but stronger.” American James shone bright throughout the tournament proving his worth as a relentless defender and slicing offensive threat.
While some Assistant Coaches appeared to be taking copious notes others seemed satisfied with the banter among their brethren. For them to share an opinion outside their tried and tested circles or give a hypothetical opinion was a lesson in futility. One Big 10 Assistant Coach even proclaimed that: “I’m not sure if I’m really supposed to be here.” But he was certainly fixated on Minnesota native Matthew Hurt on Team USA who’s older brother is a Golden Gopher.
But for Michigan coach John Beilein (3.37 Million salary annually) and Cincinnati Bearcat Head Coach Mick Cronin ($2.2 million salary annually) their larger than life presence was felt despite NCAA officials circulating among the masses. It didn’t stop the two coaches from making a mad dash to the scorer’s table and press row to ask for a donation of box scores.
University of Kansas Head Coach Bill Self , who took on the dual role of American headmaster during this competition, was able to test drive his two new recruits before they are exposed to the iconic pressure cooker known as the Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
Giovanni Santiago, the talented Puerto Rican guard who calls Cincinnati home, was able to showcase his talents to a wider range of assessors and he left the tournament with an impressive offer from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He was not alone by leaving the tournament with offers to extend his basketball careers.
While the Meridian Centre in St Catharines now lies dormant for the summer, attracting the occasional summer concert, the small army of college recruiters who called it a temporary home have scattered across North America to uncover a gem or two at AAU Live weekends. All with their endless college swag, advertising who they represented, packed into suitcases. Along their journey they hope to master the skill of massaging the NCAA’s endless rules around protecting the sanctity of student athletes. This unique job requirement is no exercise for the faint of heart.
Toronto NCAA basketball triple-header to feature big names
For the past 20 years NCAA basketball teams have been making the trip north of the border to take on Canadian U Sports teams in early August as part of the NCAA vs. U Sports exhibition series.
Now it looks like we are ready for the next step — regular season, non-conference games between NCAA schools on fertile Canadian basketball
According to multiple reports, a massive six-team, non-conference,
Sponsored by the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame — the South Carolina Gamecocks (SEC) will take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Big 10). The Buffalo Bulls (MAC) will face the Harvard Crimson (Ivy) and the Tennessee Volunteers (SEC) will square off against the Pac 12 champions Washington Huskies.
A total of seven Canadian’s could be featured in the marque homecoming event including, South Carolina’s standout freshman A.J. Lawson (Toronto), Rutgers’ Eugene Omoruyi (Rexdale, Ont.), Harvard’s Danilo Djuricic Brampton, Ont.), and Luka Sakota (Oakville, Ont.). The Crimson also features Ottawa, Ont. duo Noah Kirkwood and Corey Johnson. Buffalo’s Dominic Johnson (Windsor, Ont.) would round-out the potential list.
Omoruyi a 6’7″, 234-pound bruising senior forward is coming off of his best season — leading the Scarlet Knights in scoring and rebounds at a respective 13.8 and 7.2 per game.
Lawson a 6’6″ 172 lbs guard is currently testing the NBA Draft process after averaging 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for head coach Frank Martin.
Noah Kirkwood (6’7, 215 lbs) guard had a productive freshman season with 11.1 rebounds, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists as the Crimson (18-11, 10-4 Conf) just missed out on the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament with a close loss to Yale in the conference title game.
The Buffalo Bulls’ are coming off their most successful season in the program’s history with an outstanding 32-4, 16-2 record and a six-seed in the West region.
South Carolina had it’s up’s and down’s with a 16-16, 11-7 SEC conference record — Rutgers’ is looking to improve from their 14-17 record, 7-13 in Big 10.
The marquee match-up pits the Tennessee Volunteers against the Washington Huskies. Tennessee finished second in the SEC with a strong 31-6, 15-3 campaign for head coach Rick Barnes – bowing out to Purdue in the Sweet 16.
The Huskies, although not a traditional Canadian destination, will become the first NCAA men’s basketball team to make back-to-back trips to Canada.
In 2018 the Vancouver Showcase tipped off — bringing four NCAA men’s (Washington, Santa Clara, Minnesota, Texas A&M) and eight women’s basketball team’s to the west coast of Canada — marking the first time NCAA division one games played in Canada counted as non-conference records.
With Toronto continuously out-churning the mecca (New York City) and other traditional American powerhouses for quality NCAA and NBA basketball prospects — it makes more than dollars and cents — much like the Empire Classic — to ensure that the northern city that never sleeps has it’s annual NCAA regular season dosage.
The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Ionescu
There’s no business, like unfinished business.
Most great basketball stars take their smartphone penmanship to ‘The Players Tribune’ to announce a change of game and mind move to greener pastures, which seems to be the new trend like Kung Fu Kenny headbands. But not the green duck of Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu. In a pen drop moment she dropped the mic as she made a declaration like Leonardo DiCaprio staring at all that love in the boardroom in ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’.
“I’m not f##### leaving!”
O.K. she didn’t say it quite like that. Rather more eloquently in the form of a love letter to her state and basketball mind. She may have that Eurostep stop on a dime from downtown that puts in that change and pops the button like James Harden. She may have film broke down by the mamba mentality of the one and only Kobe Bryant. Or articles wrote about her by this writers’ writing inspiration Shea Serrano of The Ringer. She may have even gone number one if she put in her draft card this year.
But the WNBA can wait.
Green with envy and legendary shades she may be the next great of this game like the Storm of Sue Bird to Breanna Stewart. She’s the type of player that’s so good to watch she could even get away with taking more steps than ladders like most of those NBA folks. But no! An inspired Ionescu is doing things the right way. After being made by Baylor, the ducks will quack again. And they will do so with their top billing. Sabrina will return for one last run. She’s got the rest of her playing career to be a WNBA legend for whatever team from the Sparks to Mercury picks her. But the Pac-12 Wade trophy winner has only got one last chance at a Final Four dance after the madness that is March.
Just look at the above picture. She’s only got so long for this. To be a kid. She may be far from ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’, but this maturing talent is still young. To be that again, we should just be happy she still has that chance. One chance to make the Ducks mighty again. To have those best years of your life with the best friends you’ll ever meet. These are her memories. Her signed sneakers and scissored nets. Who are any of us to take that away. We can wait. As her parquet paths next year to the big leagues will be like this season’s road to Zion.
The two time Nancy Lieberman award winner will take her L ready 19.9 points, 8.2 assists and 7.4 rebounds averages to one last ride and stand in Oregon. Flying with the 18 record of the most career triple doubles in NCAA history. She won’t be in New York next month, but she’ll be writing in more history books next year as other teams bet it all on some bouncing balls. And if you think this game is all about the big league and the big payday, then this outstanding Oregon statement doesn’t give a duck.
“I won’t predict exactly how far we’re going to go….. but I’ll just say this. We have unfinished business. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
Time to get back to work and take everyone back to school.