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New Haven Register (Connecticut)

 

AVON — The seven Division 1 men's college basketball coaches in Connecticut run widely disparate programs with different goals, competition levels and recruiting targets.

Each one of them, however, agree that while the NCAA must find solutions to the problems uncovered in the FBI's investigation into corruption in the sport, their programs haven't been — or won't be — affected. Rather, it's a problem at the very highest levels of college basketball — the 1-percent, if you will.

At the second annual coaches' tip-off breakfast, hosted by ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg at The Golf Club of Avon, all seven coaches were asked about the scandal that's rocked the college hoops world for the past year.

"I was in shock," Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina said of his reaction when the FBI probe was first announced on Sept. 26, 2017. "I was like, 'Why does the FBI care about college basketball?' There are so few schools involved with that, a very small percentage of college basketball, I think. It's not something I've ever dealt with."

James Jones, entering his 20th season as head coach at Yale, concurred.

"I slept like a baby that night," he said, referring to the day the federal government announced that it had the "playbook" that sneaker companies, agents, runners and college coaches use for illicit recruiting. "If someone said to me, 'Coach, do you have $50,000 for me?' That would be kind of funny to me."

Recent revelations from the corruption trial have linked some of the nation's top programs, including Kansas and Louisville, to offering as much as six-figure payouts to coveted recruits. Louisville's Rick Pitino was fired last year in the wake of such allegations, and Kansas head man Bill Self has recently found himself in the crosshairs. Both are Hall-of-Famers.

Coaches like Latina, Jones, Fairfield's Sydney Johnson, Hartford's John Gallagher, Quinnipiac's Baker Dunleavy and Central Connecticut's Donyell Marshall operate in a different recruiting world than the Dukes and North Carolinas. Johnson remembered when the news first broke last year.

"One of my assistants called me and said, 'Coach, I'm so glad I'm at Fairfield,'" Johnson said. "Obviously, there's something going on at the elite level."

Dan Hurley was in the same waters the past eight years (two at Wagner, six at Rhode Island). Now in his first season at UConn, he's going up against the Power 5 schools for four-and five-star recruits. He figured it would be a lot "dirtier," and assumed he'd have to have some uncomfortable conversations with people looking for money. So far, however, he hasn't experienced any of that, and Hurley figures a lot has to do with his family name and the respect it has garnered in the basketball world over the years, thanks largely to his father, Bob, a Hall of Fame high school coach, and brother Bobby, a former Duke All-American now coaching Arizona State.

"I think what insulates me is my background, who my dad is," Hurley noted. "And, I don't think I'm the most approachable person with that type of thing, either. If you pay a kid, I don't understand how you can coach them. You're setting a (bad) standard for them to live their life, if you pay them."

Gallagher noted that Mark Few, head coach at Gonzaga, called him recently and told him, "For the last five years, I've tried to recruit these players and couldn't get them. I now know why."

Dunleavy and Marshall have had an inside look at the highest level of recruiting. Dunleavy played at Villanova and was Jay Wright's assistant there for seven years, earning a national championship ring in 2016. Marshall, of course, was an All-American player at UConn.

"Being a former All-American, the one thing I can hang my hat on is I've never been a part of that," Marshall said. "But it's been going on for a long time. I wasn't shocked. I'm surprised it took this long to come out. It's a difficult thing to get a handle on, but we have to, somehow. I'm not sure how it's going to be done."

Added Dunleavy: "Regardless of the verdict, we can all admit that, for the top-level programs, the system might be a little bit flawed. Now, we've got to find what adjustments we need to make."

And what are those adjustments? No one seemed to have a clear answer. The NBA recently announced that its G League will offer $125,000 contracts to a few elite high school graduates each year, though it's hard to say how much of an affect that will have.

"I don't see that as a great option, especially as we continue to do as much as we can for our student-athletes," said Hurley. "I think if we could just figure out a way to continue to progress, think progressively about how we can make the experience better at the college level, it's such a better environment for them to develop, in terms of the next 40 years of their lives as opposed to six."

Young is back for more

One way the NCAA seems to be making life a little easier for student-athletes is an increase in waivers for players to transfer or play another year. Quinnipiac was a beneficiary of the latter, when Cameron Young, who led the Bobcats in scoring last year at 18.8 points per game as a senior, was given a waiver to play one more season.

"We were really excited, not only for our team getting our leading scorer back, but just for Cam Young to get another season of college basketball," said Dunleavy. "He played in junior college, didn't play a lot his junior year, then exploded as a senior. We just felt if he could just have one more year under his belt, he deserved it. We're excited. I don't know if we necessarily expected it, but it was a pleasant surprise."

Unlike most players who seek a waiver for another year, Young didn't sit out due to an injury. He simply barely played at all as a junior, logging just eight minutes over six games and not scoring a single point.

"I think the fact there was a coaching change plays into it, too," said Dunleavy, who took over the reins from Tom Moore last season. "I think waivers in general, you're gonna see a lot more get granted here in college basketball, trying to get the players more rights. You certainly see it at different places across the country now in the fall, where kids are getting waivers as transfers."

Indeed, Waterbury product Mustapha Heron recently was granted a waiver to transfer from Auburn to St. John's to be closer to his mother. Heron is immediately eligible.

Travel plans

UConn is expected to play in the Charleston Classic, an ESPN-sponsored tournament, in November, 2019, according to a source. The eight-team tournament should feature some strong competition, including Florida, and will be played right around Thanksgiving.

The Huskies are also expected to be invited to play in the PK85 Invitational in 2022. UConn played in the inaugural PK80 Invitational last year in November out in Portland, Oregon. In between, UConn will also likely return to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas and the Maui Invitational over the next few years.

Can you keep a secret? 

UConn will host Harvard in a "secret" scrimmage on Saturday at Gampel Pavilion. It is not open to the public or the media, but will be played in game-like conditions, with referees, scrorers, etc.

Also on Saturday, Quinnipiac will host Princeton and Yale will travel to Rutgers in a pair of closed-door scrimmages.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com

 

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