Stanford AD pregame notes
Second-seeded Kansas used its off day to meet with the media and hold a closed practice to prepare for 10th-seeded Stanford in the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional Saturday afternoon.
Kansas (25-9, 14-4 Big 12) advanced in the NCAA Tournament with an 80-69 win against No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky March 21. The Jayhawks will face No. 10 seed Stanford (22-12, 10-8 Pac-12) on Sunday, March 23, at 11:15 a.m. on CBS. Stanford defeated No. 7 seed New Mexico, 58-53, on March 21 to advance to the Round of 32 against Kansas.
Head coach Bill Self along with freshmen guards Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden, Jr. spoke at the off-day press conference before the team headed off for practice.
KUAD Presser Transcript
If Stanford knocks off second-seeded Kansas on Sunday, it would be Stanford’s biggest upset in its NCAA Tournament history.
And if it happens, it won’t be a magical moment, Cardinal forward Josh Huestis said Saturday.
“They’re a really good team,” he said, “but in terms of us having to have some miracle game, some NCAA Tournament magic moment, I don’t believe that.
“I believe our team is talented enough that if we come out and just play to our potential, if we come out and just play to our potential, everything’s going to work out for us.”
Until the 10th-seeded Cardinal’s victory over seventh-seeded New Mexico on Friday night, Stanford had beaten higher seeded teams just three times in its 17 tournament appearances. As a 3-seed it beat 2-seed Purdue in 1998. As a 6-seed it beat 3-seed Wake Forest in 1997. As a 9-seed it beat 8-seed Bradley in 1996.
But an upset of the Jayhawks and their sensational freshman, Andrew Wiggins, the possible No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft, would be the all-time topper.
The Cardinal will try to do what they couldn’t do in 2002. As an 8-seed they lost convincingly to top-seeded Kansas, 86-63. That game was in St. Louis too. The Jayhawks were the top seed, Stanford an 8.
Casey Jacobsen scored 24 points for the Cardinal, but guard Kirk Hinrich came off the bench with a brace on his injured left ankle to score 15 points and give the Jayhawks a huge emotional lift in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
“A player with one good leg played with more heart than anyone on both squads,” Jacobsen said.
So the Stanford players are at the podium and Canadian native Stefan Nastic was asked about his relationship with Andrew Wiggins. Sure enough, they met back in the 3rd grade.
"I play with his older brother, Nick, on our club team," Nastic said. "So I know their entire family pretty well, from the same area. A great family. Definitely great players."
Stanford knows they are the underdog vs. Kansas, Sunday. They have been the "underdog" all season, or for most of it. The players enjoy it, relish it, like it, whatever adjective you want to use with embracing it. (Another one.)
The Pac-12 is a good basketball conference, they have a number one seed and sent five teams to the tournament. The conference RPI is three, behind the Big 10 and Big 12. And the overriding theme so far has been that seeds don't matter. All teams are equal and have as good of a shot as any of the blue bloods.
Stanford says they are an elite program. Their coach Johnny Dawkins said so.
"For us, Stanford has been to the Final Four before," Dawkins said. "They have been to the tournament a number of times. It would just continue to keep Stanford, you know, where we think Stanford belongs, one of the elite programs in the country."
And that will go up against a storied program like Kansas, who continues to be all over the place. No point guard, no center, three big men but who gets them the ball? KU knows their limitations but they have a high ceiling. It's just a matter of putting the pieces together. Can they get another 25+ performance from Wiggins? Can Conner Frankamp come in and stabilize things a little more? Can Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor have solid games again?
Stanford is one of the longest teams in the country. Tarik Black said they were NBA tall. KU needs to get them moving and, basically, run around them. Score in transition and shoot. Helps when you make the shots, too.
I would bet KU will see Memphis next weekend. How long after that, who knows? Dayton will be waiting.
Turnovers were one of the main discussion points in the Stanford and Kansas locker rooms Saturday.
Stanford's Anthony Brown said the Cardinal would look to confuse the Jayhawks on offense after they committed 13 first-half turnovers in their opening win over Eastern Kentucky. KU's Naadir Tharpe was replaced by freshman Conner Frankamp in the lineup after four early turnovers, but Tharpe returned for the second half and didn't turn it over the rest of the way.
"Anytime we can try to throw different looks at them," Brown said, "whether it's the zone or the man or the press. Just try to give them different looks and make them think about stuff and not let them just play and be free and throw lobs and dunks, which they love to do."
KU's Perry Ellis said the key to reducing turnovers was mostly internal, not a result of what the opposition is doing.
"I feel like it's something easy for us to turn around just to slow the game down," Ellis said. "Our guards just need to slow the game down and good things will happen from there. . . .
"We have to have the ability to focus on the different types of pressures that teams bring."
Time is short when it comes to game-planning for and scouting of opponents, especially in the tournament’s first weekend. Teams may face a foe they have little or no experience against or knowledge of in the second or third round.
Still, a curious scene played out Saturday as teams met with the media ahead of South number 10 seed Stanford’s matchup with No. 2 Kansas Sunday. KU guards Wayne Selden Jr. and Andrew Wiggins appeared not to know much if anything about Chasson Randle, the Stanford guard from Rock Island, Il who led the Cardinal in scoring Friday in the game before KU’s tilt with Eastern Kentucky. The former Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois is coming off an All PAC 12 caliber season. When asked by FOX2 and then pressed twice more by reporters to address how they would handle Randle, Selden and Wiggins paused and giggled on the podium before giving broader answers.
“I feel like we all just have to play team defense,” said Selden. “We can’t really settle for just guarding our man.”
“Not focus on one person because when we do that we let the other guy go off and he is someone we don’t want having control of the game,” added Wiggins, who also said he wasn’t sure, when asked.
Kansas Head Coach Bill Self called it an unfair question, considering players had not yet reviewed scouting reports on specific personnel, and that unlike a Duke or a Michigan State, Kansas players haven’t been exposed as much to Stanford on television. “We made a decision not to throw too much at them yesterday (Friday) because of the fact that we thought rest was more important and gave them some things to digest, such as how they run their triangle offense,” Self said. “We know he’s good. He’s averaging 18.9 a game.”
Stanford’s availability to the news media came prior to the Kansas session. Randle said he’s seen KU “quite a bit” on TV and compared the Jayhawks to UCLA and Arizona in many respects, chief among them that they do a lot of dunking.
When Kansas beat Eastern Kentucky in the first round, the Jayhawks trotted out just two upperclassmen among the eight players￼ that logged minutes.
That youth will be tested by a Stanford team that gets 87.2 percent of its scoring from five starters that are all juniors and seniors, and have played a combined 565 games in their careers.
The Cardinal hopes that game experience￼ will help bridge the gap in overall talent Kansas will throw at them.
"The amount of different experiences we've had as a team, and we've been in so many different situations that it's prepared us for just about every one we can face," Stanford senior Josh Huestis said.
Kansas has played the toughest schedule in the country, which has helped to get Bill Self's young team ready for these March moments.
"I do think talent will trump experience in a lot of ways, but certainly experience can play havoc on young talent. But I think at this point in time freshmen should be able to handle it," Self said. "It's almost like you're a sophomore by the time conference play starts with all of the things that these guys have experienced before getting to school and him being thrown in the fire right when they get there."
Wiggins hasn't disappointed. Despite the hype of being perhaps the most publicized high school prospect since LeBron James, he set a Kansas freshman scoring record. In a loss to West Virginia, he dropped 41 points, the most by a Jayhawk since 1991. He leads the team in scoring with a 17.4 average.
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins was impressed by his unfreshman-like poise.
"And he plays at a great pace," he said. "There is not one facet of the game that is limiting him from being successful. Can he shoot it from three? Yes. Can he bounce it? Yes. Can he finish around the basket? Yes. Can he board it? Yes."
Wiggins, who grew up in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan before finishing his high school career at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, was well known to Stanford's two Canadian players, Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic, before he burst on the national scene.
He and Powell played on the same prep-age AAU team in Ontario, when Wiggins moved up a level as an eighth-grader. "He was a freak athlete already at that age," Powell said.
Nastic played with Nick Wiggins on a club team and knew the entire family well. His description of Andrew? "High motor. A big-time motor. Definitely talented and a player with great attitude."
As coach Johnny Dawkins' news conference ended Friday, Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir was asked in the rear of the room if Dawkins would be back next season.
The coach has been under fire from Stanford fans - and Muir himself - this season but in the glow of the Cardinal's opening victory over New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament, Muir said Dawkins is his man.
"He will be the coach hopefully for many years to come," Muir said.
Dawkins' contract runs through the 2015-16 season, but Muir had given Dawkins an ultimatum after a disappointing 2012-13 season: Get to the Big Dance or else.
Dawkins did, but there are still many Stanford boosters who are not sold on his recruiting or his coaching. Muir doesn't agree.
"We wanted to be on an upward trend and get to the tournament," Muir said. "We filled those goals, and we're excited about the future, especially with the guys we have coming back and the guys we have coming in. I think we have a chance to be really good."
“I had really high hopes when I came to Kansas,” Black said. “But at the same time, being an older guy, I understand we live in reality. Everything wasn’t going to go perfect and everything wasn’t going to be all great for me.”
It wasn’t just the emergence of Embiid, either.
Black said he struggled with a new system, especially the change of defensive style and philosophy.
“I really hang my hat on playing defense,” Black said. “But there were really two different defensive strategies coming from Memphis to Kansas. It has to do with the rotations, helping uphill, defending ball screens. It’s just a much different philosophy here and it was a hard transition.”
Black hasn’t been able to replace the 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds Embiid left behind all by himself. But the hole hasn’t been as gaping as originally feared. It helped that in Black’s first game in place of Embiid, he scored 19 points and made all nine shots he took against Texas Tech.
“I don’t know if our expectations for Tarik have been met the whole season,” Self said. “But I would say they’re being met now.
“He’s been terrific. And he prepares every day the right way. It’s no surprise to me that since Joel has been out, we really haven’t missed what a lot of people thought we would because Tarik has played so well. And he was really good against Eastern Kentucky.”
Black said he’s just trying to help the team. One of the reasons he came to Kansas is to have a chance to win a national championship and the Jayhawks are still in the hunt.
“All of us, we learn from each other,” Black said. “The age doesn’t make a difference. I’ve learned from playing against Joel every day in the gym and from all of the other big men, too – Perry (Ellis), Landon (Lucas) and Jamari. I’ve stolen from things from each and every one of them.”
Wichita Eagle Lutz
The luxury in being the third or fourth scoring option for Kansas is that Wayne Selden doesn’t always have to assert himself.
Or he can. It’s pretty much always his decision.
Selden, a freshman guard, almost always makes the right choice. He shoots better when he shoots a lot, and when he’s not shooting well he dials back from a scoring standpoint to make an impact in other ways.
“I feel like we have different days when different people are on fire, and I’m not going to go out of my way to get shots up when someone else is playing good,” Selden said Saturday. “There are so many players that can put the ball in the hoop and so many other things that everybody on the team can do, like go rebound, go play defense, get assists.
“It makes no sense for me to hunt shots when we have so many great players.”
Such an awareness is rare for a freshman, but it is what makes Selden so valuable to the Jayhawks heading into Sunday’s third-round game against Stanford. More valuable, it could be argued, in some of his lowest-scoring efforts.
Selden, though, finds a completeness with games in which he carries KU offensively or at least serves as a reliable second option. He’s taken 10 or more shots in seven of 34 games, and in those games he’s averaging 16.9 points on 12.3 shots while shooting 50 percent (43 for 86).
Those seven games also account for 15 of Selden’s 42 three-pointers, as he shoots 38 percent from the behind the arc. And he’s been more aggressive, taking 27 free throws compared to 62 in the other 27 games combined, a sign he attacks the basket when he’s in a scoring groove.
“We need him to be a threat from the perimeter,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “… He’s also a guy that can attack the basket and get to the free-throw line.
“For a young kid, he’s had a great year, but certainly him being more aggressive (Sunday), and if we’re fortunate enough to play after (Sunday), is something that’s really important to any success we have.”
The latest shot fired at Naadir Tharpe comes from the Stanford locker room.
Tharpe is trying to smile. He wears brand-name headphones around his neck, doing his best to play the role of unaffected athlete. He’s a junior, and by now has learned to keep his cell phone off during the NCAA Tournament.
Playing point guard at Kansas means being at the on-court controls of a multimillion-dollar industry, especially this time of year, and Tharpe has been around long enough to see these pressures eat at Elijah Johnson last season and Tyshawn Taylor the season before.
Johnson played perhaps the worst game of his life when Kansas lost in last year’s regional semifinals, and Taylor went from a Twitter meltdown to the national championship game the year before.
Tharpe was bad in Kansas’ win over Eastern Kentucky in the round of 64 on Friday, particularly in the first half, which means another round of the Tharpe-isn’t-good-enough talk. The difference this time, though, is that it starts with an opponent.
“Coach was telling us about that,” Stanford junior Anthony Brown says of KU’s first game. “They kind of struggled — (he’s) not a true point guard.”
Not a true point guard.
Tharpe’s progress has been a central storyall season for Kansas, which plays Stanford in the round of 32 here this morning. When the Jayhawks are at full strength, he is their only starter who won’t someday be an NBA Draft pick. He is a bit small, not great athletically, and the first line of defense in the worst defense Bill Self has had at KU. So Tharpe has heard the criticisms.
When he hears this one — the first one this season from an opponent, at least publicly — there is a short pause. You start to wonder if the grind of a long season and the burden of being a point guard at Kansas is starting to rub. He does not look up.
Not a true point guard.
“We just have to play,” he says. “Just play our game.”
Naadir Tharpe is not without his positives, of course. He is KU’s best three-point shooter this year, for instance, and has 21/2 assists for every turnover. More than anyone else on the roster, he is equipped and interested in being the man to keep everyone together in the chaos of a high-level basketball game.
…This is a team made up largely of good friends. They are with each other even in those hours they are not required to be.
Wiggins calls this a “brotherhood,” and it’s a big reason he followed his friend Joel Embiid to Kansas. You can see it in the way Landen Lucas and Justin Wesley make up competitions before practices and games, or the way Tarik Black talks of this one season improving his life beyond basketball, or the way Wayne Selden goes into a body-builder’s flex when one of his friends finishes strong at the rim.
There is a sense of togetherness here that doesn’t always happen with a team full of high-level talent with individual ambitions. You can hear that even from the man best positioned to benefit from Tharpe’s struggles.
“We know what we have,” Mason says. “(Against Eastern Kentucky), our starting point guard didn’t play as good as he wanted to. Thank God we had Conner to come in to play good, and we made a few good plays, and stepped up. (Tharpe) will have a chance to show we have a true point guard in the Stanford game.”
KC Star Mellinger
“Even though I had a couple mistakes going on,” Tharpe said, “I can’t think about that. That’s part of the game. Just continue to be aggressive and try to make plays for the team.”
That Self demands a lot from his point guard is no surprise.
As early as the preseason, remember, Self has touted Tharpe as Kansas’ most important player. So that Kansas turned it over 13 times in Friday’s opening 20 minutes — four going on Tharpe’s final ledger — wasn’t exactly a good look for the junior point guard.
Also consider the aforementioned benchings, like one during the final 9:42 of Kansas’ 81-69 loss at Texas, or much of the second half in a 92-86 loss at West Virginia. There was the three-game stretch too, where Self replaced Tharpe with Mason in the Jayhawks’ starting lineup.
But this is still the same guy Self continues to anoint as the integral piece. The same guy, struggles and all, who's scored more than 15 points seven times this season and proved capable of hitting huge baskets late, like he did in wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State. He’s also capable of stabilizing Kansas offensively, tallying five or more assists on 17 different occasions — 12 of which were Jayhawk victories.
“Everybody has had good games and bad games,” Tarik Black said. “Naadir has helped us win many games this year. Without him, we wouldn’t have had the season we’ve had.”
“He wasn’t as down on himself,” said Mason, “because he knew he’d have another chance on Sunday to step up and be the point guard he knows he can be.”
“We need him,” Mason added. “To go far in this tournament, we need him.”
Before the biggest game of his career, Jamari Traylor was just looking for someone to cheer for him.
He knew it wouldn’t be coming from his family. After traveling down to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament, they couldn’t afford another getaway from Chicago. Sure, his teammates were rooting for him but it didn’t feel the same.
So Traylor called his second family. The one that he’d grown close with over his last few years in Lawrence. The other figures in his life he didn’t get to see often. The family who lives about 10 miles from Scottrade Center.
He called Ben McLemore.
“I asked if his mom wanted to come to the game,” Traylor said to the former Jayhawk on Thursday. “I got his mom and his sister a ticket.”
The next night, with McLemore’s family in attendance, Traylor set a career high in points (17) and rebounds (14), recording his first collegiate double-double during the Jayhawks’ second round victory over Eastern Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s Jamari,” Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend said. “That’s exactly who he is. It just goes to show how much Kansas ends up meaning to the kids when they leave.”
It wasn’t a last ditch effort to get rid of his tickets, either. Traylor and McLemore both came to Kansas in the same recruiting class. They were both deemed partial qualifiers by the NCAA and kept from participating in team activities until the spring semester of their freshman year. Neither could even play in a real game until they were sophomores. They developed a bond spanning trips to the Final Four and NBA Draft.
Ben became a part of Jamari’s family; Jamari was a part of Ben’s. Not that they needed basketball to bring them together.
All that took was a few beats, a microphone and a hashtag: #KUCMB.
3/22/14 8:22 PM
Part II - Really going back to school this summer. Gotta get that degree. You ready, Lawrence? #RCJH
Still, a No. 10 seed beating a No. 2 isn't an anomaly. Over the past 10 years, No. 10 is 5-8 against No. 2 in the tournament.
It happened in 2008 when Stephen Curry scored 30 points to lead Davidson past Georgetown 74-70, and again two years later when Omar Samhan went for 32 in Saint Mary's 75-68 win over Villanova.
"Did it really happen?" Samhan shouted after that game. "We won? For real?"
If Stanford's players hope to ask the same breathless question after Sunday's game, they will need to deal with KU's quickness and aggressiveness. And they will need to at least contain Wiggins, who averages 17.4 points but is scoring at a 28.0 clip the past four games.
Kansas coach Bill Self said Wiggins is more comfortable, more confident and more poised than he was at the start of the season. "He's become more of a complete player," Self said.
Asked if it would benefit Wiggins to return to college for his sophomore season, Self joked, "Oh, I think he should definitely come back, there's no doubt about that."
Stanford plans to rotate different defenders on Wiggins and could also play a zone. Huestis figures to get the opening assignment.
Either way, Powell said the Cardinal cannot afford to lose track of Wiggins. "Definitely be aware that he's always looking to score, always looking to attack," Powell said.
When it's over, star guard Chasson Randle believes the Cardinal will be celebrating.
"I would hope we could just win it by playing Stanford basketball and not needing a miracle," he said. "But I'll take a win any sort of way."
The tournament Wiggins never really cared to watch is now the most important thing in his life outside his family, and wait a minute … this tournament is now about family, too.
In another locker room inside the Scottrade Center, Nick Wiggins, a senior reserve for Wichita State, is arriving for an open practice with the undefeated Shockers, the top seed in the Midwest. Two brothers from Canada, on two highly seeded teams from Kansas, both with an opportunity to move into the Sweet 16 on Sunday.
“We never really thought about this happening when we were younger,” Andrew Wiggins says.
Nick says the same. His parents, Mitch and Marita, are here, waiting to watch Kansas face Stanford and Wichita State take on Kentucky. Pretty cool, Nick says, before stopping to send out a text.
“We have a very athletic genes,” he says. “Shoutout to my parents!”
Andrew Wiggins says he is more like his mother, the Olympic silver-medalist sprinter. Marita Payne-Wiggins is the type of mom that likes to measure her words and analyze her thoughts. That’s Andrew. Big smile, gentle demeanor.
Mitchell Wiggins was always more outspoken than his wife, and it’s no secret that Nick took some of those genes. He plays with more outward passion, more fire, more likely to let people in.
There are other, more subtle differences. Nick spent part of his college days covering his arms in new tattoos. Andrew is waiting on that.
“I like more of the clean image right now,” Andrew says.
But if there’s one thing that Andrew and Nick can agree on, it’s this: Among the six Wiggins children, neither Andrew nor Nick is the most athletic. That’s Mitch Jr., who just finished out his college career at Southeastern, an NAIA school in Lakeland, Fla.
“I probably had the best skill-set of the three,” Nick says. “But I feel like Andrew is very athletic, very young and talented. And Mitch … he’s very athletic and very bouncy. He’s probably the most athletic in our family.”
The Wiggins boys grew up walking to the Dufferin Clark Community Centre in Vaughan, a suburb of Toronto. It was blocks from their house, and they could spend hours playing two-on-two — their father as the fourth.
It was what you’d expect from a former NBA guard and his three sons. In college basketball circles, Wiggins’ “second jump” has become instant KU lore. But growing up, all the Wiggins bros could bounce right off the floor.
“That second jump,” says Gus Gymnopoulos, who coached all three brothers at Vaughan Secondary School. “His brothers had that as well.”
KUAD: Stanford vs Kansas pregame notes
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ESPN: Big 12 with prime chance to prove itself
3/22/14, 8:28 PM
Seven weeks ago, Dayton was 1-5 in the Atlantic 10 and on a four-game losing streak. Now they're in the Sweet 16.
The end result after paybacks, buyouts of existing deals, factoring out revenue that would have been received under the old TV deal, etc. left the Average "Joe Pac-12" with about $4.3 million in new television revenue, not $21 million as many thought.
The deal is sweet, long term, but the immediate impact isn't as fruitful as the casual observer thinks. Makes the ADs job harder as fans think all new departments should just break ground and build new shrines.
Oregon State, for example, has about $4.3 million in new money. And Oregon is in a less advantageous position.
Craig Pintens, Senior Associate Athletic Director, tells me that Oregon's number is even lower because previously they, along with USC, were among the conference leaders in television revenue. While Oregon State typically could count on about $6.5 million under the old deal, the Ducks and the Trojans were on television far more. That number, per Pintens, was closer to about $9 million.
Like Stanford and Oregon State with Learfield, the Ducks also had some marketing buyouts with IMG.
The bottom line for Oregon is closer to the $2 million to $3 million ballpark. In a $95 million budget, not exactly a windfall. The Ducks, and others, are fighting the perception that they have a boatload of new money under the deal, but they'd like you to know they're very happy, but not exactly ready to quit their jobs and move to Tahiti.
Further, the contract now resets all the Pac-12 Network carriage fees should the network agree to a deal with DirecTV that is below what others are currently paying. The others would get a lower negotiated rate that matches DirecTV. While I blame both sides, I'm now wondering if the conference's claim that DirecTV doesn't want to come to the table is really just the conference's way of saying they don't want to give up money already in the bank chasing wider distribution.
Despite the effort, Stevenson lost the Class 4A state semifinal game. Brunson was in tears after the game and could barely speak at the press conference. He had clearly left everything he had out on the court.
It was a fabulous high school basketball game between two talented teams. There were emotional outbursts from players, fans and coaches after nearly every point scored and every foul called.
More than a dozen photographers lined the court snapping photos throughout the game. One of those photos caught Brunson with his arms raised in the air and both middle fingers extended. The photo wound up on Twitter shortly after the game.
No one saw anything during the game, no one mentioned anything about the gesture at the lengthy post-game press conference. It simply wasn’t an issue until the still photograph hit Twitter.
Brunson saw the photo on Twitter and immediately apologized for the gesture. It was a natural and classy act, totally understandable when he saw such an alarming picture of himself.
On Saturday, video of the incident began circulating. It made clear that the still photograph simply caught Brunson at an awkward moment. He wasn’t thrusting the bird at Young’s crowd or any other player. Without the still photograph freezing the exact moment, the incident wasn’t even noticeable.
Jalen Brunson’s father Rick, a former Bull, told the Sun-Times at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday that the Illinois High School Association was considering suspending Jalen for the third-place game against Edwardsville. At 4:30 p.m. the IHSA had a meeting with Jalen Brunson, Rick Brunson and several Stevenson administrators, including superintendent Eric Twadell and athletic director Tricia Betthauser at Carver Arena.
At 5:50, Rick Brunson emerged from the meeting and told media members that Jalen was suspended for the third-place game, which was scheduled to start at 6:30. Stevenson did not take the Carver Arena floor with Edwardsville at 6:15 for pregame warmups. Two Carver Arena security officials told the Sun-Times that Stevenson wouldn’t leave the locker room.
At 6:26, just four minutes before game time, Rick Brunson told the Sun-Times that the IHSA had reversed its decision and Brunson would be allowed to play. Stevenson took the floor at 6:30. The Patriots defeated Edwardsville 70-63, and Brunson scored 18 points.
“[Not playing] was under consideration by our superintendent and others,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. “They were still making the decision right until the last moment.”
Ambrose said they learned that Brunson was cleared to play “about five minutes before tip-off.”
“I’ve never seen them change (into their uniforms) that fast,” Ambrose said.
During the game the IHSA released a statement that Executive Director Marty Hickman had suspended Brunson, but the IHSA Board overturned the decision after hearing an appeal.
“This was a unique situation in terms of how the gesture was brought to our attention via social media,” IHSA Board President and Wauconda High School Principal Dan Klett said in the statement. “As a Board, we wanted the opportunity to hear from the student-athlete and review additional materials. After doing so, the Board agreed that the gesture could have been inappropriate.
However, without additional supporting evidence, we could not make the determination that the gesture was intended as an unsportsmanlike action and chose to overturn the ruling.”
The entire saga was ridiculous, an embarrassing blemish on the state’s premier high school sporting event. The drama played out during the Class 3A state title game, overshadowing Morgan Park’s victory.
Brunson described his day as “up and down.”
“When I’m on the basketball court I feel at home,” Brunson said. “I’m just really thankful to be able to play.”
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