Low-major programs faced with slim margin for error

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 12:08 PM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 12:08 PM

            FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2017, file photo, Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz watches his team play the University of California, Davis, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Sacramento, Calif. Sacramento State appeared to have the type of team that could break the school's NCAA Tournament drought in 2015-16. When senior point guard Cody Demps went down with an injury, those hopes disappeared in a hurry. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2017, file photo, Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz watches his team play the University of California, Davis, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Sacramento, Calif. Sacramento State appeared to have the type of team that could break the school's NCAA Tournament drought in 2015-16. When senior point guard Cody Demps went down with an injury, those hopes disappeared in a hurry. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Sacramento State's best hope of reaching its first NCAA Tournament came in 2015-16.

The Hornets were coming off a 21-win season, had a strong returning nucleus and momentum on their side. Sac State opened the season by winning at Arizona State and beat Seattle University, on the road two days later.

The Hornets went through a tough nonconference schedule 7-4 and had their sights on a Big Sky Conference title.

One misplaced knee changed their season.

Cody Demps, the team's senior floor leader and go-to player, was injured in early December when a teammate's knee struck his thigh. In Sac State's conference opener against Portland State, Demps was hit in the exact same spot with, yes, another knee.

The second blow caused swelling so bad it needed to drained. He missed the next nine games, draining the life out of Sac State's season.

The Hornets went into a tailspin without Demps and finished the season 14-17.

The hope of an NCAA Tournament gone in one blow.

"When he finally got back — it took him a while because it was pretty severe injury — we rebounded a little bit, but we were so different without him," Sac State coach Brian Katz said. "He was our leading scorer, leading rebounder and leading assist guy. That's tough to overcome."

The schools in Division I college basketball lower tier already have slim margins for error the larger schools don't have to worry about, facing disadvantages of finances and facilities to recruiting and often-brutal travel.

Hoping to compete against those larger schools without a key player is about like trying to chop down an oak tree with a butter knife.

Low-majors can't recruit the same types of players as the high-, even mid-majors, so a key loss means sending an even less-skilled player onto the court. The injury also can have a trickle-down effect, forcing a young, inexperienced player who may not be ready for the spotlight or know the system enough to be effective.

High-major schools still take a hit when a top player goes down, yet can usually replace them with another McDonald's All-American or five-star recruit off the bench.

Huge difference.

"Losing you best player can be devastating at this level," Northern Arizona coach Jack Murphy said.

He should know. The Lumberjacks are in their third straight season of suffering.

Murphy had Northern Arizona tracking upward by his third season, leading the Lumberjacks to the 2015 CollegeInsiders.com tournament title game. The next year, two of NAU's best players suffered season-ending injuries by the 10th game of the season. The Lumberjacks went 5-25.

In 2016-17, the Lumberjacks lost their starting shooting guard during the preseason and starting point guard before conference started. They finished 9-23.

Murphy hoped this would be the year the injuries would finally cease and the Lumberjacks would get back on track.

Nope. Guard Malcolm Allen, a graduate transfer from Stanford being counted on for leadership, injured his foot three games into the season and hasn't played since. The Lumberjacks are 4-20 headed into Saturday's game against Southern Utah.

"You wonder when it's going to end," Murphy said.

It's more than injuries.

Transfers have skyrocketed in college basketball, eclipsing 800 last year. Many were low-major players seeking a stiffer challenge and a brighter spotlight.

The low-major problem: A player develops quickly or shoots up 6 inches, the opportunities to play up a level or two increase. Same thing with graduate transfers; play four years at a low-major, why not test yourself at a mid-major or high-major without having to sit out a year?

"The culture tells that young man that's what he should do," Longwood coach Jayson Gee said. "When he has a big game, he's going to have certain people around him that are going to say you should graduate and go to a higher level. That's just the reality of what we do. We accept it, we move on."

It's not always easy.

Longwood lost forward Kris Lane to Virginia Commonwealth as a graduate transfer after he averaged 12.7 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.

Jackson State saw Edric Dennis, its leading scorer from a year ago, head to Texas-Arlington, cutting a 15-point hole in the Tigers' roster.

Beyond the statistics, the programs lose a player who knows the system, knows how the coach wants the team to play. That's just as valuable.

"Sometimes, that hole isn't easy to fill when someone leaves," Jackson State coach Wayne Brent said.

Even if no one transfers, no one gets injured, the margin for error remains slim.

When low-majors play teams up the DI food chain, the have to be near perfect to overcome the talent disparity. They can't have a bad shooting night, break down defensively, miscommunicate, play lethargically, even after a long bus trip. Everyone has to be fundamentally sound and in synch.

Pulling it all together falls on the coaches, who have to be masters of player development to survive.

Players at the high-major level come prepackaged, to a certain degree. They've played for high-level AAU coaches and, even if their fundamentals are weak, have the athletic ability to overcome their deficiencies. They still have plenty to learn once arriving at college, but the curve bows quite a bit little less.

Low-major players almost always have some shortcoming — too short, too skinny, offensively limited, not athletic enough — holding them back from playing at a higher level.

A focus on fundamentals are paramount for low-major teams to succeed and coaches have to develop the players individually, to become better shooters, improve their footwork, learn to dribble penetrate and kick out, play defense on the college level.

"If you're going to be successful at the lower levels, I truly believe you have to be an expert at teaching the game of basketball," said former Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odum. "Everybody tabs them as Division I players right away. Yeah, they are, but they are also players who are not necessarily fundamentally sound. If you are a low-to-mid-major coach, you've got to be able to teach them how to teach them how to play the game and be able to develop them individually."

The low-majors' only chance rides on it. Even then, it might not be enough.


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Florida school shooting survivor's mother says her family has received death threats

Published: Sunday, February 25, 2018 @ 1:03 AM

WATCH: Survivors Recount Florida High School Shooting

The mother of Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg is speaking out after her family received death threats because her son and another survivor were accused of being crisis actors.

>> Florida sheriff rejects calls from state lawmaker for his ouster after Parkland school shooting

Hogg and fellow students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have made frequent media appearances to call for action on gun control after police say Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and injured more than a dozen others in a Valentine’s Day massacre.

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The students have since become the center of a false conspiracy theory claiming that they are actually actors who are coached before television appearances.

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Rebecca Boldrick, Hogg’s mother, told The Washington Post that her family has received death threats since the conspiracy theories started surfacing, saying, “I’m under so much stress.”

“I’m angry and exhausted,” she added. “Angry, exhausted and extremely proud.”

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The student has said he's not a “crisis actor” but rather someone who witnessed a tragedy.

“It’s annoying. I hate it. But it’s part of American democracy,” Hogg said in an interview with the Post. “Am I an actor? No. Am I a witness? Yes.”

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House releases Democrats’ rebuttal to GOP memo on alleged government surveillance abuses

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 4:23 PM

 House Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks at the Council On Foreign Relations .
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
 House Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks at the Council On Foreign Relations .(Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The House Intelligence Committee Saturday released the Democrats’ rebuttal to the Republican memo alleging the FBI and Department of Justice engaged in questionable tactics in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia. 

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Schiff Memo by National Content Desk on Scribd

>> Related: House Intelligence Committee votes to release Democrat’s rebuttal to Nunes memo

The 10-page memo, released two weeks after President Donald Trump blocked it and after wrangling between Democrats and DOJ officials, was authored by ranking Intelligence Committee Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in response to one by House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), and disputes allegations that illegal tactics were used to get warrants to surveil a former Trump campaign aide.

“The Democratic response memo released today should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC. Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests,” Schiff said in a statement Saturday after the release of the memo.

Trump tweeted a response to Schiff’s document release Saturday, calling the Democrats’ memo “a total political and legal bust.” He also repeated his claims that special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign is a “witch hunt.”

The president released the Nunes memo last month, which contained information purporting to show that the FBI and DOJ did not provide complete information when requesting a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant to watch one-time Trump campaign member and foreign policy advisor Carter Page.

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The release of both memos came over the objections of investigators in the intelligence communities.

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Delta latest company ending discounts, benefits for NRA members

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 10:40 AM
Updated: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 11:24 AM

Delta Air Lines will be ending discounts for NRA members.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Delta Air Lines will be ending discounts for NRA members.(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines announced Saturday it is ending a discount for National Rifle Association members.

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The move comes as some other businesses broke ties with the NRA amid debate over gun control in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in Florida earlier this month.

“We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from its website,” Delta said in a written statement.

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The move comes as some other businesses break ties with the NRA amid debate over gun control in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in Florida earlier this month

Following is a list of some of the companies that have cut ties or distanced themselves from the NRA:

  • United Airlines -- United tweeted Saturday, "United is notifying the NRA that we will no longer offer a discounted rate to their annual meeting and we are asking that the NRA remove our information from their website." 

  • Delta Air Lines -- Delta issued the following statement Saturday: "Delta is reaching out to the National Rifle Association to let it know we will be ending its contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from its website." 

  • First National Bank of Omaha -- The bank announced that it would not renew a co-branded Visa credit-card with the NRA.

  • The Hertz Corp. -- The rental car company ended its discount program for NRA members.

  • MetLife Inc. -- The insurer terminated discounts that had been offered to NRA members on the NRA website

  • Enterprise Holdings Inc. -- The car rental company that also owns Alamo and National cut off discounts for NRA members.

  • Symantec Corp. -- The software company that makes Norton Antivirus technology ended its discount program with the NRA.

  • Chubb Ltd. -- The insurer announced it was ending participation in the NRA's gun-owner insurance program, though it provided notice three months ago.

  • Best Western -- The hotel chain told multiple social media users that it was no longer affiliated with the NRA, though it did not say when that decision was made.

  • Wyndham Hotels -- The hotel chain told social media users it is no longer affiliated with the NRA without specifying when that decision was made.

  • Starkey Hearing Technologies -- We have made the decision not to renew our discount program with the NRA. We will be asking them to remove our information from their website.

    The NRA has released the following statement: 

    "The more than five million law-abiding members of the National Rifle Association have enjoyed discounts and cost-saving programs from many American corporations that have partnered with the NRA to expand member benefits.

    "Since the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, a number of companies have decided to sever their relationship with the NRA, in an effort to punish our members who are doctors, farmers, law enforcement officers, fire fighters, nurses, shop owners and school teachers that live in every American community. We are men and women who represent every American ethnic group, every one of the world’s religions and every form of political commitment.

    "The law-abiding members of the NRA had nothing at all to do with the failure of that school’s security preparedness, the failure of America’s mental health system, the failure of the National Instant Check System or the cruel failures of both federal and local law enforcement.

    "Despite that, some corporations have decided to punish NRA membership in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice. In time, these brands will be replaced by others who recognize that patriotism and determined commitment to Constitutional freedoms are characteristics of a marketplace they very much want to serve.

    "Let it be absolutely clear. The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world."

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    Florida sheriff rejects calls from state lawmaker for his ouster after Parkland school shooting

    Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 11:41 PM

    WATCH: Florida Sheriff Attends Town Hall For Gun Reform

    Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel attacked Rep. Bill Hager’s call for his ouster as “riddled with factual errors, unsupported gossip and falsehoods,” in a response issued late Saturday night.

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    State. Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Saturday calling on him to remove Israel for “neglect and incompetence” over the handling of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.

    Israel said Hager falsely claimed the school resource officer and three other Broward Sheriff deputies were on campus during the shooting and took cover. Deputy Scot Peterson, of suburban Boynton Beach, was the only one on the campus at the time of the attack, Israel wrote in his own letter to Scott.

    >> Related: State Rep. urges FL Gov. Rick Scott to oust Broward sheriff over Parkland shooting

    Peterson resigned Thursday after he was suspended without pay and faced likely termination. An initial investigation showed he was outside the building where the shooting took place but didn’t enter for at least four minutes. Peterson received active shooter training but did not follow protocols, Israel said.

    CNN reported Friday that when Coral Springs police arrived at the school, three other Broward deputies were outside the building but did not go in. Coral Springs received the 911 call and was dispatched to the active shooter incident before the call was transferred to BSO dispatch, according to Israel. Those Coral Spring officers entered the building, followed by more Coral Springs officers and Broward deputies.

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    Israel also accused Hager of falsely claiming Broward Sheriff deputies visited Nikolas Cruz’s home 39 times. There were 23 calls for service involving Cruz, who confessed to the shooting, or his family. Eighteen involved Cruz directly, and the rest involved his brother, according to the sheriff.

    NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch repeatedly said there were 39 calls to Cruz’s home during a CNN town hall Wednesday.

    None of them were offenses that warranted arrest, according to the sheriff. Most were “routine parenting issues,” such as the brothers fighting or one of them banging pool equipment against the house, according to Israel.

    >> Related: Armed Stoneman Douglas resource officer 'never went in' during Florida shooting

    Two encounters are still under review. In a subsequent incident at school, the school resource officer referred Cruz to the Department of Children and Families, and he received mental health counseling, DCF supervision and medication for 2 1/2 months before DCF closed the case, according to the sheriff.

    The BSO deputy who handled the call that’s still under internal investigation referred the person who reported the issue to Palm Beach County law enforcement, because Cruz had moved.

    Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks at a news conference, flanked by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, and state Attorney General Pam Bondi.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

    Lastly, Israel said Hager was wrong to criticize the sheriff’s office for being under review in the past, specifically after the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. All police agencies perform self-assessments after any major incident so they know how they can do better, Israel said. The problems to which Hager referred were identified by BSO itself, he said.

    >> Related: Florida school shooting timeline: Seven minutes, three floors and 17 dead

    The sheriff’s office caught the killer in the Fort Lauderdale Airport attack within 80 seconds of the first shot being fired, Israel said.

    Israel was elected in 2012 and 2016.

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