Dansby Swanson finds new home with Mudcats in Braves system

ZEBULON, N.C. — Dansby Swanson has yet to play a full professional baseball season, but has already been traded to a new organization. Months after being taken No. 1 overall by the Diamondbacks in the 2015 MLB draft, the Marietta, Ga. native landed with his hometown team in Atlanta.

Currently working his way through the system, Swanson landed in Zebulon with the Carolina Mudcats. We sat down to speak with Swanson at Five County Stadium about being traded, dealing with an injury after being hit in the face by a baseball in a simulated game and dealing with heightened expectations.

North State Journal: Take me back to the moment you heard you were going to the Braves’ system. What that experience was like?

Dansby Swanson: I was out to dinner with my girlfriend and three officials for Nike, who were in town for the Winter Meetings. We were having fun at dinner and my phone started blowing up.

NSJ: So everyone knew before you?

Swanson: (Laughs) Yeah! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t really know what to think about it in the beginning. Mad isn’t the right word, but I was just shocked. For about a week and a half I tried to just ignore it and didn’t really respond to anyone but my family. I tried to take the emotions out of it because, as I’m sure you know, when something emotional happens your decisions aren’t the best. I just wanted to look at it from a holistic perspective instead.

NSJ: Growing up as a Braves fan in Marietta, Ga., how great of an opportunity is it to be home?

Swanson: Being home is a good thing, but there are ups and downs about it. People don’t always see the negatives of it. From a playing standpoint, though, it’s a great opportunity. Whenever I’m able to wear that Braves across your chest, it’s a pretty unique feeling. I can’t wait for that moment.

NSJ: Which player did you grow up idolizing?

Swanson: Honestly, the player I grew up on was Nomar Garciaparra. I had this video called “Superstar Shortstops” I’d watch when I was young and he stood out to me. I wanted to be like him. There was just something about how he played that made me want to be a shortstop.

NSJ: Was that a VHS?

Swanson: Yes it was. (Laughs) Oh, yeah. And it was awesome.

NSJ: What was the process like coming back from being hit in the face by a baseball before your pro career ever started?

Swanson: Well, I got hit and I don’t remember much after it. I remember standing in the box with blood streaming down my face after being knocked out. I figured, “Oh, that’s not good.” But I’m just a stubborn prick, I guess, and told everyone to get me out of here. They kept telling me to lay down and I said, “No, seriously. I’m leaving.” The worst part wasn’t being hit in the face. The concussion was awful.

Short stop Dansby Swanson (7) bats during the Mudcats' game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans on Friday, April 15, 2016 in Zebulon. (Madeline Gray/North State Journal)
Short stop Dansby Swanson (7) bats during the Mudcats’ game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans on Friday, April 15, 2016 in Zebulon. (Madeline Gray/North State Journal)

NSJ: How much of a change is the partial facemask?

Swanson: You don’t even notice it really when you’re batting. Base running is actually kind of odd because there’s something in your face when you’re diving.

NSJ: What was the toughest part about getting back to the field?

Swanson: It was kind of how you expect as far as the physical aspect, but the mental part was different. There was really no fear factor for me, though, because I didn’t remember it. So that was probably a blessing in disguise because I know that’s tougher for other guys to get over.

NSJ: Being a basketball player in high school, when was the moment you decided to just play baseball?

Swanson: Going into my junior year [of high school], I was undecided whether or not I wanted to keep playing. Some people had convinced me that it was taking away from baseball, but I told my family that I had to play. Basketball is actually my favorite sport still to this day. I wish I was better at basketball like I am at baseball. But I guess that would have made the decision that much harder.

NSJ: What did you learn from being a multi-sport athlete?

Swanson: OK, this is going to be my moment to preach to all the young kids. (Laughs) So everybody thinks that if you specialize in a sport, you’re going to be so much better at it. That’s completely not true. Not in the least bit. Being able to compete in two different environments helped shape me.

I went to an all-black high school and learned so much about diversity and adversity. I was able to see different sides of the community because I played basketball. I know that I wouldn’t be who I am and where I’m at today because of basketball.

NSJ: You have the phrase “All Dai” stitched on your glove for Dai-Jon Parker. What was your relationship with him like in high school and college?

Swanson: I’ll never forget the first time we played together. He was by far better than everyone else. From that instance on, there was just an immediate respect factor between us. There was an unbreakable bond between us that was never really spoken of really.

He actually committed to play basketball at Vanderbilt before I committed to play baseball. So he kind of put Vandy on the radar for me. Then last year, right before the NCAA Tournament [baseball] started, he passed away in a boating accident. I just didn’t know how to react, but I’m grateful for the bond that we had.

NSJ: John Manuel of Baseball America called you “the best prospect for the Mudcats since Miguel Cabrera.” How big of an honor is that and what is it like to play with that type of pressure?

Swanson: Thanks, John. Really appreciate that. (Laughs) But seriously, that’s a tremendous honor. I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near Miguel Cabrera because of what he’s achieved. I mean, the man won the Triple Crown. That’s something that probably won’t be done again for a long time. He’s one of the best hitters of our generation, so that’s a huge honor.

Pressure? No, I think pressure to me is a self-created thing because you have doubt about your abilities. That pressure’s not there because I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me.

NSJ: How much talk was there in the offseason about a position change with Ozzie Albies [Braves’ No. 3 prospect] also battling for Atlanta’s starting shortstop position?

Swanson: There wasn’t really that much talk about it. Look, we’re both shortstops and we both want to play the position. All I can control is how I approach everything and my training. Every day I’m trying to prove myself and show that I deserve that role.

NSJ: What was the first purchase you made when you got that $6.5 million bonus on your rookie contract?

Swanson: Well, my first purchase was dinner at some really nice place in Arizona. Like, it was really nice. (Laughs) I don’t remember the name of it, though. My first substantial purchase, though, was a truck. A Ford Platinum.

Mudcats shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) jumps over Myrtle Beach Pelicans short stop Gleyber Torres (11) during the game on Friday, April 15, 2016 in Zebulon. (Madeline Gray/North State Journal)
Mudcats shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) jumps over Myrtle Beach Pelicans short stop Gleyber Torres (11) during the game on Friday, April 15, 2016 in Zebulon. (Madeline Gray/North State Journal)

NSJ: Your sister, Lindsey, gave you a Voodoo doll as a Christmas present at Vandy. Do you still have it here with you in Zebulon?

Swanson: No, I do not have it with me, unfortunately. It is somewhere in my house, but I forgot to bring it. It’s a little baby rhino with a message that said, “To keep you injury free and comfortable in your own skin.”

NSJ: What was the reasoning behind it?

Swanson: Well, first of all, my sister is like my best friend. Second of all, I had a rough freshman year at Vanderbilt as far as injuries go, so she got it for me kind of as a joke, but I kind of took it seriously.

NSJ: You haven’t always had the long locks. What made you start growing out the hair?

Swanson: Oh, God. (Laughs) So, my sophomore year I was rooming with Jared Miller, Adam Ravanelle and Carson Fulmer. They all had really long hair and they all kept telling me to grow it out. They said, “If you’re going to be in this room, you should grow out your hair.” It was just funny then, but it’s become a part of who I am now.

NSJ: So what’s the secret to it?

Swanson: People always think I do special stuff to my hair. I literally wake up, take a shower and put a hat on. That’s my life, man. I will not wash it with just Head & Shoulders or something like that. I can’t do that weak stuff.

NSJ: What was the biggest shock to the system being in the minors?

Swanson: I guess the biggest difference is that in college, every time we hit the field we expected to win. I went to a pretty successful college and we won a lot. Not that we don’t want to win here, but it’s obviously more about development at this level. You really have to get used to that.

NSJ: Tell me about your first Spring Training experience with the Braves.

Swanson: It was fun! Honestly, I think I stayed up there a lot longer than people thought. It was just good to be around older, veteran guys that have done all of this before. They were very unselfish and willing to help me be the best player I can be. It was cool to be able to pick their brains.

NSJ: So what are your overall expectations this season and moving forward?

Swanson: Honestly, just to be the best player I can be. I know it’s overused, but I take everything one day at a time and one moment at a time. Right now this interview is the most important thing to me. Then after that I prepare for the game, eat dinner and play baseball. That’s how I’ve learned to approach life. It seems to be working.

Linsanity and Kemba reign, Hornets even series at 2-2

Last week in NBA circles on Twitter, there was a lot of back and forth on who should win the Sixth Man of the Year award. The race was wide open, and you could’ve made a case for almost a dozen different dudes. If I had a vote, I would’ve cast it for Andre Iguodala; ultimately, Jamal Crawford of the Clippers won for a third time — just edging out Iggy.

During these discussions, however, there was little to no chatter about the Charlotte Hornet’s top sub, Jeremy Lin. The product of Harvard has been terrific during his first year with the franchise, and that continued Monday night in Charlotte, when Lin erupted for 21 points (on just 10 shots) in an 89-85 victory over Miami, which levels their first round affair at 2-2.

(Note: Lin finished 7th in voting for the honor, receiving one first place vote, courtesy of Sherman Hamilton of NBA TV Canada)

Once again, the Heat outplayed the Hornets in the first quarter. Luol Deng continued his one-man assault on these playoffs with 10 points in the opening frame; Deng constantly went at whichever Hornets big was tossed in his direction — Frank Kaminsky, Cody Zeller, whatever. Steve Clifford deployed the two traditional big men look again last night for the vast majority of the game, moving Marvin Williams to small forward. And for the second straight time, it worked.

Everything changed in a blink during the second quarter. Charlotte trailed Miami 26-19 after the opening period, but the Hornets bench helped lead a roaring charge back. Over the next 14 minutes and 33 seconds of game play, Charlotte ripped off a 38 to 13 run, culminating with an Al Jefferson layup that had Time Warner Cable Arena rocking. Charlotte led 57-40, which was their high-water mark.

Lin played a little over nine minutes in the second quarter; during that span, the Hornets scored 123.4 points per 100 possessions, and held the Heat to a meager 49.8 points per 100 possessions. Kemba Walker was special during this quarter, too. With Kemba on the floor, Charlotte scored at a rate of 1.38 points per possession.

For the game, the Hornets were +17 with Lin on the floor.

While Miami built a house out of bricks during this period — shooting 3 for 19 — the dual-point guard lineup of Walker and Lin (sounds like a decent law firm, for the record) raced away in the opposite direction. The two speedsters wrecked havoc in the pick-and-roll game and in transition, combining for 55 points and just four turnovers (Walker scored 34 of those points, making him the first Hornet to score 30+ in a playoff games since Baron Davis in 2002). That combination of controlled aggression is incredibly difficult to harness, but Charlotte’s guards worked their magic Monday evening.

Lin and Kemba shared the court for 26 minutes in Game 4; in that stretch of time, Charlotte outscored Miami by 14.5 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. The Hornets continued to struggle from beyond the arc — making just 4 of 17 3-pointers — but these two were so deadly efficient in pick-and-roll action that it prevented Charlotte’s offense from cratering.

All night long, Walker and Lin were impervious to the conservative one-man zone schemes Miami utilized. In their coverages, Heat big men were sinking under these ball screens; this is done in an effort to coax the ball handler into settling for a jumper. Charlotte, however, was having none of that. Kemba channeled his inner Russell Westbrook and went right at Miami’s bigs, while Lin got into the paint at will. Walker scored 11 consecutive points during the fourth quarter.

When Miami’s Hassan Whiteside hits the bench, a light goes off for Lin, attack. For the second straight game, the Hornets were without forward Nicolas Batum — a fearless playmaker who has a knack for finding open shooters. In his absence, Lin has more than stepped up, which should benefit him financially in about two months: Jeremy has a player option at $2.2 million next season. However, if he declines that option, he’ll hit unrestricted free agency as one of the league’s elite backup point guards.

After the game, Clifford couldn’t have been more proud of his team for figuring out a way to score points. So I’m not going as far as to say Charlotte’s solved Miami’s pick-and-roll defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some adjustments when this series swings south for Game 5.

Lin wasn’t the only substitute to have an impact on Monday, though. Zeller has embraced his role of coming off the bench now. By some metrics — offensive (111.2) and net rating (39.7) — Zeller was Charlotte’s best player in Game 4. These contributions were necessary because once more Marvin Williams struggled: 0 of 5 shooting, 0 points — his second game with no points this series (he has 14 total points through four games). Zeller was strong defensively as well.

On Miami’s end, they need to summon the energy they brought late in the third quarter and the early part of the fourth quarter — when they rallied furiously to make the contest a one-point affair at 62-61 — for an entire game. Goran Dragic, who spent most of the game missing in action, started making things happen, including a massive 3-pointer as Miami clawed their way back into the game.

It’s also clear that they need Deng to remain productive, and to be more than just a first quarter catalyst. In 20 minutes of action during the second and third quarters, Deng was just 1 for 8 from the field; Miami was -11 during that stretch, too.

Charlotte mostly ignored rookie Justise Winslow when Miami was on offense. Winslow, who is already a sensational defender, has a ways to go offensively. The Hornets stashed their slowest defender on Winslow, and for most of the night, that worked. Heading into the fourth, Winslow was 0 for 5 from the field as he tried to shoot over the top of Charlotte’s relaxed defenders. However, in the final period, Winslow attacked this coverage, driving right into the body of Hornets defenders, James Harden style. He was a perfect 3 for 3 from the field, including a corner 3-pointer. This is something to monitor in Game 5.

Finally, it’d be remiss to write a recap of this game without mentioning Courtney Lee, who once again brought productive two-way play. Lee played a team-high 41 minutes; he also led the Hornets in distance covered (3.06 miles), according to NBA.com’s player tracking. Lee was everywhere defensively — contesting a team-high 12 shots, including eight 2-pointers. Most pertinent, though, Lee collected a super important offensive rebound with 58 seconds left, then on the next possession, following a Kemba miss, Lee sprang for another rebound and drew a foul on Deng. C-Lee then made two free-throws, which put the game on ice.

The first two games of this series were ugly for the Hornets. But after last night’s thrilling home victory, Charlotte’s evened this series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Wednesday night in South Beach. See you there.

Mendoza’s overturned homer leads NC State over ECU, 6-1

A controversial home run by Evan Mendoza gave NC State an early lead, but two late runs secured the victory in a 6-1 victory for the Wolfpack over East Carolina. The win came less than one week after a 15-3 drubbing for the Pirates in Greenville on Tuesday.

Mendoza finished the game 2-for-4 with a run and four RBI to lead the Pack to the win, but all anyone wanted to talk about after the game was the homer. Mendoza stroked the pitch to the left field foul pole, where it was initially called a foul ball by the third-base umpire. After both NC State’s third-base coach Chris Hart and head coach Elliott Avent argued the call, it was overturned.

The immediate reaction was elation for NC State and dismay for East Carolina. Pirate head coach Cliff Godwin argued his case before eventually being guided back to the dugout by the home plate umpire.

Meanwhile, Mendoza was honest about his initial thoughts on the hit.

“I thought it was foul,” Mendoza admitted. “And then I saw the first base umpire say it was foul. … I’m not the biggest power guy, so I don’t get ahold of balls too often. First thought was, ‘You gotta be kidding me. Foul ball?’

“I guess that was the correct call.”

Funny, because that’s exactly what the third base umpire thought as well. But after a meeting with his two partners, the call was changed. It was a weird situation for Godwin, who had rarely seen a call changed, much less a home run.

“The explanation was they were trying to make the right call,” Godwin said. “It’s the third base umpire’s call. I’ve been involved in two situations where an umpire has flipped another umpire’s call and been on the losing situation both times. Their job is to make the right call. Was it the right call? I don’t know.”

The official who overturned the call was home plate umpire Greg Street, who has called College World Series games and serves as the MLB AAA evaluator. With countless college baseball games under his belt, Street was commended by Avent along with divulging some, let’s say unique, details.

“I think Greg Street is one of the best umpires in college baseball,” Avent said with a smile. “The third-base umpire admitted he didn’t see it. He just didn’t see it. I think he had the decency to let the home plate umpire know he didn’t see it. … That takes a lot of courage and respect for the game.”

Avent later revealed the third base umpire told Hart that nugget of information later in the game.

While the homer was the story of the game, Mendoza’s RBI single in the eighth put the Pirates to rest with six runs on six hits. Ryan Williamson, normally NC State’s Sunday starter, went 6 2/3 innings with one earned run while scattering six hits.

Six days after the Pack bullpen was shelled by the Pirates, Evan Brabrand, Travis Orwig and Tommy DeJuneas combined to allow just two hits and no runs over the final 2 1/3 innings. It was a night of redemption for NC State in a series that is equally as important as any ACC opponent on the schedule.

“Everyone knows we played them last week and they got the better of us,” Mendoza said. “We all were there. We knew how we lost. We told ourselves we weren’t going to lose like that again.

“I think this is probably as big of a series as Clemson or UNC. It’s almost a regional feel.”


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UNC releases amended NOA

CHAPEL HILL — A newly released amended Notice of Allegations from the NCAA doesn’t allege any wrongdoing in the UNC men’s basketball and football programs, instead focusing on misconduct in the AFAM department from 2005-2011 and impermissible academic assistance administered by Jan Boxill to the women’s basketball program from 2003-2010.

The revised document, which is largely similar to the first NOA delivered to UNC in May 2015, comes nearly eight months after UNC submitted more possible violations related to the women’s basketball program and men’s soccer program to the NCAA related to the investigation in August.

“Probably the only explanation is this is maybe the most complicated, involved case in history, certainly in our history,” said UNC Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham, explaining the delay in receiving the amended NOA. “ There’s been a ot of reporting and investigation. The NCAA is completing their work by releasing their notice … The volume and the time is probably why it’s lasted this long.”

The first document specifically named the men’s basketball and football programs for receiving the extra academic help along with women’s basketball. However, the revised document, released Monday afternoon and replaces the old one, does not have any mention of the two programs in the five allegations of Level I violations.

From the first document’s lack of institutional control allegation:

The AFRI/AFAM department created anomalous courses that went unchecked for 18 years. This allowed individuals within ASPSA to use these courses through special arrangements to maintain the eligibility of academically at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. Although the general student body also had access to the anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses, student-athletes received preferential access to these anomalous courses, enrolled in these anomalous courses at a disproportionate rate to that of the general student body and received other impermissible benefits not available to the general student body in connection with these courses.

That phrase was absent in the amended document. Women’s basketball, however, was mentioned five times.

Wayne Walden, an academic advisor for the men’s basketball program at both Kansas and UNC, was mentioned in the first NOA for his correspondence with Debbie Crowder, but his name was not found in the amended NOA.

The lack of men’s basketball and football in the new notice of allegations is a huge break for the two programs as they’ve gone through recruiting struggles with the cloud of unknown allegations hanging around Chapel Hill. With the disappearance of the two programs from the NOA, the likelihood for dramatic punishments like scholarship loss and vacated wins drops significantly.

Cunningham wouldn’t comment on the absence of the two revenue programs, instead focusing on the five serious allegations that the school still faces.

“My concern are the five violations or alleged violations that we have to respond to,” Cunningham said. “As far as being surprised, I’m concerned about the five that I have. We’ve got five Level Is, lack of institutional control and failure to monitor. That’s where I’m going to spend my time and focus.”

Cunningham did note that the investigation has limited recruiting for the athletic teams, but said the student-athletes have handled it well.

“I do think that the length of time that the investigation, the internal investigation, the external reviews and investigations that have been done have been taxing and draining on the institution, have hurt us in recruiting in a couple different ways,” Cunningham said.”But the thing i’m encouraged by is the student-athletes and the success we’ve been having lately … The NOA ranges from 2003-Aug 2011, we’re looking at a difficult period in our history. The current student athletes have done a remarkable job athletically and academically.”

Men’s soccer, which reported a possible recruiting violation in the new information sent in August, was not named in the new NOA. The program has already been adjudicated through the NCAA enforcement staff and was issued a Level III violation and has some recruiting restrictions, Cunningham said in a teleconference Monday afternoon.

The original tag of ‘impermissible benefits’ given to athletes is now being termed ‘impermissible academic assistance,’ pointing directly to former philosophy professor and women’s basketball academic counselor Boxill for her extra aide to women’s basketball players.

Boxill was named in the second allegation of the 2015 NOA, but in the amended edition, her efforts to assist the women’s basketball program are the primary focus of the first allegation.

Along with 32 mentions of her name in the amended NOA, the NCAA specifically details 14 instances of Boxill’s impermissible academic assistance including adding content to athletes’ papers for classes and completing quizzes.

Boxill resigned from the university in March 2015.

The second and third allegations of the new NOA target the lack of cooperation of Crowder and Julius Nyang’oro, the two primary people in the AFAM department responsible for coordinating independent study-style ‘paper’ classes that required little to no work or attendance and inflated grades. Both were the subjects of allegations in the first release.

The fourth allegation deals with the lack of supervision of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, Boxill and AFAM department from 2005-2011.

From the amended NOA:

The nature of these anomalous courses went undetected or was known and not addressed due to the institution’s failure to sufficiently monitor the department’s operations and students’, including student-athletes’, enrollment in such courses. The department did not adequately document independent study course offerings, and the college of arts and sciences failed to effectively address the use of these courses by students, including student-athletes.

Despite concerns by some at the institution that Boxill’s relationship with the women’s basketball student-athletes may have been too close, the institution did not monitor Boxill or determine whether her conduct violated institutional rules or NCAA bylaws. As a result, Boxill provided extra benefits in the form of impermissible academic assistance to women’s basketball student-athletes over multiple years.

The fifth allegation, same as the fifth in the original document, charges UNC with a lack of institutional control for failure to monitor everything laid out in allegations 1-4.

From the amended NOA:

When individuals brought concerns to the attention of then leaders both on campus and within athletics, those leaders had multiple opportunities to investigate the AFRI/AFAM course anomalies and student-athletes’ exposure to those courses. However, the institution failed to exert control when it did not recognize and sufficiently investigate these practices. Both campus and the athletics department administrators’ reactions and responses to those opportunities were inadequate and ineffective, creating the conditions and opportunities that made possible the violations described in Allegation Nos. 1 and 4. As a result of the failure of leadership and the lack of corrective action, problems within the AFRI/AFAM department and athletics were allowed to continue for multiple years.

Further, the institutional leadership did not provide adequate guidance and supervision to those employed within ASPSA. Because of this failure in leadership and oversight, those charged with providing academic support for student-athletes did not believe their actions or the actions of the AFRI/AFAM department were inappropriate. The institution’s failure to take necessary steps to provide adequate oversight of the anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses resulted in an investigation, analysis and ultimately disciplinary action taken against the institution by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, its accrediting agency.

“I think that all of the things we have done on our campus for the last four years, since we had our final adjudication in March 2012 was to shore up policies and procedures and make sure to see how we attend to all the by laws and make sure we operate within the principles of the NCAA,” Cunningham said.

“Failure to monitor and institutional control are things we’ve worked on for four years. We feel confident in our systems but we’re always concerned that we’re human and we make some mistakes. As we respond to that allegation, we’ll dig deeper into what they believe are the underlying factual informations that they believe support those allegations and try to minimize our risk going forward.”

The penalties for these allegations likely won’t be determined for some time since UNC has until July 24 to respond to the NCAA — 90-day window — followed by a 60-day window for the NCAA to respond and a Committee on Infractions hearing after that before making a final ruling that UNC can then appeal.

Though he wouldn’t speculate on a timeline or possible punishments, Cunningham said that now is an appropriate time to consider self-imposing punishments.

Game 4, Heat-Hornets: 4 things to know

On Saturday, the Hornets defeated the Heat in Charlotte — the franchise’s first playoff victory since Ashanti was topping Billboard charts. It was an impressive 96-80 win for the Hornets, who were without the injured Nicolas Batum and reeling from two consecutive demolitions in Miami. On Monday night, Charlotte will look to knot the series at 2-2 before things head back to South Beach. Here are four key things to know before Game 4.

No Nicolas Batum

Welcome to Bummerville: The Hornets will once again be without star forward Nic Batum Monday evening. The Frenchman missed Game 3 in Charlotte following injuries to his left ankle and foot late in Game 2, but hope remained that he could somehow suit up as the Hornets looked to even the series at two games apiece. That, however, is not the case.

Charlotte proved over the weekend that they’re capable of beating Miami sans Batum, but his absence makes things far more challenging. Batum’s a gifted playmaker, and the ball just seems to swing side-to-side better when he’s on the court. He initiates a lot of offense for this team — usually pick-and-roll or curling off a pin down screen into dribble handoff action. Both of these looks get Batum moving toward the rim with numerous passing outlets.

His versatility and ability to create for others unlock this team’s best offensive units; he’ll be missed.

Steve Clifford will need rookie Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lin, like they did in the Game 3 victory, to provide some scoring punch to the offense. Lin, especially, will have to handle additional pick-and-roll responsibilities, which brings me to my next point…

Lineup adjustments

When Miami was running Charlotte off the floor during their opening tilt of the series, it looked as though the Hornets would need to downsize to keep up with the surging Heat. Some even floated the idea of going super small, and sliding power forward Marvin Williams over to center.

Without the ubiquitous Batum available for Game 3, Clifford had to get clever with how he rejiggered the lineup, which is something I wrote about in more detail yesterday in this space. Clifford did just the opposite of what most expected: he bulked up his starting lineup.

Williams was instead moved to the small forward spot, and Kaminsky, who was near unplayable at times in the opening games in Miami, was inserted as the starting power forward. Cody Zeller, a starter in 60 games this season, was moved to the bench in favor of low post czar Al Jefferson.

The starting lineup — those three front court players along with guards Kemba Walker and Courtney Lee — actually struggled during 14 minutes of action; Miami outscored them by nearly 19 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.

However, things got funky in favor of Charlotte after Lin and Zeller got involved off the bench. A lineup of Lin-Kemba-Lee-Kaminsky-Zeller outpaced Miami by 50 points per 100 possessions. That five-man group, in seven minutes of action, scored 1.22 points per possession, which would rank as the No. 1 offense in the NBA.

When Williams played with Kemba, Lee, Kaminsky and Zeller, Charlotte outscored Miami by 48.7 points per 100 possessions. I expect we’ll see more of these units Monday night.

It was huge for the Hornets that they were able to play Walker and Lin together without being punished for it defensively — something that didn’t happen in the first two losses, when Dwyane Wade went on the attack.

The playoffs are all about match-ups. Will Clifford once again look to start Jefferson and Kaminsky? The Heat, led by coach Erik Spoelstra, will make adjustments of their own, too. When that happens, how will Clifford counter? Decisions on the margin, like this, are what swing games and series.

Can Charlotte finally heat up from deep?

In the first two games, the Hornets went completely dark from beyond the arc. This is a top-five three-point shooting offense, but down in South Beach, Charlotte lost their ways, shooting only 7 for 33 on 3-pointers — which included a ghastly 1 of 16 performance in Game 2. As it turns out, and this may surprise some, it’s not good to shoot this poorly from the field. Shocker, I know!

The Hornets got the win in Game 3, which is all that really matters, but they continued to slump from deep; Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lin combined to make just five 3-pointers. Charlotte’s shooting a paltry 23.5 percent on threes this series.

During the regular season, the Hornets made nearly 11 3-pointers per game, and shot 36.2 percent from deep. Against Miami in the postseason, though, they’ve yet to make more than six 3-pointers in a game. This season, Charlotte had only eight games of six or fewer threes. Clifford’s squad made 10+ threes in 52 of their 82 games; when the Hornets lost only 18 of those contest, too. This isn’t high-level basketball analysis. It’s a good thing to make a lot of 3-pointers.

For about 30 minutes per game, the Heat have Hassan Whiteside and his absurd 7-foot-7 wingspan patrolling the paint, which allows Miami’s perimeter players to aggressively switch and defend away from the basket — there’s a gigantic eraser at the rim to correct mistakes or overplays. Charlotte dots the three-point line with potent shooters, but Miami’s length on the perimeter is causing difficulties.

Can the Hornets, without Batum, finally breakthrough from deep this series? If so, it would make a major difference. Perhaps Williams, who snapped out of his recent shooting doldrums on Saturday, could provide a long-range boost.

Hassan White…out?

Miami’s stud big man is dealing with a thigh injury. He’s currently a game-time decision for tonight’s contest.

It’s been well-documented that Whiteside’s had a just massive impact on this series. He’s an incredible rim protector/defender, and he’s dunking everything in sight on offense. Whiteside’s shooting a comical 80 percent from the field — yeah, that’s realistic — and Miami scores better than 1.2 points per possessions with him on the court, per NBA.com. He’s an automatic two points when he catches the ball, and the attention he draws from Charlotte’s defense in an effort to prevent lobs and easy slams opens everything else up for the Heat. Lee has on multiple occasions totally abandoned the player he’s defending to help thwart another Whiteside rim run.

Also, the Hornets are shooting just 42.6 percent at the basket on field goal attempts defended by Whiteside. He’s played in just three games, but the product of Gastonia, North Carolina is leading the playoffs in attempts defended at the rim, too (47).

Behind Whiteside, the Heat are thin along their frontline; Amar’e Stoudemire, a fraction of the athlete he used to be, holds down their backup center minutes. After that, we’re looking at Charlotte Bobcats legend Josh McRoberts and Dorrell Wright — suboptimal substitutes to say the least. If Stouemire were forced into more action, Charlotte could certainly take advantage. However, I’m assuming that Whiteside will play.

UNC amended NOA release primer

There’s a new Notice of Allegations floating around UNC right now. If this feels familiar, it’s because UNC received its initial NOA May 20, 2015 and released it publicly June 4, 2015.

UNC is expected to release the amended and redacted NOA later today and will have a teleconference this afternoon.

That 2015 document outlined five allegations against the university stemming from independent study-esque classes in the African American Studies Department that required little to no work or attendance and may have disproportionately benefited student-athletes for nearly two decades.

A 2014 investigation conducted by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein found the classes, mostly run by AFAM department manager Debbie Crowder with a rubberstamp from former AFAM chair Julius Nyang’oro, affected an estimated 3,100 students from 1993-2011. Half of those students were athletes.

The roots of this investigation trace back to a 2010 investigation of the football program that found a handful of students who benefitted from cash and other impermissible benefits from agents.

The five allegations detailed in the 2015 NOA are all Level I violations, “a severe breach of conduct because the violations seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model and the presumption of lack of institutional control violations as Level I.”

The first allegation states that from the 2002 fall semester through the 2011 summer semester, student-athletes were given impermissible benefits that weren’t generally available to the entire student body, specifically extra assistance in enrolling and completing independent study-esque classes in the AFAM department largely run by department manager Crowder that were used to inflate GPAs. Some athletes were also allowed to exceed the number of independent study credits countable toward graduation.

The second allegation specifically names Jan Boxill, former philosophy professor and women’s basketball academic advisor, for giving impermissible academic assistance to the team between April 2007 and July 2010.

The third allegations names Crowder for her failure to cooperate in the investigation in 2014 and 2015. In the document, the NCAA writes that she violated “principles of ethical conduct when she failed to furnish information relevant to an investigation of possible violations of NCAA legislation when requested to do so by the NCAA enforcement staff and the institution.”

The fourth allegation names Nyang’oro for the same reason as Crowder. The NCAA tried to interview him five times while the organization attempted to talk with Crowder three times.

The fifth allegation slaps UNC with the lack of institutional control violation for an inability to monitor Boxill and the AFAM department.

After receiving these allegations nearly a year ago, UNC had 90 days to file a response. But instead of sending in a response to each of the allegations, the university discovered more potential allegations as it parsed through nearly a million documents for public release. The possible violations included more impermissible benefits given to the women’s basketball team by Boxill and recruiting violations by men’s soccer.

With the introduction of new material, the NCAA had to reevalute the old NOA and send out a revised list of violations. Which brings us to where we are now: sitting, waiting and writing.

There’s no use in speculating about the contents about the new NOA, but it is curious that UNC is releasing the document the same day it supposedly received it. Either there isn’t a lot of new information to redact or the school had the document for much longer than it let on.

UNC receives amended NOA

CHAPEL HILL — UNC received an amended Notice of Allegations from the NCAA and will release the document as soon as possible, the university confirmed Monday morning.

Before the new NOA can be released publicly, it must be partially redacted by the university’s legal team.

In May 2015, UNC received the original notice of allegations in the long-running academic-athletic scandal that stemmed from no-show classes in the AFAM department that may have disproportionately helped student-athletes. But after UNC turned over new information to the NCAA in August — days before the deadline to respond to the NOA — the NCAA had to reevaluate the original NOA.

UNC Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham told reporters in an August teleconference that the new possible violations uncovered were similar to the previously reported impermissible benefits in the form of extra academic help given to the women’s basketball by former professor and women’s basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill.

Potential recruiting violations in men’s soccer were also included in the new report to the NCAA.

Men’s basketball and football were not mentioned in the newly uncovered information.

Now that UNC has the amended NOA, the university has 90 days — until July 24 — to respond followed by a 60-day window for the NCAA to respond. Then there will be a Committee on Infractions hearing to determine the possible punishments followed by a final ruling. But UNC can appeal the final ruling, potentially stretching the date for final resolution to 2017.

Hornets win first playoff game in 14 years, Trail Heat 2-1

May 9, 2002. This is the date of the last time the Charlotte Hornets won a playoff game. The Hornets defeated the New Jersey Nets 115-97; Baron Davis, with 26 points, was the leading scorer. The late Robert “Tractor” Traylor played in the game. Richard Jefferson is the only participant from that Thursday evening contest still active in the NBA. LeBron James, who was a junior in high school in the spring of 2002, entered the league, and racked up over 46,000 minutes of game action, including the playoffs, between playoff victories for the Hornets.

What I’m trying to say: 14 years is a long time, and a lot has changed in the NBA. The franchise left the state, departing south for the Crescent City. Then the Bobcats became a thing a few years later. About a decade after that, the team rebranded once again as the Hornets. In the second year of that effort, Charlotte broke through Saturday afternoon with with a dominating 96-80 victory over a Miami Heat squad that had been playing better than just about anyone through two games of postseason progress.

The Hornets have been terrific on their home floor all season long; during the regular season, they won 30 games at Time Warner Cable Arena (the third best home court record in the Eastern Conference), and in the third game of their first round series, Charlotte defended their court, and they did so sans one of their best players.

Star forward Nicolas Batum couldn’t fit his swollen left foot in a sneaker (thanks to an ankle injury suffered in the Game 2 defeated) let alone play a game of basketball on Saturday. In the regular season, Charlotte scored five more points per 100 possessions with Batum on the court — the difference between a top-five offense and a bottom-five offense. Normally when Batum misses games, coach Steve Clifford will go smaller with his starting lineup, and insert Jeremy Lin in as another guard while sliding Courtney Lee down to small forward. Saturday, however, he did just the opposite of that. Instead, Clifford replaced Batum in the first five with rookie big man Frank Kaminsky. Marvin Williams, the team’s power forward, moved to the three-spot, and veteran Al Jefferson replaced Cody Zeller as the starting center.

This was a bold move from Clifford, who continues to prove himself as one of the best half-dozen or so coaches the NBA has to offer. I’m usually not a fan of upsizing a lineup to create mismatches. Look where the league’s heading — everything’s smaller and faster, which makes sense. It’s wise to get as much passing, shooting and speed on the court as you possibly can. However, Clifford laughed in the face of that wisdom, and went with a big lineup. Miami wings, who had bullied Charlotte’s perimeter players during the first two games in South Beach, found match-ups for posting up far less palatable against a longer and stronger Hornets lineup: Joe Johnson shot only 3 for 11 from the field, and only one of those buckets came at the rim.

Jefferson’s start was also likely an attempt to draw early fouls on Miami’s stud center Hassan Whiteside. In Games 1 and 2, Whiteside averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds and missed only two shots.

The primary concern, though, would be if Kaminsky, who struggled early in this series, could hang with Miami’s Luol Deng. Miami shot 74.4 percent in the first half on their Game 2 victory, but no one gave Charlotte bigger fits than Deng, who recorded 47 points on 24 shots in Games 1 and 2. It looked as though he was picking up right where he left off at the start of Game 3. The former Duke Blue Devils sank four 3-pointers in the first quarter, usually with Kaminsky a step slow closing out.

But after some initial shakiness, Kaminsky settled in on Deng. The Miami forward hit a three with a little under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, which gave him 15 points and made the score 51-47, in favor of Charlotte. After that bucket, Deng was held in check: he made only one more shot from the field and finished with 19 points. Kaminsky used his height and length to aid in some closeouts; he contested a game-high six 3-pointers, per NBA.com’s player tracking.

Charlotte also communicated better, and functioned cohesively as the top-ten defense that they are. The Hornets held the Heat to only 84 points per 100 possessions, and when Kaminsky was on the floor, the Hornets allowed only .89 points per possession.

On the other end, Kaminsky punished Miami. During his first two playoff contests, Big Frank played roughly 37 minutes and scored a measly four points — all from the free-throw line. But in front of a raucous home crowd, Kaminsky was a different player. He missed on all three of his attempts from beyond the arc, but Kaminsky, who was second on the team with 61 touches, took advantage of the smaller defenders thrown at him. He was an impressive 5 of 9 shooting close to the basket; check his shot chart per NBA.com:


Lin was one of the best sixth men in the league this season, and on Saturday, he brought his usual aggressive approach off the bench. In a little over 26 minutes of action, Lin scored 18 points, drilled two 3-pointers, dished out four assists and didn’t turn it over once (more on this in a minute).

16 of Lin’s minutes came while sharing the floor with Kemba Walker. The dual-point guard lineup was a favorite of Clifford’s all season, but Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic punctured that smaller look in South Beach. Back in Charlotte, however, Lin and Walker were up to their old tricks, and the Hornets absolutely cooked with those two holding court together: outscoring the Heat by 35.4 points per 100 possessions. Wade went 7 for 20 from the field, and I’m not sure if he got back once on defense the entire second half. The All-Star guard was clearly frustrated and spent most of the fourth quarter complaining and gesturing at the referees while the Hornets raced the in the other direction with the ball.

Clifford really tightened up the rotation yesterday. Only seven players played more than 12 minutes, including Cody Zeller. The 7-footer recorded 60 starts this season, but if he was upset about coming off the bench on Saturday, he certainly didn’t show it. The third-year center recorded 12 points and eight rebounds. Charlotte was +18 with Cody on the floor. All season long, the Hornets have exhibited fantastic chemistry. Saturday in Charlotte, it was on full display.

This was not the kind of shooting performance we’ve grown accustomed to with the 2016 Hornets. They shot 39 percent from the field and made only five 3-pointers. Those totals don’t usually result in victory, but they defended and were so darn good on the margins offensively. Charlotte was an absurd 21 of 22 from the free-throw stripe and turned the ball over only three times. Miami, conversely, missed 11 free-throws and turned it over 14 times. This was the difference.

Charlotte’s three turnovers tied an NBA record for the fewest turnovers in a playoff victory.

This was a really entertaining game to watch, too. The home crowd was there for the Hornets every time they needed encouragement to match a Heat run. Kemba — who has assumed a more vocal leadership role with this crew, especially following the shoulder injury to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the team’s heart and soul — didn’t shoot well (4 of 19), but he was in constant motion. Recording two steals, seven assists and constantly imploring the home crowd to come alive. He even exchanged words on multiple occasions with Whiteside (I would pay good money to hear audio from one of their discussions leading into a timeout — it seemed spirited!).

Marvin Williams, Mr. Steady Eddie all season for Charlotte, finally announced himself in this series on Saturday, too. After shooting 1 for 17 in the first two games, Williams slapped up a double-double in Game 3: 12 points and 14 big rebounds. You could feel a sigh of relief in the building after he splashed his first 3-pointer of the series in the second quarter. This series takes on a totally different shape if Williams regains his form from the regular season.

It’s great to get the proverbial monkey off the back and win a postseason game, but Charlotte still trails Miami 2-1 in the series. Batum’s status for Game 4 is currently up in the air; he was visibly antsy while in street clothes Saturday, jumping at the bit to hoop in front of Charlotte’s booming crowd. The turnaround is quick, though. Game 4 takes place Monday evening in the Queen City. Can Batum come back so quickly? If not, can Clifford once again bank on Frank to hold his own against Miami’s go-go fours?

And on the flip, how will Miami coach Erik Spoelstra — one of the best in the league at adjustments — counter Charlotte’s Game 3 performance and lineups?

There’s a lot of basketball left to play, and it will be interesting to see how Miami responds Monday night. Let’s just make sure we don’t have to go another 14 years between playoff victories.

Redskins sign former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman

It felt a lot like the Redskins of the past.

Dan Snyder fueled up the private jet, rolled out the red carpet, and courted former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman into Redskins Park with a caravan of black SUVs.

Norman inked a five-year, $75 million deal with $50 million guaranteed as the newest member of the Redskins.

Naysayers will argue this is the same old Washington front office, throwing money free agents instead of building a team the right way.

But this is different. Keep in mind that Norman was good enough to garner the franchise tag in Carolina. He’s hands down one of the top-five defensive backs in the NFL, in the prime of his career.

We may never know why Panthers’ general manager Dave Gettleman and the Carolina brass  suddenly rescinded the franchise tag for a guy that played such a pivotal role on last season’s suffocating defense. But the notion that it was purely a financial decision is bogus.  The whole point of the tag is to keep guys around that may otherwise hold out.  There is something deeper to the story, but that’s neither here or there.

Norman provides an instant upgrade to a Washington secondary that finished 25th against the pass a  season ago. He will line up opposite of Baushaud Breeland (who has quietly cemented himself as a top-10 corner) to now form one of the top cornerback tandems in the NFL.

Norman’s coming out party a season ago included four interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 19 passes defended. He owned several one-on-one battles against the top wide outs in the game, including Odell Beckham Jr., who he will now terrorize twice a year.

Second-year Skins general manager isn’t one to chase high dollar free agents. He’s made a living building through the draft, but Norman’s upside was too intriguing. He thrives as a cover CB particularly in quarters packages, making him the perfect fit for Washington defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

Norman will battle Desean Jackson in practices, which will surely aid them both. Kirk Cousins will only benefit practicing against one of the top corners in the land. Those matchups against Beckham and Dez Bryant just got even more intriguing.

Norman in D.C. is good for everyone involved. It should be fun to watch.


Rays calling up Blake Snell, set to start in Yankee Stadium

Well, that didn’t take long.

Blake Snell was sent down to the Durham Bulls near the end of Spring Training, but the Tampa Bay Rays’ No. 1 prospect is already getting the call to the majors, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The 23-year-old southpaw has dominated yet again at the Triple-A level, going 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA, 21 strikeouts and seven walks in 14 1/3 innings during his first three starts with the Bulls. That comes just a year after he was named Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today last season.

“I don’t see him repeating as Minor League Player of the Year again because he won’t be there long,” Baseball America editor John Manuel said. “I see him being too good for the Rays to ignore. Obviously we’re pretty high on him and can see him developing even further this year.

“The Rays have always been deliberate and slow-moving with their promotion of pitchers, but it seems to work.”

Snell has more than earned the call, but it might not be permanent. The Rays are currently in the midst of a nine-game stretch in consecutive days and have a need for a fifth starter. Erasmo Ramirez, normally fifth in the rotation, was used in relief Thursday against the Boston Red Sox.

Saturday will be a huge spot start for Snell, who will face the New York Yankees in New York. Oh, and the probable pitcher opposing him will be Masahiro Tanaka.

No pressure, right? Snell doesn’t seem nervous about the spot start.

“Can’t have dreamed of a better way,” Snell told Topkin. “It’s really such an amazing time for me. And I’m really fortunate to be in this situation.”


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