Kemba Walker was terrific, but UConn still looks mediocre


The Maui Invitational seems to always leave us with a memorable moments, be it a game that deserves to be on ESPN Classic or a great individual performance.

Its the reason that it is generally regarded as the best of the early season tournaments.

We only had to wait one game to get one this year.

Kemba Walker, fresh off of a 42 point performance in a win over Vermont, put his young UConn Husky team on his back on Monday afternoon (well, Monday morning if you are on the islands) and led them to a come-from-behind victory over Missouri Valley favorite Wichita State.

Walker was in foul trouble for much of the first half, sitting all but four of the first 20 minutes and scoring two points. UConn had a one point lead heading into the break, but the Shockers quickly built a nine point lead early in the second half.

That’s when the Kemba showed started. When it ended, Walker had scored 29 second half points and my twitter feed had officially blown up.

The lightening quick Walker drove to the rim at will. The slower Wichita State guards simply could not stay in front of him, as Walker drew foul after foul and scored layup after layup. For the last 12 minutes of the game, every UConn possession turned into Walker going one-on-one. And on seemingly every possession, Walker made something positive happen. If he missed the layup, it was Roscoe Smith tipping home the offensive rebound. If he passed the ball, it ended up in Smith’s hands for an open three or to Alex Oriakhi for an and-one alley-oop.

No question, Walker’s afternoon will go down as one of the best individual performances of the entire season.

And as excited as UConn fans should be that their point guard may very well be the best player in the country at this moment, this game should also send up some major red flags.

Wichita State is a good basketball team, don’t get me wrong. The Valley is as good as it gets at the mid-major level, and Wichita State was everyone’s pick to win the conference heading into the season. But compared to the rest of the Big East, the Shockers are probably a middle of the pack team, at best.

What does it say about UConn that they needed this kind of performance to beat them?

UConn was outplayed in the paint by the Shockers. Offensively, when the ball wasn’t in Walker’s hands, UConn looked lost. Defensively, Wichita State executed their offense to perfection and got just about whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it.

There is promise on this UConn roster, but consistency and offensive reliability is lacking.

Oriakhi finished with 12 points and 7 boards this afternoon, but he struggled defensively and didn’t rebound like he normally does. Shabazz Napier showed some moxie and flashed the potential to be a big-time point guard, but he has to improve his decision making, shot selection, and reduce his turnovers. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel still hasn’t seemed to earn Jim Calhoun’s trust. Roscoe Smith, Jeremy Lamb, and Niels Giffey are long and athletic, but their skill level isn’t where it needs to be. Charles Okwandu and Tyler Olander? They’re certainly not Emeka Okafor and Josh Boone.

There is no reason to think that some of the younger guys on this roster can’t improve. But with how far some of these kids have to go to reach their full potential, how much can you really expect these guys to improve during the season? There will be nights when Napier or Oriakhi or Smith provide a secondary scoring option, but none of them will develop into a reliable scoring threat until there get at least one offseason of work.

If you take anything from this game, it should be the attitude improvement of the Huskies. Last season, UConn would have folded when Wichita State went up nine. Walker is an infinitely better leader than either Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson ever was.

But don’t expect this performance to change the outlook of UConn’s season.

The best teams in the Big East will be able to slow down one player that is going off.

UConn doesn’t have the weapons offensively to compete with the best in the Big East is Walker gets slowed down.

This game was a tremendous display of ability from Kemba Walker.

But anyone that thinks it changes the trajectory of UConn’s season is rushing to a premature conclusion.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.