Remember Brandon Knight?


On April 14th of this year, Brandon Knight signed a financial aid agreement with the University of Kentucky.

Knight, a five-star point guard that was universally considered a top five player in the class of 2010, was John Calipari’s fourth consecutive top point guard recruit. The other three were Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, and John Wall. All three were one and done superstars. Evans was the “worst” of the trio because he went fourth in the draft, not first overall.

It was far from crazy to expect that Knight would be the talk of the Kentucky freshmen class.

But he’s been hardly more than an afterthought.

The same day that Knight signed with Kentucky, Coach Cal got a signature from another big time recruit, a 6’10” Turkish mystery by the name of Enes Kanter. Only three days prior to signing, Kanter had gone for 34 points and 13 rebounds against the USA’s best high school kids at the Nike Hoops Summit. That night, the hype surrounding Kanter began to build to a crescendo. It didn’t take long for the “Kanter could be ineligible” talk to start, either.

Two weeks later, while the Kanter-hysteria was beginning to fully blossom, another recruit was creating his own media frenzy. Terrence Jones was taking part in a press conference where he and his high school teammate Terrence Ross would jointly announce their college choice. Both players picked Washington, but immediately after Jones made his announcement, he spoke on the phone with Coach Cal.

Jones never signed a letter of intent with the Huskies, however, and it led to three weeks full of rampant speculation and rumor-mongering. When it was all said and done, Jones was on his way to Kentucky. It was a decision that didn’t sit well with Washington fans, and one that drew a reaction from just about every outlet that covers college hoops.

By September, the concern over Enes Kanter’s eligibility had reached critical mass. Pete Thamel had published the first of two articles speculating that Kanter had received six figures while playing for Fenerbahce Ulker, his club team in Turkey. The fervor spawned a Free Enes movemenet, but unfortunately Big Blue Nation’s passion was not enough, and Kanter was ruled ineligible earlier this month.

With Kanter out of the picture, the focus almost immediately turned to Terrence Jones. Going for 25 points and 12 boards in his first career game — just a day after Kanter was ruled ineligible — was a big reason for that, as was the fact that just four games into his college basketball career he was playing the team that he originally committed to. And now that Kentucky has advanced to the finals of the Maui Invitational, Jones has become the centerpiece of conversation thanks to his impressive performance in the paint. Everyone knew about this kid’s scoring ability and versatility, but the fact that he is averaging 11.8 rpg and 3.0 spg to go along with his 20.5 ppg has caught some folks off guard.

With so little being said about Knight, would it surprise you if I told you that he is averaging 18.8 ppg this season?

Because 18.8 ppg is impressive, whether you are a freshman or a fifth-year senior.

What if I said that Knight will end up being the most important piece on this Kentucky team?

Kentucky has talent this season, there’s no question about that. But they are young. There will be times when the Wildcats have as many as four freshmen on the floor at one time. The upper classmen? They may have been around for a couple years, but they certainly have not logged a ton of minutes on the court. Experience, for this team, is not a forte.

The Wildcats will be looking for a leader this season, and dollars to donuts Coach Cal puts the onus on Knight to be that guy.

Perhaps more important than a leader, Kentucky will spend much of the season in search of half court offense. There aren’t exactly a lot of shot creators on this team. As good as Jones has been, he’s not Kevin Durant. He’s not a guy you can give the ball to in an isolation situation and say “go get us a good shot.” Right now, he seems to be better when he allows his strength and athleticism to take over, finishing in transition and attacking the offensive glass.

Doron Lamb is a spot-up shooter. DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller have shown flashes, but both are far too inconsistent as decision makers.

That leaves Knight.

Now, Knight is not a prototypical point guard. He’s more of a combo-guard, a kid that will take, and make, a lot of perimeter jumpers. He’s got more Stephen Curry in him than he does Ty Lawson. The comparison I have used before is Sherron Collins. And that is fine in Coach Cal’s dribble-drive motion offense. The DDM is predicated more on having four or five guys that can be a threat when they have the ball in their hands than allowing one player to dominate possession of the ball.

That said, every team needs a guy they can give the ball too with the shot clock winding down. Every team needs a player that can produce a bucket when they really need one.

Knight needs to be that guy. If last night was an audition, it was a promising one. Knight scored 24 points on 10-17 shooting. He hit a number of big baskets down the stretch, baskets that helped Kentucky hold on to their second half lead. 10 of his point came in the last eight minutes of the game. He hit the jumper that gave Kentucky the lead for good at 44-43. He hit the and-one jumper that gave Kentucky their first five point lead since the first half at 57-52. He was the one heady enough to attack a cramping Venoy Overton with a back door cut after Washington had whittled a nine point lead down to three with just over two minutes left.

Detractors will point to his 8 turnover, no assist game. To that, I say that he is a freshman. No matter your talent level, freshmen are going the make freshman mistakes. It comes with the territory. Playing in front of a raucous gym on national television against a team with a defensively harassing back court in a game that turned into glorified pick-up basketball is not the easiest way to transition a freshman ball-handler to the college game.

The ability of Knight to transition will be, as much as anything, the key to Kentucky’s season.

The Cats have shown they’re willing and able to defend. Three point shooting will be a strength for this team, not a weakness. Josh Harrellson isn’t Enes Kanter, but he looks like more of a capable big man than he has been given credit for.

As a team, these Cats look better than we expected.

So long as Brandon Knight can bring them together.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

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.