Jamie Skeen making his impact felt at VCU

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NEW YORK – VCU’s bread and butter is the three.

Well, that’s not exactly true. They like to spread the floor and take advantage of the talented perimeter players on the roster. Joey Rodriguez, Brandon Rozzell, Brad Burgess, Ed Nixon. Even young guys Darius Theus and Rob Brandenburg stepped up and made some big plays this afternoon.

When you have that many good players on your perimeter, and that many players that are unselfish, what you end up with is great ball movement and a lot of open looks. And this group is going to knock down those open looks. They did just that tonight, banging home 10-22 shots from beyond the arc in their 89-85 win over UCLA.

The problem with having so many talented back court players is that, at times, the ball fails to make its way into the post.

Jamie Skeen made sure to address that problem.

“We were at dinner. I just made a joke about it at first,” Skeen said with a laugh after the game. “My coach took it seriously. He said ‘Okay, we’re going to get you the ball for real.’ I said that would nice.”

It worked out well tonight.

Skeen scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the game. He was the focal point offensively down the stretch, scoring and drawing fouls in the post and creating shots for his teammates. And not just the three baskets he created via an assist, but by forcing UCLA’s defense to adjust by moving the ball.

“Down the stretch, they ran a play for me I would say probably 10, 12 times in a row,” Skeen said. “The same play over and over and over again. I wasn’t complaining.”

“My whole life I’ve been playing inside-out basketball. You play inside-out and then the threes start coming because they start clamping down and double-teaming. So it opened it up for everyone else.”

All told, Skeen finished with 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting 8-13 from the floor and playing a major role in getting UCLA’s big men in foul trouble.

“Before the Tennessee game, Skeen said that he wanted the ball more,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said after the game. “So we said OK. We’ll give you the ball more. But to whom much is given, much is expected.”

“He produced tonight.”

The most important stat produced for VCU tonight was one win. The biggest difference between tonight’s win and Wednesday’s loss was the perimeter shooting. And while Skeen did help to create open looks for the multitude of Ram shooters tonight, he also got them open looks on Wednesday.

The threes were dropping tonight.

And, as I said on Wednesday, when the threes are dropping, VCU is going to be able to play with anyone in the country. Tonight proves it.

UCLA has a way to go before they get back to the heights that this program expects. They are a younger team, one that has a number of talented pieces that head coach Ben Howland is still trying to fit together.

That said, this is a Bruins team that many expected to be a sleeper in the Pac-10. (Isn’t it a bad sign for UCLA that they are now disappointing when they are not a sleeper in a bad Pac-10 conference?) A team that some believe was in the running for a potential second tournament bid coming out of that league.

VCU blitzed them. The Rams jumped out to an early lead riding Skeen’s coattails, and they held that lead throughout.

Sure, UCLA got close. They cut it to three at the half. They got the lead down to one with early in the second half, missing a chance to take the lead with Malcolm Lee missed two free throws. After VCU built the lead back up to 11, the Bruins made another run, once again getting to within one possession.

And, once again, the Rams held them off. With the score 80-79, VCU forced Lazeric Jones into two turnovers, both of which led to dunks. The lead was pushed to five, and while a couple misses at the line made things interesting, the Rams were able to hang on for the win.

“I thought UCLA did a great job of making shots and rebounding and usually if we give up that many points its going to be a losing night for us,” Smart said.

“I’m proud of our guys. They stepped up. Showed a lot of fight.”

The experience of playing on national TV in an arena like Madison Square Garden is great and the confidence boost of competing with, and beating, two of the top programs in the country is invaluable.

But how much value with this win have come March?

UCLA is a bubble team at best. While it is no doubt a good win for the Ram program, will it be as good of a win in the eyes of the tournament committee?

It may only be the day after Thanksgiving, but for a team with tournament aspirations — like VCU has — that is a questions that has to be asked. VCU still gets South Florida and Richmond in non-conference play, but neither of those teams would be marquee wins. If VCU doesn’t win their conference tournament, they better be rooting for UCLA to have a resurgence.

But, for now, VCU just wants to enjoy this win.

“We had a seven, eight hour drive up here,” Skeen said.

“We didn’t want to go back down the road on two losses.”

Can’t blame him for that.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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
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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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.