UCLA’s biggest problem is on the recruiting front


A great coach can win a game on any given night.

Maybe he exploits a favorable matchup. Maybe he notices a weakness in their defense. Maybe he is the ultimate motivator, capable of getting his players’ best effort to buy into his game plan.

But in the long run, talent wins out over coaching.

You ever heard the saying “coaches win games, talent wins titles”?

It’s why recruiting in the college basketball world is such a cesspool. Coaches know that in order for them to get that promotion or that next big contract, they need to win games. The best way for them to win games is to put the best players on the floor wearing their team’s uniform. It’s gotten to the point that the recruiting acumen and the ability to identify talent is likely more important than an understanding of the game of basketball.

That inability to recruit southern California and accurately identify talent is what has Ben Howland on the hot seat at UCLA.

Because it’s certainly not his coaching ability. The Bruins went to three straight Final Fours (’06-’08). That isn’t an easy thing to do.

But he also did it with a roster full of future pros.

The same cannot be said about the Bruins right now. Take a look at Howland’s 2008 recruiting class, which was rated No. 1 overall by Rivals. Jrue Holiday was a success. He’s now in the NBA. But Drew Gordon and J’Mison Morgan both transferred out of the program. Jerime Anderson underperformed so much that Howland was forced to bring in Lazeric Jones this past season. Malcolm Lee is finally starting to develop into the player that was considered a top five shooting guard in the class.

His 2009 recruiting class, ranked in the top 20 by Rivals, was solid — Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt are both having good seasons as sophomores, while Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane have worked their way into the rotation. But is there even an argument that UCLA wouldn’t be better right now if Kawhi Leonard and Derrick Williams — both southern California kids that UCLA passed on — were playing for Howland?

“We did a poor job not evaluating them as well as we should have,” Howland said recently.

Yeah, you did.

And therein lies the problem for the Bruins. They aren’t landing the top recruits anymore, they aren’t keeping local kids local (Jordan Hamilton, Michael Snaer, Allen Crabbe, and Kaela King are all SoCal kids that went elsewhere), and they aren’t accurately assessing the talent level and potential of the players they do bring in.

It may be more than that, as well.

Howland is known for a grind-it-out style that focuses on the defensive side of the ball. The best players in the country don’t necessarily want to play that way. Its no secret that a lack of offensive freedom was a major factor in Gordon’s departure. Even Kevin Love’s dad took a shot at Howland’s system:

I like Ben. It’s UCLA. But you do have to play modern basketball. We could have won the championship if he would have taken the reins off a little bit. Sometimes, you have to outscore the other team; you can’t just ‘D up’ all the time.

Howland is a terrific coach, but if he is going to turn this program back around, it needs to start on the recruiting front.

He needs to not only identify the talented players he has a shot at getting to come to UCLA, but the players that are willing to buy into his system.

And as Bruins fans have learned the past two years, that is much easier said than done.

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

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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


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.