Why isn’t Texas a more popular pick? The Barnes factor

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Let’s call it the Rick Barnes factor.

Texas features the nation’s most efficient defense, a supremely talented scorer in Jordan Hamilton and one of the nation’s most underrated interior players in Tristan Thompson. The ‘Horns are talented, deep and capable of winning it all.

Yet they’re behind Kentucky and tied with San Diego State as the 10th most popular title contender right now. Hardly what I’d expect from a team fourth in on kenpom.com and seventh on Sagarin,

What’s dissuading people from picking Texas? I’d guess it’s the Rick Barnes factor.

Few coaches earn more disdain than Barnes, who’s 151-57 in 13 seasons at Texas, has claimed three Big 12 titles and made the 2003 Final Four. At issue? His middling 17-12 NCAA tournament record at UT despite ample talent in Austin.

He’s had two national players of the year (T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant) and four top-10 draft picks in the last seven years. Only UConn’s Jim Calhoun has had more in that time. (Roy Williams has coached more lottery picks, though.) In all, he’s coached seven first-round picks and six second-round picks.

See why people might be leery of picking Texas? The perception is Barnes can’t win when it matters most.

This isn’t new, either.

It was loudest after the 2007 tournament when the ‘Horns, led by Durant and D.J. Augustin and seeded as a 4, fell to USC in the second round. Barnes’ in-game coaching was questioned by Bill Simmons, which was more than enough to create a lasting impression. Nevermind USC had NBA talent on its roster and was seeded fifth. Talent should be enough, right?

It lasted through 2008 – despite Texas winning 31 games, sharing the Big 12 title with Kansas and reaching the Elite Eight only to lose to runner-up Memphis – 2009 and got worse in 2010 when Texas was 17-0 and atop the rankings, then bottomed out to 24-10 overall and a first-round NCAA tournament exit.

It’s emerged again this season, most notably during Texas’ late February issues. As Texas enters the Big Dance, Barnes is undoubtedly the coach with the most pressure on him to win. But he doesn’t sound worried. From Jason King’s Yahoo! Sports column:

The more Texas loses, the more fans respond with their here-we-go-again tweets and remarks on message boards. At times the only person who doesn’t seem worried is Barnes, who said this team doesn’t have the same chemistry issues that plagued a 2009-10 squad that featured Damion James, Dexter Pittman and Avery Bradley.

“This team has been pretty resilient,” Barnes said. “I’ve had teams like the one last year where, at this time of the year, it wasn’t in a good place. I’ve had other teams that weren’t in a good place that went out and won a game and got on a roll. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

Barnes has his defenders, both in the media and among fans. But perhaps the most telling aspect of him is the respect he has from former players. Durant speaks so highly of his former coach, it’s no wonder Barnes has no trouble keeping the recruiting pipeline to Austin flowing with talent.

“He treats you more like a father treats a son,” Durant told the Daily Oklahoman . “He complimented us but never gave us too many compliments. He pushed us to our limit. He gets the most out of players. As a player you really respect a person like that.

“Ask any of the guys in the NBA, guys like myself, Royal Ivey, T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge or D.J. Augustin, and they’ll tell you he’s like a dad away from home.”

As long as he keeps bringing in those players, Barnes will keep winning. His teams are too talented not to. If with that talent, it’s only a matter of time before he eventually wins a title. He just needs the right combination of talent and luck in the tournament. (One or two breaks and Texas beats LSU for a Final Four berth in 2006. Would it be such a leap that a team with LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and P.J. Tucker could’ve beaten Florida?)

Until then, people will shy away from Barnes’ teams, no matter how well they’ve played. Word to the wise: don’t wait too long.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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.