Jamie Skeen’s winding road to the Final Four


It changed all the way back in November.

Prior to VCU’s Preseason NIT consolation game against UCLA, VCU center Jamie Skeen said at a team dinner that he wasn’t getting the ball enough.

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

The 6’8″ Skeen would score 10 points in the first five minutes of that game, finishing with 23 points and nine boards as VCU knocked off the Bruins. He’s barely slowed down since, leading the Rams in both scoring and rebounding. Most recently, he had 26 points, 10 boards, and hit four threes as VCU knocked off Kansas in the Elite 8.

It hasn’t always been this easy. Skeen’s college career has been a long and winding road, one that has required as much patience as anything.

Back in 2006, Skeen was the reigning high school player of the year in North Carolina. A top 100 recruit, he was headed to Wake Forest. He started 24 games as a freshman in 2006-2007, averaging 7.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg playing along side Kyle Visser. As a sophomre, Skeen saw his minutes cut, but much of that was due to the addition of James Johnson, an eventual first round pick. With Jeff Teague also on the roster, Skeen started just six games and averaged only 5.6 ppg and 4.1 rpg, but he was a key piece of the front court rotation.

In 2008-2009, Wake Forest was loaded. Teague and Johnson carried the Demon Deacons, at one point being ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.

Skeen was supposed to be on that team, but he wasn’t. He had to sit out the first semester at Wake Forest due to some academic problems he had at the school, and instead of appealing he decided to transfer to VCU. He wouldn’t get eligible until the end of the fall semester in 2009-2010, which means that Skeen was forced to sit and watch both his old team and his new team take part in the NCAA Tournament.

When he finally was allowed back on the court in December of 2009, Skeen didn’t immediately see the court. He was stuck behind yet another future first round pick in Larry Sanders.

It wasn’t until this season that Skeen finally got his chance.

And he has shined. Skeen averaged 15.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg, leading VCU in both categories. Not just on the court, but in the classroom as well, where Skeen is scheduled to graduate this spring.

“He’s come a long way, a long way,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said earlier this week. “He’s matured. He’s developed as a person. He’s done a really good job of putting himself in a position where he’s on track to graduate this spring. His attitude is one of humility and wanting to be coached and to get better.”

On the court, Skeen has been arguably the most important piece for this Rams team. While VCU has a couple of other options in the post, Skeen is the only one that is any kind of scoring threat. In fact, VCU is at their best when they surround Skeen with four guards that can shoot. It creates space for him to operate inside, and with his ability to shoot the three, he makes VCU a very difficult team to defend.

“He became our go-to guy,” Smart said. “He was going to get as many touches as he could handle. Now we’ve been able to go to him over and over and over again, and he’s responded. He’s led us in scoring, rebounding. He’s been at times a point forward for us. We can play through him.”

“I’m just so happy for him because he did go through some adversity earlier in his career. Really happy that it’s finishing the right way.”

The most ironic part in all of this?

Skeen left a Wake Forest team that had Final Four potential. He went to VCU and has led a team that barely got into the NCAA Tournament to the Final Four. He’s put himself on the radar of NBA teams.

Who would have thought that transferring to a team in the CAA would have ended up being the best move that Jamie Skeen could have made?

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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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

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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.