Blogger Spotlight: Talking Mizzou hoops with Rock M Nation

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To say Missouri’s had an interesting offseason would be an understatement.

The Tigers – who closed the season by losing five of their last six games – lost coach Mike Anderson to Arkansas, reportedly had Matt Painter convinced to leave Purdue for Columbia, only to watch him stay in West Lafayette (and find out he was supposedly never serious about bolting the Boilermakers) had multiple players declare for the NBA draft, the finally hired Miami’s Frank Haith as their new coach.

And since then, life’s gotten even more interesting for the Tigers, who’ve locked up good prospects, a key coaching assistant and welcome nearly every important  player from last year’s team.

So, I turned to Bill Connelly from Rock M Nation for the latest Blogger Spotlight to help me cover Haith’s first few weeks on the job, Mizzou’s season, its style and its prospects for next season.

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Q: Hiring Frank Haith didn’t wow people – I was in that camp – but he’s already secured solid recruits and made an excellent assistant hire in Tim Fuller. And given his response to the tornado disaster in Joplin, do you think people are looking at Haith differently now?

A: Haith has been nothing but impressive since he was hired. Between the recruiting and his commitment to winning over the state of Missouri, he has pushed all the right buttons. Obviously that won’t matter if he can’t win, but with the roster he has in place for next year, he could build solid momentum with a nice 2012 recruiting class and a nice 2011-12 season.

The biggest thing Haith has going for him, and the reason I’ve been mostly on board from Day One, is simple: it’s been a really long time since athletic director Mike Alden has made a poor hire.  Like, 1999.  Quin Snyder was the last iffy hire he made, and even that one looked like it was going to work out well for about four years.  Alden trusts that Haith didn’t have the support to live up to his potential at Miami, and he trusts that Mizzou will provide him with that support.  Until he actually makes another bad hire (which everybody does at some point), I have no reason to doubt him.

Q: That said, the season hasn’t started. Haith’s Miami teams were never a conference contender and made just one NCAA tournament in seven years. What will the expectations be in 2011-12 given how much experience is on the roster?

A: I think the expectations are, at the very least, another trip to the NCAA Tournament. But with this much senior talent, one would have to figure it would be disappointing if they didn’t at least make the Round of 32.

Q: Early word on what the players think of him?

A: Early word is that the players love him, honestly.  There were extreme concerns that Phil Pressey would be out the door quickly, especially considering his ties to Mike Anderson.  Instead, he is committed to staying, and nobody else left either.  That has to be a good sign.

Q: That does sound promising for keeping a solid player base. Are there indications if Haith will use portions of Anderson’s pressing, up-tempo styles?

A: Haith has announced that he will keep a lot of the up-tempo nature because that’s what this group is built to do. So basically, I see Mizzou attempting to push the tempo after defensive rebounds and turnovers, but I don’t see them pressing very much.  Which is good, really, because Mizzou wasn’t as good at pressing this past season.  Mike Dixon and Phil Pressey are built to run and play offense, but they weren’t built to press.

Q: The 2010-11 season ended abruptly and couldn’t have been pleasant to watch given the highs Missouri hit. What was the ultimate factor in the late losses and general road woes? How do they get fixed?

A: Some teams just peak at the wrong time. It seemed like Mizzou just ran out of energy down the stretch. Obviously Mizzou fans were able to twist that into “The players knew Anderson was leaving!!” or “Anderson stopped coaching!!” but I don’t necessarily believe that. They just lost the edge that you have to have to run Anderson’s system, and it wasn’t fun to watch.

As for the road woes … the Anderson style is not built for road success simply because it is so dependent on how officials are calling the games, and whether they think they do or not, officials favor the home team. So I think Mizzou had this natural tendency to be better than average at home, where they got calls, and worse than average on the road, where they didn’t.  Beyond that, though … again, it comes down to edge and confidence.  Previous Mizzou teams had it away from home, at least more than in 2010-11, and this one didn’t.  Marcus Denmon showed up on the road, either Mike Dixon or Phil Pressey would from time to time, and Ricardo Ratliffe did for a while.  But Laurence Bowers was mostly nonexistent, and Kim English was an absolute detriment.  Hopefully that changes in 2011-12, obviously.

Q: I’m a Kansas grad, so this question comes with the rivalry in mind: Do you miss the days of Norm Stewart poking a stick at Kansas and its fans? I always thought Mike Anderson could’ve used a little more of that. Not just straight up ripping, but having some fun with the rivalry, you know?

A: I’m not as obsessed with the MU-KU rivalry as some — my freshman year at Mizzou, an acquaintance in the dorm told me, in all seriousness, that Mizzou could go 1-27, and if they beat Kansas at home, it was a successful year.  Even then, that baffled me. 

That said … it’s still the biggest series of the year, and Norm really did make the rivalry fun.  He was a unique case — he grew up with the rivalry and in the rivalry; that gave him a unique feel for things, one that Haith probably doesn’t have.  But he’s going to try his best, and if he knocks off the Jayhawks at Mizzou Arena (or, god forbid, Allen Fieldhouse for the first time in 13 years), then Mizzou fans will do the poking-with-sticks for him.

Q: I’m always amazed at the people who want the 1 win over the rival as well. Don’t you want more than just that? Like next year. Missouri should be in good shape to possibly win the Big 12 and make a decent NCAA tourney run. Who needs to be player needs to step up for that to happen?

A: In the late signing period, Haith and company evidently did not find anybody worth spending a scholarship on once Otto Porter announced he was going to Georgetown, which was mostly fine.  Mizzou has quite a bit of depth already, and the biggest immediate recruiting job, really, was to make sure Phil Pressey stayed. 

What this did, however, was leave Mizzou with the bigs they have.  I think that the biggest pressure will be on the main bigs — Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers — to prove that, in less of a run-and-gun environment, they can bang and rebound a bit better.  The Mike Anderson style is always going to result in iffy rebounding numbers to some degree (even in 2008-09, they were average at best in this department), but what happened in 2010-11 was that Mizzou forced fewer turnovers and created fewer easy baskets … and while they didn’t get any worse on the glass than they were the year before, it became more of an issue with the extra possessions opponents were receiving.  We know Mizzou will have a dynamic backcourt, but the frontcourt is still a bit of a question mark.

Q: Favorite Mizzou team of the last 15 years?

A: Honestly, I’ve got to go with 2008-09. t’s probably obvious (it was one of only two Mizzou teams in that span to advance beyond the Round of 32), but the reasons behind it go beyond simply “They were really good.”  After a really, really depressing half-decade of Mizzou basketball, where Mizzou not only didn’t win, but they suffered some embarrassing moments off the court, fan morale was at an all-time low. With both on-court style and personality, that team won everybody back, and then some.  It was the subject of perhaps my favorite post I’ve ever written at Rock M Nation.

Q: How’d you get into blogging? And how much longer do you intend keeping it up?

A: For years, I was writing lengthy posts on various message boards until I realized I hated message boards for the most part, so some friends and I started a little Google Group just to talk amongst ourselves. Then, after about a year of that, the lightbulb went off: I’m reading hundreds of blogs a day … why the hell haven’t I started a Mizzou one yet?  Mizzou Sanity went up the next day, and about eight months later, I was writing for SB Nation with a fellow Mizzou blogger from a different site.

How long do I intend to keep it up?  Until blogs don’t exist anymore, I’m assuming.  If I ever stopped, I’d still be having all the same thoughts running around in my head, and I’d have to get them out somehow, so…why stop?

You can find more of Bill’s writing here and follow him on Twitter @rockmnation.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

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.