Arizona’s freshmen all the talk, but its veterans are key

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NEW YORK – The way to win championships at the college level is through success on the recruiting front.

Regardless of whether a coach wins by bringing in a crop of top 50 recruits every season or through identifying the under-the-radar players who will thrive in their system, the key to winning games is bringing the right kids into the program.

Since he’s been at Arizona, Sean Miller has been a powerhouse recruiter, landing in eight four-star recruits and four five-star recruits once the Class of 2012 is included. You want a good gauge of how much talent has he brought into Tucson? Two four-star recruits — Momo Jones and Daniel Bejarano — have transferred out because they were recruited over. Perhaps more impressive is that both Derrick Williams, who was probably the best player in the country last season not named Jimmer or Kemba, and Kevin Parrom, who may be Arizona’s MVP this year, were three-star recruits coming out of high school.

So its no wonder that this year’s incoming class of Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson were the guys that got the majority of the headlines for Arizona over the past two months.

But the reason that Arizona is 4-0 right now, the reason they were able to overcome a 19-4 run that whipped St. John’s fans into a frenzy at Madison Square Garden — the Johnnies home-away-from-home — that put Arizona in a late 66-58 hole, was Miller’s veterans.

Only one freshman, Johnson, was playing during crunch-time on Thursday night. It was the play of Miller’s veteran leaders that sparked a game-winning, 18-2 run in Arizona’s 81-72 victory in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

“Tonight we were more of a function of a couple of our veteran guys having been in the winner’s circle from a year ago,” Miller said after the game. “Finishing the game showed a lot of toughness.”

“We depended on our veteran and veteran leadership at the end of the game.”

There no question that Arizona has talent on their roster this year, but the knock on them, at least at this point in the season, is that they don’t have a go-to player. There is no star on this team. They don’t have that one guy that you can rely on to get a bucket in a crucial moment. There isn’t one player that can simply be isolated and asked to make a play to end a run or at the end of a game.

Tonight re-enforced that theory. There isn’t one star on this roster. Instead, Miller has three or four veterans that are capable of rising to the occasion.

The Wildcats looked like they were ready to take control of this game midway through the second half. After Turner threw Johnson a back-door alley-oop for a thunderous dunk, Arizona had a 54-47 lead with 14 minutes left and all the momentum in their favor. But Phil Greene answered with seven straight points, and after Chol gave Arizona the lead back on a lay-in, St. John’son scored 12 of the next 14 points to take an eight point lead and what appeared to be control of the game.

That’s when Arizona’s upperclassmen took over.

Kyle Fogg got into the middle of the St. John’s zone and found Johnson for a three. After a breakaway dunk by Turner, Fogg against broke down the zone and found Solomon Hill for a dunk. On the next possession, Jesse Perry made a nice move for a layup along the baseline and Hill followed that up with an offensive rebound, drawing a foul and hitting both free throws. All of a sudden, the Wildcats had the lead back.

The next three possessions were much of the same. Parrom found Fogg for an open three, Perry tipped in his own miss and Johnson found Parrom for yet another open three (Arizona made 14 of them), and with just 2:26 remaining, Arizona had a 77-70 lead and cruised to the nine point win.

“Very important,” Miller said when asked how valuable having multiple veterans capable of thriving when the lights are the brights. “That’s why I can’t understate the importance of Kevin Parrom because he’s now yet another very experienced player for us and, without him, we’re not nearly the same team.”

“Kyle looked like a seasoned, experienced player out there, and he is. He’s been in the Sweet Sixteen his freshman year, he’s been in the Elite Eight his junior year, he’s started now since I’ve been the coach at Arizona almost every game that he’s played, and you can feel that. Here we are in November of his senior year and he stepped up.”

Parrom and Fogg shot just 5-17 combined, but they had 11 assists to just a single turnover. Hill and Perry combined for 26 points and 17 boards, with seven coming on the offensive end of the floor.

With performances like that from his veterans, Sean Miller is going to win a lot of games this season.

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
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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

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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.