Recruiting rundown, including the new studs for Duke, UNC

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Editor’s note: This marks the debut of Kellon Hassenstab to the blog. Kellon runs a recruiting web site, Hoopniks.com, and will be writing a weekly column focusing on the big news and trends.

Sin City’s top-10 tandem remains unsigned
College basketball programs in need of an elite incoming freshman for next year need to look no further than Las Vegas for next year, as two high school seniors in Las Vegas are the only two top-10 prospects remaining unsigned for next year.

The early signing period for current high school seniors and junior college prospects concluded Nov. 16, and when the dust settled, only 15 prospects, give or take depending on the rankings source, of the top-100 are still considering with college they’d like to play at next year.

The epicenter of the holdouts, which probably doesn’t pain the coaching staffs still pursuing the two players, in the desert playground of Las Vegas, which holds the nation’s top prospect in 6-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Nev.), and Anthony Bennett, a 6-8 power forward from Findlay Prep (Nev.), located in the suburb of Henderson.

The programs in the mix for Muhammad and Bennett appear to be in the recruiting race for the long haul, as neither player seems particularly interested in making a decision at any point in the near future. Kentucky and UNLV are on the respective lists for both players, with Muhammad also considering UCLA, Duke, Texas A&M, Kansas, and USC. Muhammad plays for UNLV head coach Dave Rice’s brother, Grant Rice, at Bishop Gorman.

Bennett has not made any official trips to college campuses, while Muhammad has used two of his five trips, as he was at Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, and previously visited Texas A&M. Bennett is of particular interest, as the native of Brampton, Ontario, has given no indications of a leader, with UConn, Florida, Ohio State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Washington and West Virginia also on his list.

There’s really not enough information to even speculate on where Bennett ends up at this point, but the almost opposite is true for Muhammad. UCLA was considered the clubhouse leader for him, and the stumble out of the gate by the Bruins program has either hurt or helped the Bruins’ cause, depending on whom you believe. Now, rumblings indicate Kentucky or Duke may be scrapping for top billing.

Both players’ recruitments seem far from over, and are quite important to the success of the teams pursuing them for next year, in some cases. The tenacious, relentless slashing style of Muhammad, and the brawny, bullying interior play of Bennett would be welcomed on any roster, and could make a major difference where they end up next season.

For now, expect to see plenty of head and assistant coaches trip to the desert for major face time with Muhammad and Bennett until the commencement of the regular signing period, which is set for mid-April.

Wildcats and Hoosiers are great out of the gate
The early signing period isn’t the end all, be all for recruiting for next year, with the aforementioned fair helping of prospects still on the board. Still, a pair of Wildcats (Arizona and Kentucky), and the Indiana Hoosiers snared the top-3 recruiting classes of the early signing period, with North Carolina State, Michigan and Providence signing the next tier of classes.

Observers that have seen Arizona’s triumvirate of incoming frontcourt stars, 7-0 center Kaleb Tarczewski, and 6-8 forwards Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett aren’t surprised at the way coach Sean Miller is appearing to wave good bye to current freshman Sidiki Johnson. It’s that type of rich talent coming in that buoyed Arizona to be the universal top recruiting class in the country, to date. That’s not even mentioning bouncy combo guard Gabe York, who could’ve made the year at some of the other schools he was considering.

A five member class locked up at Indiana was mostly assembled last year throughout the season, which  allowed many hardcore Indiana fans to get through last year’s flop. A dynamo point guard, homegrown talent Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and freak athlete power forward Hanner Perea have fans salivating. Kentucky fans aren’t quite at the same excitement level, but it’s most likely that they’re used to unbelievable crops of talent, having landed the top class in the land, the last three seasons coming into this year. A “ho-hum” class with three top-50 talents, led by shooting guard Archie Goodwin has cast their lot with the Big Blue Nation.

The second-best player in the land, power forward Mitch McGary, an Indiana-native prepping at Brewster Academy (NH) could put the exclamation mark on coach John Beilein’s rebuilding process at Michigan, and North Carolina State landed three in-state players ranked in the national top-100, in coach Mark Gottfried’s first recruiting class for the Wolfpack. Providence also appears to be trending upward on a rapid trajectory, with perhaps the best signed backcourt duo in the country in point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Ricardo Ledo.

Tobacco Road takes two 2013 stars
Some schools can now focus on the 2013 class, current high school juniors, with their incoming recruiting classes for next year already locked up. North Carolina and Duke are doing just that, as they secured verbal commitments from a pair of top-25 players in the high school junior class early this week.

Five-star point guard Nate Britt, a 6-0 superb talent from Gonzaga Prep (D.C.) pledged to North Carolina, while fellow top talent Matt Jones, a 6-4 shooting guard from DeSoto (Texas) made his intentions known for Duke.

Britt is considered the no. 2 point guard in the country in the 2013 class, just behind 6-5 Andrew Harrison of Fort Bend Travis (Texas). He made his pledge to North Carolina over ACC Rivals Maryland and Virginia, as well as Georgetown and Arizona.

Jones is a close friend of Duke’s sole signee in the 2012 class, Strake Jesuit (Texas) guard Rasheed Sulaimon. He’s considered to be one of a handful of elite level shooters in the junior class.

The addition of Britt and Jones is what appears to be a case of the rich getting richer, as both project to be potential all-ACC players down the road.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

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.