Recruiting rundown: Colleges stoked for Jarnell Stokes

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The story with the most potential impact in college basketball recruiting right now centers on Jarnell Stokes and the possibility that one lucky college program may land him in the coming days. It’s not often that high-major schools are in the position to add a national top-25 prospect at midseason, but that is the place that Memphis, Arkansas, Kentucky, UConn, Florida and Tennessee are in, according to a report from The Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

Stokes is a 6-8, 255 pound power forward who is strong enough to play center. He played at Central (Tenn.) last year and is a Memphis native. Over the summer, Stokes was expected to transfer to powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Va.), but got cold feet and returned home to the Bluff City.

Tennessee high school officials denied Stokes the opportunity to play at Southwind (Tenn.) this year, after he decided not to return to Central. He would have teamed with elite 2013 recruit Jonathan Williams III if he played at Southwind. The denial of his eligibility after transferring set into motion Stokes and his family looking into the possibility of enrolling at a college in midseason.

Stokes’s conditioning is unclear, though he’s said to be practicing with the team at Southwind. He has always had a large frame, and hasn’t played in a competitive game since late summer. Still, his interior presence would be welcomed on the decimated front line at Arkansas, and he would certainly be an upgrade to the players currently patrolling the interior at Tennessee. Then again, since taking the head coach position at Memphis, Josh Pastner has kept the city’s top players from leaving for college.

The Razorbacks, Volunteers and Tigers seem to be the most likely destination for Stokes, if he decides to enroll at the break. Notably, Stokes played with fellow Memphis signee Shaquille Goodwin, of Southwest DeKalb (Ga.) for the Atlanta Celtics on the AAU circuit, and at times his recruitment has been thought to be a two-team race between Arkansas and Memphis.

Stokes could also elect to wait, and enroll with his class next season, but as an honors student, he could be cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse and be ready to play at most schools right away. He would be a solid addition to a shaky front line so far at Memphis, and have the possibility of becoming a starter out of the chute at Arkansas or Tennessee. With that said, Stokes decision could be extremely important to the schools he’s considering, in the coming days.

Package duo pops for South Florida
In recent years, South Florida has relied on junior college transfers perhaps as much as any program in a BCS conference. That may be changing as coach Stan Heath seeks to add stability to the Bulls program with over four seasons under his belt now.

So-called package deals are rare in college basketball recruiting, perhaps occurring less often than the average fan might believe. The Bulls though, have landed a duo that is unquestionably a package deal in the 2013 class, current high school juniors, as evidenced by the fact that the players live within the same household.

Team Georgia Elite teammates Drew Davis, a 6-0 guard and John Egbunu, a 7-0 center, both attend Eagle’s Landing (Ga.), but do not play at the school, instead playing on the Christian schools tournament circuit, for long-time AAU and high school coach Linzy Davis, Drew’s father. Egbunu is a native of Nigeria that resides in the Davis home.

While Davis is thought to be a decent shooter, the prize here is Egbunu. He had plenty of high-major interest before pulling the trigger for South Florida. He’s an active and potential filled interior player that could rise up the charts. With three junior college players already signed for next season, Egbunu will be given the opportunity to develop behind an experienced roster as a senior, and could be a strong player in the decimated Big East.

South Carolina loses two to doubts
It’s never a good thing when verbally committed recruits fail to sign during the allotted time period for making verbal pledges official. When South Carolina only signed post Tyrone Haughton of Dr. Krop (Fla.), and didn’t receive letters of intent from AAU and high school teammates Ian Baker and Carlos Morris during college basketball’s early signing period, there immediately were whispers regarding the recruitment.

It became official in recent days that Baker and Morris, a backcourt tandem, were re-opening their recruitments, due to doubts regarding Gamecocks’ coach Darrin Horn, and his future at South Carolina.

Morris is the biggest prize of the two players, a 6-6 shooting guard that has ideal size and athleticism. Both Baker and Morris ran together over the summer with the Dwight Howard Warriors, and play together for one of the top high school basketball teams in the country, in Arlington Country Day (Fla.).

There’s at least lip service that Morris and Baker will still consider South Carolina, but it’s obviously an uphill battle after both players failed to sign and are entertaining other offers. Expect both players to end up at BCS schools, but it remains to be seen how many programs have scholarship availability for both players, given that the early signing period has already passed.

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

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

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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.