Phil Martelli needs to grant Todd O’Brien his release, then a rule change should be made


I think Phil Martelli is being a jerk.

Plain and simple.

Because as far as I’m concerned, that’s the only reason for Martelli to deny Todd O’Brien his release to play at St. Joseph’s. In case you missed it yesterday, O’Brien submitted 2,000 words to on Monday afternoon explaining why and how he has been wronged by St. Joe’s and Martelli.

In short, O’Brien — who has finished his undergraduate degree — transferred to UAB after staying on scholarship to graduate during this past summer. The graduate program he enrolled in is not offered at St. Joe’s, which means that, if he was granted his release by St. Joe’s, O’Brien wouldn’t be forced to sit out a season. Since he has already transferred once in his hoops career, O’Brien doesn’t have a redshirt year. In other words, St. Joe’s is ending his basketball career for him. Its damning stuff, and at face value it seems as if Martelli and the St. Joe’s athletic department are acting in a spiteful and malicious manner.

But as we all know, there are two sides to every story, and due to university privacy laws, we probably will never know the other side. What we do know is that O’Brien was involved in the theft of a laptop that resulted in him getting suspended and a teammate getting booted from the team. What we are told by message board commenters and the St. Joe’s twitterati is that O’Brien was a train wreck in his two seasons on Hawk Hill, but those sources are about as credible as Jason Whitlock’s twitter feed. What we were told by O’Brien himself is that he wasn’t completely forthcoming with St. Joe’s about why he wanted to finish his undergraduate classes over the summer, allowing the school to pay for them before he left for UAB.

Most importantly, however, what we can assume is that Martelli has what he believes to be a very legitimate reason to not allow O’Brien to play this season.

How do we know that?

Because despite the mountains of negative press and clear-cut recruiting issues that will arise out of this story, Martelli has yet to back down. And when I say mountains of press, I mean mountains of press. He’s doing TV interviews and Q-and-A’s with bloggers and even did a podcast with Matt Norlander of CBS Sports. Its a full-blown media circus, and for each set of eye balls that reads or watches a story on the Todd O’Brien, the shame on the St. Joe’s program and the pressure to reverse their decision grows.

And still nothing.

Which, frankly, is the wrong decision. At this point, Phil, you just gotta let it go, bro. Because right now you look exactly like a jilted lover. You all know what I’m talking about. We’ve all dated that person, the guy or girl that, when the relationship ends, refuses to move on, drunkenly leaves crying voicemails at 4am and refuses to return the shoes, belt and watch that you left at their house.

No one likes that person, Phil, and no one should want to be that person.

So let it go, Phil. Give Todd his release. Move on and focus on the team you have this season, the one that actually has a chance to be pretty damn good. You’ve coming off of wins against Creighton and Villanova at home. This should be a high point in your season, a week where there will be plenty of distraction with the holidays coming. I’m sure the questions they are going to get about this situation at every press conference is really going to help them focus on basketball.

Even if your girlfriend cheats on you and breaks up with you for your best friend, you probably shouldn’t slash the tires of her car or throw a brick through her bay window. And even if O’Brien conned Martelli out of scholarship money for his summer classes and took advantage of his coach covering up his involvement in a stolen laptop, Martelli shouldn’t keep the kid from playing his final season of college hoops.

There is a bigger issue at play here, however.

The problem isn’t simply that Martelli refuses to grant O’Brien his release. The unfairness lies in the fact that a head coach can wield that kind of power over a player’s future.

The fallacy that the NCAA preaches to us time and time again is that these athletes are supposed to be students first and athletes second, correct? Todd O’Brien earned an undergraduate degree. He wanted to pursue a graduate degree in a program that was offered by UAB and wasn’t offered by St. Joe’s. His goal was to further his education and continue to play sports at the collegiate level.

And just because Phil Martelli feels betrayed, he can block that?

How is that, in any way, shape or form, what the NCAA preaches when they say these kids are students first and athletes second?

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. Just last summer, Sean Kowal lost his senior season when he tried to transfer out of Northern Illinois to pursue a graduate degree in theology and got caught up in the NCAA’s web of red tape. And while Kowal’s situation had two sides as well — he wasn’t completely forthright with NIU when he tried to receive his release — it doesn’t change the fact that allowing college coaches to hold their players hostage is hypocritical and utterly unfair.

Those same coaches can change jobs any time they want to, without any punishment from the NCAA and without the requirement of even having to tell their players personally. If Phil Martelli so desired, he could leave St. Joseph’s right now to take any available collegiate coaching position and start tomorrow. But one of his former players decided to go elsewhere for his final year of eligibility, and Martelli is able to take that away from him simply because he’s pissed?

That’s wrong.

Let’s flip this thing around.

What if we gave players the right to grant a coach a release?

Seriously. What if a coach had to get a majority vote from his team to allow him to get a release to take a different head coaching position? What are the odds that rule would fly? 10 billion-to-1?

Martelli may be completely justified in his decision to deny O’Brien the right to transfer.

But whether he is right or wrong doesn’t matter.

The fact that coaches are afforded the ability to hold players hostage like this is a travesty. And its a rule that needs to change. Yesterday.

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.