Sorry Jimmer — Kemba Walker was 2011’s top college athlete

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During this summer’s ESPYs Award Show I, for the first time in the history of man watching award shows, was yelling at the screen denouncing an award recipient.

Jimmer Fredette, Joseph Smith love him, was given with the Male College Athlete of the Year Award over distinguished collegiate athletes Cam Newton and Kemba Walker.

I was fuming.  It was already about 85 degrees outside, so awarding Fredette with a trophy really worsened an existing temperature problem.

We all appreciate Jimmer Fredette.  He was the perfect David character for the 2010-2011 college basketball season because he played in a non Power Six conference and had an unorthodox game.

But he was no Kemba Walker.  He didn’t carry his team to a shocking Maui Invitational crown, he didn’t galvanize his teammates after a pedestrian 9-9 conference record, and he didn’t lead one of the most prominent and “number one with a bullet” programs to an unblemished neutral court record en route to an improbable national championship.

Looking at both the tangibles like statistics and skill set, and the intangibles ranging from charisma and flair for the dramatics, Kemba Walker is inarguably the college athlete of the year for 2011.

His arc is a perfect example of why it’s OK to spend more than one season in college, and his maturation as both a player and leader that climaxed during his junior season helps solidify his case. Walker also wasn’t the center of a pay-to-play recruiting scandal that followed Cam Newton around for the majority of his Heisman and Championship winning campaign. As special as his year was, it will be marked with an asterisk by more than a few people.

A highly-touted McDonald’s All-American oozing with skills that were perfect for highlight seekers, Walker was probably over his head at times during his freshman season.  He ran too fast and dribbled too much. Despite scoring in double figures in 11 games, the learning curve to becoming consummate point guard and lottery pick – not just an ankle breaker – was significant.

His sophomore year Walker showed signs of maturation. He assumed the starting point guard role and improved many of the statistics we deem important.

But it wasn’t enough.  Walker was really good, not great, and the stage was set for one of the most memorable individual college basketball seasons in the past decade.

Initially, I was not impressed. So what if he averaged exactly 30 points and shot 55 percent from the floor in his first six games? Walker was still that sort of flash in the pan guy in my mind.  He was just relishing being the go-to guy early in the season. Opponents didn’t know how to defend the Huskies.

By January it was pretty clear that the Huskies, despite plateau and losing a few games here and there, were not going anywhere. They had proven to be underrated coming in to the season and were serious threats to cut down the nets in Houston. Number 15 for the Huskies had just about everything to do with it.

Kemba Walker’s on court theatrics and was such an incredibly uplifting story in an otherwise mediocre season in terms of talent. As the face of a top-tiered Big East team, we desperately needed him to keep us interested. From his hot-out-of-the-gate start to his January theatrics in Austin to his incredible month of March, Walker delivered at each critical point in the season.

Looking at this a macro point of view, his ear-to-ear grin and confident style of play were prominently on display during a time when college athletics are currently revealing to the country its seedy underbelly.

Penn State, Ohio State, Miami; a not so flattering perception has been presented to the general public that calls in to question the inequities of how the NCAA and universities treat student-athletes like commodities and turn a blind eye to shady handling of that commodity if it means preserving a pristine image. Even the University of Connecticut is guilty of that.

Anointing Kemba Walker as the college athlete of the year in these parts doesn’t quite make up for his ESPY snub, but hopefully it’s some sort of consolation.

He’s off in the NBA now, enjoying a rookie season that looks promising. Barring injury, Walker has a long pro career ahead of him, one that likely had no chance of playing out if he didn’t blossom into a college superstar this past year.

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.