Recruiting rundown: UNLV should be optimistic about Shabazz Muhammad or Anthony Bennett

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The two uncommitted national top-10 prospects in the 2012 class both play in Las Vegas, and while the nation’s top recruit, wing Shabazz Muhammad has had a well-documented recruitment, 6-7 power forward Anthony Bennett’s college preferences have been a mystery at best to those that following recruiting closely.

The powerful post prospect cut his list from ten to five over the weekend, naming Kentucky, UNLV, Florida, Oregon and Washington as his contenders. That list was put out by Bennett prior to his friend and fellow native of Canada, Khem Birch, declaring for UNLV, and that move likely puts the Running Rebels even more into the status of a serious player for landing his commitment.

Kentucky will be a huge presence in Bennett’s recruitment until the end, but UNLV fans have to like their position with both Bennett and Muhammad. The longer the season progresses and the more success that UNLV has on the hardwood figures to be to their benefit in both recruitments against the blue bloods of college basketball.

Florida was a finalist for Birch, so not getting him isn’t promising, especially for team that looks to need interior help in the near term. Oregon has some track record with Canadians on their current roster, and also has signed one of Bennett’s teammates, point guard Dominic Artis. Still, from the outside looking in, this could be a Kentucky/UNLV race.

Bennett’s recruitment has been deliberate and on his own time table so far, and that is expected to continue. He’ll have five official visits to take before he trims his list and makes a final decision.

Seton Hall lands a crime stopper and show stopper
It’s not too often that a high school junior has reached almost urban legend status in the basketball community, but 5-6 point guard Aquille Carr of Patterson (Md.) has done just that. After getting the upper hand on current professional Josh Selby in a game in the Baltimore area as a freshman, Carr has only increased his rep as a dynamic prospect, extending from the Northeast to internationally.

Amidst reports of an Italian team offering him a six-figure contract, and the legend that crime decreases in his Baltimore neighborhood when Patterson plays, Carr is arguably the most exciting player watch nationally in the 2013 class, and is known by his nickname, the “Crime Stopper.” Though his size is a clear and obvious limitation, that hasn’t stopped high-major colleges from sending scholarship offers his way. Late last week, Carr ended his recruitment early, declaring the Seton Hall.

Carr is oftentimes a blur on the floor, and has earned his distinction as a top-50 player in the class. He’s an above the rim player that attracts crowds wherever and whenever he plays. He is quick and explosive, with the penchant for making a difficult play look easy. On the other hand, with that goes his prowess for turning the ball over unnecessarily, struggles at times in the half-court set, and the occasional defensive mismatch.

At Seton Hall, Carr will have an outstanding tutor in associate coach Shaheen Holloway, who has already taken Carr’s projected path, as he had a solid career as a diminutive point guard in the Big East at Seton Hall. Also, coach Kevin Willard is a rising star in the coaching profession, and also plied his trade as a Big East point guard at Pittsburgh.

Gaining Carr’s commitment, the Pirates first in the 2013 recruiting class, does not come with a downside, though. Seton Hall was believed to be a serious contender for Gill St. Bernard (N.J.) point guard Jaren Sina, who was formerly committed to Alabama, and the son of a former Seton Hall player in Mergin Sina, his coach. Sina is a fundamentally sound lead guard that would have been a nice addition, as well. That seems extremely unlikely now.

At a minimum, when the Pirates’ staff determines that he’s ready to play, Carr’s flair and style of play will attract attention to the Seton Hall program. In terms of credibility and positive press, adding Carr is huge for Seton Hall, as well.

St. John’s gains one, loses one
Earlier in the week, shooting guard commit Darrick Wood of Bridgton Academy (Maine) was the sole remaining member of the St. John’s recruiting class for 2012. National top-50 power forward Ricardo Gathers is entertaining other offers after his decommitment, and former point guard pledge Jevon Thomas signed with Dayton during the early signing period.

Wood re-opened his recruitment though, with the nebulous statement that the Johnnies still lead for his college services. Still, the track record of such players ultimately signing with a school that they decommit from is sketchy at best. With only a half-dozen recruited scholarship players on the current roster, St. John’s needed some good news in the worst way.

That pick me up came in the form of Jamal Branch, who was formerly known as a backup freshman point guard early on this season at Texas A&M. Branch didn’t get much of a shot for the Aggies, but immediately becomes a key member of the St. John’s plans for next year. He’s a pass-first, defensive minded point guard, and both of those skills are currently is nowhere to be found currently at St. John’s.

Branch is a native of the Lone Star State, like current freshman D’Angelo Harrison, and the two Texans could form a dandy duo. While coach Steve Lavin has his health as a priority, the program’s long-term success will rely on adding five or more players for next season, in order to start the season with a fair shot and a near full boat of scholarship players. If Branch becomes eligible at mid-season, as expected, he’s a quality addition and a welcome break from a recent streak of bad news.

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

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.