Underclassmen take advantage of opportunity, star in Vegas


Despite more than a thousand traveling teams in Las Vegas at three major club basketball tournaments last week, some of the biggest names in the 2013 class like Jabari Parker (injured), Julius Randle, Aaron and Andrew Harrison (at AAU nationals) and James Young weren’t a part of the festivities. Florida commits Kasey Hill and Chris Walker, both members of Florida Elite, were bounced early on at the adidas Super 64 and didn’t excel.

Instead, a pair of 2014 (incoming high school juniors) stood out as elite prospects, after being given the chance to make their name on a major stage. In particular, 6-8 forward Noah Vonleh (Mass Rivals) and 6-9 center Jahlil Okafor (Mac Irvin Fire) made their case for being lock top 5 prospects in their respective class, and arguably among the top dozen or so prospects regardless of high school class.

Okafor excelled at the FIBA U17 World Championship in Lithuania, and has shown that to be no fluke. An immovable force on the interior, Okafor took his Chicago-based team to runner-up status at the Las Vegas Classic, and was a constant mismatch. He is a physical presence in the way that Jared Sullinger was coming out of high school, but with two more seasons to develop. His nimble feet and soft hands make him a threat to score whenever he catches the ball in the post. Were it not for Canadian Andrew Wiggins currently in the 2014 class, Okafor would be worthy of a No. 1 ranking.

Noah Vonleh’s young team lost in the semifinals at the adidas Super 64, but it wasn’t due to Vonleh’s superb performances throughout the event. At over 210 pounds on his 6-8 frame, Vonleh is a true combo forward at his young age. He can rebound, push the ball on the break, and his expanded his handle and shot to go with his previous transition and interior game. He was most certainly the top player in terms of consistent performance in the adidas event, and was a primary reason that a team primarily made up of incoming sophomores and juniors went so deep.

Two schools that have to be pleased with the way members of their recruiting classes performed in Vegas are Michigan and Iowa State.

Two of the top performers in the adidas Super 64 are both early pledges to the Wolverines in point guard Derrick Walton, the event’s MVP, and wing Zakarie Irvin. Walton took his Michigan Mustangs team to the championship, beating everyone head to head that he played. Likewise, Irvin was arguably the most deadly wing scorer in either event, as he looks like he has taken his skills to the next level.

Iowa State also has a dynamite backcourt locked up, as both members were strong at their respective events. Combo guard Monte Morris was just as effective as Walton throughout the course of the event, and has the ability to be a slashing, attacking scorer that opens up the offense for others. His future running mate, Matt Thomas, showed observers at the Las Vegas Fab 48 that he is among the best pure shooters, nationally. Morris and Thomas have the ability to really be a dandy pair of guards in the Big 12.

A sleeper nationally that showed the nation he can play is Frank Mason. Some will remember that Mason was originally signed to play at Towson, but is off to prep school at Massanutten Military in Virginia, instead. Mason took his Team Loaded squad to the title at the Las Vegas Fab 48 showing a backyard brawler’s mentality at the lead guard slot. An attacker with no quit, Mason was the primary reason his squad won the title. It doesn’t look like he’ll re-up with Towson though, as his terrific play netted him a scholarship offer from Kansas and several other BCS conference schools, with many other high-major tenders to follow.

The other player that significantly helped his cause was point guard Graham Woodward of Minnesota Pump n Run. There’s nothing intimidating about Woodward’s 5-11 frame or average build, but he was dynamic in pushing his team into the semifinals at the adidas Super 64. Woodward was a terrific distributor, hit outside shots with enough regularity, and had a float game in the lane. Whereas he was hearing from lower-level programs prior to his Vegas tear, the right fit at the mid-major level could now be in Woodward’s future.

Photo from Future150

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.