The most important skill Michael Carter-Williams learned as a freshman? Work ethic

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All things considered, Michael Carter-Williams had a pretty great sophomore campaign as the point guard for the Syracuse Orange.

He averaged 11.9 points, 7.3 assists, 4.9 boards and 2.8 steals, which was impressive enough to get him into consideration as a lottery pick for next week’s NBA Draft once you taken into account the potential his length and athleticism gives him. It was more than just individual success as well, as Carter-Williams played an integral role in Syracuse making a run to the Big East tournament title and the Final Four.

Those numbers become even more impressive when you think about the fact that Carter-Williams spent his freshman season buried on the bench behind the veteran back court of Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters.

It was a humbling experience for the former McDonald’s All-American. A native of Hamilton, MA, and a product of St. Andrew’s (RI), Carter-Williams was anything but accustomed to sitting on the bench. He knew there was a risk that he wouldn’t play as much as he wanted to his first year, but he didn’t expect that he’d take the dreaded DNP-CD (Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision) 11 times. He didn’t think that he wouldn’t get a second of playing time in seven of Cuse’s last 11 games, including all four NCAA tournament games. It never crossed his mind that over the course of the final seven weeks of the regular season, he would take all of two field goals in a game.

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“I learned to re-appreciate the game, knowing what it’s like to not be out there playing,” Carter-Williams told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. It was more than just an appreciation, however. Carter-Williams learned that it would take more than a nice pass here and there or a soaring dunk from a 6-foot-6 guy that can play the point to further his career.

He learned that potential will only get you so far if you don’t put in the hours in the gym trying to reach that potential.

“It helped my work ethic,” Carter-Williams said, “because I was working out before and after practice everything day. I took my frustration out during those times.”

“When I wasn’t playing, [assistant coach Gerry McNamara] still had me come to games on gameday and workout before the games. I would get something in. It motivated me a lot. I wanted to be out there playing,” not doing drills prior to tip-off.

According to McNamara, the work with Carter-Williams went beyond the obvious. They weren’t simply doing two-ball dribbling drills for hours. It was more than just working on his jump shot or developing his crossover or lifting weights. With Carter-Williams, the Syracuse coaching staff went to work teaching him proper reads and developing his understanding of the game.

“A lot of pick and roll,” McNamara told NBCSports.com of what he worked on with Carter-Williams the most. “Every single read you could go through from every position. Every different scenario. His development, from an IQ standpoint, he took the next step.”

One of the first things that you learn covering college basketball is that every kid at every level of the game has a ‘great work ethic’ and is ‘always in the gym’ and is just trying to get better. Every kid watches film through all hours of the night. It’s about typical as you can get when it comes to sports cliches.

But it’s also pretty simple to pick out the players that simply say they put in the work and those that do. According to Eric Mussellman, who is currently as assistant coach at Arizona State but who has spent his entire life around the professional game, it’s that work ethic and level of commitment that is the biggest difference for players making the jump to the next level.

“Players that aren’t in the NBA have no idea what great work ethic is and how hard guys work on their own,” he told NBCSports.com, “and how they work on their craft and their game when they’re not in practice. The time commitment to develop yourself on your own time, be it the weight room, shot repetitions, studying your own game on film, studying your opponent’s game on film.”

As the saying goes, hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.

And perhaps that’s the greatest benefit that Carter-Williams will get out of his time picking splinters as a freshman.

It was a wake-up call.

“You know, I’m not sure,” Carter-Williams said when asked if he’d be in this position — coming off a Final Four, headed for the first round of the NBA Draft — had he played more minutes has a freshman. “I think I would have been successful during my sophomore year, I played through a lot of mistakes. I don’t think that I would be the player that I am this quickly without going through some adversity, and it really helped me not only on the basketball court but off the basketball court.”

Carter-Williams has plenty of work left to do. He needs to continue to cut down on his turnovers. He needs to become a better perimeter shooter. He needs to become a more consistent scorer and improve his on-ball defense. He needs to add some weight to his frame.

In short, he needs to put in the work to reach his potential.

He’ll be the one that determines whether or not that happens.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

 

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.