Boston College could surprise some teams in the ACC next season

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UNION, N.J. — The ACC is on its way to becoming the best conference in college basketball.

Duke and North Carolina, pending the status of PJ Hairston, are perennial Final Four favorites, and that’s going to be no different this season. Bring Syracuse into the mix this season gives the league yet another annual title contender, and that’s before you factor in the likes of Virginia, Notre Dame, Pitt and even NC State and Florida State.

But if you’re looking for a sleeper in the league heading into the 2013-2014 season, look no further than Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles.

BC finished a paltry 7-11 in ACC play a year ago, going 16-17 on the season and missing out on the NIT. But the Eagles came together down the stretch, winning six of their last 11 regular season league games to say nothing of the one possession losses they took at home against the two best teams in the conference, Duke and Miami.

More importantly, the Eagles essentially bring back their entire roster from a season ago, headlined by three excellent underclassmen in rising junior Ryan Anderson and rising sophomores Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon, the team’s three leading scorers. Throw in Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich, who has reportedly looked good in offseason workouts, and a decent recruiting class, and there’s reason to be bullish on the Eagles.

“I think we definitely see ourselves in the tournament,” Anderson told NBCSports.com at the Nike Skills Academy at Kean University last week. “We have a lot of new guys coming in, we have a transfer from Notre Dame that’s really going to help us out and we got a big guy from Sweden [Billy Magarity Jr.] that’s going to help us out in the post, too. I think if me and Olivier become more efficient with the basketball, and all the other guys play their role, I think we’re going to be a very good team.”

Anderson was one of the best young post players in the country a season ago, proving to be a versatile post scorer, and he used his time at the Skills Academy to work on fine-tuning some aspects of his post game.

“Where you catch the ball in the post, whether you want it higher or lower, just to help me get more efficient out there,” Anderson said. “As big guys, we’ve gotta be more efficient with our touches. The little things that I’ve learned at this camp will really help me with that.”

The Eagles can score, there’s no question about that. They were 43rd nationally in offensive efficiency last season, and that will likely improve as some of the team’s younger guys now have a year of experience under their belt. With Anderson in the post and a slew of shooters around the perimeter, it will behoove Donahue’s club for point guard Olivier Hanlan to develop into more than simply being a scorer. While Hanlan led the team in scoring a season ago, he averaged just 2.3 assists as the team’s primary ball-handler.

“I just want to keep on improving as a point guard,” Hanlan said. “Be more vocal, get my assists up a bit more this year. Being aggressive and competing.”

“I just feel like the thing that I’ve gotta work on the most is just ball-handling and, if you saw Kyrie out there, just really loose and all the guards are pretty good with that. I’ve gotta improve at that.”

Going from being a team that finished under .500 to making the NCAA tournament would be an impressive leap, but it’s one that the Eagles very much believe is a possibility.

“Everybody’s goal is to make the tournament and give yourselves a chance for March Madness,” Anderson said. “That’s what everyone’s goal going into the season, so it would be awesome to fill out the bracket and have your name on the list.”

“All the individual accolades come through the team being successful. If we’re efficient with the ball and we’re getting wins, at the end of the season, the individual stuff will take care of itself.”

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.