Devin Booker and his father show the changed landscape of recruiting

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To get an idea of just how valued Devin Booker is as a basketball player, all you need to do is to take a glimpse at some of the programs that have offered him a scholarship.

Duke. Florida. North Carolina. Michigan. Michigan State. Kentucky.

The names don’t get bigger than that.

Missouri has also offered Booker a scholarship, and while Frank Haith’s program may not be on the same level as the six listed above, the Tigers have an actual chance to land Booker. His father, Melvin, was a Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and a second-team all-american for the Tigers in the early ’90s.

The father-son duo also happens to be a perfect example of the differences in how the recruitment for star players happens.

Devin has been a known commodity for years in Mississippi. He averaged more than 30 points as a junior at Moss Point HS. He plays for the Alabama Challenge, a Nike-sponsored AAU team that plays in the EYBL, and he’s a consensus top 30 recruit in the Class of 2014. This July, he played at the LeBron camp in Las Vegas then went to North Augusta, SC, for the Peach Jam. After heading to Washington DC for the Nike Global Challenge, Booker closed out his month with a trip to Orlando for AAU Nationals.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbSge_8BY8c]

With the number of AAU teams and tournaments across the country, if you’re a recruit with a chance at playing at the high-major level, odds are good that your summer looked similar.

For Melvin it was much different. Midway through his senior year, Tulane, South Alabama and Central Florida were really the only programs recruiting him despite the fact that he was Mississippi’s Player of the Year. From Steve Waletnik of the Columbia Tribune:

That was until former Missouri assistant coach Rich Daly contacted him in the middle of his senior year.

The story went that Daly noticed Booker, who ranks seventh on Missouri’s career scoring list, as a high school sophomore. Daly was in the stands to watch Booker’s senior teammate Litterial Green — who went on to become the leading scorer in Georgia basketball history — battle future LSU great Chris Jackson. He made a note to keep tabs on Booker’s progress but forgot to follow up until two years later, in the middle of the season, when Coach Norm Stewart was looking for a guard to round out his recruiting class.

Daly called Moss Point Coach Arthur Haynes and found out Booker was in the middle of a season in which he averaged 28.4 points.

Missouri was doing pretty well that season, too, rising to No. 1 in the polls. So Booker was immediately intrigued, but it wasn’t until he experienced the raucous atmosphere of the Hearnes Center during a showdown with Oklahoma that Booker’s mind was made up. He signed with the Tigers that April.

Criticizing AAU basketball is trendy. It’s easy to blame everything that’s wrong with the sport and all of the wasted talent on the grassroots culture, even if it’s inaccurate. And I’ll admit, there are parts of the events that I don’t like. The tournaments are run for profit, meaning that anyone with a large enough check can partake, even if their team has no business taking part. The events are located all over the country, and it costs a pretty penny to be able to get an entire team from the deep south to Milwaukee or Indianapolis or Las Vegas. The games are more competitive that people give them credit for, but with a different tournament every weekend and three games in a day, it’s tough to care too much about any given loss.

But what AAU has helped do is make the basketball world smaller. Players like Melvin Booker don’t slip through the cracks as often anymore, and while the downside of that is these kids are now being recruited when they are as young as 14 and 15 years old, the bottom-line is that AAU has helped create opportunities.

Devin Booker plays for Moss Point HS (MS).

Would he have three bluebloods and three hall of fame coaches knocking down his door if it wasn’t for the exposure he’s gotten throughout his high school career?

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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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

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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.