Atlantic Sun 2013-14 Preview: Dunk City returns plenty for another run

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click hereTo see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Can Florida Gulf Coast return to postseason glory after last season’s magical Sweet 16 run? That’s the big question in the Atlantic Sun for the 2013-14 season as “Dunk City” will attempt to show that they have more staying power than past NCAA Tournament upset darlings. Thanks to four returning starters, led by the junior backcourt of Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, and forwards Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight, the Eagles are the returning favorites in the league after last season’s 26-11 campaign that saw 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown and San Diego State in the NCAA Tournament.

The main competition for Dunk City comes from Mercer. The Bears won the Atlantic Sun regular season crown last season (14-4) and finished 24-12 while beating Tennessee in the NIT. Efficient senior floor leader Langston Hall had a 2.28 assist-to-turnover ratio last season and will lead Mercer in their attempt at revenge after falling to Florida Gulf Coast in last season’s A-Sun Conference Tournament title game.

Versatile wing and A-Sun leading scorer Torrey Craig (17.2 points per game) returns to give USC Upstate a shot at the conference title. The Spartans return all five starters from a 9-9 team in the league and have multiple scoring options, including senior forward Ricardo Glenn (10.5 points, 8.1 rebounds per game).

Guards Keith McDougald (13.1 points per game) and Jarvis Haywood (11.5 points per game) give Jacksonville a formidable returning backcourt, East Tennessee State returns four starters and promising sophomore forward Lester Wilson (13 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) while North Florida, Lipscomb, Stetson and Northern Kentucky played much better during A-Sun play than the nonconference portion of their schedules last season. Kennesaw State looks to turn it around after five games behind ninth place in the league last season.

PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Bernard Thompson, Florida Gulf Coast

The 6’3″ junior shooting guard is the returning leading scorer (14.3 points per game) and second leading returning rebounder (4.4 rebounds per game) for Florida Gulf Coast and was also the A-Sun’s Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. Thompson ranked second nationally in steals with 102, started all 37 games last season for the Eagles and also shot 38 percent from three-point range.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Torrey Craig, USC Upstate: Versatile wing is former conference player of the year on pace to crack 2,000 career points.
  • Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast: Point guard that makes Dunk City go led conference in assists (6.6 per game) and was A-Sun Tournament MVP last season.
  • Keith McDougald, Jacksonville: The 6’1″ senior plays much bigger and stepped up in A-Sun play to average 15.4 points per game while accumulating two games of 13 rebounds in conference play.
  • Langston Hall, Mercer: One of the more efficient guards in America, the 6’4″ senior averaged five assists a game and shot 84 percent from the free-throw line.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Florida Gulf Coast
2. Mercer
3. USC Upstate
4. Jacksonville
5. East Tennessee State
6. North Florida
7. Lipscomb
8. Stetson
9. Northern Kentucky
10. Kennesaw State

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.

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.