Western Carolina’s Trey Sumler looks to leave mark in final season

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Mark Haskett/WCU Public Relations

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Hope springs eternal in college basketball (and sports in general), with the start of a new season sparking optimism amongst programs across the country. That’s certainly the case in the Southern Conference, with multiple programs welcoming back many of their key contributors from a season ago. One of those programs is Western Carolina, which returns all five starters from a team that finished 9-9 in SoCon play (14-19 overall).

Expected to lead the way for the Catamounts is redshirt senior guard Trey Sumler, who played nearly 38 minutes per game and posted averages of 18.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest. While Sumler’s percentages remained about the same when compared to his redshirt sophomore campaign, his scoring increased by nearly five points per game. With the Catamounts having to account for the graduation of their top two scorers from the season prior, Sumler had a lot more to manage in 2012-13.

“I think it was just the nature of our team. We were more inexperienced and didn’t have any seniors a year ago,” Hunter told NBC Sports. “He’s not a ‘selfish’ scorer, he just plays. You look at his other stats and he rebounded well, he was our leading assist man. He’s a very efficient player.”

Lat season Sumler finished with a possession percentage of 26.9%, and his efficiency rating of 105.2 ranked seventh in the SoCon among players who factored into at least 24% of their team’s possessions according to kenpom.com. But even with the numbers he put up Sumler still saw the need to fine tune his game, and that meant spending a lot of time in the gym during the summer. During a three-month stretch from May 15 to August 15, both Hunter and Sumler estimated that the guard put up more than 30,000 shots.

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Southern Conference Preview)

“Most of [my offseason work] was in the gym,” Sumler told NBC Sports when asked about how he prepared for his senior season. “I was able to get a couple of our DVDs from the coaches to watch film. It wasn’t for anything specific; it was just to see what I could and could not do, and what I could have done.”

With all five starters back, including forward Tawaski King (11.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and guard Brandon Boggs (10.3, 3.6), what’s required of Sumler will likely change some. Without as much pressure to both be the primary scoring option and find quality looks for his teammates the 6-foot-2 Sumler may be in line for an even better senior season, even if his scoring numbers don’t reach last year’s level.

“His scoring may go down some this season, because I think we have more pieces to the puzzle,” said Hunter, who used Sumler exclusively at the point last season. “I will probably move him more to the off-guard position just to try to get him a few more opportunities.”

Those extra opportunities have the potential to make the Catamounts a contender in a conference race that has the potential to be as wide-open as any in recent memory. Defending champion Davidson is still to be respected but the Wildcats have some significant personnel losses to address, most notably 2012-13 SoCon Player of the Year Jake Cohen.

Elon, like the Catamounts, returns all five starters from last season and after winning 21 games the Phoenix are the early favorite to win the conference in the eyes of many. And with programs such as Appalachian State, Samford and Wofford also having plenty of experience, multiple teams began practice with realistic hopes of not just contending but winning the SoCon.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“I think it’s really going to be a great conference race,” said Hunter. “There are a lot of veterans returning, and a lot of good teams in the league.”

Western Carolina is hopeful that by the time conference play rolls around they’ll be well-positioned to make a run at the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996. That bunch nearly made history as the first 16-seed to be a one-seed, as Phil Hopkins’ squad fell to Purdue by two points in the first round. One of the players on that team was Anquell McCollum, who scored a game-high 21 points for the Catamounts and is now an assistant on the Western Carolina coaching staff.

When a former player from a program’s glory days returns to campus fans enjoy getting nostalgic, but those conversations can also serve as a motivating factor for the current players. Instead of hearing about the road paved by the heroes of the past, Sumler and company aim to write their own chapter in the Western Carolina history books.

“It would mean a lot, not just to me but for the other four seniors,” noted Sumler when asked what an NCAA tournament appearance would mean to him. “I know Coach McCollum was a part of that ’96 team and a lot of people talk about that. 1996 was a long time ago, so we feel like it’s about time to take that next step.”

With Sumler leading the way, Western Carolina is more than capable of taking that step.

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.