Maurice Creek exemplifies everything that’s right about the grad transfer rule

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spurred on by the Summer of Johnny Football and the ongoing lawsuit filed by Ed O’Bannon, the tide is seemingly beginning to turn against the NCAA as they remain a bastion of the fallacy of amateurism. A constant barrage of heavy media criticism will do that, and we’ve reached a point where the idea of student-athlete rights and proper compensation seems like a legitimate possibility.

But one area where many remain torn is on the idea of transfers. Now, I’m firmly against restricting the movements of unpaid amateurs and I believe that the idea of the transfer market becoming “college basketball free agency” is overblown, but I figured that we could all agree that graduate transfer rule is one that is worth keeping around. You know, because it allows a student-athlete to play immediately if he transfers to pursue a graduate degree with eligibility remaining.

Turns out that’s the wrong assumption to make.

“I positively believe a fifth-year guy should not be able to play right away,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said over the summer. “All they’re doing is looking at curriculum, finding a program that a school doesn’t have. Are they really trying to get a master’s degree? … There’s a market out there for this. You take guys through summer school and give them every academic advantage and then they graduate and then they can just go to another school.”

And yes, there are players that take full advantage of this rule, graduating in three or four years and following that up by working towards their graduate degree at a place where they may be able to play a higher level of basketball. The gall of those student-athletes.

But it also works the other way, and eliminating the rule would eliminate opportunities for kids like Maurice Creek.

You should recognize that name. Creek was a star as a freshman at Indiana, averaging almost 17 points, and putting 31 on Kentucky, during the 2009-2010 season. But Creek’s career as a Hoosier was derailed by injury. There was the gruesome broken kneecap he suffered midway through his freshman year. There was the stress fracture he had in his other kneecap as a sophomore. That, too, required surgery. Then there was the Achilles’ tendon that he ruptured as a junior. All told, Creek’s four seasons at Indiana saw him rehab his way through three major surgeries.

“Sitting down’s pretty tough, because you want to be out there every day,” Creek told NBCSports.com after practice at George Washington last week. “Sometimes I think back to all the injuries and I’m like, ‘man, what did I get myself into? Do I want to keep doing this to myself?'”

Creek worked through all of the injuries, motivated by the words of encouragement from guys like Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. “Just keep working hard,” they would say. “Your time will come.”

But it never did at Indiana. As a fourth-year junior with two surgically-repaired, Creek was no longer needed. Indiana had recruited over him. He had received a scholarship for four years. He had earned his degree. And now it was time for him to move on, and thanks to the graduate transfer rule, Creek would be able to transfer anywhere in the country to use his final season of eligibility.

Creek, who is from just outside D.C. in Oxon Hill, Md., found a landing spot at GW, and the fit couldn’t be more perfect. The Colonials are a young, but promising team. Redshirt senior Isaiah Armwood is back, and he’ll be joined up front by sophomores Kevin Larsen, a physical presence in the paint, and Patricio Garino, a long, athletic wing from Argentina. Toss in a back court that includes Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage, and the only thing GW was missing heading into the season was a veteran back court presence that would be able to knock down threes.

That sums up Creek’s game pretty perfectly.

“I really like how aggressive and athletic we are,” Creek, who wants to be a coach and will be pursuing his graduate degree in Human Leadership and Development, said. “My shooting abilities with that, that’s championship caliber.”

The fit was just that much more snug given the proximity of Creek’s family and friends to GW’s Foggy Bottom locale.

“Going to Indiana, my parents couldn’t catch many of the games,” he said, although their presence will add a different kind of pressure than he was used to back in Bloomington. “Being back home all my friends and family want to go to my games now, and it’s like [now I] have, I don’t want to say more pressure, but you want to be more successful because you’re back at home where really nobody is worrying about [the potential] we have.”

It’s a feel-good story and a great opportunity for Creek, one that was only made possibly by the graduate transfer rule.

But it belies the bigger point here.

“If the rule wasn’t in place, I still probably would have moved on,” Creek said.

That’s because Indiana didn’t have any scholarships left to give. It’s the same thing that happened to fan favorite and sharp-shooter Matt Roth last summer. Creek may have had eligibility left, but since he was leaving after four years with a degree in hand, Tom Crean could say that he fulfilled his commitment to Creek. He could part ways guilt-free, and while I actually don’t think that Crean did anything wrong in doing so, eliminating the graduate transfer rule would eliminate any possibility of Creek being able to finish his career, earn his graduate degree and, if he can stay healthy, have a chance to prove to professional scouts what he’s still capable of doing.

“They’ve given me a great opportunity,” Creek said, “and I can’t thank them enough.”

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.