Defense, rebounding the keys as San Diego looks to climb the WCC mountain

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Christopher Anderson (AP) and Johnny Dee (Getty)

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.

Being in a conference that many tend to associate with a couple powerful programs can be a bit of a double-edged sword for the other members. On one hand, the national attention that comes as a result of those powerful programs can help elevate the entire conference, with the membership looking to use the raised profile as a springboard to bigger and better things.

But on the other hand it makes the climb that much tougher for those other schools, with the details ultimately making all the difference.

One of the programs in the West Coast Conference looking to make a move in 2013-14 is San Diego, which finished the 2012-13 season with an overall record of 16-18 (7-9 WCC). Bill Grier’s Toreros are a year older, and in guards Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee, they’ve got one of the better perimeter tandems on the west coast. And frankly, given the importance of guard play in basketball that’s not a bad place to start when looking to make a climb up the conference pecking order.

Both players were honorable mention All-WCC selections last season, with the 5-foot-7 Anderson running the point and the 6-foot Dee playing the role of shooting guard. Anderson, who can be a downright nuisance to opponents on the defensive end, averaged 9.4 points and ranked second in the WCC in assists with 5.7 helpers per contest. Dee was San Diego’s leading scorer a season ago, scoring 15.0 points per night on 43% shooting from the field and 37.7% shooting from beyond the arc. And in the case of Dee, Anderson’s presence played a key role in his offseason development as the two squared off against each other more often than not in the team’s summer pickup sessions.

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

“I think we have one of the best perimeter on-ball defenders in our conference in Chris Anderson,” Dee said in an interview with NBC Sports. “Going against him in open gym and in practice has really helped me to develop the ball-handling skills I need to handle a good defender guarding me. It’s really helped me improve, and I’m excited about that aspect of my game for when I play other teams and not just Chris.”

While Dee was asked to attack the offseason with the mindset of a point guard, the requirements were a little different for Anderson. Anderson’s very quick with the basketball in his hands, which allows him to get to the basket against many opponents, but there was also the need to develop a middle game of sorts.

“I don’t know if there’s a quicker guy in our league,” Grier said of Anderson in an interview with NBC Sports. “He’s always had this tremendous quickness and an ability to get to the basket, and he’s very good at reading when a defenders helps. He’s very good at finding guys.

“But where I’ve asked him to improve, and he has, is when he gets a guy on his heels and he stops to take a 15-17 foot pull-up and shooting that consistently. He has a tendency to want to get all the way in to try to draw help or get to the rim. He’s worked on it and I think he has more confidence in his ability to knock down that shot; now he has to go do it in a game because his ‘default’ is to just go by guys.”

Those two won’t do all of the heavy lifting by themselves, meaning that other players will need to step up with the Toreros having lost wing Ken Rancifer (10.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and forward Chris Manresa (9.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg) to graduation. Grier mentioned both freshman Brett Bailey and sophomore Duda Sanadze as possibilities when it comes to accounting for the loss of Rancifer. Sanadze, a native of the Republic of Georgia, had to sit out last season but has experience playing at the international level. The hope for Sanadze is that he can produce enough offensively to help take some of the load off of the shoulders of Anderson and Dee.

“That’s the thing I’ve felt through the preseason is his ability to score is really going to help Chris and Johnny and take the weight off their shoulders,” said Grier. “And now it’s another guy who’s capable of scoring. Two years ago in the Under-20 European Championships [Sanadze] was the second-leading scorer in the tournament, so he can put the ball in the basket and that will help take some pressure off of those two.”

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Manresa was the team’s leading rebounder last season, and given San Diego’s struggles on the glass last season (last in the WCC in defensive rebounding percentage and 8th in offensive rebounding percentage) that’s a tough loss to absorb. But in sophomore center Jito Kok the Toreros have a big man who tied the school freshman record for blocks in a season with 55, and with Kok having put on about 15 pounds the hope is that he’s ready to produce even more in 2013-14. Senior Dennis Kramer, who started 21 games last season but wasn’t 100% for much of the 2012-13 campaign, and Simi Fajemisin will also be asked to help account for the departure of Manresa inside.

Those rebounding issues factored into opponents making nearly 51% of their two-point shots, and those extra possessions allowed on the glass can make all the difference in close games. San Diego finished the 2012-13 season with a record of 4-6 in games decided by five points or less, and their 4-9 record in true road games proved to be problematic as well. The rebounding issues need to be shored up if the Toreros are to entertain any thoughts of improving their standing within the WCC, especially when considering the fact that seven of their first nine league games are on the road.

While the optimistic view of the schedule is to note that San Diego will get seven of their final nine WCC games at home, there’s also the real possibility of a tough start putting the Toreros in a hole they’ll have a hard time climbing out of. Taking care of the “little things” will ultimately have a significant impact on the outcome of San Diego’s 2013-14 campaign.

“We’re a small team, especially with me and Chris on the perimeter, but that’s really no excuse,” said Dee. “For us to move up in the WCC we have to improve our defensive rebounding and not give teams another chance to score on us. We can play pretty good defense for a possession, but if they get the offensive rebound then we’re in scramble mode and it’s harder on us. I think if we can rebound the basketball better we can make a jump [in the standings].”

With Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU once again expected to reside at the top of the standings and programs like Loyola Marymount and San Francisco also having quality pieces, the climb won’t be an easy one for San Diego. But with Anderson and Dee leading the way, the Toreros hope to make their move.

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.