2013-2014 WCC Preview: Can anyone challenge Gonzaga?

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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 here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The 2012-13 season had the makings of a special one for the WCC entering the NCAA tournament, with Gonzaga sitting atop the national polls and the top seed in the West Region. But things didn’t work out as many hoped, with Wichita State knocking off the Bulldogs on their way to the Final Four. But that loss shouldn’t erase the fact that Mark Few’s program won 32 games, and overall the 2012-13 season was a good one for the WCC. Santa Clara won the CBI, and both BYU (NIT semifinals) and Saint Mary’s (NCAA Round of 32) played in the postseason as well.

In 2013-14 the conference looks for more postseason success, and with the number of quality guards in the WCC there’s a good chance of that happening. Gonzaga’s still the favorite thanks to their prolific backcourt, but the amount of talent in the conference makes another undefeated run through league play unlikely.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Pacific (Big West)
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The newest member is also the lone school with a new head coach: Pacific makes the move from the Big West to the WCC, and they’ll be doing so without longtime coach Bob Thomason. Thomason announced his retirement before last season, and that combined with it being their final season in the Big West made the Tigers’ run to the NCAA tournament all the more special. Now the job belongs to Ron Verlin, who has to replace three starters from last season’s team including point guard Lorenzo McCloud.

2. Gonzaga loses key contributors inside, but the Bulldogs are loaded on the perimeter: With Elias Harris out of eligibility and Kelly Olynyk now with the Boston Celtics head coach Mark Few has two large holes to fill in the front court. But he isn’t without experience thanks to the return of Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. Add in one of the nation’s best backcourts led by Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. (they also add Providence transfer Gerard Coleman) and the Bulldogs should once again be the favorite to win the WCC.

3. If healthy Loyola Marymount can be dangerous: Last season was absolutely brutal for the Lions, as Max Good’s squad managed to win just one WCC game during the regular season. But Anthony Ireland is back, and a talented recruiting class that includes high-scoring guard Nino Jackson has the potential to make the Lions a factor after struggling so mightily last season. Here’s the problem: health is already an issue this year. Ayodeji Egbeyemi (10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Godwin Okonji are out indefinitely following a car accident.

4. Year two (for him, at least) in the WCC has the potential to be very good for BYU’s Tyler Haws: After returning from his two-year LDS mission Haws didn’t miss a beat, averaging 21.7 points per contest and becoming the second player in school history to score 1,000 points or more in his first two seasons. The other: Jimmer Fredette. With Haws and Matt Carlino on the perimeter and a front court that includes veteran Nate Austin and freshmen Eric Mika and Luke Worthington, Dave Rose’s Cougars may be the biggest threat to Gonzaga.

(MORE: Read Raphielle Johnson’s story on Tyler Haws’ return to BYU)

5. Saint Mary’s won’t have a bare cupboard, but it’ll be tough to account for the intangibles provided by Matthew Dellavedova: The fact that the Gaels can lose a player of Dellavedova’s caliber and still be considered a contender in the WCC speaks to the program head coach Randy Bennett has built. With Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow back Saint Mary’s will once again be a factor, but who provides the boost supplied by Dellavedova for the last four years?

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PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws (BYU)

In 2012-2013, Haws didn’t look like a player that had just returned from a two-year LDS mission in the Philippines, leading BYU with an average of 21.7 points per game while also accounting for more than four rebounds per contest. With Brandon Davies (17.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) out of eligibility there will likely be even more opportunities for Haws in 2013-14.

THE REST OF THE WCC FIRST TEAM:

  • G Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga): One of the best shooters in the country, Pangos will lead the way for the WCC favorite.
  • G Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount): LMU should rebound from a disappointing 2012-13 with Ireland (20.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 apg) leading the way.
  • F Ryan Nicholas (Portland): An honorable mention All-WCC selection, Nicholas (13.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) will be asked to lead the way for the Pilots.
  • F Cole Dickerson (San Francisco): Dickerson (15.2, 9.8) led the WCC in rebounding in 2012-13, posting 13 double-doubles for the Dons.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • C Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)
  • G Johnny Dee (San Diego)
  • G Evan Rocquemore (Santa Clara)
  • G Cody Doolin (San Francisco)
  • G Stephen Holt (Saint Mary’s)

BREAKOUT STAR: F Stacy Davis (Pepperdine)

Davis proved to be the best freshman in the WCC last season, posting averages of 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. And with leading scorers Lorne Jackson (13.6 ppg) and Jordan Baker (11.4) gone, Davis will be needed to do even more as a sophomore. Look for Davis to be one of the WCC’s best front court players.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Eric Reveno (Portland)

After three straight seasons of 19 or more wins the Pilots have hit a rough patch, winning a total of 18 games over the last two seasons. But now the Pilots have some experience, with Ryan Nicholas and Kevin Bailey leading the way. And with underclassmen Alec Wintering and Bryce Pressley doing a solid job of running the show during their summer trip to Europe, Portland may be better equipped to deal with some of the better backcourts in the WCC. If this proves to be the case, Portland will be fine.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …: Once again multiple teams reach the NCAA tournament, but can any get to the second weekend?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: The number of high-level guards in the WCC.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • February 8, Gonzaga at Memphis
  • November 11, BYU at Stanford
  • November 30, San Diego at New Mexico
  • December 7, BYU vs. UMass (in Springfield, Mass.)
  • December 21, Gonzaga vs. Kansas State (in Wichita, Kan.)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Gonzaga: Losing Harris and Olynyk hurts, but the Zags have an outstanding backcourt. If Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower hold their own inside, the Bulldogs will repeat as WCC champs.
2. BYU: In Haws the Cougars have not only the best scorer in the WCC but one of the best scorers in the country. But the wild card is Matt Carlino. If he’s consistent BYU will be Gonzaga’s biggest threat.
3. Saint Mary’s: With Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow back the Gaels should’t slip much despite the graduation of Matthew Dellavedova. The question with Dellavedova gone is who supplies the intangibles he provided.
4. Loyola Marymount: Last season was a brutal one for the Lions, with injuries being a major factor. If fully healthy LMU can surprise some people, but that’s proven to be a big “if”; two key pieces are alread recovering from injuries in a car accident.
5. San Diego: The backcourt tandem of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee deserves more national attention. The question: how big of a leap can WCC All-Freshman Team selection Jito Kok make inside?
6. San Francisco: Rex Walters’ squad should be a factor in the midsection of the WCC thanks to the presence of seniors Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson. And WCC All-Freshman Team selection Tim Derksen will be a solid contributor as well.
7. Portland: The Pilots have one of the better front court players in the WCC in senior Ryan Nicholas. If guard Kevin Bailey can continue to make progress (11.4 ppg last season) Portland is capable of finishing higher.
8. Santa Clara: This prediction may turn out to be low, because even with the graduation of Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini the Broncos still have Evan Rocquemore. But those are two big losses the Broncos will have to address.
9. Pacific: New head coach Ron Verlin wasn’t left with a bare cupboard, but this may be the wrong year to enter the WCC for the Tigers. They’ll be formidable however, with seniors Tony Gill and Sama Taku leading the way.
10. Pepperdine: Forward Stacy Davis has the potential to be a first team All-WCC player this season, but the Waves lost a lot of experience on the perimeter. And given the caliber of guards in the WCC, this may be the wrong year to be young in the backcourt.

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.

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.