Andrew Wiggins wins Tuesday’s ‘Freshmen Showcase’

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CHICAGO — The Champions Classic should have been billed as the Freshmen Showcase.

I know, I know, I know. The event itself was about so much more than the eight top ten recruits to take the court at the United Center on Tuesday night. We had No. 1 vs. No. 2. We had No. 4 vs. No. 5. We had Coach Cal and Coach K, Izzo and Self. Sparty, Rock Chalk, Big Blue, the Dukies. It was the single most anticipated night of college hoops that I can remember that was not a part of the NCAA tournament, and if you want to pretend that had everything to do with the teams and the programs involved in the event, than go right ahead.

But you’ll be wrong.

This was the first chance for the general public to truly get a glimpse of all of those stud freshmen, many of whom will be the draft that picks that lowly NBA franchises will pin their futures to. For those freshmen — most notably Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins — this was their introduction into society.

This was their Basketball Cotillion.

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When Andrew Wiggins committed to play for Kansas back in May, it was billed as a season-changing event for Bill Self’s Jayhawks. Wiggins had all manner of superlatives being thrown his way. Some called him the best high school prospect since Kevin Durant. Some labeled him the best since Lebron. Some said that he would have been the No. 1 player in the obscenely talented Class of 2007, the one that included the likes of Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo and Eric Gordon.

But over the course of the last month, ever since preseason practices began, there has seemingly been a concerted effort to get the expectations that have been levied upon Wiggins to be reduced.

Part of this is Bill Self’s schtick. He loves to downplay the guys that he has on his roster. He loves saying the players in his program aren’t as good as everyone thinks they are. He did the same thing with Ben McLemore before last season, and McLemore ended up being a pretty talented player, didn’t he? But there’s more to the equation here than the simple fact that Self is trying to keep his guy from heading into his one season in college with impossible expectations. The fact that Wiggins has fallen from lock status as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft has just as much to do with the fact that both Randle and Parker are elite, franchising-changing talents in their own right.

Heading into Tuesday night, heading into their Basketball Cotillion, heading into their debut into society, it was Parker — who went for 22 points in a dominating win over Davidson in Duke’s season-opener — and Randle — who averaged 22.5 points and 14.5 points in his first two college games — that had the momentum, and it certainly didn’t look like that would change by halftime of Tuesday night’s second game. After Randle went off for 27 points and 13 rebounds in the opener (with 23 points and nine boards coming in the second half), Parker lit up Kansas to the tune of 19 points in the first 20 minutes, hitting four straight threes and making one ridiculous, looping drive to the basket.

Wiggins?

He was stuck on the bench, having played just nine first half minutes as the result of foul trouble, his six points and three boards anything but impressive.

Things changed in the second half.

Wiggins took over. He scored 16 of his 22 points in the final 20 minutes, including a pair of breakaway dunks and arguably the biggest basket of the game, a step-back jumper from 17 feet on the wing to give the Jayhawks an 85-81 lead.

That’s not the most impressive part about Wiggins’ second half, however. This is:

“People have made a lot about Andrew’s personality because he’s so mild mannered and non demonstrative in his actions. Things come easy to him,” Self said after the game, “but he is competitive. He came to me the whole day, ‘let me guard Jabari. I want to guard Jabari’. I said, ‘That’s not how we practice, you’re not going to do that.’ At the 13 minute mark, I didn’t put him on Jabari, he just went to guard him. And he got a piece of his shot on that possessions. He is competitive and he wanted the challenge.”

Parker struggled in the second half, finishing with just eight points. Wiggins played a major role in shutting him down. You don’t think people noticed?

Or how about this: Wiggins left the United Center with the one thing that both Parker and Randle wanted: a win.

It’s too early to know what is going to happen this June. But on this day in November, it was Wiggins whose debut was successful.

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.