5-foot-9 PG Luke Adams plays for Texas Tech despite being born deaf

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BROOKLYN — Every walk-on for every team in the country has a story.

They aren’t supposed to be playing high-major basketball. They are, essentially, paying for the right to go through insane preseason workouts and to get whipped up on in practice on a daily basis just to be a glorified cheerleader at the end of the bench. They are fan favorites that get a court side seat and a shot at glory during the end of a blow out wins in exchange for the student loans.

Texas Tech’s Luke Adams is one of those kids. He’s listed at 5-foot-9 but probably stands closer to 5-foot-7 on a good day, his build more reminiscent of a computer programmer than a Big 12 athlete. Yet Adams has managed to carve out a role for himself with the Red Raiders. He averaged 19.4 minutes as a freshman, but as Tech has gotten better, he’s seen some of those minutes cut. This season, he’s played 20 minutes in seven games.

But that’s still impressive coming from Adams.

Because what I haven’t told you about him yet is that he was born deaf.

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Luke Adams’ defining characteristic as a player isn’t his height and it’s not his hearing impairment.

According to head coach Tubby Smith, it’s his passion, his work ethic. He cares about basketball, he cares about Texas Tech, and he cares about his future in basketball. That’s not something that can be taught.

“Seeing how tough he is. He’s a very committed young man to deal with what he has to deal with with his hearing impairment,” Smith, who took the Tech job this spring, told NBCSports.com when asked what has impressed him the most about Adams.

There’s a reason that Adams has such resolve. Adams’ parents didn’t learn he was deaf until he was two years old. His parents were told by doctors as a child that he would never be able to read or write past the second grade level. They were told to enroll him in a deaf school, to teach him sign language and to prepare for a life with a child that would not be able to hear or speak normally.

Well, Adams’ parents decided they weren’t going to accept that. (Adams’ father is the Director of Basketball Operations for the Texas Tech basketball program, but he’s declined every interview request regarding his son since he took the position.)

“They said no, we’re going to try to teach him and do our best to give him [a regular life] and make the most of the opportunity,” Adams said. They got him a speech therapist and sent him to a regular school. He got a hearing aid for his left ear and, when he was 11, he received a cochlear implant in his right ear.

source:  It was tough to deal with being the deaf kid, although Adams got through it despite being held back in first and second grade. All of the work paid off, as Adams doesn’t have a noticeable speech impediment today.

When you can make it through all of that as a kid, battling for a roster spot as a 5-foot-nothin’ walk-on with Bama Bangs and a head band that holds hearing aids in place doesn’t seem all that daunting.

And to Adams’ credit, he makes an effort to give back. He’ll visit deaf schools and talk to kids that are currently going through what he’s been through. He’s walking, talking, hearing proof that being deaf is not a deterrent to following your dreams if you don’t allow it to be. Don’t believe me? Adams is now on scholarship at Texas Tech.

“A lot of people ask me to go out there and speak,” Adams said. “Anything that I can do to give back. When you’re growing up, all you want is hope, so anything I can do for those kids, I’m willing to do. I spoke to these fifth graders, and the first thing I said was ‘Don’t take no for an answer.'”

Adams may have the kind of stubborn, dogged work ethic that will allow him to accomplish just about anything that he wants out of life, but he’s also smart enough to be a realist. He could spend every waking hour for the next two years of his life in the gym, but he’ll never be an NBA player. There are certain physical limitations that an NBA prospect cannot overcome. Scouts wouldn’t give a second thought to his hearing aids if he was a foot taller.

So Adams has dedicated his life to pursuing another goal: becoming a Division I basketball coach. That’s part of the reason that he decided to go to Texas Tech. He could have gone the JuCo route and, as the leading scorer in Texas 3A high school basketball as a senior, there were assuredly programs at lower levels — North Texas and UT-Arlington, among others, according to Adams — that had offered him a scholarship.

But he wanted to learn from the best. He wanted to build a network at the highest level of the sport. And while Texas Tech basketball is, quite frankly, only Texas Tech basketball, it’s important to remember that he’s played for three different coaches in his three seasons in Lubbock. Two — Smith and Billy Gillispie — are former head coaches at Kentucky. One — Chris Walker — played at Villanova and was previously an assistant with Jay Wright.

Adams has done everything he can to absorb every bit of information available from each coach.

“He knows the game extremely well, he’s a coach on the bench,” Smith said. “He’s always asking questions, always in my ear on the sideline, ‘Coach, why are we running this? What do you think of this? What do you think of that?'”

Ironically enough, being deaf has helped Adams in that regard. It’s natural, he says, for people with hearing problems to be more observant of their surroundings, to rely more on visual cues than people that have never had to live without the ability to hear. This summer, he traveled to the Deaflympics in Bulgaria with Team USA, an event where he had to play deaf. He couldn’t use hearing aids or implants.

“Being able to play hearing and then play without hearing ability makes me appreciate being able to hear and communicate,” Adams said. “You have to use your eyes a lot more than your ears on the court. I think it worked to my advantage because I kind of see more.”

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Adams gets heckled quite often on the road.

There are fans that make fun of his Justin Bieber haircut and students that get on him about his headband. On Monday night, when he took the court for Tech in a loss to Pitt, the Panther fans in attendance started chanting ‘Rudy’ at him, a reference to the walk-on football player at Notre Dame immortalized in the movie named after him.

It’s not uncommon.

But Adams doesn’t have a problem with it.

Because, after all, he can hear the taunts.

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.