‘Chaos’ has yet to take hold, but it hasn’t stopped Will Wade from winning at Chattanooga

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Frank Mattia/GoMocs.com

When Will Wade was hired at Chattanooga in May, he had a vision for the program that he wanted to build.

Just 31 years young, Wade had spent the last four years as an assistant on Shaka Smart’s staff at VCU, watching the way that the basketball-mad community of Richmond embraced ‘Havoc’. It originated as a style of play. It’s turned into VCU’s brand, the culture of a program that has since been embraced by the school and the students and the city at-large.

Chattanooga sits in what Wade calls a “melting pot of SEC schools”, close enough to places like Knoxville and Athens and Tuscaloosa that the city is loaded with various alumni but far enough way that they don’t get swept up in the furor over one school or one team. In other words, the folks that wind up in Chattanooga will have different allegiances when it comes to “FOOTBAWL”.

But when it comes to college hoops, they’re Chattanooga fans.

When Wade interviewed for the job, that was part of his pitch. As he called it, ‘Chaos’.

“When you’re a mid-major, you need a brand or a calling card,” Wade, the third-youngest head coach in Division I, told NBCSports.com in a phone interview. “I knew that’s how I wanted to play when I was fortunate enough to get a head job.”

“We needed a name for it, and when I interviewed for the Chattanooga job, Chaos kind of came to mind. It has a ‘C’ in it, we have a ‘C’ as our logo. It just kind of fit.”

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‘Chaos’ has a defined set of goals that aren’t all that different from what you would expect from a typical VCU team. Relentless full-court pressure, live-ball turnovers leading to layups, offensive rebounds, three-pointers. As much as anything, however, the biggest objective in a system like this is conditioning. Be in better shape, wear your opponents down, and eventually that pressure is going to get to them.

Two-thirds of the way through his first seasons with the Mocs, Wade’s finally got his team winning games. Ronrico White’s return has coincided with a 10-game winning streak, one that has them sitting at 8-0 in league play as they head into a key conference showdown with SoCon stalwart Davidson on Thursday night.

It’s an impressive turnaround for a team that went 4-8 in non-conference play, especially when you consider the fact that ‘Chaos’ really hasn’t been all that chaotic to date.

“We’re not where we need to be defensively,” Wade said, and Chattanooga’s ranking as the 271st-best defense, according to KenPom, would back that statement up. At this point, the Mocs are playing a style that closer to that of Louisville or Villanova than VCU. They run a zone-pressure designed more to control tempo than to force turnovers, dropping back into a matchup zone. For a coach that swears by extended, man-to-man pressure, the fact that his team is playing a different style successfully has even surprised him.

“Defensively, we stumbled upon this matchup zone,” Wade said. “We’re not getting a ton of steals or anything like that.”

“Offensively, we’re pretty close to where I’d like to be. I’d like to shoot a little bit better from three, but our identity is pretty close to what we want. … We play very, very fast. We lead the league in scoring, get up and down the court.”

The star of this Chattanooga team is Z Mason, a 6-foot-6 forward that’s averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 boards and could very well end up being the SoCon Player of the Year. But according to Wade, their most important piece is White. “He’s a high-IQ player,” Wade said, but it’s more than simply understanding the game or understanding reads. White, a 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard, is terrific in the pick-and-roll, and Chattanooga runs a ball-screen heavy offense. During this 10 game winning streak, he’s averaging 15.3 points with 23 assists and just nine turnovers.

“When he was hurt, we had a freshman point guard [Greg Pryor] who ended up playing 25 or 30 minutes a game, and it was almost a perfect start for us,” Wade said. “He was our only option, and he played a ton so he has a lot of miles on him. He’s game ready.”

At this point, ‘Chaos’ is not where Wade envisions it being a couple of years down the road, but that’s what tends to happen when a coach takes over a new program. He inherited the players this team, he didn’t necessarily recruit them. There’s a fairly distinct skill-set — and mindset — needed to be able to thrive in that style of play.

It’s not for everyone.

“There’s a big adjustment in terms of [the players] trusting me and us and what we do, and us as a staff of trusting them,” Wade said. “To their credit, they figured it out. The buy-in’s been there, but it went up ten-fold once we started winning. There was a lot of blind faith.”

Wade even admitted that he was surprised by how quickly they’ve found success. “I couldn’t have envisioned that we would come together this quickly or this early. We’re probably a little bit ahead of schedule.”

Regardless of what schedule the team is on, the city has taken notice. They drew 6,648 fans on Saturday, the most since Steph Curry’s Davidson team came through town back in 2009. The 11,310 fans they drew in two games last week eclipsed the season total for five other teams in the conference.

“A fan told me the other day, ‘I haven’t seen this many people where Chattanooga basketball stuff since the Sweet 16,'” Wade said. ‘That was in 1997.”

“That’s the vision for what we’re trying to build here.”

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

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.