Bryce Cotton, Providence’s marathon man, looking to lead the Friars on a run to the NCAA tournament

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source: AP
AP

Providence has found itself in double-overtime four times during Big East play this season. The most recent thriller came on Tuesday night against Marquette with the Friars’ NCAA tournament hopes undoubtedly on the line.

In his 50th minute of action — the fourth time he’s logged every minute of a double-overtime game in the past nine weeks — senior guard Bryce Cotton was able to make two winning plays with less than 10 seconds left and Marquette clinging to a 80-79 lead. As the Golden Eagles inbounded the ball, instead of fouling, Cotton went for a tie up, giving the Friars the ball back with the possession arrow.

Moments later, Cotton was fouled by Derrick Wilson. The once roaring Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd became utterly silent as he drained his pair of free throws. On senior night, Cotton scored 25 points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded nine assists in Providence’s 81-80 victory over Marquette. After shaking hands with the Golden Eagles, Cotton, who has racked up 1,207 minutes played in 30 games, had enough energy left in his 6-foot-1, 165-pound body to shout to his older brother, Justin Tarpley, in the stands.

“I was just telling him, ‘I told you. I told you. We did it.’ … stuff like that,” Cotton said. “Because where we come from there’s not a lot of opportunity to go to college and play sports. Since we’re here, you might as well take it as far as you can. That was a brief emotional moment me and my brother shared.”

Growing up on the north side of Tuscon, Cotton was frequently reminded by Justin, 29, of others who had the ability to do something great, only to be sidetracked and eventually lured down the wrong path.

“It wasn’t the best neighborhood to grow up in at a younger age, but my brother did a good job of keeping me away from any gangs that were around my neighborhood,” Cotton said. “He kept me focused. He did all the things an older brother should do.”

The focus drilled into him by his brother has stayed with Cotton. The latest example being his heads up play with nine seconds to go against Marquette, remembering not to foul, rather go for a steal or tie up, which set up Cotton’s heroics.

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For someone averaging 40.2 minutes per game, Cotton’s season has largely gone unnoticed, even if he doesn’t mind the lack of national recognition. He’s the reason why Providence is in the conversation for the program’s first NCAA tournament bid in a decade, though, he almost didn’t stick around to lead the charge.

In three seasons at Providence, head coach Ed Cooley has been able to land a handful of prized recruits to his hometown, players which would have given the Friars one of the nation’s most dangerous perimeter attacks. But several of those PC prospects never panned out the way the Friar faithful had envisioned when they had originally committed.

Providence native Ricky Ledo was ruled ineligible before the start of last season, declaring for the NBA draft that spring. Brandon Austin, a four-star small forward, was suspended indefinitely, along with Rodney Bullock, back in November. Austin has since transferred to Oregon.

Kris Dunn, the top point guard in the Class of 2012, has been plagued with shoulder injuries since the summer before his freshman year. He and Vincent Council were sidelined together for eight games last season, leaving ball-handling duties in the hands of Cotton. When it was announced in December that Dunn would be undergoing season-ending surgery on his right shoulder after appearing in only four games, Cotton was once again entrusted with running the offense.

“It wasn’t tough for me at all,” Cotton said. “People don’t realize that I played point guard my whole life until I came to college, so it wasn’t something that was new to me.

“Basically, it was me wiping off the rust. Due to some unfortunate circumstances I was able to showcase the ability not a lot of people knew I had.”

There weren’t a lot of people that knew much about Cotton as he made the journey from Arizona to Rhode Island to begin his collegiate career. He was not ranked by ESPN, while Rivals posted minimal information about him coming out of Palo Verde Magnet High School in 2010.

His state line reads 21.7 points and 5.9 assists per game. He’s had several clutch performances and his team has exceeded preseason expectations — picked sixth but currently third in the Big East behind two top-15 teams. You wonder why he doesn’t get more praise, more ink. Providence basketball has been down for the better part of a decade, and the Friars are still squarely on the bubble with a week and a half until Selection Sunday.

Then and now he chooses not to concern himself with the spotlight.

“I don’t think anything of it,” Cotton said. “My whole life I’ve flown under the radar and I’ve always had people question me about my play, my size. Honestly, I kind of like it like that. I just go out there and play my game. If people notice me, they do and if they don’t that’s not really my problem. I’m out there to win ball games.”

Tuesday night’s win marks the first time the Friars have won 20 games in a season since 2004. Cotton wants to end this year where that 2003-2004 Friars finished their season: in the NCAA tournament. However two years ago, it appeared Cotton wouldn’t even end his career in a Providence uniform, let alone lead the team to the Big Dance.

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Cotton was on the other side of the country, more than 2,500 miles away from his family. Twenty days after his sophomore season came to a close, his grandmother, Mary Portley, passed away at the age of 72.

It was at that point that Cotton, who had just finished his first year playing for Cooley, was thinking about transferring from Providence College.

“The loss of my grandmother really hit me,” he said. “That was the person I was closet to. That really hit me a lot. I didn’t want to be away from the rest of my family after a tough time like that. It had a lot to do with some other things, but that was one of the bigger factors that really hit me mentally.”

He was told to stay at Providence, that things would work out for the best. He grew up with a strong bond with his mother, grandmother and faith, and he needed guidance from all three in order to choose his next move in life. While back at home to attend his grandmother’s funeral, it was his mother, Yvonne Cotton, who passed along a message, which helped him return to Providence for his junior year.

“My mom had told me, my grandmother loved Coach Cooley and thought I would have a bright future there,” Cotton said. “To hear all those people encouraging me to stay and to hear my grandmother think I’d have a great future there as well, I felt that was God answering my prayers.

“From the looks of things, I made the right decision by staying.”

When Cotton went to Cooley, informing him that he may leave the program, Cooley remained patient and allowed Cotton to take the time he needed in order to make a decision. When Cotton elected to return to the Friars, it became the start of a growing relationship between player and coach, as Cotton’s role continued to expand.

“He’s done a really good job of bringing a lot of new attributes out of me, character traits I didn’t think I’d ever show,” Cotton said.

“Coming in I was more a lead by example guy, quiet, kept to myself. He brought to my attention, the importance of bringing along some of the younger guys. He forced me to not only be a vocal leader, but an emotional leader as well.”

Those new attributes Cotton has displayed under the tutelage of Cooley have blended quite well with the virtues his family and faith instilled in him at an early age. The leadership and emotions were there as he exited the Dunkin’ Donut Center floor for the final time, another big performance in another big game for the tournament-hungry Friars.

Regardless of the win on Tuesday, Providence continues to play with little room for error. If the Friars pull off an upset in Omaha, handing Creighton’s its only home loss or rally off some wins next week in New York at the Big East Tournament, then Cotton will get his chance to introduce himself to the nation on college basketball’s biggest stage. Any slip up, and, like his talented basketball career up until this point, it’ll continue to fly under the radar.

“Either we’ll rise to the occasion or we’ll fold,” he said. “I feel that we have too much that we’re playing for. This is something we don’t get another opportunity to do. We gotta do all we can to seize the moment and make sure it happens.”

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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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

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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.