From Sudan, to Australia, to Louisville: Deng Adel’s journey to America

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CHICAGO — Deng Adel has only been in the United States for a year or so, but the 6-foot-7 Class of 2015 wing is already acclimating well to the American style of play and lifestyle.

Basketball wasn’t even Adel’s first sport — that would be soccer — but now through hard work and skill development, basketball has given the native of South Sudan — by way of Australia — a chance to play at Louisville.

“I was born in South Sudan and then I moved to Australia in 2004 and lived there for about 10 years then came here. I used to play soccer though, I wasn’t really into basketball,” Adel told NBCSports.com. “But I moved locations and the only people I would hang around with played basketball, so I just kind of changed sports.”

Basketball now takes up so much of Adel’s time that he could barely watch the World Cup, as he instead travels the country playing in basketball camps and tournaments. Instead of soccer highlights, he watches YouTube videos of NBA greats to study new moves. Deng admitted the transition to the United States hasn’t been easy, but he’s making it happen through hard work.

“It’s been good. The speed is a lot different over here and there’s a lot more athletes. So I have to adjust to that,” Adel said. “I always wanted to play college basketball and I felt that coming here earlier would get me the exposure I needed to really land at a good school.”

Leaving Australia meant Adel going without his family and friends — the friends that introduced him to his new love of basketball — but it also meant that he’s now in position to play for a national championship-winning coach in Rick Pitino at Louisville. That kind of opportunity drives Deng to be at his best on a day-to-day basis.

“It was hard. Right now, I miss my family, but I know that it’s better for me to be here and get this exposure and have the opportunity for me to go to college,” Adel said. They understand what I’m trying to do, but at the same time, it was really hard.

“Just the guys that played basketball with me led to me watching college basketball, and from there, that’s what I wanted to do: go to college and get an education. Getting an education is the most important thing to me and my family. But basketball gives me the chance to go to college.”

The transition will be a bit easier for Adel because he is cousins with current Louisville center Mangok Mathiang. Mathiang, like Adel, is another Sudo-Aussie and transitioned from playing under high school coach Loren Jackson to Louisville. Jackson has coached a couple of Sudanese transplants into college basketball, including Mathiang and former DePaul forward Mac Koshwal, but Adel is more of a wing player.

“I think he’s a Luol Deng that can really put the ball on the floor a little bit better. That’s kind of who I compare him to,” Jackson told NBCSports.com. “Maybe at the next level he can play two-guard. I play him at the two-guard so he can handle and read ball screens and show a lot of versatility. He posts up, he fills the lanes, he shows coming off of ball screens. We’re just trying to make him a complete player.”

Now that Adel is in America, it’s basketball all the time. In Australia, Adel didn’t get basketball on television as much as he would have liked, but it’s different now that’s he’s here. His basketball dreams are coming true very, very quickly.

“You don’t really get a chance to watch it over there; they don’t show basketball on TV as much,” Adel said. “Guys that played basketball, I just kind of did what they did. And then March Madness started…”

Adel smiles as his past thoughts of the NCAA Tournament trail off. College basketball wasn’t prevalent in Australia, but soon Adel will have the chance to make his own NCAA Tournament at Louisville.

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.

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.