Seven takeaways from the LeBron James Skills Academy

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The first of July’s three live periods ended at 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Each of our writers were at an event last week, and each will be giving you seven takeaways from those events. 

One of the showcase events of the first open weekend in July was the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. Sure the free agent status of the event’s namesake hung over the proceedings, but the camp was an important one for some of the nation’s best players at both the college and high school levels. There aren’t many camps with both sets of players in attendance going through workouts (during separate sessions), which makes this event unique compared to others held in July.

With college coaches in town to not only check out recruits but also (in some cases) check in on their current players and NBA scouts having the opportunity to watch both sets of players, all involved had the opportunity to improve their standing with those decision-makers. Here are seven thoughts on the action from Las Vegas.

MOREAll our content from the 2014 July Live Recruiting Period

1) Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker is poised to have a big junior season.

Dekker enjoyed a solid sophomore season, posting averages of 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for a team that was an Aaron Harrison three-pointer away from playing for the national title. That’s served as a catalyst for the 6-foot-9 forward (he’s grown two inches, and is working to be a more physical player), who displayed an improved floor game and more assertiveness in Las Vegas.

Dekker scored from anywhere on the floor during the camp, knocking down perimeter shots at a solid clip, and was also good on the defensive end. From a jump-shooting standpoint it was good to see Dekker knock down those looks consistently, as his three-point percentage dipped more than six percentage points from his freshman (39.1%) to sophomore (32.6%) year. That area will be key for Wisconsin as they look to make another deep run into the NCAA tournament and account for the graduation of Ben Brust.

2) Based upon the talent in Las Vegas, the Big 12 is going to be incredibly fun to watch in 2014-15.

That statement won’t come as a surprise, based upon how competitive the league was last season with Kansas winning the regular season title and Iowa State taking the tournament crown. And while the Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last ten regular season titles, players representing other programs in Las Vegas have no plans of conceding anything in 2014-15. While Kansas’ Perry Ellis put together a very good week at the camp the same can be said of Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, who also made some waves by stating that the Sooners are going to win the Big 12 this year.

Iowa State’s Georges Niang, having lost 25 pounds since the end of the season, looked more mobile on the court and that’s a good sign given the broken foot that ended his season. Add in the likes of Kansas State’s Marcus Foster (who expects to have more opportunities as a primary ball-handler in 2014-15), Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and West Virginia’s Juwan Staten and there’s a lot of returning talent to like in the Big 12.

3) Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Kansas’ Kelly Oubre are ready to produce immediately on the offensive end.

Johnson and Oubre were the lone freshmen playing amongst the college players, and their abilities on the offensive end are what stood out. Johnson proved to be a difficult matchup at the camp, especially when it came to his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim through contact. As for Oubre, he was very good at slashing to the basket and finding solid looks himself. While there’s still work to be done for both players, they have the tools needed to be primary scoring options in their respective systems.

4) Ted Kapita likely did more to help his status within the 2015 class than any other prospect at the camp.

Kapita entered the week rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports and a four-star according to Rivals. And in the aftermath of his performance in Las Vegas, Kapita is now deemed to be a five-star player by 247Sports. Kapita ran the floor well, was active in the paint on both ends and remained engaged throughout the week. That last bit can be difficult for some young players (as evidenced by the decision to cancel Friday’s night session with fatigue being one reason; there were legitimate injuries to consider as well), especially when taking on-court communication into consideration, but this wasn’t a problem for Kapita. He’s definitely a name to keep an eye on as the month progresses.

5) Ivan Rabb and Cheick Diallo led the way in the post amongst uncommitted big men at the event.

Of course the likes of Bryant, Kapita and Caleb Swanigan were also in attendance, but Rabb and Diallo were both very good at the camp. Rabb’s skill set on the block made him a very tough matchup for most of the players he went up against, and he also showed himself to be an adept shot blocker and rebounder outside of his area. As for Diallo, while there are still strides to be made offensively he played incredibly hard and was a presence in the paint on both ends.

6) The camp provided further evidence to the fact that LSU landed a stud in Ben Simmons. 

Simmons is rated by multiple scouting services as the top player in the Class of 2015, and he did nothing to dispel that notion in Las Vegas. Simmons displayed the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, making him an incredibly difficult matchup throughout the week. He’s a player who at the next level has the skills needed to be a “mismatch” that LSU head coach Johnny Jones can plug into either forward slot, taking smaller defenders into the paint and bigger defenders out onto the perimeter.

7) Jayson Tatum is an incredibly smooth wing, and the race for him will continue to be fierce. 

Tatum’s rated as one of the best players in the 2016 class (and tops in the eyes of some), and the reasons why were on display in Las Vegas. Tatum combined the ability to get to the basket off the dribble with solid perimeter shooting ability, and he isn’t the kind of player who gets out of control on that end of the floor. As his body matures and he gets a little stronger, Tatum should remain one of the top players in his class. Duke, Kansas and Kentucky are among the programs working hard to land Tatum, and the same can be said for a Saint Louis program hoping to keep the elite small forward from leaving his hometown.

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.