Iowa’s Aaron White embraces burden of leadership after tough finish to 2013-14 season

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LAS VEGAS — Given the amount of talent that returned to Iowa City last season, the 2013-14 campaign was one in which many forecasted a return to the NCAA tournament for Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes. With guard Roy Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White leading an experienced group not only were the Hawkeyes seen as an NCAA tournament team, but they were also seen by some as a possible contender in the Big Ten. Iowa played that way during the first half of the season, winning ten of its first 11 games and beginning Big Ten play with wins in four of their first five contests.

But things changed following that solid start to conference play, with the rigors of the Big Ten and defensive struggles combining to result in a 9-9 conference record and losses in six of their seven games ahead of the NCAA tournament. A team that looked to be well on its way to a “protected” seed in the NCAA tournament found itself in Dayton, where they lost to Tennessee in overtime as their head coach was dealing with a family issue more important than the game of basketball.

With the likes of Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe out of eligibility, Iowa is looking to not only return to the NCAA tournament but do so in smoother fashion in 2014-15. And while the defensive issues may stick out to most when comparing the start of the 2013-14 season to its finish, in the eyes of rising senior forward Aaron White there wasn’t just one particular issue that proved problematic for the Hawkeyes.

“When it comes down to it we were winning at the beginning of the year and we weren’t at the end,” White told NBCSports.com last week at the LeBron James Skills Academy. “A lot goes into that. We were playing with a high level of confidence, sharing the ball and trusting each other. But sometimes you can’t really put your finger on one thing that results in a losing streak.

“I’m just proud of the season we had as a whole. I think we put Iowa on the map, reaching the top ten [of the national polls] and being in the Top 25 for most of the season. [Last season] taught me a lot and my teammates also learned a lot that we’ll take into next year. I think I took a lot more good from last season than bad.”

White was one of the mainstays on that team, starting all 33 games and posting averages of 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 forward shot a career-best 58.4% from the field, a figure which ranked first in the Big Ten. And with the now-departed Marble being the only other double-digit scorer (17.0 ppg) for at team that also had seven players averaging between 5.7 and 7.8 points per game, it’s pretty clear that White will be in a position where he’ll be asked to do more both statistically and as a leader for the Hawkeyes.

“It affects me individually because I think when people looked at Iowa, it was me and Devyn,” noted White. “We were kind of a 1-2 punch. And now that he’s gone it’s my team in a sense. I’m not saying that in a selfish way, but I’m the guy returning with the most experience. Devyn was a great player obviously, making first team All-Big Ten and getting drafted. We’re not going to have one guy fill his role. Everyone’s going to have to step up and we’ll be able make up for [his departure].”

And in discussing what he’s doing to work towards being an even more integral figure for Iowa, White noted that the goal of being a professional once his college career ends has impacted the way in which he’s gone about his business during the summer.

“I just want to conduct myself as if I’m going to be a professional basketball player,” said White. “That’s being more aggressive on offense, being more of a leader on defense and communicating. Improving my body, and just trying to prepare myself to have a great final year and take that into next summer.

“I’ve had a lot of talks with Coach McCaffery and we’re on the same wavelength. He always wants me to lead the team, be confident and be aggressive. Just play my game and don’t defer to anyone else; look for my shot and play hard and the rest will fall in place.”

Accounting for the loss of Marble, Basabe and McCabe as a team will be a group task especially when considering what Marble gave the Hawkeyes. Among the options who will be asked to help account for the lost production are guard Mike Gesell (7.8 ppg, 3.9 apg) and forward Jarrod Uthoff (7.6, 4.6 rpg), and the Hawkeyes are also adding a three-member recruiting class led by junior college transfer Trey Dickerson. Last season at Williston State College in North Dakota the 6-foot-1 Dickerson posted averages of 19.8 points, 5.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, and his arrival gives Iowa some additional perimeter depth alongside its returnees.

However even with those options available to McCaffery, White’s abilities not only as a player but also a leader will be needed if Iowa is to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. And part of the battle for any team playing in a league as rigorous as the Big Ten is to keep a stretch of negative results from “snowballing” into a situation that proves too difficult to rebound from. This is where the experiences that White and his teammates come into play, and it’s an opportunity he’s looking forward to taking on in 2014-15.

“It’s the best league in the country,” White stated. “[Some of the other campers] may tell you otherwise but it definitely is. Every night’s a dogfight whether you’re playing the 12th place team or the first-place team, home or away it’s a battle. Look at Wisconsin. They lost to Northwestern at home and went on a losing streak (the Badgers lost five of six games early in conference play), and then they end up reaching the Final Four.

“It’s just that type of league. You have to be ready every night, but that’s what makes it fun. You don’t want to be in a league where you have a “cupcake” every other week. I’ve loved the challenge all three years I’ve been at Iowa, and I’m looking forward to this year.”

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.