Las Vegas Thursday Recap: Skal Labissiere, Stephen Zimmerman perform well

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One of the positives of grassroots basketball is the fact that the nation’s top talents tend to have more opportunities to hone their craft against other skilled players, and for the top big men that also means the chance to play against similarly-sized players. While there are some high school and prep leagues that don’t lack for size, more times than not during the high school season a player can find himself double and triple-teamed by smaller teams due to their inability to put a bigger defender on that elite talent.

That’s something 2015 center Skal Labissiere ran into on multiple occasions this past season, with Labissiere noting that the summer provides a greater challenge – and more room in which to operate.

“I like playing during the summer more, because I get more one-on-one matchups,” Labissiere told NBCSports.com, and he also noted that the players he faces during the summer provide a greater challenge. “Because in the league we play in [during the school year] I get double and triple-teamed a lot.”

Labissiere matched up with another top 2015 big man on Thursday in 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman, and both displayed some of the skills that have left coaches across the country impressed. Labissiere was productive in the post offensively, and defensively he displayed the ability to serve as a help-side defender at the rim. Zimmerman displayed greater aggression in the post, at one point using two powerful dribbles to get through Labissiere to the basket, while also displaying the passing ability and shooting range that makes him arguably the most well-rounded big man in the class.

And just as importantly, the moments in which he spent too much time on the perimeter were non-existent. However this is something Zimmerman stated that he continues to work at, and with teammate Ivan Rabb participating in USA Basketball’s U-17 camp this weekend the Las Vegas native has more room to operate on the low block.

“I try to do everything I can on the court to help my team,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports. “I think I need to work on being more aggressive, but I feel like it will come.

“Not being so passive,” Zimmerman added. “I’ll catch the ball at the high post sometimes and instead of attacking I’ll look for the pass. That’s not what my team needs. But I think I’ll get better at it [in time].”

Isaiah Briscoe outplays Jalen Brunson in NJ Playaz win: One of the four games at The 8, which was held at Impact Basketball Academy, matched up the Mac Irvin Fire and Playaz Basketball Club out of New Jersey. And while this particular event draws attention from fans due to the presence of coaches who are also (for the most part) current NBA players, there are also quality individual matchups to consider.

This one featured point guards Jalen Brunson (Fire) and Isaiah Briscoe (Playaz), with Briscoe getting the better of Brunson as he led his team to the win. Briscoe’s an incredibly tough customer who has no issue whatsoever with contact, and he was a very difficult matchup in ball screen situations due to his ability to make reads without being hurried. Brunson was quiet for much of the game, but that won’t do anything to diminish his status as one of the best point guards in the 2015 class.

RELATED: Las Vegas Wednesday Recap

Elijah Cain performs well for NJ Playaz: Briscoe wasn’t the only solid performer for the Playaz in that win, with 2015 wing Elijah Cain also displaying the ability to both attack the basket off the dribble and knock down perimeter shots. Cain’s an interesting case in that he made the decision prior to the start of last season to reclassify back into the 2015 class. And according to Cain, basketball wasn’t the primary reason for his decision to make that move.

“Most people don’t know this, but the decision was made more for my age and maturity and not for basketball,” Cain told NBCSports.com. “I just wanted to mature because I’m young for my class.”

Among the schools Cain mentioned as being most active in his recruitment, Memphis and Delaware were among the programs who were in touch before his solid performance at the Peach Jam with Virginia Tech, Charlotte, USC and Xavier reaching out afterward.

Alterique Gilbert has the makings of a very good point guard: The 8 also provided the opportunity to watch 2016 point guard Alterique Gilbert ply his trade for CP3, with the Los Angeles Clippers floor general serving as one of the coaches. Gilbert can be a handful for the opposition in pick and roll situations, something that played itself out on multiple occasions Thursday. But there are still improvements to be made, especially when it comes to the reads Gilbert makes in those situations. And it helps to have a resource like Paul, who isn’t on the bench solely to make a “celebrity appearance.”

“He’s helped us out throughout July,” Gilbert told NBCSports.com. “He’s very supportive of us and I respect that. A lot of NBA players will make a team but they aren’t really involved with their program, so I like that he’s really hands-on.”

And when it comes to the improvements he’s looking to make in his game, Gilbert isn’t focusing solely on his offensive skill set. There’s also the understanding of the need to improve defensively and as a leader, with Gilbert citing the importance of communication on the defensive end of the floor as something he’s become more mindful of. Gilbert stated that he’s recently received offers by Texas A&M, Memphis, Miami, Maryland and Georgia.

Jarred Vanderbilt another intriguing 2017 prospect: Wednesday provided the opportunity to watch two of the best prospects in the 2017 class in Troy Brown and DeAndre Ayton, and on Thursday 6-foot-8 forward Jarred Vanderbilt took the court for the Houston Hoops. Vanderbilt was solid if not spectacular in his team’s close win over Seattle Rotary Select, using his slender frame to get to the basket on multiple occasions. Given his class there’s plenty of time for him to develop physically in order to better deal with contact when in traffic, and he’s only going to receive more attention from programs as he does.

Vanderbilt already holds offers from multiple high-major programs, including Baylor, Creighton, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M.

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.