adidas Nations Monday Recap

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LONG BEACH, California — adidas Nations closed out play on Monday night with a televised doubleheader at Long Beach City College. The third-place and championship games showed the country, once again, that the Class of 2016 will be superior to 2015 and it also was a good proving ground for a number of prospects that will be back on the circuit next year. CBT’s Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips were there once again to take in the action.

– Dennis Smith, Jr. has the best week of anyone

Ultra-talented 2016 point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. has always had the talent to dominate, but after a somewhat wild spring, the 6-foot-2 point guard is finally putting efficient performances together with the ball in his hands. adidas Nations was a perfect example of this. Smith dominated play on both ends of the floor at times, as going into the championship game on Monday night with Team Lillard, he was shooting 21-for-29 from the field while dishing out 20 assists to only five turnovers. Over a four-game stretch against mostly older competition — in which he also added two-plus steals a game — that’s incredibly impressive. The point guard race is tight in 2016 with Derryck Thornton, UCLA commit Lonzo Ball, Kobi Simmons and DeAaron Fox — if you view Fox as a point guard, which I think he can be down the line — but Smith appears to be the leader of the pack right now. He’s a bonafide top-five prospect in this 2016 class and deserves more discussion for a higher spot with continued excellence. (SP)

Spring/summer give 2017 F Billy Preston much-needed reps

Given the talent that many of the players at high-level camps possess, it can be easy to forget that these are kids who can be overwhelmed by the moment on occasion. That was the case for 2017 forward Billy Preston, who in the championship game was playing on national television for the first time in his life. Things didn’t go well for neither he nor his Team Wall teammates, as they were soundly defeated by Team Lillard with players such as Dennis Smith, Thon Maker and Eron Gordon proving to be too much to handle. However just as big of a factor for Preston as the talent in front of him were the nerves, and it’s something he can learn from moving forward.

“I thought I had a good camp until the last game,” Preston told NBCSports.com following the defeat. “I came out a little nervous, and I didn’t play that [well]. It’s an honor to be invited to a camp like this, and I’m [in the Class of 2017] so I learned a lot from the older guys, the college guys and the pros who played. It was a good experience.”

As for Preston’s recruitment, he’s a very interesting prospect given the fact that he didn’t play much high school basketball as a freshman. Preston played in a handful of games at St. John Bosco in southern California before transferring to Redondo Union in mid-January, where he was unable to play per California state transfer rules. So having the opportunity to play with and against talented players all spring and summer has proven to be invaluable for a player who’s already receiving attention from many Pac-12 schools and recently received offers from UCLA and UConn. (RJ)

– DeAaron Fox plays well at both guard spots

Another impressive guard performance this week came from Texas native and 6-foor-3 guard DeAaron Fox. Fox played alongside Smith for the title-winning Team Lillard and the duo proved to be nearly unguardable together. Fox played both guard spots, although he told NBCSports.com that he would like to be a point guard in college he is comfortable in either guard role, and thrived wherever he played on the floor. Fox made plays for other players, hunted buckets by attacking the rim and also knocked down some shots. Overall, it was a really solid week for Fox and it looks like he’s solidifying his spot as a five-star guard. (SP)

– Eron Gordon caps good week with another solid performance.

With five players finishing the title game in double figures, Team Lillard didn’t lack for contributors in their 106-78 win over Team Wall. One of those five was 2016 guard Eron Gordon,who scored 16 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go along with four rebounds. Gordon shot the ball well from mid-range and was also able to get to the basket on a couple occasions as well, finding looks for himself without forcing the action. Gordon spent the majority of his time at the camp playing off the ball with Dennis Smith Jr. running the show for a team that went undefeated, and he performed well in that role as he shot 50 percent or better from the field in every game other than the opener (nine points on 3-for-10 shooting). (RJ)

– Late phone call provides Dominic Green with a great opportunity.

Due to a number of injuries at adidas Nations throughout the week, some players were called in to help with the depth of certain teams. One player fortunate enough to receive a call was 2015 forward Dominic Green, who looked to do his best to simply fit in with his teammates upon his arrival Saturday afternoon. One of Green’s best attributes is his length, something the aimed to make good use of on the defensive end of the floor.

“My coach called me and asked, ‘do I want to play with the best players in the nation?'” Green told NBCSports.com. “And I said [I would]. I just tried to defend and not allow my man to score, and try not to turn over the ball on offense.”

The call to join a team that included Duke commit Chase Jeter and five-star wing Jaylen Brown capped a solid month for Green, whose improved play in July has led to increased interest on the recruiting trail. Holding offers from Montana and UTEP, Green has heard from programs such as Arizona State, Washington State, Gonzaga, USC, Saint Mary’s and Oregon State among others. And according to Green, the reason why he’s receiving more attention now than he did during the high school season is a simple one.

“During the high school season I wasn’t giving my best effort, and in July I was giving 100% effort,” Green noted. “That allowed me to play better.” (RJ)

– Rawle Alkins’ old-school game continues to impress

After a strong showing at adidas Uprising early in July, New York native and 6-foot-4 guard Rawle Alkins continued to play well at adidas Nations throughout the week. With a strong frame and an attack mentality, Alkins loves touching the paint and making plays by being a creative scorer around the basket. While the jumper is still a work-in-progress, it’s really fun to watch Alkins operate within 15 feet of the basket. He finishes creatively with his off-hand and isn’t afraid to use the glass, Alkins will post up smaller guards and he also has a hook shot in his arsenal for those moments as well. Even after seeing Alkins play about eight times or so this summer he was throwing out new ways to score around the basket and it was fun to watch. (SP)

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.