Martez Harrison is helping UMKC fill a void that’s three decades old

0 Comments
source:
Kareem Richardson (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The defining moment in the history of the UMKC basketball program had nothing to do with Kangaroo basketball.

It was April 19th, 1985. That’s the day that the NBA’s Kings left Kansas City for Sacramento, leaving behind a city with a passion for basketball but without a team to root for. Civic leaders put together a task force to study the city’s dynamics and UMKC’s then-NAIA program to determine if the ‘Roos could be the team to fill that void, and the answer they came up with was to bump the program up to the Division I level and to play their home games in historic Municipal Auditorium, a building that has hosted three Final Fours and the second-most NCAA tournament games of all-time.

The goal was to bring a sense of pride to the city, to build a Division I program that Kansas City bonds with, the way that Wichita has with Wichita State and Springfield has with Missouri State, to have the locals love a team the way Omaha loves Creighton.

And to date, that experiment has failed. UMKC has never been to the NIT, let alone the NCAA tournament. They’ve never won a regular season or conference tournament title. At the Division I level, the Kangaroos have never even had a head coach finish his time with program with a winning record. When Matt Brown was let go in the spring of 2013, he had gone 64-122 in six seasons.

Kids in Kansas City, if they grow up basketball fans, root for Kansas.

Or Missouri.

Or Kansas State.

RELATEDNBCSports.com’s WAC preview | 2014-2015 Mid-Major Power Rankings

source:
Martez Harrison (AP Photo)

For a coach to succeed at UMKC, he needs to get the local fans invested — emotionally, if not financially — in the program and local talent, which there is more than enough of, excited about the program. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

And that’s why the first thing Kareem Richardson did when he was hired by UMKC was to get a line on the best players from the area that had yet to commit to a school.

The name that popped up? Martez Harrison, a two-time all-state point guard from University Academy in Kansas City that was spending a prep year at Brewster Academy (New Hampshire). “Right away I reached out to his prep school coach, Jason Smith,” Richardson told NBCSports.com last week. “I’ve got a pretty decent relationship with Jason and he told me a lot of good things about Martez.”

The best thing Richardson heard? That Harrison, despite being a three-star recruit and despite beating out more highly-regarded recruits for playing time at one of the nation’s most well-known prep schools, had no high-major scholarship offers. Harrison held offers from Southern Illinois and Western Illinois when he graduated high school. Fordham, Canisius, Florida-Gulf Coast and LIU-Brooklyn came calling during his time at Brewster, but none of the big boys were interested.

Harrison is 5-foot-11, and while he’s listed as a point guard, he built his reputation in high school as a scorer; plenty of the big boys had questions about his ability to be a full-time point guard, which was fine with Richardson, who was recruiting his first class to UMKC while helping Louisville win the 2013 national title.

“Once our season ended at Louisville, I made a point that he was the first guy to visit,” Richardson said. “I made it out to Brewster Academy to spend some time with him, and just kind of told him my vision and shared my vision about the program and how I think it would be nice for a hometown kid like him to help in the process of building and moving towards the future.”

Harrison agreed, committing to the ‘Roos two weeks later on his visit to the campus.

“I was just very excited to come back home,” Harrison told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “Just being a hometown kid. I’ve always thought that UMKC [could win].”

MORE: Top 25 Potential Breakout Stars | Top 25 Non-Conference Games | Coaches on the Hot Seat

The wins didn’t come all that easily for the ‘Roos in Harrison and Richardson’s first season on campus. They finished just 10-20 overall and 7-9 in the WAC, and it won’t help matters this season that UMKC will lose a number of seniors off of last year’s roster. But in a season where there weren’t too many bright spots, Harrison was one. He finished the year as one of the most productive freshmen in the country, averaging 17.2 points, 3.3 boards and 3.8 assists. He averaged 18.6 points in league play while shooting 44.0% from three.

In short, Richardson has landed himself a guy that will, before he leaves UMKC, win a WAC Player of the Year award.

And more importantly, his star, the kid that he will build his program around, is from the city, and it’s already starting to pay off.

“A lot of young guys ask me about the program. I think that we’re definitely doing a good job grabbing local people’s attention,” Harrison said, a point that Richardson doubled-down on. “I definitely believe it’s paying dividends,” he said. “Martez is very well known around the Kansas City area, and what it’s done is that it certainly has attracted other Kansas City area kids. It helps us be able to get into the door with some of those up and coming kids in the area because they think so highly of Martez.”

You can see it in who the program is bringing in. Broderick Newbill, a Kansas City native that transferred into UMKC from Fresno State, did so because of his friendship with Harrison, Richardson said. Two of the five freshmen that Richardson brought in this season are from the Kansas City suburbs, one of whom, Noah Knight, played for Mo-Kan Elite and is the nephew of Kansas legend Danny Manning. Knight’s sister plays for Kansas.

UMKC still has a long way to go before they become relevant in the WAC race, let alone relevant in a town with as many local sports teams as Kansas City. I know one of the local sports radio hosts well, and when I asked, he had no clue who Martez Harrison was, and it’s his job to know all sports that are relevant in the city.

But Richardson knew that coming in. He knew this wasn’t going to be a quick reboot. Building a program from the ground up is not an easy thing to do. Landing one local kid was never going to be the answer.

It was, however, a step in the right direction, one that, if all goes according to plan, will allow Richardson to complete the plan that Kansas City’s mayor set in motion three decades ago.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
0 Comments

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

Getty Images
1 Comment

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.