Stony Brook works toward NCAA appearance after DII transition

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source: AP
AP

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.

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Stony Brook has slowly built its men’s basketball program into a respectable annual postseason contender.

They just haven’t made the NCAA Tournament and drawn a lot of national attention.

But the vision is there for a successful long-term Division I basketball program.

If you look at the profile of head coach Steve Pikiell’s program during his 10 seasons as coach, and the history of Stony Brook basketball, you’ll see they’re on an impressive run.

Four out of the past five seasons have resulted in at least 20 wins and postseason appearances, three of those times in the NIT for the Seawolves. They’ve had three of the last five America East Players of the Year, led most recently by junior forward Jameel Warney, who won the award as a sophomore.

The problem is, Stony Brook has fallen short the last couple of seasons of making the field of 68 and they’ve watched teams like Albany and Vermont make multiple postseason appearances from the league.

Pikiell and Warney hope that changes this year. Stony Brook fell just short again last season, falling in the America East Conference Tournament title game at home against Albany, but they have no seniors on the roster and a talented group of returnees.

Warney is one of the most impressive mid-major front-court players in the nation. The 6-foot-8 junior forward averaged 14.5 points and 8 rebounds on 61 percent field goal shooting as a sophomore and worked very hard this summer. Pikiell said it was Warney’s first full summer on-campus in the weight room and he’s added muscle while losing weight.

“It’s his team now. He’s in as good as shape as he’s ever been in. He’s added a 15-foot jump shot to his game,” Pikiell told NBCSports.com. “He’s young. He came in as a young freshman and I think he’s really matured the last couple years. I think he has a chance to be a really terrific player on the national level, too.”

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Warney returns along with fellow junior Carson “Tre” Purifoy, who averaged 12.9 points last season and shot 43 percent from three-point range, as well as German import and redshirt freshman Roland Nyama, a 6-foot-6 wing who Pikiell called, “as athletic as any player we’ve had in the program.”

The urgency is there to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time because Stony Brook has historically never achieved success for any sustained number of years in men’s basketball. The Division III run produced some 20-win seasons and the Division II years only produced two total winning seasons.

In the first 10 seasons as a Division I program, since 1999, Stony Brook only had two winning seasons.

So this latest run of 20-win seasons and postseason appearances is historic for the school and a NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in school history would be big for the sustained future of the program.

“I’m most proud of where it started off (to now),” Pikiell said. “We had spots of success at Division III. At Division II we really struggled and then we jumped into Division I. I’m really proud to win 20 games and play in postseasons, which is not something we’ve ever done.”

The recent success has helped give the program unprecedented momentum as they move into a new 4,000 seat arena this season from a 1,700 seat arena. Pikiell said that season ticket numbers in his 10 years as head coach have jumped from 40 to 2,000 as the fan base is clearly enjoying this new era of success.

“It’s amazing. Now that it’s here more fans can come so we’re just excited,” Warney said. “Every year it keeps getting better and better. More fans; more support. It gets louder and louder.”

Success at Stony Brook would mean as much to Pikiell as anybody. He started his 10-year run as head coach with a four-win season, oversaw a program on probation, had academic casualties and didn’t sustain a winning record until year four.

Unlike a lot of administrations of Division I men’s basketball programs, Stony Brook stuck with Pikiell and their shared long-term plan to make the Seawolves successful.

Stony Brook finally reaching a national stage would mean the vision worked.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.