VCU’s Treveon Graham: From lightly recruited to leader of Havoc, the Atlantic 10 favorites

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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

Today, we’re previewing the Atlantic 10.

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

In early September, on Belle Isle, a small 54-acre island in Richmond, Virginia, the VCU basketball team gathered in army fatigues for a week of Navy SEAL training. The daily workouts consisted of running with 300-pound sandbags draped over their shoulders, rowing in the James River, pushups, obstacles and an array of other challenging activities, all designed to help VCU remain one of the best conditioned teams in the country.

The Navy SEAL training, also known as ‘Hell Week’, has become part of the fabric of the program since 2011, and for seniors like Treveon Graham, they’ve been a part of each one.

“Communication, leadership, team-building, they always hit us with some sort of adversity or multiple forms of adversity, and it’s good for our guys because that’s what we’re going to face in games, particularly on the road and against great teams,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said in a video from ‘Hell Week’ 2014.

Graham, Briante Weber, JeQuan Lewis, Mo Alie-Cox and Melvin Johnson were selected as leaders for the five different groups, made up of players, coaches and graduate assistants, all of whom took part in the training. For Graham, the first-team all-Atlantic 10 forward, his last ‘Hell Week’ took on great importance in one area in particular.

MORE: Atlantic 10 preview | Archie Miller staying shows A-10’s growth

“I thought it brought out the verbal aspect of being a leader,” Graham told NBCSports.com earlier this month. “My first three years I was more a lead by example. I’m more comfortable now just talking to teammates out on the floor in practice.”

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The 6-foot-6 Graham was ready to be pushed in the week-long workout sessions, spending the summer traveling from camp to camp. There was the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in June. Then the LeBron James Skills Academy three weeks later, followed by the Chris Paul Elite Camp in August. Three years of playing in Havoc’s non-stop, full-court pressure defense has helped Graham take on an individual barnstorming tour like that.

In four years, Graham has gone from an under-recruited VCU commit watching the Rams’ improbable journey to the 2011 Final Four to one of the top forwards in the country, the Atlantic 10 preseason player of the year and the leader of a top-15 team with lofty expectations again this season.

“Last year we fell short of our goals,” Graham said. “We were second place in the regular season. Second place in the A-10 Tournament, and then we lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I think we can leave a good mark on VCU. I think this is one of the more talented teams I’ve played with since I’ve been here.”

Coming out of St. Mary Ryken High in Leonardtown, Maryland, Graham was still south of 6-feet as a sophomore, but after a late growth spurt, along with the endorsement of area coaches brought Graham’s to Smart’s attention.

“To be honest, I gotta give a lot of credit to Mike Jones [of DeMatha] and Steve Turner [of Gonzaga] for their words about Tre to us in the recruiting process,” Smart told the Washington Examiner last February. “[They helped] us understand how good he was so that we could have a sense of urgency in recruiting him.”

In that same class recruiting class was Weber, who led the nation in steals rate in each of his first three seasons. Graham and Weber, both perfect fits in Smart’s system, have gone from Colonial Athletic Association commits to all-Atlantic 10 caliber players. And in their final season at Richmond, both could end up leaving their mark in the record books. Graham, who has been a matchup problem for opposing forwards, would need a bump in his 15.8 points per game average to reach Eric Maynor’s 1,953 career points (Graham is currently 604 behind). As for Weber, he has a shot at the Division I record for steals in a career (385) as he enters his senior year with 296 picks.

But the two anchors of this team are looking to leave their mark on the NCAA tournament. Since the Final Four run in 2011, the Rams haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, last season coughing up a ten-point lead to Stephen F. Austin, as the Lumberjacks shot 53 percent from the field against the vaunted VCU defense. In 2013 Michigan, the eventual national finalist, trounced VCU by 25 in the Round of 32.

The unanimous favorites in the Atlantic 10 will get challenged early this season with non-conference games against Villanova and Virginia, and that’s before the Rams go through the gauntlet of A-10 play, looking to fend off the likes of George Washington and Dayton. VCU, led by Graham, made it through ‘Hell Week’, now it’s on to seven months of Havoc.

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.