Pepperdine’s Stacy Davis looks to build on last season’s All-WCC selection

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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 are previewing the West Coast Conference.

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

As a freshman at Pepperdine in 2012-13 forward Stacy Davis put together a solid debut, posting averages of 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Davis was named WCC Newcomer of the Year at the end of that season, and with such praise comes added attention from the opposition. And as a front court player who spent the majority of his time in the post as a freshman, for Davis that meant he would see even more double-teams as a sophomore.

Yet thanks to the combination of a much-improved perimeter shot and the addition of UCLA transfer Brendan Lane, Davis was able to deal with the extra attention and make the progression from being the WCC’s best freshmen to being one of its best players in 2013-14.

Davis accounted for 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season, shooting 47.1% from the field and 46.9% from beyond the arc. The perimeter shooting is where the greatest strides were made, as he connected on 23 of his 49 three-point attempts and 40.1% of his two-point jumpers, according to hoop-math.com. By comparison, Davis attempted just two three-pointers (missing both) and made 36.5% of his two-point jumpers as a freshman. The 6-foot-6 forward worked hard to improve that aspect of his game prior to his sophomore season, and the end result was a factor in Pepperdine’s finishing fifth in the WCC after being picked to finish last in the preseason poll.

“One big thing I learned was patience,” Davis told NBCSports.com last week when asked what he learned as a freshmen that he was able to apply as a sophomore. “My freshman year we didn’t have the best record and it was filled with a lot of ups and downs. I learned from that and realized that everything comes in time, and you have to be patient.

“I applied that to the summer [before my sophomore year] as far as my workouts, just working hard and adding a three-point shot to my game and getting in shape and doing whatever I had to do.”

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s WCC Preview

Now comes the time to take another step forward, and unfortunately for Davis he had to deal with a broken bone in his right (shooting) hand in early October (the cast was removed last week). Having to miss “live” practice time is a detriment for sure, but there was a silver lining in this cloud for the All-WCC forward. According to Pepperdine head coach Marty Wilson, the injury led to Davis spending even more time working to strengthen his left hand. And while Davis won’t be an ambidextrous player in the aftermath of the injury, the ability to make greater use of his off hand is something that’s expected to help him deal with the attention he’ll continue to receive from the opposition.

“He had the cast on for about four weeks, and we’ve been doing a lot of coming in early to work on his left hand,” Wilson noted. “That was a big part of his development even before the injury, and [the injury] was almost a blessing in disguise that he wasn’t able to use that right hand. Jump hooks, passes, all kinds of different layups with his left hand to where he’s fully comfortable with it.

“So now when we put him in situations where he has an advantage against a bigger guy or a slower guy, when he goes to certain moves he’ll be able to finish either way. The other part of it is that the injury has allowed some of our young guys to be immersed in the stuff we run and get more reps so they can learn.”

That’s just one adjustment Davis will have to make, with the other being the need to help the Waves account for the graduation of Brendan Lane. In his one season on the court Lane was an impact player for Pepperdine, averaging 13.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per contest. Offensively Lane’s ability to score inside, as he finished the season shooting 54.7% from the field, allowed Davis the freedom needed to step out onto the perimeter in search of scoring opportunities without having to deal with the double teams that would come frequently when he was in the post.

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Lane was even more important on the defensive end, as evidenced by his leading the WCC in blocked shots and being named WCC Defensive Player of the Year. Of Pepperdine’s three front court returnees only Davis saw significant action last season, with Jett Raines (11.7 mpg) and David Jesperson (9.3) being on the outskirts of the team’s interior rotation. In addition to Raines and Jesperson four newcomers will look to earn playing time, and while the progression of those players is important so is the need for Davis to have an even greater impact defensively. Davis led the team in rebounding a season ago, but the feeling in Malibu is that he’s capable of doing even more.

“The majority of the change is just me demanding more and holding him more accountable as a defender,” Wilson said. “We’ve seen him play different guys at times where he’s proven to us, and more importantly to himself, that he can guard guys when his mind is in it.

“My job is to hold him accountable to it, and we’re doing some different things that will challenge Stacy and his teammates to be better defensively.”

In total Pepperdine returns three starters, with sophomore guards Jeremy Major and Amadi Udenyi joining Davis. Major was one of the WCC’s best freshmen last season, as he accounted for 9.1 points, 4.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per contest, and Udenyi put together a solid rookie campaign despite missing ten games due to injury. Add in sophomore wing Lamond Murray Jr. and freshmen Shawn Olden and A.J. Lapray (Oregon transfer), and Pepperdine is hopeful that they have enough to avoid a drop in the WCC standings.

But the task will be a difficult one, with Portland returning four starters (and seven of its top eight scorers), San Diego boasting the senior guard tandem of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee and Santa Clara having the high-scoring guards Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark. What helps the Waves is that in Davis they have a player who’s proven to be one of the WCC’s toughest individual matchups. But there’s also more room for growth, and Davis has worked hard to ensure that he takes another step forward with regards to both production and leadership with Lane’s presence proving to be particular helpful with the latter department.

“He was very quiet as a leader but he always had that presence,” Davis said of Lane. “He taught me certain aspects of how to be a leader, but more importantly how to be a better teammate. He taught me things I can definitely apply to the team now, and with me being the leader I want to apply that aspect of being a great teammate and a great friend.

“That way when I am gone in two years it’s still going to be prevalent in the Pepperdine culture. He taught me a lot, and it’s going to be difficult without him. But with all teams you have to adjust, because something’s going to be different with your team every year. We’re a good team, and I think we’ll adjust.”

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.