2014-15 Season Preview: Under the radar stars

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source: AP
Larry Nance (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 term “under the radar” can be a difficult one to define with regards to college basketball. For some, lists of such players will be dominated by guys whose programs are part of the nightly highlights packages you doze off to in the early morning hours. But for others, the term “under the radar” applies to players who in November may be on the outside looking in with regards to All-America teams. Below are some players who may not be considered to be preseason All-Americans but have a shot at landing on one of those teams at season’s end.

1. Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: When it comes to the Mountain West the traditional contenders (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) tend to get most of the attention from fans outside of the region, so the son of the former Cleveland Cavalier may not be as well-known to them. But he should be, as Nance averaged 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season. Nance is returning from a torn ACL, but he’s expected to be at full strength when the season begins later this month.

2. Darrun Hilliard, Villanova: Hilliard was a bit miffed that he wasn’t chosen to be Big East POY at their media day, and rightfully so. The senior is coming off of his best season as a Wildcat, averaging 14.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. And with James Bell out of eligibility, Hilliard could be even more productive for the preseason favorites to win the Big East.

3. Shawn Long, Louisiana: Losing Elfrid Payton hurts, but in the 6-foot-9 Long head coach Bob Marlin has a very good piece to build around in an attempt to make a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Last year Long accounted for 18.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game.

MORE: X-Factors | Breakout Stars | Impact TransfersPreseason All-Americans

4. R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: When it comes to the best shooters in America, Hunter’s clearly on the list. He averaged 18.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season, helping lead the Panthers to a Sun Belt regular season title.

5. Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Taylor was good as a freshman, averaging 12.0 points, 4.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. But there’s clearly room for improvement, as evidenced by the shooting percentages (39.1% FG, 26.3% 3PT), and the Longhorns’ deep front court should result in cleaner shooting opportunities for him.

6. A.J. English, Iona: While the Gaels will have to account for the loss of Sean Armand, English returns after averaging 17.2 points, 4.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

7. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Who was the pick to win preseason Big East POY? Smith-Rivera was, and with Markel Starks gone the Hoyas will need a big year from the junior guard. Smith-Rivera accounted for 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest in 2013-14.

8. DaVonte’ Lacy, Washington State: Ernie Kent has a tough job in front of him, but it helps that Lacy has one last season of eligibility. As a junior Lacy averaged 19.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

POSITION RANKINGS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

9. Zak Irvin, Michigan: With Caris LeVert on our All-America team, we’ve essentially pegged him to make the jump that has become commonplace during the John Beilein era in Ann Arbor. But why not Irvin? Thanks to the Wolverines’ personnel losses, he’ll be in a position where he’s asked to do more offensively than just “catch and shoot.”

10. Terran Petteway, Nebraska: While Petteway was a first team All-Big Ten selection last season, that hasn’t led to his being included on many preseason All-America teams. He averaged 18.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season, and if Petteway can improve from an efficiency standpoint look out.

FIVE NAMES YOU’VE HEARD BEFORE BUT DON’T SEE ON TV OFTEN

1. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay
2. John Brown, High Point
3. D.J. Balentine, Evansville
4. Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State
5. E.C. Mathews, Rhode Island

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.