Self says No. 10 Kansas is ‘not good right now’, and that should scare you

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bill Self is not happy with where his Kansas team is a month into the season.

Not even close.

And to understand that, you really don’t have to look much farther than who is currently starting for the Jayhawks. Svi Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 wing from Ukraine with a ton of potential, might be the best NBA prospect in the Kansas program, but he’s also a 17-year old living in the United States for the first time. As head coach Bill Self likes to say, “he’s pretty good for a high school junior.” At center, Landen Lucas has been starting of late, and as one longtime scout told me recently of Lucas, “I’m not convinced he’s more than a low-major player.”

While those two get major minutes for the Jayhawks, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, two top 10 recruits and projected lottery picks, come off the bench. Alexander has been a major part of the rotation, but Oubre? He played 16 minutes on Wednesday night, which was his season-high. He had logged 23 total minutes the previous four games.

“We’re not good right now,” Self said. “I think we have the potential to be good because we’re so young. We’re just trying to figure it out. We don’t know where our shots are coming from consistently. We don’t know who to play through at times. Sometimes Frank [Mason] is the best player on our team. Sometimes Wayne [Selden] is. Sometimes Perry [Ellis] is. We haven’t quite figured it out yet.”

And that should terrify you.

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MOREGeorgetown made a poignant political statement Wednesday

Because while you’re still hung up on that 32-point shellacking that No. 10 Kansas took at the hands of No. 1 Kentucky during the Champions Classic, what you may not have noticed is that over the course of the last five days, the Jayhawks have landed a pair of wins that you rarely see young, still-learning teams earn.

On Wednesday night, Kansas went into the Verizon Center and knocked off Georgetown, 75-70, in a game that the Jayhawks seemed primed to lose. Kansas was up by as much as 12 in the first half, and while they kept making runs during the final 20 minutes, they were never really able to get separation from the Hoyas. Georgetown always had an answer, whether it was in the form of an L.J. Peak three, a pair of low-post buckets from Josh Smith or an easy transition layup created by the defensive play-making of Mikael Hopkins.

This had Georgetown-steals-a-win-at-home written all over it, but Kansas, when they needed to make a play, made it.

“It was a toughness win,” said Brannen Greene, who finished with a career-high 19 points, hitting 5-for-5 from three. That included a trio of massive threes in the second half, the last of which pushed the Kansas lead to 68-63 with less than three minutes left. “We grinded it out.”

“We didn’t play great, but I thought we competed pretty hard. We won some important possessions,” Self said. “When we had to have a good possession, we got a good possession.”

Georgetown’s record may not show it, but that’s a very good basketball team. By the end of the season, don’t be surprised to see them sitting in the top 20 of the national polls and slotted right behind Villanova in the Big East standings.

Now let’s rewind to last Friday, when the Jayhawks hosted an underwhelming and undermanned Florida team and proceeded to get absolutely run out of the gym for the first 24 minutes. At one point early in the second half, Kansas was down 45-27. It was ugly. Everyone in Phog Allen Fieldhouse was getting ready to write off any chance of winning an 11th straight Big 12 title, and every writer on press row was prepping to write their ‘Will Kansas ever turn this around?’ column.

And then, all of a sudden, the Jayhawks woke up, attacking the rim, hitting open threes and pounding the glass as they completed a massive comeback, winning 71-65.

“It was just like Jekyll-and-Hyde the first half and second,” Self said.

Bad teams don’t do that.

They don’t erase 18-point second half deficits against NCAA tournament teams coached by a Hall of Famer, regardless of how banged up they are. They don’t hold on to beat quality opponents on the road when they commit 17 turnovers. They don’t do things like win the Orlando Classic, which Kansas did last month, and beat Michigan State in the process.

Right now, at this very moment in time, Kansas is a good basketball team. Good enough to win the Big 12? Probably not. Good enough to make the Final Four? Doubtful. But they’re good enough to play less than their best and do the things that good teams do.

So what happens when they do play their best?

What happens when Alexander and Oubre fully get the hang of what Self is looking for out of his star freshmen? What happens when Oubre gets the hang of where he’s supposed to be defensively? What happens when Selden irons out his inconsistencies? What happens when all-Big 12 forward Ellis goes back to being the guy you always forget about because there’s just so much talent around him?

They’re starting to get there. You can see it with the touches Cliff gets and the confidence that Selden is starting to build back up. You can see it with Oubre, who attacked the basket off of ball-screens quite a bit on Wednesday. Perhaps more telling is that after blowing a defensive rotation — he was late on help-side and allowed Smith to catch an over-the-top pass in the post for a dunk — Oubre was yanked, yelled at on the bench … and put right back into the game a minute later.

The future is bright for Kansas, and the future will be here sooner than you realize.

If Kansas keeps moving in the direction they’re currently moving, we’ll find out sooner rather than later.

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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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.