Is Ohio State asking too much of freshman sensation D’Angelo Russell?

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source: AP
(AP)

Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell has been one of the most fun players to track in college basketball this season. Between the highlight-reel passes, the effortless shooting or his flair for making difficult plays through traffic, Russell’s rise in stature has been fun to track. There’s no doubting that the former McDonald’s All-American is one of college basketball’s most talented players and a true All-American threat.

It’s also increased the amount of pressure Ohio State is putting on Russell to produce and his shooting percentages are starting to dip. Some have suggested that Russell might be hitting the freshman wall and that could be the case.

For the last few months, the Buckeyes have relied heavily on Russell to take the brunt of the shots on offense. As the season has worn on, head coach Thad Matta has also had Russell rebound and produce with the ball in his hands to find teammates as well.

It’s become apparent this season that Russell is Ohio State’s most gifted player and one of those rare players who can see plays develop a split second before everyone else. He’s also the only Buckeye who can consistently create his own offense. Marc Loving hasn’t found his groove since a suspension, Shannon Scott is better as a distributor, Sam Thompson is a nice complimentary piece but mediocre scorer and the interior play for Ohio State has been dreadful.

Russell is needed to produce at a high-level each night if the Buckeyes want to stick with the top teams in the country.

The last nine games, Russell has at least five rebounds in each game — with multiple double-digit rebound games. Entering Sunday’s road loss at Michigan, Russell had also logged at least five assists per game in six consecutive games. For a freshman being asked to also take most of the shots on offense, Russell is also producing all over the floor at an elite level while also being pretty efficient. It’s a big reason why he’s started to rocket up NBA Draft boards and into the top-five discussion.

Going into Sunday’s game, Russell was shooting 46 percent from the field, 43 percent from 3-point range and 77 percent from the free-throw line. For a player averaging 19.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, he’s been very efficient and consistent for a freshman playing his first season of college basketball.

But over the last five games, Russell has shot poorly in four of those outings. The freshman wall might have crept up and finally hit the brilliant Russell and slowed him up a bit.

Production from all over the floor in his last five games has remained as high as ever for the freshman, but in four of those games Russell was at or below 40 percent field-goal shooting. Ohio State was 1-3 in the four games Russell shot at or below 40 percent from the field. Russell also has struggled from the perimeter, as he’s shooting 28 percent from 3-point range in those four games as well.

Simply put, if Russell doesn’t get more help from his teammates, the Buckeyes could be in serious trouble. Ohio State was thoroughly outplayed by a depleted and less talented Michigan team on Sunday in a bad road loss as seniors like Amir Williams and Shannon Scott barely showed up.

At only 180 pounds and in his first season of major college basketball, Russell could be slowing down because he’s being asked to do so much on the offensive end. Plenty of games this season, Russell has logged heavy minutes, but it’s been especially taxing for him lately. Fourteen games in a row, Russell has played at least 32 minutes and that has been upped to at least 35 minutes each of his last five outings.

Playing at a national powerhouse basketball prep school like Montverde Academy certainly helped prepare Russell for the rigors of college ball better than some typical high school players, but he’s still a thin freshman going through a physical league. Teams are also beginning to gain more film and synergy data and find ways to make Russell’s early success more difficult to replicate.

Defenses are honing in on Russell and throwing multiple defenders and looks at him and he’s having to adjust now. Russell is skilled enough to continue to put up numbers across the box score, but he might have plateaued a bit as a consistent shooting threat on a game-by-game basis.

Others on the Buckeyes need to bring just a little but more offense to the equation so Russell can carry them to victory with the game on the line. Ohio State has found its go-to guy and now the role guys need to step up and improve down the stretch for the Buckeyes to matter in the postseason.

It remains to be seen if Russell has hit the freshman wall, or if he’ll improve those declining shooting numbers, but he’s still capable of making plays from all over and being the best player on the floor at a moment’s notice.

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.