LSU commit Ben Simmons named Gatorade Boys Basketball National Player of the Year

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source: AP
(Gatorade/Susan Goldman)

As the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015, Australia native Ben Simmons has traveled around the world and met plenty of important basketball figures.

Being a student of the game, the LSU commit was very surprised on Tuesday when he was pulled out of class at Montverde Academy and former NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins was there. Wilkins presented Simmons with the 2015 Gatorade Boys Basketball National Player of the Year award.

Simmons was honored to win the award and was also thrilled to meet the “Human Highlight Film” in the process.

“It’s overwhelming having Dominique Wilkins presenting me with the award and having my family here. It’s been overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s been exciting,” Simmons told NBCSports.com.

“I walked into the locker room and [Wilkins] was there with the trophy. It was a crazy experience.”

Unique basketball experiences have come often for Simmons and he wins the Gatorade National Player of the Year award in-part because of his unique abilities on the floor. At 6-foot-9, Simmons will often play the role of point forward, initiating offense for teammates and setting them up on fast-break opportunities using his exceptional passing ability.

For head coach Johnny Jones at LSU next season, Simmons sees himself in that very position as he wants to help the Tigers reach another NCAA Tournament.

“A point forward; I think that role best describes me,” Simmons said. “Someone who can bring the ball up. But also, being someone who is 6-foot-10, bring the ball up and setting up a play or getting into transition.”

Before he heads to Louisiana for the next leg of his complicated basketball journey, Simmons wants to take care of business on the high school level. Playing at basketball powerhouse Montverde Academy, Simmons helped the program win a national championship last season and is currently averaging 28 points and 11.9 rebounds per game through 29 games in 2014-15.

The goal is for Simmons to help Montverde to another national title while also maintaining his top spot in the 2015 class. Later this spring, Simmons will also compete in the 2015 McDonald’s All-American Game, the Nike Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic. Simmons credits a lot of his personal accomplishments to his stint at Montverde. Playing for head coach Kevin Boyle, and being surrounded by Division I prospects as teammates, has helped prepare him for the next level.

“I think just having a great coach at Montverde with Coach Boyle and great teammates has helped me develop. Every practice is like a game so every time we go out there in practice, I’m getting better every time out.”

Outside of the court, Simmons is your average teenager. Friends, movies and traveling include some of his hobbies. Being from Australia, and having lived on multiple continents, Simmons likes seeing new places and dealing with new experiences.

“I like to hang out with my friends, movies, stuff like that. Travel; I could travel a lot, so that’s big for me,” Simmons said. “I’ve traveled a lot as an 18-year-old kid. I’ve been to Europe, China, America — coming over here to play. So I like to travel.”

One place on Simmons’ travel bucket list happens to coincide with his potential basketball future.

“I want to go to Brazil. I know the Olympics are there in 2016, so hopefully I can do that,” he said.

Although Simmons was cut from the Australian Boomers national team before the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball last summer, he gained some valuable experience playing against NBA players like Patty Mills and Aron Baynes.

The goal for Simmons is to potentially make the 2016 Olympic team for his native Australia, but it also depends on his standing at LSU.

“I know I can definitely be on that team, without question. But I definitely look forward to getting the opportunity to do that,” Simmons said of the 2016 Olympics. “But at the same time, I don’t know where I’ll be at finishing college. I could be gone [to the NBA], I could be staying [at LSU], so I’m not really sure yet.”

It’s easy to look ahead and think of Simmons playing in the 2016 Olympics — or even at LSU next season — but first he has to finish his high school career in the next few weeks.

Simmons will be contending for the No. 1 spot in the Class of 2015 along with players like Jaylen Brown and Skal Labissiere. The battle for the top spot — and to be the best player possible at LSU next season — is what drives Simmons to keep working late in his high school career.

“Being looked at as the top player, it’s just me trying to get better every day and be the best player I can be. Everything else will take care of itself.”

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.