Five thoughts from McDonald’s All-American week

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Stephen Zimmerman Jr. dunks at the McDonald’s All-American game (Getty Images)

The McDonald’s All-American game wrapped up with the East defeating the West, 111-91, on Wednesday night as Cheick Diallo was the MVP of the contest.

While the game itself — and televised scrimmage — were both blowouts, the practices and game are still a great chance to get a final glimpse of some of these guys as they enter college next season.

Here are some thoughts to tie up the week in Chicago. You can also get recruiting updates of the eight unsigned McDonald’s All-American here.

1. We shouldn’t hear talk of “one-and-done” with this class very often

If you understand the landscape of current college basketball, you’ll realize that we’re in the heart of the one-and-done era. Just this week, talented college freshmen like UNLV’s Rashad Vaughn and Kansas’ Kelly Oubre Jr. declared for the NBA Draft. Kids at the highest level of their high school class — like McDonald’s All-Americans — want to be professional basketball players as soon as possible. That being said, this 2015 class is significantly weaker with potential one-and-done prospects than the past few classes. While LSU commit Ben Simmons and undecided small forward Jaylen Brown are probably the most capable one-and-done prospects in the class, they both still have glaring deficiencies to address before reaching the next level. We’re still a year away from knowing which of these McDonald’s All-Americans are ready for the NBA Draft, but the NBA buzz among this group is way down compared to the last few years.

2. The lack of true, elite point guards in this class is glaring

The knock on the 2015 class has always been the lack of elite lead guards. In the McDonald’s game, you could make the argument that Oklahoma State commit Jawun Evans was the only “true” point guard in the game, and it showed with some of the sloppy play we saw in the first half. Selfless distributors are necessary in all-star settings because they give up shots that others demand in the setting. Evans might have been the most selfless distributor, but Malik Newman, Isaiah Briscoe and Jalen Brunson all showed flashes as passers this week. Those three are still more accustomed to naturally hunting their own offense at this point. It’ll be interesting to see how Newman, Briscoe and Brunson, in particular, are used next season. I could see all three splitting time at multiple guard spots because of their scoring acumen.

3. Brandon Ingram will shoot up the rankings

Brandon Ingram had McDonald’s viewers buzzing with his strong play this week. The North Carolina native is pushing 6-foot-9 at the small forward and his complete scoring arsenal is the real deal. With a very skinny frame, Ingram will draw inevitable comparisons in body structure to Kevin Durant and North Carolina freshman Justin Jackson. But it would be a shock not to see Ingram end up in the top 10 of the 2015 class after a strong week at McDonald’s. He wasn’t missing very often in practices and Ingram did a great job of hunting offense at all three levels. Once Ingram adds strength, he’ll become even more confident playing inside and using his size as a mismatch against smaller players.

4. Cheick Diallo will be fun to watch develop

Unsigned big man Cheick Diallo had a bit of an up-and-down week at McDonald’s practices before a tremendous 18-point, 10-rebound effort to secure MVP honors in the actual game. Diallo’s motor and athleticism really showed through on the bigger NBA floor and he’s still learning a lot about contributing on the offensive end of things. Defensively, Diallo is a terror because his lateral quickness and speed makes him great on defending high ball screens when he’s in proper position. And as one scout pointed out to me: how does Diallo improving with speaking English further enhance his game? Right now, Diallo, a native of Mali, is just beginning to comfortably speak English to media members and teammates. On the floor, he’s more of the “quiet warrior” type who just plays his tail off and doesn’t talk that much. When he’s further able to communicate with teammates on the fly while playing, it should only help his tremendous ability that much more.

5. Elite players are getting more savvy about recruiting

With eight uncommitted players in the 2015 McDonald’s All-American game, we’re seeing more elite five-star prospects waiting on NBA Draft decisions, coaching changes and transfers before making their college decisions. They’re getting smarter about not being stuck in undesirable positions by signing a letter of intent in November since they can keep their options open. A lot of these elite guys also want to talk among themselves at all-star events to see who might play for which program. You’ll hear a lot of talk of potential “package deals” coming from events like this with many of these players looking at common schools.

But good luck getting them to talk in-depth about recruiting.

More than ever before, players just seem completely burned out talking about the recruiting process. And can you really blame them? With the explosion of recruiting coverage and the continued increase in team-based recruiting sites, these kids are getting bombarded with recruiting questions — from more people — now more than ever. I’m not sure what changes to give these elite high school kids a little more space when talking about recruiting, but many of them were clearly sick of it by the time McDonald’s week was here. It’s only going to keep going for many of these same players as they compete in more all-star settings in the next few weeks.

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.

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.