Looking Forward: Eight programs on the rise in 2015-16

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Melo Trimble (Getty Images)

With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Today, we’re Looking Forward at some programs that are on the rise:

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25 | Coaches on the hot seat

Maryland: A year ago at this time, the Terps had lost five players to transfer and head coach Mark Turgeon was getting ready to see his face plastered on every Hot Seat list produced by the internet. Fast forward to today, and the Terps will be teaming an all-american point guard in Melo Trimble with a front line that includes potential draft pick Jake Layman and top five recruit Diamond Stone on a team that will be in the preseason top five. It may be hard to believe, but a program on the eastern seaboard will be the favorite to win the Big Ten in 2016.

California: Cuonzo Martin turned this ship around quickly. The Bears finished 7-11 in the Pac-12 last season but they’re going to enter the 2015-16 season as a preseason top 15 team. Not only do they return the trio of Tyrone Wallace, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews, but they’ll add top five freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb to the mix as well. There will be questions about Cal’s depth and their size up front, but they’ll be able to put as much talent on the floor as anyone in the conference.

Marquette: I’m higher on the Golden Eagles than a lot of people, but I think that Steve Wojciechowski will have this group finishing near the top of the Big East and ranked in the top 25. Luke Fischer should be better with a season under his belt, while he’ll team with top ten recruit Henry Ellenson on the front line. Throw in the myriad of talented perimeter players that Wojo has on the roster, and there are plenty of pieces for Marquette to make a significant improvement on last season’s 13-19 record.

READ MORE: Eleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

Vanderbilt: The Commodores began SEC play 1-7 last season, but they finished the year as one of the hottest teams in the conference. They won eight of their last ten games — including the last five of the regular season — before making the Elite 8 of the NIT. With the majority of their rotation, including star big man Damian Jones, returning and a top 20 recruiting class joining the program, Kevin Stallings’ should have one of the SEC’s best teams next season.

Florida State: The Seminoles should compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament next season as Leonard Hamilton has added a talented recruiting class, headlined by Dwayne Bacon, to a team that returns most of the roster that competed in ACC play last year. Xavier Rathan-Mayes will see his name on a couple of preseason all-american lists.

Oregon: The Ducks won 11 of their last 13 games in the Pac-12 after a 2-3 start, playing their way into the Pac-12 tournament title game and the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament despite playing with a roster limited by three offseason dismissals. Joe Young has graduated, but the rest of the roster returns while Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis join the program. The Ducks should once again be a top 25 team.

Texas A&M: The Aggies return Danuel House, Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso from a team that just missed the NCAA tournament. But that’s not what’s so promising about this program. Their recruiting class is. The Aggies have landed one of the best classes in the country, landing some o the top talent in the state of Texas. They should be competing in the SEC as soon as this season.

Rhode Island: The Rams not only return the young core of E.C. Mathews, Jared Terrell and Hassan Martin, but they will also add Kuran Iverson, a former top 30 recruit and Memphis transfer, in December. URI will be a favorite to win the Atlantic 10 this season.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

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


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.