Looking Forward: Catching up on the Pac-12’s offseason

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It’s been a fruitful offseason for Cal (AP Photo)

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.

Yesterday we took a look at the ACC and the Big 12. Today, we’ll look at the Pac-12.

READ MOREThe NBCSports.com preseason top 25 | Coaches on the hot seat

MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. California gets hot on the recruiting trail – and may not be done yet either: This has been the biggest change for the Pac-12, which over the last two seasons has been dominated by Arizona. California’s managed to reel in two of the best recruits in the country in power forward Ivan Rabb and small forward Jaylen Brown, with wing Tyson Jolly completing what would be a really good triumvirate. But Cuonzo Martin and his staff aren’t done, as former Michigan State commit Caleb Swanigan still has Cal on his list. The infusion of talent, along with the return of a perimeter trio led by Tyrone Wallace, should make Cal a player both within the Pac-12 and nationally.

2. Significant roster turnover in Seattle ahead of what will be a big year for Lorenzo Romar: When you haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2011, the fan base tends to get a bit frustrated. That’s the case in Seattle, and the Huskies’ many roster changes haven’t helped matters. While Romar and his staff did put together a highly regarded recruiting class led by Dejounte Murray, there won’t be many experienced options around to show them the ropes in 2015-16. Among the departures was point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a two-year starter who transferred to Gonzaga. Given the NCAA tournament drought this is a big year for Washington, and they’ll need the newcomers to grow up in a hurry.

3. Arizona State looking for a boost as Bobby Hurley takes over: There was just one head coaching change in the Pac-12 this spring, as Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson replaced Herb Sendek with former Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley. The Sun Devils retain most of their rotation from last season’s 18-16 squad, and they add a talented guard in junior college transfer Andre Spight. Hurley won’t be working with a bare cupboard, and his experience leading Buffalo to 19 wins in his first season there (2013-14) could come in handy when it comes to working with this group.

READ MOREEleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

KEY ADDITIONS

  • Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, California: They’re the two highest rated prospects joining the Pac-12, and they’ll be key players for a Golden Bear squad looking to make a splash nationally. Brown provides versatility on both ends of the floor for Cal, as he can play on or off the ball and has the size and athleticism to play multiple spots defensively as well. As for Rabb, he’s at his best playing a power forward role and has the skill set needed to be one of the Pac-12’s best interior players immediately.
  • Allonzo Trier and Ryan Anderson, Arizona: A case can be made for Trier being the best scorer in the Class of 2015, as he can score from all three levels (three-point, mid-range and in the paint). He’ll be a valuable asset for an Arizona team that has to account for the loss of four starters from a team that won 34 games last season. As for Anderson, this is his lone season to play after spending three at Boston College. He’ll slide into the role left open by the departure of Brandon Ashley alongside senior center Kaleb Tarczewski.
  • Dylan Ennis, Oregon: With Joseph Young out of eligibility the Ducks were going to be young on the perimeter, with Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie being the most experienced players as sophomores. Then they managed to land Ennis, who arrives as a graduate student after playing one year at Rice and the last two at Villanova. He can be a distributor or scorer for Oregon, and that versatility will be key for the Ducks as they look to make a run at a Pac-12 title.

SURPRISING DEPARTURE

  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington: Arizona losing three starters with eligibility remaining to the NBA Draft was pretty much expected. What wasn’t expected was Washington losing its starting point guard in Williams-Goss, who transferred to Gonzaga after averaging 15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game last season. Without him Andrew Andrews and incoming freshman David Crisp will handle the primary ball-handling duties.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS (the conference annually picks ten players; we can’t do that)

  • Tyrone Wallace, California (Player of the Year)
  • Gary Payton II, Oregon State
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona
  • Ivan Rabb, California
  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. Arizona: The combination of some experienced returnees, a very good freshman class and impact transfers makes Arizona the team to beat.

2. California: Cal will definitely be talented, with the freshmen joining Ty Wallace and company, but how will they deal with the increased expectations?

3. Utah: Jakob Poeltl’s decision to return to school is a big deal for the Runnin’ Utes, who lost Delon Wright from last year’s Sweet 16 team.

4. Oregon: No more Joseph Young, but the addition of Dylan Ennis gives Dana Altman valuable experience and Elgin Cook could be a league POY candidate.

5. UCLA: The Bruins lost some key pieces, but the return of Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton and the additions of Jonah Bolden and Aaron Holiday will help matters.

6. Oregon State: The Beavers surprised in Wayne Tinkle’s debut as head coach, and they’ll have improved depth thanks to a solid freshman class.

7. Arizona State: A new era begins in Tempe, but the return of some key pieces including point guard Tra Holder should benefit Bobby Hurley.

8. Stanford: The Cardinal will be much younger than they were a season ago, but options such as Reid Travis and Rosco Allen return to Palo Alto.

9. Colorado: Looking to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15, with vets Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott and sophomore PG Dominique Collier being key players.

10. Washington: The lack of experience means that the newcomers need to hit the ground running for the Huskies, who haven’t danced since 2011.

11. USC: Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu certainly help matters, but the Trojans need Jordan McLaughlin to remain healthy as well.

12. Washington State: The league’s most improved player in Josh Hawkinson returns, but losing DaVonté Lacy is a big deal.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.