Thursday Las Vegas Recap: Dennis Smith and Frank Jackson battle; Lonzo Ball quiets critics; Wendell Carter talks visit

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Creator’s Cup ends with thrilling matchup between Dennis Smith and Frank Jackson: The adidas Uprising Summer Championships pulled off an intelligent scheduling maneuver in Las Vegas this week by putting two “Super Pools” in a mini eight-team tournament that constituted their matchups before the main tournament began. It meant a lot of games between five-star prospects in the Class of 2016 that started on Wednesday night and went well into Thursday.

After both advancing past the first round on the opening night, five-star point guards Dennis Smith (Team Loaded North Carolina) and Frank Jackson (Utah Prospects) both had tremendous outings in a fun back-and-forth contest on Thursday afternoon. Smith and his deeper Team Loaded squad ended up pulling out a 75-59 win as Smith had 26 points, four assists and zero turnovers on 10-for-17 shooting and 3-for-4 shooting from 3-point range. Jackson countered with 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting, but he didn’t have the kind of help that Smith had from teammates like five-star big man Edrice Adebayo.

While both five-star lead guards were very good, Smith was absolutely brilliant at times. When the Prospects started icing Smith and forcing him to go baseline, he made adjustments in his pick-and-roll setup with Adebayo and flipped the big man some effortless pocket passes for easy elbow jumpers. Smith’s ability to make reads and adjustments and operate in a number of different ways off of high ball screens is a big reason why he’s considered the top guard in the country and he’s been tremendous early this week.

“I love it. I love playing against anybody that they think is the best,” Smith said of the high-profile matchups. “I get to come out here and show what I can do against those guys.” (SP)

Five-star 2017 big man sure of at least one visit: 6-foot-10 power forward Wendell Carter Jr. has plenty of time before he has to make a college decision, as he’s one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. However that doesn’t mean that schools can’t make an impression on he and his family, which is the case for one SEC program in particular.

In speaking with Carter following the Georgia Stars’ comfortable victory in their second game of the day at the Las Vegas Classic, he mentioned that Auburn will be a school that he’ll definitely check out when he’s able to take official visits (January 2016 at the earliest).

“I just know that Auburn’s going to be my very first visit, my first official visit,” Carter told NBC Sports when asked about possible visits in the future, and he had a simple reason as to why.

“My mom. She really likes the school.”

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl was one of the head coaches in the gym for Carter’s game, with Kansas’ Bill Self and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton also in attendance. (RJ)

Lonzo Ball makes a statement against “real” competition: If you follow recruiting Twitter at all, you’ve probably seen some debate erupt over the competition that five-star guard Lonzo Ball and his brothers faced during the spring and summer in independent AAU events. Because the UCLA commit and his Big Ballers VXT program — which is coached by his father — don’t belong to a major shoe company, they haven’t faced the caliber of competition often seen in shoe events.

It’s led to some questioning Ball’s commitment to facing real competition and if he’s a legitimate five-star talent. With some strong games on Thursday against some of the best teams in the adidas Circuit, it’s safe to say that Ball and his teammates put some of those questions to rest.

In wins over the Atlanta Celtics and New York Rens, the eldest Ball filled up the stat sheet, registering 36 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against Kobi Simmons and the Celtics while notching the triple-double with 22 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds against Mustapha Heron and the Rens. Simply put, Lonzo Ball does everything on the floor while he’s out there and he has an exceptional basketball IQ and court vision that helps him make plays that others can’t.

Ball’s stats are a bit inflated because the Big Ballers play a pace similar to Grinnell — tons of quick shots, deep 3-pointers, home-run passes and traps at halfcourt on defense — but there is no questioning how talented he is as a basketball prospect. With younger brothers LiAngelo Ball (also a UCLA commit in the Class of 2017) and LiMelo Ball (a Class of 2019 prospect who is only 13 years old) also putting up good numbers for the Big Ballers, Lonzo Ball is happy to play on his small independent team with his family.

“It’s definitely been the best tournament we’ve played in since the AAU [July] period,” Ball said. “First day we came out a little lax so we got beat pretty bad but ever since then we got focused and picked some wins up.” (SP)

Former Arizona State commit focusing on a Big East program: After verbally committing to Arizona State in late January, 6-foot-10 forward Lucas Siewert wound up reopening his recruitment in mid-May with the head coaching change from Herb Sendek to Bobby Hurley serving as the catalyst.

And with, according to Siewert, the new coaching staff having not reached out to him since the stretch four has begun looking at other possibilities. The most prominent one is Creighton, as the Bluejays have an offensive system that can take advantage of big men who are capable of scoring not just around the basket but on the perimeter as well. And in speaking with Siewert, a system in which he can be used in multiple areas is something he’s looking for.

“I’m looking for a school where I can show my perimeter game,” Siewert told NBC Sports. “I’m still working on my ‘back to the basket’ game, but I want to be able to bring [opposing] big men out on the perimeter.”

In the Compton Magic’s loss to the New England Playaz Thursday afternoon, Siewert displayed the ability to score away from the basket on multiple occasions. And in regards to Creighton, the native of Brazil expects to visit the campus this fall.

“Right now, the school that’s been most active is Creighton,” Siewert noted. “I’ll be visiting in September.” (RJ)

Hot-shooting Brandon Robinson open to expanding list: While Dennis Smith Jr. and Bam Adebayo have been the headliners for Team Loaded North Carolina, another standout for them at the adidas Uprising Summer Championships has been four-star shooting guard Brandon Robinson. Robinson trimmed his list of schools down to ten in early July, but his play has led to even more interest.

Thursday morning it was reported that Louisville has offered the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who’s shooting with a great deal of confidence after going through a slump in the spring. And when it comes to Louisville their style of play is something that intrigues Robinson, who not only has displayed quality perimeter shooting but good athleticism as well.

“Yes, definitely,” Robinson told NBC Sports when asked if Louisville is now under consideration. “That’s a big-time program and they have a great history of basketball, and I like their style of play. So that’s definitely a school I’m looking into.”

Robinson also noted that the hope is to narrow his list even further at some point in August. (RJ)

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.