Patriot League Preview: Can anyone catch Lehigh?

Lehigh forward Tim Kempton, AP Photo
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Patriot League.

The Patriot League is a conference with many familiar faces in 2015-16, which should make for a competitive race, one that could involve a handful of teams.

Lehigh should be pegged as the preseason favorite. The Mountain Hawks bring back four starters, none bigger than Tim Kempton, the 6-foot-10 junior who took home Patriot League Player of the Year honors last season. Kempton is joined by Kahron Ross, a playmaking point guard who led the league in assists, and Austin Price, the team’s second leading scorer from a season ago. Justin Goldsborough adds some support on the frontline, but the Lehigh back court took a hit this fall with Brandon Alston tore his ACL.

After seven seasons and a pair of NCAA tournament appearances, Dave Paulsen left Bucknell for George Mason. Nathan Davis, a former Bucknell assistant, steps into a good situation with four starters back from a team that won the regular season title in 2014-15. Chris Hass is one of the more gifted scorers in the league and anchors the perimeter, which includes Ryan Frazier and Stephen Brown. Nana Foulland, a 6-foot-9 forward who started every game last season, could be in for a monster sophomore campaign.

Boston University and Army both have their entire starting fives back from a season ago. The Black Knights didn’t have the season in envisioned, but the duo of Kyle Wilson, who has led the league in scoring at 17.5 points per game, and forward Tanner Plomb, who scored in double figures in all but three league games, can skyrocket them up the Patriot League standings. The Terriers have two double-digit scorers of their own in Cedric Hankerson and Eric Fanning. BU’s supporting cast should be more comfortable in their roles this season. Hankerson, who is recovering from an ACL tear, could be back in��December, Joe Jones told ESPN.

Jesse Reed will attempt to lead American to another Patriot League Tournament title game (winning in 2014, losing in 2015), but he’ll have to do so without Pee-Wee Gardner. The Eagles could benefit from transfers Paris Maragkos and Leon Tolksdorf. Lafayette, the reigning champion, will likely take a step back, but guards Nick Lindner and Bryce Scott could keep things interesting in league play.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “I would say Lehigh. Anytime you bring back the player of the year, it’ll obviously give you an advantage. Having him (Tim Kempton) along with the rookie of the year, Kahron Ross, I think those two are one of the best tandems in the league.”
  • Sleeper: “Colgate. With some of the guys they had sitting out, I’d probably say them. They’re going to be so different compared to what they had last season. With so many new faces those guys will come in and provide meaningful stuff for them right away.”
  • Star to watch: “To me, it’ll be Kyle Wilson. In our league, he’s one of the most talented scorers. He can score in so many different ways.”

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tim Kempton, Lehigh

The reigning Patriot League Player of the Year returns following a sophomore campaign averaging 15.3 points and a league-high 8.7 boards per game. Not many can handle the 6-foot-10 big man on the block. Adding to the mismatch, Kempton can also do damage with his mid-range game. Kempton and point guard Kahron Ross make for a lethal one-two punch in the Patriot League.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM:

  • Chris Hass, Bucknell: Ten times Hass went for 20 or more. Six happened in league play. Two more happened in back-to-back games: 21 against Michigan and 32 vs. Villanova.
  • Nick Lindner, Lafayette: The Patriot League Tournament MVP averaged 12.5 points, 5.2 assists per game.
  • Jesse Reed, American: The Eagles may be relying on new pieces this season, but they will expect the same offensive production from Reed, who averaged double figures in each of the last two seasons. The 6-foot-5 guard was a marathon man for American in 2014-15, never coming off the floor in 16 games.
  • Kyle Wilson, Army: The 6-foot-4 senior led the league in scoring the past two seasons.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @PL_MBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Lehigh
2. Bucknell
3. Boston University
4. Army
5. American
6. Lafayette
7. Colgate
8. Holy Cross
9. Loyola (Md.)
10. Navy

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.