Summit League Preview: SDSU, NDSU lead the way again

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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 Summit League.

As always, the Summit League looks like it’s going to be one of the most entertaining, high-octane conference races in the country. Last season, North Dakota State and South Dakota State finished tied atop the league standings and, in all likelihood, look primed to compete for the regular season title once again.

On paper, SDSU looks like the favorite. They return the best back court in the league in Wisconsin transfer George Marshall, Deondre Parks and Jake Bittle. Parks was the best of the group last season, but Marshall didn’t get eligible until December and settled quite nicely into that lead guard role. The x-factor for this group will likely end up being Reed Tellinghuisen, a 6-foot-6 sophomore that averaged 8.6 points last season. The Jackrabbits don’t return everyone, however, as losing Cody Larson is going to hurt. Defenses were forced to double him in the post last season, and that created open looks on the perimeter for the myriad of shooters that Scott Nagy has at his disposal.

It will be interesting to see how the Jacks overcome that, but their loss isn’t nearly as big as NDSU’s, as Laurence Alexander, the league’s leading scorer at 18.9 points last season, graduated. With Alexander gone, expect sophomore A.J. Jacobson to embrace a bigger role. As a freshman, the 6-foot-6 forward averaged 11.6 points and shot 40.3 percent from the floor. He’ll be joined on the front line by Dexter Werner, a 6-foot-6, 250 pound bruiser of a power forward that put 22 points on Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament. He looks like he should be playing first base for a beer league softball team, but he’s got quick feet, a soft touch and an innate understanding of positioning and leverage. Coaches in the league know how good he is.

Oral Roberts should also factor heavily into the title race this season. Second-leading scorer Korey Billbury transferred out of the program this summer, but the Golden Eagles do return Obi Emegano, a 6-foot-4 power guard that is one of the toughest covers in mid-major hoops. He takes smaller guards onto the block and pulls bigger defenders out on the perimeter. He’s a constant threat to go for 30 on any given night. Beyond that, ORU is going to have some young and unproven pieces, but their style of play — and having the best player in the league on the roster — will let them compete with anyone in the league.

Denver is the x-factor is all of this. The favorite to win the league last season, the Pioneers finished the season just 12-18 overall and 6-10 in the conference. They lost three of their top five scorers, among them Preseason Player of the Year Brett Olson. But this group still has some talent and they still run that Princeton system, making them a tough out on any given night. IPFW is another team that can make some noise in the league. Steve Forbes, their 6-foot-9 bruiser, graduated, but they bring back a pair of veteran guards in Mo Evans and Max Landis that can provide some veteran experience for a team that actually have some promising young talent on the roster.

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

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “It’s pretty open with the top three, but I’ll go with South Dakota State. They’re returning two of the top guards in the conference in Parks and Marshall.”
  • Sleeper: “IPFW. They had a couple good pieces last year, Max Landis and Mo Evans. They play with a chip on their shoulder. They run some pretty good offense, which gets them in good positions to score.”
  • Star to watch: “I’m going to say Obi Emegano. A lot of ppl got him picked preseason player of the year. He’s very versatile. He can score in the post, he can score outside. He’s a matchup problem for most teams in the league.”

 

PRESEASON SUMMIT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts

For Summit League opponents, it probably feels like Emegano has been in the league for a decade. He averaged 13.1 points as a freshman at Western Illinois before transferring to ORU. He sat out the 2012-13 season and tore his ACL after four games in 2013-14. Finally healthy, Emegano lit up the conference last year and should be expected to do the same this season. A powerful, 6-foot-4 guard, Emegano creates match up problems against just about everyone. You know the old guy at the park that doesn’t look like he should be good but no one can keep from getting buckets? That’s Emegano.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SUMMIT TEAM:

  • George Marshall, South Dakota State: Marshall gave the Jacks a massive boost in December when he was became eligible, giving them the best back court in the league.
  • Deondre Parks, South Dakota State: Parks was SDSU’s best guard last season, but with Marshall around for the full season that could change. And that’s a good thing for the Jacks.
  • A.J. Jacobson, North Dakota State: Jacobson was the best freshman in the league last year and will be tasked with carrying the load this season with Alexander gone.
  • Garret Covington, Western Illinois: The league’s second-leading returning scorer.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @thesummitleague

PREDICTED FINISH

1. South Dakota State
2. North Dakota State
3. Oral Roberts
4. IPFW
5. South Dakota
6. Western Illinois
7. Denver
8. IUPUI
9. Omaha

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.