Texas A&M looks for first NCAA trip since 2011

Associated Press
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) The Texas A&M Aggies improved in each of the last three seasons and believe they will take another big step forward this year and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

In fact, coach Billy Kennedy all but guaranteed it in March when the Aggies were eliminated in the second round of the NIT tournament.

“I’ll go on the record and say now we’ll be a tournament team next year … I’m talking about NCAA,” Kennedy said.

He has plenty of reason to be confident in his team with a trio of senior starters led by guard Danuel House, who is in his second season with the team after a transfer from the University of Houston.

House earned first-team All-SEC honors last season after finishing fourth in scoring in league play with 16.2 points a game. House is one of just three returning players in the SEC who earned first team honors last season.

House had a foot injury late last season and missed time in the offseason with a knee injury, but Kennedy said he’s “really healthy now.”

He’s joined by fellow senior guard Alex Caruso, who led the SEC with 182 assists last season to become the first player in the league to lead in that category in consecutive seasons since 2009. The third senior is forward Jalen Jones. He earned second-team All-SEC honors a year ago after averaging 13.7 points a game and leading the Aggies with 6.6 rebounds a game.

The Aggies ramped up preparation for the season on Wednesday night when they had their annual Maroon and White scrimmage. House was encouraged by what he saw.

“We just tried to focus mainly on defense, staying positive and sharing the ball with each other,” he said. “Not trying to be selfish or not trying to be outside ourselves because we have talent at every spot.”

Though those three are the leaders of the team, Kennedy, who is entering his fifth year at Texas A&M, is excited about the players behind them, too.

“We have more depth than we’ve had in the past and we have guys who can score,” Kennedy said.

The Aggies open the season on Nov. 13 against University of Southern California-Upstate.

Some things to know about the 2015-16 Aggies:

NEW FACES

The Aggies welcome a recruiting class that is arguably the best in school history. The group is highlighted by Tyler Davis, ranked by ESPN as the top player in Texas and the seventh-ranked center in the nation. He was named Mr. Basketball by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches after averaging 18.7 points, 12.2 and 3.4 blocks a game in leading Plano West to the 6A state title last season. He’s joined at A&M by high school teammate DJ Hogg, rated by some as the second-best player in the state. The forward averaged 17.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in Plano West’s championship season last year.

THE GRADUATE

A new addition on the team will also be one of the oldest ones. Anthony Collins is a 23-year-old who played 101 games with 98 starts at South Florida before joining the Aggies this year as a graduate student. Collins averaged 8.1 points and 5.6 assists in his career at South Florida. He gained an extra year of eligibility after missing most of the 2013-14 season with an injury. His 569 career assists at South Florida are second in school history.

ACT TWO

Texas A&M’s seniors are joined by Tavario Miller, Alex Robinson and Tonny Trocha-Morelos who all played at least 25 games a year ago. Robinson is a guard who appeared in 32 games last season and averaged 5.2 points a game. The Aggies are looking for more from Trocha-Morelos after the 6-foot-10 center from Colombia averaged just 1.5 points and two rebounds last year.

“He continues to get better and I think he is going to help our team a bunch,” Kennedy said.”

WHAT A TRIP

The Aggies got some early bonding time this summer when they went on a 10-day tour of Italy and Greece. The tour included four exhibition games and plenty of sightseeing. House, who made the trip but didn’t play because of an injury, said the experience was a great chance for the group to work on their chemistry in a low-key atmosphere before the hard work of the season began.

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.