Draymond Green’s texts lifted Denzel Valentine to a new level

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CHICAGO — Draymond Green left Michigan State in 2012 and went from second-round NBA draft pick to near max-contract player on the world champion Golden State Warriors. The player commonly known around East Lansing as “Day-Day” still remains a fixture with his former program. Returning to campus during homecoming weekend this fall, Green gifted his former program $3.1 million for a new practice facility. He continually keeps tabs on Michigan State’s current roster.

Sunday night, Green was awake and sweating through a night of the flu and decided to send a group text to the Spartans with the kind of smack-talking encouragement that only a renowned trash-talker like Green could conjure up. With a Champions Classic tilt with No. 4 Kansas looming, the verbal jabs in the group text resonated deeply with Michigan State senior guard Denzel Valentine.

“He said he had the flu and he was in bed and it was, like,  2 o’clock in the morning,” Valentine recalled of Green’s feverish, motivational group text. “And he was like, ‘I’ve got the flu and I was just thinking…’ [Green] named everybody on the team. ‘You’re not going to do this; you’re not going to do this; you’re not going to do this.’ He kind of challenged us a little bit. He went through every player on the team and he challenged us. And I got to thinking, ‘I want to prove Day-Day wrong because he’s always talking stuff.'”

Valentine used Green’s challenges as the fuel of a brilliant triple-double performance that lifted No. 13 Michigan State to 79-73 comeback win over the Jayhawks on Tuesday night. Finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, Valentine became only the fourth player in program history to finish with a triple-double and he joins elite company in Green, Magic Johnson and Charlie Bell. Valentine and Magic Johnson are also the only two players to ever drop a triple-double against Kansas.

The inspired play of Valentine helped the Spartans overcome an 11-point second-half deficit with 9:43 remaining as the senior led his team on a comeback run and eventually willed his team to victory. Competing to the point of exhaustion at around five minutes left, Valentine saved his best for the final few minutes as his multiple go-ahead shots were enough to hold off Kansas as his teammates also stepped up after a sluggish first half.

“He sucked it up. He gives me credit; I give him credit,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of Valentine after the game. “The kid, he’s like Draymond. There’s a million things that he’s not good enough at. But winning is something he’s good enough at. Work ethic is something he’s good enough at. And basketball IQ is something that he’s good enough at. And those things just won us a big game.”

This year’s Spartans are very clearly Valentine’s team and they’ll go as far as he can carry them. The parallels between this Michigan State roster and the Spartans during Green’s senior season is also noticeable. Both teams had uncertain play from young point guards and featured complimentary scoring options that haven’t been consistent through a full college season. Valentine, like Green, is also a uniquely gifted rebounder and passer from the wing — a regular potential triple-double waiting to happen.

Travis Trice and Branden Dawson have exhausted their eligibility from last season’s surprise Spartans Final Four run and Valentine has a major target on his back as an All-American candidate entering his senior season. Similar to Green during his final college campaign, Valentine lifted Michigan State to a huge win when his supporting cast wasn’t always reliable.

After a rocky first half with poor shooting and a performance that Izzo deemed, “soft,” Valentine wouldn’t let his team give in when things started to look down with a little under 10 minutes left. Coming out of a timeout and trailing 61-50, Valentine snared an offensive rebound and found senior guard — and former high school teammate — Bryn Forbes in the corner for a 3-pointer. That triggered a 22-point Michigan State stretch in which Valentine scored or assisted on every point over an eight-minute stretch. Suddenly, Michigan State was in control, and the final dagger came when freshman guard Matt McQuaid received a pass from Matt Costello and buried a 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 75-71 lead with 55 seconds remaining. 

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win. I don’t care what it is,” Valentine said. “I could be on the ball, I can be off the ball. I’ll check the best player on the [opposing] team. I’ll do this; I’ll do that. I just want to win. That’s my motto.”

“He put all his trust in me,” McQuaid said of Valentine. “When he passed me that one shot [with four minutes left] he said, ‘Shoot it!’ and it gave me a lot of confidence to knock it down.”

Besides filling up the stat sheet and taking over a tight game against a top-5 opponent, Valentine only turned the ball over one time in 38 minutes and stayed the course as the team’s emotional leader. Valentine spent the early portion of the post-game press conference looking around and smiling as he praised teammates and coaches about a great team win. Like any disciple of Izzo, Valentine knows a big win in November is nice, but the important thing is to focus on the next step of the championship picture.

“I’m going to get better, our team is going to get better. I’m not even tripping about [the win] right now because we’re going to get better,” Valentine said.

After the memorable performance was completed, Valentine received an emotional hug from his dad, Carlton Valentine, himself a four-year letterwinner from the Michigan State basketball program. Just like Green and great Michigan State players before him like Magic and Charlie Bell, Valentine is an in-state player who takes an immense amount of pride in making sure his school is performing to the highest of expectations. Valentine said after the game that he never dreamed of putting up a line like 29-12-12. Forbes said it was the best performance he’s ever seen from his long-time friend. If Valentine continues to be a leader capable of regularly filling the box score, the Spartans are going to be tough to beat as they’ll inevitably improve as the season moves along.

“I just like guys that want to compete. I want guys where winning is important,” Izzo said. “Denzel has one of those qualities that not everybody has; where winning is important. Michigan State is important to Denzel. His dad played there, and this whole legacy thing, it’s important to him. No matter what Michigan State does in whatever sport. That doesn’t happen all the time. I like that more than anything.”

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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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

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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.