Rivalry renewed: Georgetown wins, but it wasn’t the same without Boeheim

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s no longer a conference game, and given the fact that both teams are likely bound for the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome, it’s now a relatively meaningless December non-conference game between a team that probably won’t win the Big East and a team that probably isn’t going to win the ACC.

Good luck explaining that to Georgetown and No. 14 Syracuse.

Or their fans.

It was business as usual for them, a sea of Orange flooding the bars of D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood prior to the first game between the two arch-rivals since the Orange took down Georgetown in overtime during the 2013 Big East tournament. As has become commonplace for when these games get played in the District, the upper deck of the Verizon Center was a sea of orange and navy blue. Meanwhile, the Georgetown season-ticket holders that meander to their seats in the middle of the first half when teams like Bryant and Maryland-Eastern Shore visit the Phone Booth were there, beer already in hand, before the lights went down for Georgetown’s introductions.

The rivalry was officially renewed, the 33-month hiatus doing little to quell the healthy dislike between the two programs. The Verizon Center was packed, the atmosphere was awesome, and, as always, John Thompson Jr. — the man responsible for sparking this rivalry — was perched on the baseline, watching over his son, who now runs the program Pops built into a national power.

The only thing that was missing was the bespectacled curmudgeon himself.


48 hours before Syracuse was to tip off in the Verizon Center, the NCAA finally ruled on a Syracuse appeal of the punishment that was handed down earlier this year for violations that were committed within the program. Jim Boeheim’s nine-game suspension was no longer going to be put off until the start of ACC play.

It was going into effect immediately.

That’s why Boeheim wasn’t on the sideline on Saturday afternoon, instead watching the game at home on the couch by himself. That’s why longtime Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins was coaching his first career game, a moment that he’s been waiting for for a long, long time. Hop has been with the Syracuse program for more than half of his life. After playing for Syracuse for four seasons, he’s been on Boeheim’s staff for two decades. He bleeds Orange as much as anyone in Upstate New York, a region that cares about their college hoops almost as much as Kentucky cares about their’s.

Hop has long been a named that pops up during the coaching carousel. He’s been in the mix for more than a few jobs, but has yet to make it past the interview stage. Why hire someone you know is going to be gone the second the 71-year old Boeheim decides to call it a career?

“I’ve been preparing myself to be a head coach for 20 years,” Hopkins said. “It’s always what I wanted to be and I always visualize myself doing it. I was really excited to go out there. First game ever is one of the greatest rivalries in college basketball was kind of surreal.”

But it was more than that, too.

You see, during Boeheim’s suspension, not only is he not allowed on the sidelines during games or at practices while he’s away, he’s not allowed to speak to anyone on the team. Not the players, not the coaches, not the managers. He can’t even send Hop a text telling him he did an admirable job as a Division I head coach for the first time in his life.

He’s completely isolated.

And for Hop, that’s the toughest part.

“Imagine all of a sudden someone came and said you can’t talk to your father for a month and they live down the street,” Hop said, struggling to hold back tears for the second time during his press conference. “That’s tough.”

The first time?

It was when he explained that the Orange had left a seat open on the bench, a message to the coach that they cannot contact that he’s still with them now.

“I wanted this win for him tonight,” Hop said.

“I think it’s getting to him a little bit,” senior guard Trevor Cooney said. “It’s a tough situation to be in but I think he’s handling it well.”

Boeheim played as much of a role in making this rivalry a thing as John Thompson Jr. did. He built the program into a national title contender the same way Big John did the Hoyas, but he, too, was unafraid of creating a firestorm with what he said publicly about the Hoyas. Big John told us that Manley Fieldhouse was officially closed. Boeheim told us that Michael Graham punched his player, and that the better team didn’t win.

Unlike Boeheim, Big John’s coaching career came to an end, but he is omnipresent within the Georgetown program, forever perched on the Verizon Center baseline, posted in the back of every press conference, unafraid of piping up and letting an unwitting reporter know how he feels about a dumb question.

I’m not here to stand up for Boehiem or to say his punishment was wrong. His program cheated under his watch and he opted, last February, to impose a postseason ban in the middle of the season, meaning his seniors would never get to play in an ACC or NCAA tournament game again.

That’s despicable.

I’m not here to fight a public relations battle for him.

But I will lament the fact that the NCAA couldn’t have held out on their ruling until Monday.

Georgetown students will probably disagree. The “Where is Boeheim?” chants started during warmups. The Georgetown Stonewalls, a group of fans that sit in the lower bowl near the visitor’s bench, put together a tifo with pictures of Boeheim looking embarrassed and the NCAA’s statement on his violations. They enjoyed taking their shots at him almost as much as they enjoyed the win.


But this game — this rivalry, this event — just wasn’t the same without Boeheim stalking the sidelines. The renewal of the rivalry deserved to have both of the men that ignited it there.


The game itself wasn’t much to speak of.

Senior big man Bradley Hayes led the way with 21 points and 10 boards and Isaac Copeland chipped in with 14 points and four boards of his own as Georgetown knocked off No. 14 Syracuse, 79-72.

“He’s a senior at Georgetown playing against Syracuse,” John Thompson III said. “If he’s not fired up for this game we made a lot of mistakes he last four years.”

The Hoyas jumped out to a 26-12 lead midway through the first half on the strength of their front court, as Marcus Derrickson and Copeland were able to pick apart the Orange 2-3 zone from the high post. JT III is known for a Princeton-style offense that makes man-to-man defenses pay for being overaggressive, but on Saturday afternoon, his Hoyas put on a clinic in how to run zone offense.

Derrickson was the unsung hero. Not only did he finish with 13 points, ten boards and a pair of assists, but he also took three key charges, two of which came early in the second half as Georgetown was able to extend the lead out to 20 points. “I love it when Marcus rebounds like he did today,” JT III said. Syracuse made a run late in the game, cutting the lead to single-digits with time left on the clock and getting as close as six points late, but the Hoyas made just enough free throws to avoid a complete collapse late.

The Orange really struggled on the offensive end of the floor in the first half, shooting just 2-for-13 from beyond the arc as the Hoyas made a concerted effort to run them off the three-point line. Hopkins credited Georgetown’s ball-screen defense. Cooney said it was due to the way that the Hoyas help on the weak side, but regardless of why, the point remains the same: This Syracuse team relies heavily on the three-ball, and their struggles to get good looks from deep is why they found themselves in a huge hole early.

The biggest issue for the Orange is when they face teams with powerful front lines. Their best offensive lineup features Tyler Lydon at the five and Tyler Roberson at the four, but that leaves them susceptible to guys like Hayes, big men that can establish post position and score on duck-ins. DaJuan Coleman is really their only option at center, but he finished Saturday afternoon’s game without a single defensive rebound and takes away their ability to stretch the floor offensively.

The bottom line is that the Hoyas outplayed Syracuse.


This wasn’t just a result of Boeheim not being on the sideline.

“Mike, he’s been sitting on that bench over half his life,” JT III said, a statement meant as a compliment that also drove home a point: There should be no asterisk next to this game. Georgetown didn’t win because Boeheim was gone. “[Hop]’s not going to try to reinvent he wheel. It is what it is.”

“He’s had a lot of input in what they do as time has gone on.”


Big John has never been afraid of taking a shot at the Orange publicly.

In a moment of honesty, he may actually tell you it’s his favorite this to do. In addition to closing Manley Fieldhouse, Big John also said to a room full of reporters, after Georgetown’s 61-39 win over the Orange in their last regular season Big East tilt, “Kiss Syracuse goodbye!”

Did he have anything planned for today?

“I like to make him mad,” Big John, never one to shy away from verbal battle, said of Boeheim, with a laugh. “He’s already mad.”

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


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.