Gard could tweak, but no wholesale changes at Wisconsin

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) By retiring at midseason at Wisconsin, Bo Ryan effectively allowed top assistant Greg Gard to have a three-month audition to prove that he could handle the head coaching job on a permanent basis.

In his first full day on the job on Wednesday, Gard didn’t appear to be feeling any pressure.

“I’ve never worried about the standpoint of what the end result will be,” Gard said.

“So for us, our main focus is how can we continue to move this team forward and improve,” he said. “How can we get some of these younger guys to play a little older?”

The Badgers (7-5) struggled in the first few weeks of the season, losing more games than they did all of last year, when they went 36-4 and advanced to their second straight Final Four.

But Wisconsin reached those heights with a band of experienced and more talented players, led by national player of the year Frank Kaminsky. This year’s squad is less experienced and more reliant on freshmen.

The players appeared to be a little dazed after the game, even though Ryan had discussed retirement for months. Ryan never offered a specific timetable, and hedged a few times about even coaching beyond 2015-16.

Gard said he didn’t know that Tuesday night’s win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi would be Ryan’s last appearance until before the game. And even then, he wasn’t entirely sure until after the final buzzer.

“I just waited for his direction and I just said, `Hey, let me know what the plan is and what you need from me and what’s going to be next,”‘ Gard recounted.

Athletic director Barry Alvarez appointed Gard the interim coach. He plans to evaluate Gard’s work and make a decision at the end of the season about how the school will proceed.

In speaking with the players in the locker room after Ryan broke the news, Alvarez focused his message on embracing the future.

“Don’t be afraid of change,” Alvarez said.

How the Badgers go about getting better remains a big question. A string of 14 straight NCAA appearances during Ryan’s tenure is in jeopardy.

Defense has been a problem at times, as it was in the shocking 69-67 loss to lowly Western Illinois in the season opener at home. Lately, the Badgers appear to be having problems getting off good shots, and have struggled in late-game situations with the ball.

Not that Gard is planning any wholesale changes.

“Obviously our brand of basketball and our pillars of success are pretty well cemented and time-tested,” said Gard, who has worked with Ryan for 20 years, including the last 14-plus in Madison.

At Wisconsin, that means playing tough defense without fouling and using hands. On offense, that means taking care of the ball and playing with efficiency.

“Will there be additions, things that we need to get better at … we need to spit-shine a little bit and improve upon? Some of that is with experience,” Gard said.

Former Badgers assistant coach Howard Moore, now an analyst with the Big Ten Network, suggested that Gard might incorporate more of Ryan’s swing offense system back on to the floor. The system relies on good passing, screening and cutting from all five players on the floor.

During the last two years especially, with Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and other talented veterans, the Badgers had the experience to play with less structure, Moore said.

“I think that is as much change as they need,” Moore said. “Defensively, more attention to details, keep guys in front.”

Junior Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are returning starters from last year’s run to the title game. Two other juniors, forward Vitto Brown and guard Zak Showalter, are now starters after coming off the bench last season.

Otherwise, Wisconsin has been playing just freshmen of late. The Badgers also don’t have a scholarship senior on the roster.

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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.