Wyoming’s Larry Shyatt reprimanded by Mountain West for scathing comments

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Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt has been publicly reprimanded by the Mountain West Conference following the comments he made regarding the league’s decision to only invite the top eight teams from an 11-team conference to the postseason tournament.

The change will be implemented beginning in 2017. The conference also announced earlier this month that the league tournament will continue to be held at the Thomas & Mack Center, UNLV’s full-time home court, through 2019. It’s been at the T&M every year since 2007 and 13 of the last 16 seasons. That has also irked Shyatt.

Shyatt read the statement on behalf of the other ten coaches in the conference.

Here is Shyatt’s statement in its entirety:

“As chairman of the men’s basketball coaches, I feel it’s appropriate to address the shocking announcement for all of our student-athletes and coaches who were recently stripped, removed and/or eliminated from their ‘opportunity’ to qualify for the Big Dance. A dream of every men’s basketball player ever since the inception of conference tournaments.

Since I represent the men’s coaches, my comments will be on their behalf, although I do realize over 28 percent of all of our men’s and women’s student-athletes have now been eliminated from their opportunity they so deserve. I have also waited a couple of weeks to remove the emotion and collect as many thoughts from the people whose opportunities have been stripped, student-athletes and coaches.

Moreover, the way in which these student-athletes and coaches were to find out, in an age of student-athlete opportunity and welfare is pursuant, becomes even more disappointing and embarrassing. As chairman of the men’s basketball coaches, I am on the phone every two to three days each and every week to stay in constant communication with anything related to our student-athletes and discussions that are relevant. When the presidents and athletic directors met a couple weeks ago there was no, I repeat no communication or dialogue to discuss any such action. I spoke constantly with our assistant commissioner for men’s basketball who also had no communication or dialogue about the action that would take place. In an age of mass communication it’s embarrassing that perhaps the most intelligent group of men and women at our institutions would choose to eliminate, strip and remove from three teams the opportunity they have always worked two semesters for without any discussion or opportunity to speak to not one single coach or student-athlete involved.

Furthermore, it would be equally distressing if there was a president or any athletic director that thought for a moment or spoke or suggested something like ‘who cares what the coaches or student-athletes think about this action.’ Could there be a more sad and shallow kind of communication and understanding? Yes, we the coaches and student-athletes were bamboozled as President Obama would say. Was the need to strip, remove and eliminate these teams from their dreams and opportunity so important to come to an extremely curious and suspiciously quick vote without further research that is necessary? Could no one in the room perhaps suggest that we could ‘General Patton’ the situation and look at all the other options as to not strip, remove and eliminate these student-athletes’ opportunity to qualify for the NCAA tournament? What was the rush? A week, a month, three months to find perhaps yet another alternative as to not foil these student-athletes’ dreams.

Shortly after this surprising vote took place, I was informed by our commissioner that there were two reasons given, No. 1 finances and No. 2 that this was something that was similar to what some other sports in our league were experiencing. Men’s basketball, however, has been the torch bearer for our league. Specifically since the departure of Utah, BYU and TCU recently. In fact in men’s basketball we have received 17 NCAA bids the last five years. That is approximately 3.5 bids per year, nothing like a one-bid league. Here are the 20 conferences who continue to provide all of their men’s student-athletes the opportunity to have one more chance to run the table to the big dance: ACC, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big South, Big Ten, Colonial, Horizon, MAAC, Mid-American, MEAC, Missouri Valley, Pac 12, Patriot, SEC, SoCon and West Coast. And here are the only three that have removed a large (over 25 percent) of their student-athletes opportunities: Ohio Valley, Southland and Sun Belt.

Obviously this action to remove, strip and eliminate student-athletes’ opportunity is on that has been taken in low-budget and one-bid leagues. It is both and insult and embarrassing especially that the surprise vote and action was taken with no interesting in searching for the student-athletes and coaches involved. In situations where there is such a surprise with no notice, no inclusion and no communication, not one word uttered to an assistant commissioner, there seems to be a degree of behind-the-scenes plotting by someone or someones as to not let the cat out of the bag. We coaches are often critized by making quick emotional decisions and often are asked to go up to our athletic directors about certain issues. When we deal with our young student-athletes, however, we don’t expect them always to come to us with their concerns, interests and issues. We go to them both individually and collectively. In my opinion that is how trust and communication works best for all.

Months ago, I purposely brought up at the our spring meetings that as soon as our basketball coaches reach 14 or 15 wins, we should proudly communicate our student-athletes have become “bowl eligible.” It drew a snicker, which it was supposed to, because my point was precise. Those student-athletes work really hard and deserve their accolades and opportunities, as 82 out of 128 (64 percent) of them will have this additional postseason opportunity. Our young men too work their tails off on and off the court every bit as hard as others, deserve to be congratulated and praised as well. In the case of the latest action taken from our presidents and athletic directors quite the opposite approach was taken. We coaches all knew that, regardless of the research, we would continue to play our men’s tournament on UNLV’s home court because of financial reasons only. That was coming, but the decision to strip, eliminate and remove the opportunity of our men’s student-athletes’ was not even spoken about with any of us.

In my 41 years as a basketball coach, I have seen some wonderful illustrations of these second-opportunities being afforded. In 2001, a ninth-seeded Connecticut ran the table to win the Big East tournament. They then went on to beat our own San Diego State in the Sweet 16 and became national champions. Just last year, our Wyoming team led our conference to six weeks only to have two key forwards contract mono and have us slip to fifth place. Four weeks later a healthy team came back with their last, but deserved, opportunity to win the conference tourney and compete in the big dance. What if our team had been a solid fourth place, slipped to eighth or ninth and was now stripped, eliminated or removed from that deserved opportunity. Also, what about three or four-way ties in the final week of conference play? What do the fans and family members of those student-athletes plan? (flights/hotels/tickets) Will they be reimbursed? In an age of fiscal responsibility do we now choose to neglect those monetary needs?

In my opinion, this action was wrong, non-inclusive and quite opposite to where student-athletes’ welfare has gone in the last few years. If we can take action for unlimited nutrition and meals and add the cost of attendance money for student-athletes, why would we limit the men’s basketball conference tournament opportunities? Simply to save money?

This goes against the core of where main-stream collegiate athletics has been headed, which is student-athlete opportunities and well-being. Why remove the over 28 percent of our young student-athletes’ last opportunity and their dream to compete for a berth in the big dance. I only pray that these opportunities for these student-athletes will be restored soon.”

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.

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.