How Kris Jenkins went from Villanova recruiting afterthought to indisposable player

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
0 Comments

HOUSTON — The Kris Jenkins of today and the Kris Jenkins from his first two-and-a-half seasons at Villanova are two totally different players. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior has gone from being a defensive liability that chucked too many threes to the player that has become Villanova’s most difficult matchup.

On Monday night, Jenkins is quite possibly the most important player for the Wildcats as they look to win the program’s second national championship. Five years ago, when Jenkins first visited Villanova, he was the guy that head coach Jay Wright let tag along in the hopes of landing point guard Nate Britt.

The Wildcats made Britt a recruiting priority and wanted him to visit campus. As Britt’s brother through legal guardianship, and also his high school teammate, the Britts wanted to bring Jenkins along for Nate’s visit to Philadelphia. The Villanova coaching staff knew that Jenkins could hit shots and put up points, but they didn’t believe Jenkins would be disciplined enough to thrive in their program.

“The Britts are a really tight family. We were recruiting Nate. We liked Kris, but we thought he’s overweight and he’s not going to want to do all the stuff we do,” Wright said. “[The Britts said] ‘Do you mind if we bring him?’ [We responded] ‘Yeah, we love him.'”

“When we met with Nate, we met with Kris. You heard all the things we’re saying to Nate, but you’re going to have to come in here and work hard, get your body fat tested. That’s what we want you to do. As the recruiting went on, Nate Britt, Sr. said, ‘Kris loved it.’ [We thought] If he loved that, we want this guy.”

Nate Britt Jr. ended up at North Carolina, Villanova’s opponent in Monday night’s national championship game, but the Wildcats rolled the dice on Jenkins, the undersized, out-of-shape forward who had a knack for getting buckets.

It took some time at Villanova for Jenkins to get his body into proper shape. Thanks to a strength-and-conditioning program, an improved diet and a lot of time riding the bike, Jenkins eventually got into the kind of shape the Villanova coaching staff was looking for.

There would be days in practice, and in games, where Jenkins would light it up in the scoring column, but he still wasn’t figuring things out all the way as a defender and rebounder.

That approach to defense and rebounding began to change midway through the 2015-16 season.

People around the Villanova program admit that Jenkins has always had the intelligence and toughness to be a good defender and rebounder but it’s been his improved conditioning and preparation that has led to increased minutes.

Around the time Big East conference play started this season, teammates and coaches noticed that Jenkins was pouring over scouting reports on defense after he went through a rough stretch where he was held to six points or less in six of nine outings. He started becoming a vocal leader on the defensive end of the floor as his confidence grew at that end.

“I think once we got in conference play, Kris started to lock in and be more focused on defending and rebounds, and in turn, because he did those things, he’s out on the floor longer and he gets to do what does best on the offensive end,” Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard told NBCSports.com. “As his commitment to defense has gone up, his offensive production has gone up. Now he’s in a groove, he’s playing at a high level and he’s still playing well on both ends.”

Jenkins has grabbed headlines for the offensive production he’s put up during the last few months of the season — scoring double-figures in 14 consecutive games — but his improved commitment to rebounding and defense has enabled him to stay on the floor longer to put up better numbers.

The increase in minutes means that Villanova can put Jenkins in a number of different positions to hurt an opposing defense. Jenkins is versatile enough as an offensive threat to score inside, but he’s also lethal enough as a shooter to knock down 3-pointers at a high clip. Jenkins went 8-for-10 from the field and 5-for-6 from 3-point range in a Sweet 16 win over Miami as he finished with 21 points. Through out the tournament he’s also drawn fouls, created for teammates and provided ball movement in the flow of Villanova’s offense.

“We’ve been playing through Kris a little bit more, posting him up a little bit more, so now he’s getting more touches and he’s in more of a rhythm offensively,” Howard said. “Now he doesn’t feel the need to come down and take every 3-point shot that he gets. He’s using those opportunities to help create for his teammates and get fouled and that ability to mix up his offense helps us a lot.”

In the Elite Eight it was Jenkins who guarded Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis for most of the game when Ellis only scored four points on 1-for-5 shooting with four turnovers as the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four. And on the offensive end, Jenkins countered with 13 points as he nabbed Most Outstanding Player in the South Regional.

“I’ve always thought that he’s taken defense to heart,” teammate Darryl Reynolds said. “Even when there’s times where guys have criticized him for such you can tell they still got under his skin and that makes him a good defender at this point. It’s something that he’s worked on over the last couple of years here. I think that’s really what separated him.”

A few months ago, Jenkins was the type of player that made you wonder how he would fit on the floor and who he would match up against on the defensive end. Now that he’s earned the respect and admiration of his teammates for his contributions on defense and on the glass. Jenkins has become the indispensable jack-of-all trades forward who has become a matchup nightmare for Villanova.

“He’s improved a lot. We always knew he was a great offensive player who could do stuff in the post out to the 3-point line,” teammate Daniel Ochefu said. “The way he’s been committing to our scouting reports, taking pride in guarding guards, getting in the paint and rebounding against guys my size, it’s definitely big for us and we have a lot of respect for him.”

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

ncaa
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
2 Comments

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

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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
0 Comments

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
2 Comments

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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.