Villanova’s legacy will be determined where the program grows from here

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HOUSTON — Kris Jenkins will never have to pay for another cheesesteak in Philly ever again, not after he hit the game-winning three to beat North Carolina in the national title game on Monday night. But did you know that his recruitment to Villanova didn’t ramp up until after he tagged along on his brother — and current North Carolina point guard — Nate Britt’s visit?

Josh Hart, Villanova’s best player all season long, grew up in DC as a Georgetown fan. But the Hoyas never extended him a scholarship offer, which is a major reason why he wound up on the Main Line. Another reason? Villanova hired Doug Martin as an assistant coach. Martin had coached Hart with Team Takeover, but he was fired for lying on his résumé two months before Hart committed to Jay Wright.

Jalen Brunson wound up at Villanova after a sexual assault allegation against his father kept Temple from being able to hire him and cost the Brunsons a shot at being a package deal to the Owls. Ryan Arcidiacono is a lifelong Villanova fan. Phil Booth’s dad is from Philly and was partying in the street after the 1985 title.

That’s kind of who this Villanova team is, an amalgam of dudes from cities all along the I-95 corridor in the Northeast that somehow ended up on Jay Wright’s roster. They weren’t so much overlooked — no one in Villanova’s top seven was ranked outside the top 75 — as they were underwhelming additions. None of those commitments moved the needle, not even Brunson’s. He’s the McDonald’s All-American freshman on this roster, but the hype was somewhat minimized because Brunson doesn’t have the physical tools to ever be considered a good professional prospect and his addition for this season meant that he’d have at least a year playing as Arch’s apprentice.

The perfect summation is this: In the national title game, the Wildcats were led by a career-high 20 points from Booth, who had averaged a total of 5.0 points in Villanova’s eight prior postseason games. The game was won when Archidiacono, the face of the program and a lifelong Villanova fan, made a pass on a play that was more or less designed for him to get a shot at the rim.

“We don’t care about who gets the credit, we don’t care about who the leading scorer is, we don’t care anything about that,” Hart said after the game. “We care about this team. We care about each other. We care about this program.”

“I think this is a great team,” Hart continued, making a point to detail to reporters after the game just how tough their road to the title was. They beat an Iowa team that was top five for much of the year. They beat a Miami team who was top 15. They beat Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina, three teams that were ranked No. 1 this season and exactly half of the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s impressive. “I’m trying to be as humble as I can.”

It’s that mindset that allowed Villanova to become arguably the least-talented national title winner in modern college basketball history.

And I mean that as a compliment.

Barring Mikal Bridges making a significant step forward next season, Hart improving his jumper at a Kawhi Leonard-esque pace or Brunson getting markedly better measureables, we’re looking at a team that just cut down the nets in Houston without the benefit of a first round pick on their roster. That hasn’t happened since 1987, when Keith Smart carried two-time all-american and second round NBA Draft pick Steve Alford to a national title game win over Syracuse. The only other team that could be in that conversation is UConn in 2014, and they had Shabazz Napier, Deandre Daniels and Ryan Boatright on the roster. Even Villanova’s 1985 title team had a top ten pick on the roster in Ed Pinckney.

So yes, I think it’s a fair argument to make.

And it makes me wonder what the legacy of this group is going to end up being.

This was a college basketball season devoid of elite talent and great teams. Are we going to remember this group as the team that finally broke the spell on Jay Wright in big games in March? Are we going to remember them as one of the most connected and mentally tough teams to come through the college ranks in year? Or are we going to remember them as the random Villanova team that ran through a tournament that was devoid of star power? The team that annually mows down a mediocre Big East and mowed down a mediocre tournament field?

The answer, to me, lies in what happens next season.

The Wildcats lose Arch and they lose Ochefu, both of which will be major blows; particularly Ochefu, who was the only low-post scoring threat on the roster. But they bring back Brunson, Booth, Hart, Bridges, Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds and Fordham transfer Eric Paschall while adding a pair of talented freshmen. There’s a reason we have them ranked No. 3 in the country in our Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

We believe.

But that puts even more pressure on the Wildcats to perform well.

If they win the Big East again next season and, like they did the last two years, flame out early in the tournament, the questions are going to return. This was a great team that capped an amazing run with a thrilling game that was won on a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

But if Villanova wants to be in the same breath as the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world, if they want to prove their program can consistently win at the highest level, they have to do it in a year where the Blue Devils and the Wildcats loaded.

They’re the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 team, respectively, in our top 25.

“It’s not over yet,” Hart said. “We’re going to be a strong team next year.”

“But I’m going to celebrate this one first.”

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.