Three Observations from the Under Armour Association Finals

(Photo by Kelly Kline/Under Armour)
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CARTERSVILLE, GA — The Under Armour Association Finals were the main attraction during the second week of July as the shoe league’s top teams were joined by some good independent teams for a big-time event outside of Atlanta. The UAA Finals had plenty of star power across multiple classes and also made for some interesting storylines entering the final week of the July live evaluation period.

1. Trevon Duval is exceptionally gifted, but can he tone down the wild streaks?

On the first night of the July live evaluation period, I stopped by the Under Armour All-American Camp in Charlotte so I could get a glimpse at a couple players I wanted to see more of during my stop in Atlanta. While talking to five-star point guard Trevon Duval in Charlotte he told me his personal goal was to limit himself to two turnovers per game during July.

While Duval’s We-R1 team captured the UAA Finals 17U title, and Duval looked dominant at times during the event, his wild streaks are a bit concerning with regards to his basketball future. Duval averaged 5.8 turnovers per game at the UAA Finals and continued to make risky passes and dribble moves through traffic that cost his team possessions in tight games. One play in particular, in a triple-OT thriller in the first round against the Indy Hoosier, Duval attempted a street-ball style carry over a defender that was coming to trap him and was called for a travel. Duval also wasn’t finishing at the rim nearly as well as he’s accustomed to and only shot 35 percent from the field for the event.

But you also have to credit Duval with being as competitive as any guard in the class and part of the reason he had a high turnover count and low field-goal percentage is because he relentlessly attacks opposing defenses — even if he has multiple defenders on him. It’ll be interesting to see if Duval figures out how to slow down the turnovers at the next level when he has more talented teammates that make things easier on him.

Learning how to change speeds can be a tough thing when your elite speed has given you so many easy buckets at the high school level, but it is necessary to do so as the competition gets better at the next level.

2. Malik Williams is the most fascinating Class of 2017 prospect

The UAA Finals was a great chance to get multiple viewings of Class of 2017 big man Malik Williams. The native of Indiana is currently hovering in the four-star range in the 30s of most national rankings, but part of the reason he’s there is because he’s the only top-40 national prospect who didn’t participate in a shoe-company league this spring and summer.

The 6-foot-10 Williams is very talented but it’s tough to gauge how talented he is when he plays for a team called Legit Basketball that doesn’t play a lot of other talented high-major prospects. Williams played better competition in the UAA Finals open division and is talent level is noticeable. Williams runs the floor well, can defend the rim a bit and has great touch on his jumper out beyond the three-point line. Not many 6’10” dudes can face up and do the things that Williams can do.

But question marks loom about his toughness. There are times Williams shies away from contact or facing a physical play, and this is coming against guys who aren’t exactly high-level players. After watching big men go to war for most of Peach Jam with big physical and verbal confrontations, it makes me wonder how Williams would have handled those same games in the same settings?

That’s what makes Williams such a fascinating prospect. He looks like a potential McDonald’s All-American based on ability, but he hasn’t been mentally pushed like a lot of these other elite prospects. It’ll be fascinating to see how Williams develops over the next few months and I would love to see him play in some of the big spring all-star games to see how he stacked up with the promising group of big men ahead of him.

3. Jalek Felton is (another) polarizing prospect

Much like Michael Porter Jr. at Peach Jam, some people had high praise for North Carolina commit and Class of 2017 point guard Jalek Felton, but it usually was followed by some kind of criticism of his game or mentality.

The nephew of former North Carolina point guard Ray Felton, Jalek has been committed to the Tar Heels for well over a year and that means sometimes you don’t always get maximum effort from him in certain grassroots games. Being committed for so long, and playing in games that don’t exactly mean much during some weekends, you can hardly blame Felton for losing focus at times during grassroots season.

At the the UAA Finals, Felton gave some outstanding efforts, including the best individual game I saw all week in which he went for 31 points on an array of high-level moves. But Felton is also so flashy that it costs him some possessions as he tries some ridiculous passes and shots that he has no business attempting in a competitive basketball game.

There is no doubting that Felton is an elite talent when he’s engaged, but the on-off switch has been an issue with him for over a year and sometimes it’s tough to project if Felton will be an engaged player through the course of an entire season.

If North Carolina is able to get the best out of Felton at the next level, then watch out. At 6-foot-3 with great ball skills and a developing pull-up jumper, Felton is great in transition and would fit North Carolina’s style very well. But we’ll have to see if Felton can play with a high motor over a long period of time before we really know his full potential.

Trevon Duval (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)
Trevon Duval (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

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

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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.