New-look WCC feature Stoudamire and Porter’s NBA pedigrees

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Herb Sendek walks across Santa Clara’s campus from his Leavey Center office to the iconic Mission church and stops for a moment at his favorite landmark. It’s a special spot for a brief respite from the fundamentals-focused basketball preparation with his Broncos.

While Sendek is busy rebuilding men’s basketball at Santa Clara, Damon Stoudamire and Terry Porter have brought some serious NBA pedigree to coaching in the mid-major West Coast Conference trying to get their programs on track. Add to the list of new faces first-year San Francisco coach Kyle Smith, fresh off an impressive six-year run at Columbia.

The league, still largely unheralded despite its decades-long run of postseason success, is suddenly boasting some high-profile coaching names to go along with the old staples of No. 14 Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Randy Bennett at 17th-ranked Saint Mary’s, which might have one of its best teams yet after a 29-win season . The Zags and Gaels shared the WCC regular-season crown last season and are picked by the coaches to go 1-2.

“I have a very healthy respect for the West Coast Conference and I really believe it’s on the verge of exploding,” said Sendek, back on the bench following a year away after his dismissal at Arizona State . “Clearly you have the top tier that has been dominant for the last many years but you also sense a renewed commitment from the other schools to be even more competitive. It’s a terrific basketball league.”

In Portland, Porter sometimes points to examples of NBA players emerging from the WCC to make big impacts at the next level.

Smith, who went 101-82 at Columbia with a Tournament title and 25-10 record last season, is hardly new to the WCC yet now takes on a storied program determined to be a regular contender again. A former top assistant under Bennett at Saint Mary’s who also worked at San Diego, he has connections to several programs and most of the other coaches.

“I coached in the league for 17 years and I’ve always thought it’s really the one league I know, so I think it’s a great time,” Smith said. “Over the last five years you’ve had three programs that have emerged and they’ve been good, they’ve kind of gotten to the top, and it looks like some other programs are really trying to regain some of their past glory and make it interesting. I think they will, and I think it will be healthy for the league with these new coaches. It’s a big investment trying to make the league better.”

Porter rarely speaks of his own playing experiences while chuckling and noting, “they’re so young” and won’t remember him anyway. Rick Adelman has stopped by Pilots practice to provide “another set of eyes on things,” and Porter speaks to his former coach with the Spurs, Gregg Popovich, on occasion for any tips on starting something new and building a system – and family atmosphere.

“It’s personal core values and me being on championship-caliber teams sharing what do we hold true and what helped us be successful,” Porter said.

Smith’s ties to Bennett are just a start in the close-knit conference.

Porter’s son, Franklin, played for Bennett in the suburban East Bay hills of Moraga.

Bennett is thrilled to see the WCC generate more attention with all the change.

“I knew Terry because of Franklin. He’s just a class act,” Bennett said. “I’ve known Damon Stoudamire since he was about 15 and always considered him a really good guy, and a guy that’s a friend. I’ve known Herb and have a lot of respect for him as a coach. We’ve gotten to know each other because he’s been out West. Obviously Kyle, I have a long history with and a really good friend.

“All four of them I know, it’s pretty cool that way … good, talented people. It’s going to help the league. The league’s going to get stronger.”

Sendek’s own coaching tree is strong: He has watched 12 of his former assistants or other staff members become Division I head coaches. He has found a good fit.

“I do feel refreshed,” he said.

All of the new coaches are realizing challenges with starting fresh.

Porter accepted the job right before his players took finals, then they went their separate ways for the summer. So he has spent much of the preseason finding a groove.

“Being around them and talking about some of our team identities and trying to build some of those things, it was something we’ve had to get into a little bit later,” he said. “The guys have really embraced it.”

New Golden State Warriors top assistant Mike Brown played at San Diego for Bennett and also knows Smith, Few, Porter and Stoudamire. Brown’s allegiances will stay in Southern California with the Toreros and coach Lamont Smith, an ex-USD player and another former Saint Mary’s assistant.

Brown is eager to watch Bennett – who has been turning up at Golden State practices this fall – face off with good friend-turned rival Kyle Smith.

“This is a big-time conference,” Brown said. “This conference is not an easy conference. It will be interesting to see how both those guys do. I’m sure they’ll do great. I’m glad I’m so close to be able to pop in and catch a game. It’s going to be a fun year for the West Coast Conference.”

The WCC sent three of its then-eight teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2008 for the first time then again in 2012 once BYU joined the 10-team league.

“The coaching and the turnover this year has changed dramatically but you still have the two major staples in Mark and Randy,” Porter said. “It’s going to be fun to see the conference get after it.”

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.