Winter storm forces basketball teams to alter travel plans

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Teams chasing a college basketball title are contending with an unexpected wrinkle that’s making last-minute travel plans difficult – a fierce storm bearing down on the Northeast that’s expected to dump up to two feet of snow in some places and create blizzard-like conditions.

Villanova, the top overall seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament, left Philadelphia Monday afternoon for Buffalo, New York, to get ahead of a storm that’s projected to last three days. The defending champion Wildcats, who play on Thursday, had an abbreviated press availability with coach Jay Wright, but no player interviews were granted as the team rushed to its flight.

“I’m not really looking forward to leaving right away. But it hits you with reality, you’re in it,” Wright said. “We’re going to be in Buffalo tonight and we’re playing and it’s on.”

On the women’s side, top team UConn was expected to find out Monday night which three teams would be expected to travel to Connecticut for tournament games later this week.

U.S. airlines had already begun canceling flights. Tracking service FlightAware.com said that more than 1,100 flights on Monday and more than 2,800 on Tuesday had been canceled.

Nobody was facing a more difficult week than Princeton, a school new to the scramble.

The Tigers beat Yale on Sunday for the title in the first Ivy League Tournament, where in previous years they would have clinched earlier by being unbeaten in the regular season.

The victory allowed for a brief celebration and not much more for Chris Mongilia, director of basketball operations for the Tigers.

“I kind of enjoyed it for a minute, and then my phone started ringing and emails started firing out, trying to figure out when we were going,” Mongilia said Monday. “We found out our flight time this morning. We’ve been booking buses and hotels. It’s been putting a lot of pressure on us to get everything done and organized. But yeah, it’s been crazy.”

Crazier still, the school is factoring in midterms for several players this week, squeezing them in before the team plays Notre Dame on Thursday in Buffalo. The team was scheduled to leave Tuesday.

“A lot of our guys are going to have to take exams proctored by a professor who is going to have to travel with us,” Mongilia said. “They are going to have to take them in a conference room up at the hotel in Buffalo. The storm has definitely put a few bumps in our travel plans.”

Providence was leaving Monday evening for Dayton, Ohio, for its Wednesday night matchup against Southern California in the First Four, and the Friars had no worries about cancellations because it takes charter flights for away games and can avoid the local airport, athletic director Bob Driscoll said.

“It’s good we’re getting out tonight because the snowstorm is coming tomorrow. It’ll be a different story,” Driscoll said. “People are excited to be in, so we’re locked and loaded and ready to leave. We’ve been working on it all night and all morning.”

The winter storm had already begun strafing the Midwest and was projected to begin sweeping through the New York region Monday night. Forecasters said it could dump up to two feet of snow across parts of New York and New Jersey. The National Weather Service issued blizzard watches for New York City and nearby areas, including Connecticut. The storm is expected to last into Wednesday in western New York with as much as 18 inches of snow.

For the NIT, Ole Miss was taking a charter flight on Monday for its Tuesday game at Monmouth in New Jersey. School officials said the storm pushed the travel timeline up a few hours.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was delayed getting on the Big 12 coaches weekly media call Monday because he was in a meeting with school officials to discuss the Mountaineers’ travel plans to Buffalo.

“Yeah, we are concerned,” Huggins said.

The school later announced it would take a bus more than 280 miles north to Buffalo on Monday night rather than leaving on Tuesday. West Virginia plays Thursday afternoon against Bucknell.

Virginia Tech also opted to leave after classes Monday, a day earlier than normal. The Hokies were to take a bus to Roanoke and fly to Buffalo before their game Thursday night against Wisconsin.

Airport officials in Buffalo said they would be able to handle the conditions.

“We’re always ready to do our best,” said Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which oversees the Buffalo-Niagara Airport. “We have a history of being prepared and keeping those runways open and safe.”

Syracuse also is in the storm’s path, predicted to receive more than one foot of snow, but the Orange aren’t going anywhere. Syracuse hosts UNC-Greensboro in a first-round game in the NIT on Tuesday night. The visit from the Spartans comes after Orange coach Jim Boeheim said there was “no value” in the Atlantic Coast Conference holding its postseason tournament in Greensboro.

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.