LaMelo Ball left to carry the burden of LaVar’s actions

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Did you really need LaVar Ball to get a female referee removed from a game for the simple act of doing her job to know that he’s a jerk?

This is the same guy that has gotten his son’s high school coach fired after a 30-3 season for “not being experienced enough,” told a female radio host to “stay in your lane” before selling BBB branded t-shirts with that saying for $50 a piece and spent all spring and summer berating officials as the head coach of LaMelo Ball’s Big Baller AAU team, once pulling his team off the court before the game was over. The only surprising part of last week’s confrontation was that adidas actually acquiesced to LaVar’s demands.

Seriously.

Think about that.

The organizers of an AAU tournament being hosted by a billion-dollar apparel company sided with the coach of an AAU team that went 3-3 at the event instead of the referee that was being paid to officiate the game.

It’s absolutely baffling.

And it’s about par for the course for LaVar, who has just about completed an eight-month journey from entertaining sideshow — a loudmouth sports dad trying to create buzz for the Big Baller Brand, a startup apparel company he’s running to try and change the shoe game, by saying he’s better than Michael Jordan and getting into verbal battles with Charles Barkley — to misogynistic egomaniac.

LaVar Ball (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LaVar isn’t a total zero, mind you. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would have anything negative to say about his three sons beyond the fact that they’re his children, and it’s not easy to raise three boys who all excel at their craft — Lonzo was the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, LiAngelo will play at UCLA starting next season and LaMelo is a 15-year old in the Class of 2019 putting up 50-point nights while playing in tournaments against kids two years his senior — and have never, to my knowledge, been in any actual trouble. He can be overbearing while loving his children and raising them to be great kids; that doesn’t preclude him from being a good father.

Personally, the antics have reached a critical mass for my taste. I’m over him, but I’m not naïve enough to think he’s going away anytime soon. Lonzo has a better shot than anyone from the loaded 2017 draft at turning into a Hall of Fame-level talent, and LaMelo still has two more years left of high school. At minimum, LaVar is going to be in the national consciousness for another decade, and simply being a misogynist isn’t going to keep his family’s celebrity from rising, not in a country where Chris Brown beats up Rihanna and remains a star, R. Kelly still has fans and our President can be caught on tape explaining how, exactly, you’re allowed to grab women when you’re famous and still win an election.

LaVar Ball’s actions are incomparable.

As far as we know, he just thinks that women should stay in their lane and keep out of sports, and he’s far from the only man that believes as much.

Welcome to America. It is what it is.

Which is why my concern here is LaMelo and what kind of negative impact this could have on him in the long-term.

He is a celebrity in every sense of the word, the first athletic prodigy that has had to deal with the kind of fame and media attention typically reserved for the likes of a young Hollywood star.

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 22: Lonzo, right, and LaMelo Ball (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

He has 2.3 million followers on Instagram. He’s been on TMZ often enough that he has his own searchable tag. He had mobs of fans trying to rush past security to get pictures with him at a game on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, a game that was so crowded that LeBron didn’t even bother trying to get in, a game that more than 8o,000 people were watching at one time and that has been viewed 1.3 million times in total. When his teams left games in Vegas they had to do so through the back exit of the gym.

And he’s 15 years old.

Fame like that is hard for anyone to handle, let alone someone that isn’t old enough to drive or grow a mustache. I can name a dozen can’t-miss prospects that never lived up to their hype, and it’s not hard to find a long list of child stars that couldn’t handle the fame of Hollywood. LaMelo has to navigate both of those paths and do so while growing up in the age of social media. For LaMelo, the downside of this notoreity is palpable. Any post he makes on Instagram or Twitter gets hammered by trolls. Back in May, someone edited together a lowlight reel of a game LaMelo played, a two-minute clip of turnovers and airballs and porous defense that ended up trending on just about every social media platform in existence.

LaVar’s personality, and the public’s rejection of it, isn’t the only reason that there is a backlash against LaMelo.

Part of it is the way that he, and the Big Ballers, play. It’s reminiscent of the last pickup game of the day: They shoot a lot of threes, they play very little defense, they cherry pick layups and they try to win every game 130-120. It’s not the prettiest brand of basketball. It’s also not all that different from the way they played when Lonzo was running the show. What’s changed is the exposure; Lonzo’s teams were a story that you were told, something you heard about second-hand. LaMelo’s games play out for everyone to see.

The way LaMelo himself plays doesn’t help matters, either. He’s a point guard that is quite literally allowed the freedom to do whatever he wants, whether that is firing up 40-footers as he dribbles across half court or trying to weave his way through five defenders before throwing a no-look pass.

Sometimes those things work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes he looks like a ball-hog, sometimes he looks like Steph Curry.

And while it’s difficult to watch, there are three things that are important to remember:

  1. LaMelo is 15 years old, on the young side for a member of the Class of 2019, playing against kids that are 17.
  2. LaMelo’s shot up from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-3 in the last year and he may not be done growing just yet.
  3. Behind all the pomp and circumstance there is a set of skills that makes LaMelo a player with some real potential. He’s ranked between 7th and 21st by the major recruiting services, meaning he’s projected as a player with a pretty good shot at the NBA but a step below being a can’t-miss player. He could be D’angelo Russell. He could be Isaiah Briscoe.

Enter Tyus Jones.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

By any account, Jones is a terrific basketball player. He was a McDonald’s All-American and, at worst, a top ten player in his high school class. He was the starting point guard for a Duke team that won the 2015 national title. He was a one-and-done player that eventually went as a first round pick in the NBA Draft. He is one of 450 people in the world that can say that their job title is “Current NBA Player”. By definition, that makes him one of the roughly 100 best point guards on the planet. He was a multi-millionaire before he could legally buy a drink. I don’t think you can look at his career and think of him as anything other than successful, and he’s still only 21 years old.

He’s also played in just 97 games through two seasons in the NBA. He’s never started a game and is averaging just 3.8 points and 2.7 assists to date. In a league now driven by superstar point guards, he’s so far removed from being in the conversation with Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and James Harden, John Wall and Kyrie Irving that the casual NBA observer probably hasn’t heard of him.

In the NBA, he’s ‘just a guy’ despite the fact that simply being in the NBA means that there’s nothing normal or average about his basketball ability.

Tyus Jones made it, and the truth is that LaMelo will have “made it” if he gets to the league.

It’s also true that the perception will be that LaMelo was an overhyped fraud if he ends up being nothing more than Tyus Jones through his first two seasons. If he’s not a transcendent talent, or at the very least a reliable annual pick to make the all-star team, he’s a disappointment.

And that would not be fair.

So LaVar better hope he’s right about his youngest son.

Because that is a lot of baggage to ask him to carry.

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.