Rick Pitino ‘effectively fired’ as Louisville head coach

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Rick Pitino is done.

On Tuesday evening, roughly ten hours after his program was referenced in an FBI complaint that resulted in the arrest of four assistant coaches, two Adidas executives, an employee for an agent, an AAU coach and a financial advisor, Pitino released a statement saying that “these allegations came as a complete shock to me” and “I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”

Those were the last words that he would utter as an employed basketball coach.

Pitino was placed on administrative leave and “effectively fired” on Wednesday morning, his lawyer told the Louisville Courier-Journal, the fallout from a pair of scandals too much for one of the most powerful men in the sport to endure. His boss, athletic director Tom Jurich, was expected to receive the same fate, according to multiple reports.

A press conference with interim Louisville President Greg Postel will be held at 1 p.m. Pitino and Jurich will not be there. An official announcement is expected at that time.

A Hall of Famer that has been in charge of the Louisville program for 16 seasons, Pitino’s demise came as a direct result of a bombshell investigation report released by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. Four assistant coaches and six influencers in the college basketball world were arrested, and while none of them were members of the Louisville staff, the program still managed to find a way into the mess.

Jim Gatto, a powerful Adidas executive, was one of the men that was arrested, in part because of a scheme that was devised to funnel $100,000 from Adidas to the family of a player that can easily be identified as Brian Bowen. That payment was made “at the request of at least one coach from [Louisville],” and another Louisville assistant was recorded as part of a conversation in which a Class of 2019 prospect was paid to commit to the Cardinals. During that conversation, per the release from the FBI, it was made clear: Louisville “was already on probation with the NCAA” and that “they would have to be particularly careful with how they passed money” to the player.

Why was Louisville on probation with the NCAA?

Because from 2010-14, a member of Pitino’s coaching staff, Andre McGee, was caught paying for strippers and sex workers for underage recruits and members of the Louisville team. The NCAA investigation into those allegations resulted in not only probation for the Louisville program, but, pending appeal, the vacation of Louisville’s 2012 trip to the Final Four and their 2013 National Title.

That came on the heels of an incident in 2010 where Karen Sypher, a woman who received a seven-year prison sentence for trying to extort Pitino over an affair the two had.

But this scandal is different.

With Sypher, Pitino strayed outside of his marriage. I’m not condoning that, but his personal life is his personal life, and in the end he was the victim of an extortion scheme, even if, as the ‘victim’, he was thoroughly humiliated in the eye of the public.

Pitino has told anyone and everyone that he was completely in the dark regarding sex-for-pay scandal that the NCAA ruled on earlier this year. I believe him. Even after the results of the FBI’s investigation were made public, I believe him. His deniability in that case is entirely plausible, and while it shouldn’t shield him from NCAA punishment – the rules are the rules – in my mind, he got a pass for that. He’s too smart to do what McGee did.

That’s not excusing Pitino.

But the salacious details of his personal life and the outright, blatant, institutional level of cheating that came to the forefront on Tuesday are two different things.

Here’s the truth: The reason that the NCAA changed their policy on head coach plausible deniability is precisely because of what Louisville did in that Las Vegas hotel room. Members of Pitino’s coaching staff facilitated a six-figure payment to at least one recruit through a shoe company. Pitino was not attached to it; the boss doesn’t get involved with the street-level dealings. No head coaches do, even if they implicitly or tacitly endorse it.

This is the dirty part of college basketball the NCAA has been trying to rid the game of.

Louisville is guilty. Pitino’s staff is guilty. That means Pitino is guilty.

It’s that simple.

He had to go.

And that’s sad to me.

Here’s why:

Pitino is one of the best to ever do it in the college basketball ranks. Hell, he may be the best coach of this generation. I don’t think that’s overstating it.

He’s won two national titles, one with Kentucky and one with Louisville. He’s won 770 games. He’s been to seven Final Fours. He may be the most important and divisive figure in the state that loves college basketball more than any other. He made Kentucky great again after a scandal in the late-80s involving then-Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton that left the program with two years worth of postseason bans. He made Louisville great again after the forgettable end of Denny Crum’s tenure, a four-year stretch where the Cardinals failed to win 20 games in a season.

And his career will be remembered as nothing more than an incident on a restaurant table, hookers in a dorm and the money paid to a player in a Vegas hotel room.

He’s not retiring. He’s being to be forced out of the game that he meant so much to, a pariah at both of the programs that he made relevant, that he took from the doldrums and led to a national title.

And that’s a shame.

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.