Michigan State Scandal: Tom Izzo refusing to talk is not going to quiet the questions

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The conversation surrounding the way Tom Izzo has answered questions regarding Michigan State’s handling of sexual assault allegations within the athletic department should start and end with this:

Do you think that Tom Izzo believes he did something wrong?

That he made a mistake?

That he erred in the way that he handled accusations against Travis Walton, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling?

Let’s think about this from Izzo’s perspective.

When Walton was accused in February of 2010 of punching a woman in the face at a bar, he had known Izzo — from recruitment through graduation — for upwards of seven years. Izzo thought enough of him as a player to name him captain three times and enough of him as a kid to, reportedly, allow Walton to move into his basement in January of 2010 so Walton can finish his degree.

Think about the people that you know best, that you really, really care about. If they were accused of assaulting a person in a bar and they told you that the accusations were not true, would you believe them? If a judge approved a ruling that would allow that person to travel across state lines, would that reinforce your belief in their innocence? If they eventually plead out to a charge of littering, would that confirm all of the assumptions you had made?

When Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were initially accused and investigated of sexually assaulting a woman in the fall of 2010, it was early in their first semester on campus, before practices were officially allowed to start. On October 1st of that year, before the season started, former Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III released a statement that included this sentence:

“Based on our review of all of the materials, including the police report, actual interviews, and the specific details that were elicited directly from the Complainant, our office reached the conclusion that no crime had been committed.” (My emphasis added.)

I’m not arguing whether or not Izzo messed up. I did that in this column, and spent 2,000 words parsing out all the nuances.

I think he did.

So go read that, then listen to the podcast below:

What I’m asking today is whether or not Izzo thinks he was wrong, and I truly don’t think that he does.

Maybe, in hindsight, he wishes he would have done things differently — especially after Walton was accused of a separate sexual assault just a couple of months after the incident at the bar — but if you caught Izzo in a moment of honesty, with no cameras and no recorders and no witnesses, I would be willing to bet my left thumb that he believes that he made the right decision with the information that he had at the time.

Izzo, more than anything else, is known for his honesty and his accessibility, more so than just about any coach in the country and certainly more than any that are at his level. Part of that is by design. It’s easier to stay in front of a story when a reporter can reach out directly to you, or vice versa; it’s easier to cultivate a blue-collar, one-of-the-guys persona by being willing to talk, on just about any topic that comes up.

That’s what makes the last five days and three press conferences so odd.

Seeing Izzo uncomfortable in front of a microphone is not what we are used to. Seeing him duck a question by sticking to his talking points — call the victims ‘survivors’, say you have and will participate in every investigation, repeat “I have given my comments, I have no additional ones” ad nauseum — is a stark contrast from the Izzo we’ve come to expect.

The thought has been that Izzo’s silence has been a direct result of some high-priced lawyers or PR professionals telling him to be quiet, giving him prepared statements, keeping him from going off-script in the ways that have made him so likable in the past. On Wednesday night, after Michigan State beat Penn State, he hinted that maybe that’s not quite the case.

“I don’t know if I can’t,” Izzo said. “I can do whatever I want to do, I just don’t think that it’s the right time right now.”

“Those of you that know me know that I’m going to do what I think is right,” he added. “I’m sorry. I really am. I watch a lot of TV and I see on shows, everybody thinks everybody has the right to ask a question. I’ve always believed that, I’ve always been a fan of the media. But I gotta have my rights too. I’m just going to, when time comes, I’ll be able to speak out. It might be frustrating, but it’s just what I gotta do.”

So if he doesn’t have to follow the advice of the people Michigan State pays to help them in situations like this, what is keeping him from answering the questions he needs to answer?

Is it what he’s gotta do because he doesn’t want to talk, because the last time he tried to broach a subject similar to this — when he misspoke in regards to Larry Nassar by saying he “hoped the right person was convicted” — he was run through the ringer for it?

Or is it what he’s gotta do because he knows the current climate is not one where it would behoove him to defend himself and his players for what he could very well believe is a witch hunt?

We cannot know.

And we will not know until he lets us know.

Until then, don’t expect these questions to die down, not when he is coaching a team that could win a national title in the one month of the year where college basketball is the single biggest story in sports.

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.