2018 NCAA Tournament: Guards you need to know

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Regardless of the year, guard play tends to be one of the biggest factors in determining a national champion.

Whether it’s a lead guard who properly balances getting his with putting his teammates in spots where they can success, or an off-guard capable of going off on a moment’s notice, if a team doesn’t have good guards they’ll be heading home early.

Below are a few of the guards destined to become household names before the 2018 NCAA tournament comes to an end.

And since we know you’ll ask, we’ll answer first.

There already are some guards that are household names.

We’re staying away from the players such as Jalen Brunson, Devonte’ Graham, Joel Berry II and Trae Young because, quite frankly, those guys are already well-known.

1. Rob Gray, Houston: Long known as one of the best players in the American, it’s about time the nation get to know Rob Gray. The senior guard has helped lead Houston to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, averaging 18.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. Gray’s the focal point of the Houston offense, with Kelvin Sampson entrusting him with the task of either making a play for himself or setting up a teammate. The casuals will likely be drawn in by Gray’s hairstyle; they’ll stick around once they watch him go to work.

2. Zach Lofton, New Mexico State: If you’re looking for a “12 over 5” upset to pick, the WAC champion Aggies are worth taking a look at and Lofton is why. In his first season on the court for New Mexico State, the Texas Southern transfer is averaging 19.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from beyond the arc. While the matchup with Clemson’s deep and experienced perimeter attack will be a tough one, Lofton is more than capable of making some things happen.

3. Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies are back in the NCAA tournament and Adams, who shared Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors with Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge, is a big reason why. The senior point guard is averaging 19.8 points, 5.4 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game, shooting 45.4 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from three and 85.6 percent from the foul line. It should be noted that teammate Matt Mobley is outstanding himself, but the pick here is Adams since he runs the show. And that First Four matchup between the Bonnies and UCLA: must-see TV, due in large part to the matchup between Adams and Aaron Holiday.

4. Kellan Grady, Davidson: The Atlantic 10 tournament champions drew a tough matchup in Kentucky, but in Grady they’ve got a talented freshman guard who’s only going to become more popular nationally as his career progresses. The 6-foot-5 Grady is averaging 18.0 points per game, and he’s doing so on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 37.7 percent shooting from three. The Atlantic 10’s best freshman, Grady has the tools needed to make life difficult for Kentucky’s talented guards.

Kellan Grady (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

5. Jon Elmore, Marshall: Dan D’Antoni’s offensive system gives his players a lot of freedom on that end of the floor, and Elmore (along with fellow West Virginia native C.J. Burks) has taken full advantage. The 6-foot-3 Elmore is averaging 22.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game, and he’s averaging 7.6 three-point attempts per game. Against a Wichita State team that’s had trouble defending the three this season, Elmore (and Burks, who’s averaging 20.5 ppg) could end up captivating the country if he gets hot.

6. D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State: The 6-foot-3 sophomore has been outstanding for Ron Hunter’s team, leading the Panthers to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2015 (whey they knocked off Baylor). Averaging 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, Simonds has what it takes skill-wise to put the Panthers on his back. That being said, the matchup with Cincinnati is a difficult one.

7. Grant Riller, College of Charleston: Riller’s teammate, senior Joe Chealey, would also fit here. But the pick is Riller, as the efficient sophomore is averaging 18.7 points per game and has done so by shooting 55.0 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from three. In the Cougars’ overtime win over Northeastern in the CAA title game, Riller supplemented Chealey’s 32-point effort (16-for-16 FT) with 20 of his own.

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.