Villanova Family: Monday’s success stems from development within program

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SAN ANTONIO — The iconic moment of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, the lasting image that will be meme’d and gif’d ad nauseum by the Villanova faithful until the internet no longer exists, came after Donte DiVincenzo hit his fifth and final three against Michigan, a dagger that pushed Villanova’s lead back 18 points and capped off a three-possession stretch where the redshirt sophomore had scored nine points.

After holding his pose, DiVincenzo turned to head back down court while flashing a wink, aimed at a Villanova section of San Antonio’s Alamodome, but intended for a specific person.

Josh Hart.

The former Wildcat and current rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers has something of a sibling rivalry raging with the man known as The Michael Jordan of Delaware.

“Me and Josh have a unique relationship,” DiVincenzo said, flooded by media after scoring 31 points in a 79-62 title game win over Michigan, wearing a shirt that was drenched by a celebratory postgame water fight while the piece of net tied around his ‘Villanova: National Champions’ hat had started to fray at the ends. “We love each other, but we competed against each other so hard. We got into a lot.”

Both are ruthlessly competitive, even — particularly — in practice. DiVincenzo broke his foot eight games into his freshman season, which meant that he was forced into a redshirt role. His games were practice. His One Shining Moment during the 2016 run to a National Title came as a scout team player. “‘Buddy Hield’ Donte was a special person,” Jalen Brunson, who is DiVincenzo’s classmate despite being a year older, eligibility-wise. “It’s someone that might have just came out tonight.”

“When I got back from my injury and I was able to practice and work out, he didn’t want me to have any good days,” DiVincenzo said of Hart. “I would see him start to lose his cool a little bit and I would start to push his buttons.”

And that’s where the wink came from.

DiVincenzo wanted to let Hart know that he got a title of his own.

“That’s my guy. I’ve seen him grow up, seen him work, that’s just love,” Hart said, a smile on his face reminiscent of a father watching his son come of age. “All love for him. Obviously I won one, but it means so much more to me that they won one.”

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Ryan Arcidiacono wasn’t going to come to San Antonio this weekend.

Arch is currently on a two-way contract with a team that is in the thick of the race to win the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Put another way, being the 16th-man on the roster of a team that is trying to lose games is not exactly the sign of a player that has job security. The Bulls played on Sunday night. They have another game on Tuesday night in Chicago, and the money that he’s making isn’t going to be paying for many private jets.

Arch ended up on a chartered flight out of Chicago that landed in San Antonio at 3:45 p.m.

By the time you read this story, he’ll likely already be wheels down in Chi-town, a 6 a.m. departure making the possibility of sleep fairly unlikely. All told, he spent 14 hours boots on the ground in Texas.

Josh Hart’s schedule was similarly complicated. His private jet from Los Angeles to San Antonio touched down around the same time that Arch’s flight landed. Hart didn’t even tell the team he was coming. They found out by watching his Instagram story.

Kris Jenkins?

He’s been in town since Thursday, working on Villanova’s scout team and giving his team a chance to scrimmage against a guy that had played in the G League this season. Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Kerry Kittles, Ed Pinkney. They were all in the Alamodome on Monday night.

“Without a doubt,” Hart said, “this one is better than mine. I was there so I knew everything that it took to get. But to leave and then have the guys that you tried to help mentor take the program and elevate it to a new level.”

And to a man, everyone on the Villanova roster now and everyone that made their way back to see the team play in San Antonio feels the same way. They all know each other, maybe not the way that classmates know each other, but the alumni are always around. They come back to campus to work out. The pickup games in the school’s gym during the summer are the best run in the city if you can get an invite.

“They are TOUGH,” Omari Spellman said with a smile, making sure to mention that the same issues plague their games — phantom travels, six fouls called when it is point-game — that plague your Sunday morning runs at the park. “Kyle Lowry is the cheater.”

“As juniors and seniors, you need to take care of the younger guys,” Arcidiacono said. “You know they’re the next generation of Villanova basketball players. That’s why you see alums like us take great pride in them winning a national championship because we feel like part of it as teammates. We taught them the way.”

“I feel like I’m a part of it,” added Jenkins, and that gets at the core of Villanova’s success over the last half-decade.

Jay Wright made a conscious effort six or seven years ago to change the kind of player that he targeted in recruiting. No longer was he recruiting to a player’s talent level, to their status in the various recruiting ranking there are out there, and hoping they would fit in with the Villanova Family. Instead, he begin identifying and targeting the players that he thought fit his idea of a college basketball player and then went from there.

Sometimes, that resulted in Villanova landing a McDonald’s All-American like Jalen Brunson, but most of the time it meant that they brought in a lesser-known prospect — like a Kris Jenkins or a Josh Hart — because the fit made sense. Each and every one of those new additions understood what was going to be asked of them. You might sit on the bench for a year or two. You might even be forced to take a redshirt season.

Either way, it’s not easy to do.

“Coming in, not playing right away, the system, adjusting to the college game, not being a real contributor like I would want to be,” said Jermaine Samuels, who has played sparingly followed his recovery from a broken bone in his left hand. “You never know what will happen in a season, and the worst happened. I’ll learn from it.”

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Collin Gillispie added.

Gillispie, in fact, thought that he was going to have to redshirt this season, but that idea fell through once head coach Jay Wright realized just how much he was going to need his backup point guard.

He didn’t want it to happen.

But he understood the importance of it because he understood the importance of a redshirt season in the development of Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall. Those two lost a combined 75 pounds in their year on the sidelines. They turned this Villanova offense into the juggernaut that it became.

It worked for DiVincenzo as well.

“We talked about it. He can learn from the sideline and see whats going on,” John DiVincenzo, Donte’s dad, said. “So it was a learning experience.”

“We’ve been in it with these guys,” Jenkins said. “They took the program and elevated it.”

“We won it in 2016. For them to get here, it’s just amazing.”

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The rivalry between DiVincenzo and Hart has cooled somewhat this season.

That’s what happens when you don’t have daily practice wars against one another, and it helped that Hart, once he graduated, told DiVincenzo that, “I see something in you. That’s the reason why I pushed you so hard.”

Hart made it to the stage after the win. He watched One Shining Moment from the same spot that he watched it in 2016, as did DiVincenzo.

The circumstances surrounding for DiVincenzo’s celebration this season were wildly different than they were in 2016.

“I was on the bench in a suit,” he said, a medical redshirt whose impact on the team was limited to scout team minutes. “That last play, the ball got to Kris and I had so much confidence in that shot that I was standing up before it even released.”

On Monday night, with confetti falling around them and the tears starting and stopping, Hart told DiVincenzo how proud he is of his pupil.

“You finally got a ring!” Hart said.

DiVincenzo, ever the competitor, responded the only what he could: “No.”

“I’ve got two now.”

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.