Purdue’s Nojel Eastern isn’t going to get drafted, yet made the smart decision to declare

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Nojel Eastern spent his freshman season playing as Purdue’s back-up point guard, averaging 2.9 points and 2.5 boards with fewer assists than turnovers as it took him a couple of months to crack the rotation of a team that had as much veteran presence on the roster as any in the country.

On Monday morning, Eastern declared for the NBA draft without signing with an agent.

And he spent the rest of the morning getting roasted for making the decision that every underclassmen with the goal of, and the talent to, one day playing in the NBA should be making. Trust me when I tell that just about every player currently on scholarship at the Division I level counts themselves in that group, whether they believe they’re the next C.J. McCollum or that they just need a few more shots a night to prove that they are the real talent on the roster.

As of today, well over 100 college players have declared for the NBA draft. By the time the April 22nd deadline comes around, that number could surpass 150. That is before you factor in the seniors that are going to get drafted and the international prospects that are going to get selected. Hell, there are a handful of American players that have declared for the draft without setting foot on a college court.

You don’t need to be Will Hunting to figure out that not all of those players are going to be among the 60 kids selected in June’s NBA draft.

But roughly a quarter of those players that have declared have actually signed with an agent, foregoing their remaining eligibility, and even a handful of those players are turning professional despite the fact that they are unlikely to get drafted. Some, like Harry Froling of Marquette, are looking to play professionally overseas. Others, like Max Montana of San Diego State, have already completed their degree and would rather pursue a professional career than pretend to care about graduate classes.

All of that, however, is beside the point.

Two years ago, the NCAA changed the way that the early entry process works, allowing college basketball players to declare for the draft, workout for NBA teams and attend the NBA combine while returning to school so long as they don’t sign with an agent and pull their name out of the draft a week-and-a-half after the combine; this year, that deadline is May 30th.

The point is simple: To allow the players to truly gauge what their chances are of playing at the next level, and to get feedback directly from the mouths of NBA personnel on where they might be picked and what they would need to improve upon to better their draft standing.

Sometimes, that advice can change the trajectory of a player’s career; when Buddy Hield was told that he needed to become a better shooter if he wanted to last in the NBA, he spent a summer doing four-a-days to improve his stroke, became the 2016 co-National Player of the Year, reached a Final Four and got picked fifth in the 2016 draft. He was projected as a second round pick the year before.

And sometimes, the player declaring is barely going to hear from NBA people.

That will likely be the case with Eastern. A 6-foot-7 point guard with the kind of length and athleticism that NBA teams are going to look for out of a perimeter player, Eastern is still learning how to play the point at this level and, to date, is a non-shooter. He attempted just nine threes as a freshman, and that is not going to fly for a point guard unless you’re Ben Simmons or Rajon Rondo. Eastern is neither of them.

So what will happen?

He’ll probably struggle to find workouts, maybe getting invites to workout against other guards when teams within driving distance of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus — the Pacers, the Bulls, the Cavs, etc. — need a body to go up against the players they’re keen on evaluating. He’ll hear about how much work he needs on his jump shot and how he needs to develop as a lead guard. He’ll get that information straight from the horse’s mouth, and then return to Purdue next season with a chance to prove what he can do as a starter.

This is precisely why the rule was changed.

Because this is what’s best for the kids, even if there are players — like Eastern — who we all know are a ways away from being draftable.

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


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.