Important post-July recruiting storylines

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The July live evaluation period is complete as college coaches have been watching prospects over the last three weeks. We’ve learned a lot about some of the recruiting trends and popular players as there are some intriguing storylines to look out or over the next several months.

1. Kentucky or Memphis for James Wiseman?

Elite Class of 2019 center James Wiseman recently came out with his list of top eight schools. But nobody believes that six of those schools even have a chance. Almost everybody believes this one is coming down to two: Kentucky and Memphis.

Wiseman received plenty of attention from both staffs during July as head coach Penny Hardaway has helped make up a lot of recruiting ground for the Tigers these past few months. Kentucky still holds a lot of clout since they own commitments from Ashton Hagans (who’s already part of the program) and Tyrese Maxey — two guards Wiseman said he wanted to play with in college.

While Wiseman didn’t drop any additional hints, or give any kind of indication which way he might be leaning, we’ll have to wait for subtle clues and hints about the next step in this one.

2. How does USC add to its great 2019 start?

Since USC already has four commitments in the Class of 2019, they are in a sweet recruiting position before many schools even hold one pledge. And with one being a five-star and the other three being top-100 prospects, the group already has depth and balance.

While USC likely won’t take that many more players in this current 2019 class, they had a leg up on younger prospects by being able to stick with them during long stretches of the July live evaluation period. That means recruiting talented pieces around Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley, who many expect will eventually become a Trojan like his brother, Isaiah, and play for their father who’s an assistant on Andy Enfield’s staff.

If USC lands back-to-back talented classes with a Mobley brother in each, it will set a huge foundation for deep postseason runs — even with some potential pro losses early on. Getting that much depth and talent should hopefully translate to success for the Trojans. We’ll see if the early 2019 success pays off down the road with the 2020 returns.

3. Cole Anthony recruiting information

Up until this point, elite Class of 2019 point guard Cole Anthony hasn’t talked very much about recruiting specifics. Anthony played for Kansas head coach Bill Self with the USA Basketball U18 team. So Anthony spoke about his experiences with Self as a coach and person at Peach Jam.

But that’s all we really know about Cole Anthony’s recruitment at this point. Anthony has refused to talk specific schools. It’s hard to get a read on where things stand. Playing in a guard-driven, ball-screen heavy offense is something Anthony has talked about wanting at the college level, so it’ll be interesting to see how much style of play might factor into such a decision.

As my NBC colleague Rob Dauster noted in his tremendous feature on Cole, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams was always present following Anthony during July while Oregon has also been linked quite a bit. At some point, Anthony will begin taking official visits and divulging recruiting information. It’ll be fascinating to clear up all the rumors and get some clarification.

4. Who ends up at No. 1 in 2019? 

Since the Class of 2019 doesn’t have a clear No. 1 prospect, there will still be a lot to play for as the top players enter senior season. With the No. 1 spot having multiple candidates, we could get some marquee battles for the spotlight over the next few months.

James Wiseman, Vernon Carey Jr. and Cole Anthony have long been in the No. 1 conversation. Some national scouts even believe that Jaden McDaniels is the most talented player in the class long-term. But there doesn’t seem to be a consensus player (or order or players) among that group. Others could also sneak into the conversation as well.

It should make for an interesting season with a lot to play for, since some classes have featured near-unanimous No. 1 prospects in years past.

5. How will players handle recruiting with the FBI investigation?

This will be a unique year for recruiting after the FBI investigation into college basketball has uncovered so many allegations over the past year. It’s led to some changes in the coaching ranks. Perceptions of certain programs and coaches might have also been slightly altered.

But we’ll really see the changes in how some programs are handling things with official visits and commitments beginning. Some programs like Auburn and USC haven’t seen any recruiting disadvantages so far. Watching others programs like Arizona and Louisville will be interesting since they’ve typically recruited five-star caliber players in the past. Can they continue to land those kinds of talents?

Players might also be cautious with which schools they visit and when they make a decision. Some recruits specifically cited the uncertainty when they said they were targeting a spring decision — especially with regard to coaching changes. Potential penalties and postseason bans are one thing. Many of these players want assurances that head coaches will remain safe and in place during their time on campus.

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.