Preseason Mid-Major All-Americans

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While the average college basketball fan tends to focus on the talent on display in power conference programs, there are many talented players at the mid-major level who merit consideration.

And every year a player who may not have been discussed much during the winter due to where he plays becomes a national name, with his standout performance sparking an NCAA tournament upset.

Below are some of the best players at mid-major programs heading into the 2018-19 season, with the first team being headlined by one of the sport’s best shooters and a big man who could join the short list of 3,000-point scorers at the Division I level.

As a reminder, the following conferences were not included: American, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC. Also Gonzaga and BYU have not been considered as mid-majors.



FIRST TEAM

G FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford

You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a lengthy list of college basketball players who shoot the ball better than Magee, who as a junior was very nearly a 50/40/90 player. Averaging 22.1 points per game, Magee shot 48.4 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from three and 90.9 percent from the foul line. Among Magee’s best performances last season were a 36-point effort in a win at Georgia Tech, 27 in Wofford’s upset win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and a career-high 45 points in a win over Chattanooga in mid-February.

G JON ELMORE, Marshall

While Marshall was unable to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, losing to West Virginia in the second round, Elmore proved to be one of the most entertaining players in the field to watch. For the season Elmore averaged 22.7 points, 6.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, and in Marshall’s first round win over Wichita State he racked up 27 points, four rebounds and four assists. Elmore has free reign within Dan D’Antoni’s system, and it paid off in a big way for both he and the Thundering Herd. Expect more of the same during Elmore’s senior season.

G D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State

Simonds was the subject of some NBA chatter heading into the 2017-18 season and with good reason, as he’s got good size for a lead guard (6-foot-3, 200) and can both score and distribute. As a sophomore Simonds averaged 21.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and that was despite struggling with his perimeter shooting (29.2 percent from three). If Simonds can approach the percentage he posted as a freshman (35.6 percent) while continuing to attempt more than four three-pointers per game (1.6 three-point attempts per game as a freshman) he becomes an even tougher matchup for opponents.

F MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State

“The Dauminator” (2,232 career points) is well on his way to becoming just the ninth player in Division I history to reach the 3,000 point mark, and provided he remains healthy the senior forward is a safe bet to join that illustrious group. As a junior Daum averaged 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, winning Summit League Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Daum can knock shots down from anywhere on the court, as he shot 46.2 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three (on 6.5 attempts per game) and 85.1 percent from the foul line.

F DEVONTAE CACOK, UNC Wilmington

As a junior Cacok was the nation’s leading rebounder, pulling down an average of 13.5 caroms per night while also scoring 17.7 points per game and shooting 58.5 percent from the field. The 6-foot-7 senior is a handful on both ends of the floor when it comes to rebounding, as his offensive (17.7) and defensive (32.0) rebounding percentages ranked second and third in the nation, respectively, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.

Jon Elmore (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM

G CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell

In each of the last two seasons Clemons has managed to make his freshman year average of 18.5 points per game, which is more than respectable, look downright pedestrian. After averaging 25.1 points per game as a sophomore the 5-foot-9 lead guard pumped in 24.9 points per contest in 2017-18. Clemons also averaged 4.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the Camels, and he’s in line to produce another big season as a senior.

G JUSTIN WRIGHT-FOREMAN, Hofstra

The Pride managed to win 19 games last season, thanks in large part to an offensive attack anchored by Wright-Foreman. Last season’s CAA Player of the Year, the 6-foot-1 guard accounted for 24.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, shooting nearly 45 percent from the field on 19 shot attempts per game. Another season like that, and Wright-Foreman could become Hofstra’s first repeat winner of CAA Player of the Year since Charles Jenkins pulled off the feat in 2010 and 2011.

G CLAYTON CUSTER, Loyola-Chicago

The reigning Larry Bird Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year winner, Custer’s back for one final run after helping lead the Ramblers to the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1963. Custer may not have the eye-popping stats that some of the other players on this list possess (Loyola ranking 307th in adjusted tempo had a lot to do with that) but don’t let that fool you; the redshirt senior gets the job done in a variety of ways for Porter Moser’s team. Last season Custer averaged 13.2 points and 4.1 assists per game, shooting 52.8 percent from the field, 45.1 percent from three and 77.0 percent from the foul line.

F NATHAN KNIGHT, William & Mary

While he didn’t receive the attention nationally, Knight was one of college basketball’s most improved players a season ago. The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder raised his scoring average more than ten points, accounting for 18.5 per game after averaging 8.2 points per night as a freshman. Add in his 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 blocks per game, and that was good enough to land Knight on the CAA’s second team all-conference squad. Another step forward, and not only will Knight be a first team all-conference selection but he’ll be on the short list of CAA Player of the Year candidates as well.

C/F JAMES THOMPSON IV, Eastern Michigan

Consistency would be a good word to use in describing the 6-foot-10 senior, as he averaged a double-double in each of his first three seasons at Eastern Michigan. Last season Thompson accounted for 14.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, shooting 67.2 percent from the field, and his 20 double-doubles were the most in the MAC. In conference games Eastern Michigan was the best defensive team in the MAC with regards to efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point percentage defense, and having Thompson in the middle of Rob Murphy’s zone was a key reason why.

Clayton Custer (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

THIRD TEAM

G JERRICK HARDING, Weber State

After averaging 9.3 points per game in a reserve role as a freshman, Harding took a significant step forward in 2017-18. The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 22.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, shooting 53.0 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three and 88.2 percent from the foul line. One of three unanimous first team All-Big Sky selections last season, Harding should be the choice for Big Sky preseason Player of the Year.

G MILIK YARBROUGH, Illinois State

Due to some offseason legal issues there were some questions regarding Yarbrough’s status for the upcoming season. However Yarbrough, who was suspended indefinitely in mid-September, participated in the Redbirds’ first practice of the season and based upon Dan Muller’s post-practice comments the redshirt senior appears OK to play. In Yarbrough the Redbirds have the player best equipped to unseat Loyola’s Clayton Custer as Larry Bird Missouri Valley Player of the Year, as he’s coming off of a season in which he averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

G CJ MASSINBURG, Buffalo

Last season Buffalo won 27 games, the MAC tournament title and whipped Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and Massinburg was one of the biggest reasons why. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 17.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as a junior, shooting 46.8 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three and 74.3 percent from the foul line. Massinburg will once again be a key cog for a team that returns five of its top six scorers from a season ago.

F JARRELL BRANTLEY, College of Charleston

Thanks to a knee injury Brantley didn’t make his 2017-18 debut until mid-December, and after working off the rust in the Cougars’ first two games the 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward showed just how valuable he was. Brantley finished the season with averages of 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, shooting 50.0 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from three and 82.1 percent from the foul line. Brantley was one reason why Earl Grant’s team made the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999, and he’s in line for a good senior season as well.

F DYLAN WINDLER, Belmont

The 2017-18 season was Windler’s second as a starter, but his output was far better than what he produced the season prior. After averaging 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game in 2016-17, Windler averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in 35.4 minutes per game last season. Windler’s improved production helped Belmont account for the graduation of leading scorers Evan Bradds and Taylor Barnette, with the Bruins winning 24 games and reaching the OVC tournament final.

CJ Massinburg (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

FOURTH TEAM

G GARRISON MATHEWS, Lipscomb

After averaging 20.4 points per game as a sophomore Mathews managed to improve his numbers across the board in 2017-18, averaging 21.7 points per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from beyond the arc and 79.9 percent from the charity stripe. In addition to his offensive numbers Mathews also accounted for 5.5 rebounds per night, and he’ll once again lead the way for a Lipscomb squad that won 23 games and finished second in the Atlantic Sun.

G C.J. BURKS, Marshall

The aforementioned Jon Elmore wasn’t the only Marshall guard good for at least 20 points per night. Last season Burks averaged 20.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 88.9 percent from the foul line. And this all happened after the 6-foot-3 guard averaged 9.8 points per game in a reserve role as a sophomore. Look for another standout season from the senior guard in 2018-19.

G MAX HEIDEGGER, UCSB

Heidegger was a key contributor for the Gauchos in Joe Pasternak’s first season as head coach, as he averaged 19.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in helping to lead UCSB to 23 wins and a second place finish in the Big West. And after struggling with his shot in a reserve role as a freshman the 6-foot-3 Heidegger made noticeable strides last season, raising his field goal (from 26.8 to 43.2 percent) and three-point field goal (20.5 to 40.4) percentages substantially.

F PHIL FAYNE, Illinois State

The aforementioned Yarbrough doesn’t lack for help on an Illinois State squad that has the pieces needed to dethrone Loyola in the Missouri Valley, with Fayne being the Redbirds’ top option in the front court. Last season the 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward averaged 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, shooting 59.5 percent from the field. A second team all-conference selection, Fayne merits serious consideration for preseason first team All-Valley.

F/C CHARLES BASSEY, Western Kentucky

Given the plethora of talented upperclassmen at the mid-major level, this pick may raise some eyebrows. But there’s no denying the talent that the 6-foot-11 freshman from Nigeria possesses. Bassey was considered to be a Top 10 recruit in the Class of 2018, and his athleticism in the post gives WKU an option that last season’s team did not have. And all that team did was win 27 games and reach the semifinals of the Postseason NIT.

HONORABLE MENTION

Francis Alonso, UNCG
James Batemon, Loyola Marymount
Keith Braxton, Saint Francis (PA)
Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern
John Carroll, Hartford
RJ Cole, Howard
Ernie Duncan, Vermont
KJ Feagin, Santa Clara
Armon Fletcher, Southern Illinois
JaKeenan Gant, Louisiana
Tyler Hall, Montana State
Scottie James, Liberty
John Konchar, IPFW
Anthony Lamb, Vermont
Ja Morant, Murray State
Nick Perkins, Buffalo
Isaiah Piniero, San Diego
Ed Polite Jr., Radford
Vasa Pusica, Northeastern
Isaiah Reese, Canisius
Grant Riller, College of Charleston
Ahmaad Rorie, Montana
Dimencio Vaughn, Rider

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

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.