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Arizona State becomes Big Guard U in bid for NCAA repeat

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State became known as Guard U during its run to the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Led by three senior guards, the Sun Devils run-and-gunned their way into the bracket for the first time in four years.

Now that Tra Holder, Kodi Justice and Shannon Evans II are gone, Arizona State will rely on a new, bigger batch of guards. The Sun Devils have transformed into Big Guard U in their bid to reach the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1980-81.

“We’ve got some bigger guards, guys with size who can handle the ball and make plays,” said Sun Devils forward Zylan Cheatham, a San Diego State transfer who’s eligible this season after sitting out 2017-18.

Holder and Evans were 6-foot-1 and Justice was 6-5. They played with confidence, quickness and were superb shooters while leading Arizona State to a 20-win season and its second NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years.

Remy Martin, a 6-foot sophomore, returns this season after providing a spark off the bench and will be joined by a much bigger group of guards.

Rob Edwards, who sat out last season after transferring from Cleveland State, is 6-4. So is Luguentz Dort, a talented freshman from Montreal. Elias Valtonen, a Finnish freshman, is 6-7.

The big guards complement a frontcourt that’s bigger as well, giving coach Bobby Hurley a bevy of lineup and playing style options for 2018-19.

“Knowing the recruiting class and knowing who we had sitting out, it was always my thought that this one has the chance to be our best team,” Hurley said. “We’re bigger and more athletic than any team I’ve ever had and it has the potential to be the best defensive team that I’ve coached anywhere.”

That hasn’t been the case in the desert before this season.

Arizona State had a thin bench and not a lot of size, so Hurley often had limited lineup options. When the season turned to the Pac-12 portion, the Sun Devils were often overmatched size-wise, with Justice sometimes giving up six to seven inches to players he was trying to defend.

Arizona State won’t have that problem this season. The Sun Devils have depth and size from the guards to the frontcourt players, up to 7-foot Serbian freshman Uros Plavsic. Instead of facing matchup problems, Arizona State will create them with nine players 6-7 or taller.

“If you ask me who will start, I couldn’t give that answer and it’s not because I don’t have enough guys,” Hurley said. “I have maybe too many.”

Arizona State’s size in the frontcourt should lead to better rim protection.

The combination of Martin and Dort could end up being the best defensive backcourt in the Pac-12.

Martin arrived in the desert last year with a reputation of being a hounding defender and he lived up to it as a freshman, playing with a boundless, aggressive energy that gave opposing guards fits.

Dort has a similar makeup, only in a bigger frame.

Dort is a relentless defender who’s good one on one, off the ball and flying in for weak-side blocks. He’s already impressed Hurley in a short time at Arizona State.

“When it’s all said and done, I don’t know if I’ll coach a better defensive guard than (Dort),” Hurley said. “As soon as he got here, Lu had an immediate impact on everything we do. He has such a presence in practice and affects practice in so many different ways. He attacks the basket, is super athletic and strong and, again, I think he’s got the potential to be just an incredible defender.”

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.

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