John Beilein’s NBA fit isn’t as perfect as you think

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The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the college basketball world on Monday morning, as they officially hired Michigan head coach John Beilein, a 66-year old that began his coaching career with Newfane High School in 1975, to a five-year deal to become their newest head coach.

It’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story, as Beilein went through every level of the sport — from high school, to junior college, to Division III then Division II and then from Canisius to Richmond and West Virginia before arriving in Ann Arbor in 2007 — before landing an NBA gig.

And in theory, he is a perfect fit at the NBA level.

In practice, however, I am not convinced that this is going to be a great fit.

Let’s start with the good: If there are any coaches at the college level that are better suited to coach offense in the NBA than John Beilein, you can probably count them on one hand.

He wants to space the floor. He wants to shoot plenty of threes. In the last seven or eight seasons, he’s turned his program into one that relies as heavily on ball-screens as anyone. And he’s done this to great success. Beilein’s Michigan teams have reached the national title game in 2013 and 2018. He advanced to the Elite Eight in 2014. He won the 2017 and 2018 Big Ten tournament titles. He won the league’s regular season title in 2012 and 2014, finished a game out of first place this past season and, four times in the last seven years, he had a team that ranked in the top 12 nationally, according to KenPom.

He’s also adaptable. Back when he was at Richmond and West Virginia, and even in the early days of his tenure at Michigan, the offense he ran was essentially the cross-breeding of the Princeton and Motion. Backcuts, plenty of screens, bigs that could shoot and guards that could post. But as the game changed and the talent in his program started to look more modern, Beilein changed. He put Trey Burke in roughly 10 million ball-screens during his Player of the Year season in 2013. He did the same with Nik Stauskas, and Caris LeVert, and Zavier Simpson. He found a way to make the pieces work, and it led to plenty of wins — and plenty of NBA players — despite the fact that Michigan wasn’t recruiting surefire pros.

Since Beilein arrived at Michigan in 2007, 13 of his players have reached the NBA. Ten of those 13 have come in the last six years, and just four of the 13 were top-40 prospects, according to Rivals. Glenn Robinson III is the only player Beilein has sent to the league that was a surefire pro regardless of where he spent his college days.

Tim Hardaway Jr. was a three-star recruit that Beilein helped turn into a guy that averaged 18.1 points in the NBA this past season. Burke was a borderline top 100 player from Columbus, Ohio, that Ohio State passed over. LeVert was committed to Ohio before going to Michigan. Hell, he turned Division III transfer Duncan Robinson into an NBA player.

“He’s always tinkering with his stuff on the day-to-day,” Robinson told me last year. “Within a season, as the year goes along, he gets a much better understanding of who he has on his team. That’s why they always play their best basketball at the end of the season. He figures out what exactly he has at his disposal.”

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Even as he hit his mid-60s, Beilein was not averse to change. He recognized the issues that he had on the defensive end of the floor, so he went out and hired Luke Yaklich to be his defensive coordinator, and that led to a national title run in 2018 and last year’s finish as a top ten team in the country.

Strictly from a basketball perspective, Beilein should be a great NBA coach.

But it’s not quite that simple.

For starters, he’s something of a micro-manager when it comes to what he wants to run. Where someone like Jay Wright or Roy Williams doesn’t really run set plays, Beilein is meticulous in calling out sets offensively. He wants his players to do exactly what he thinks up on every possession, and that’s not the way it works in the NBA. It’s a player’s league, and it’s fair to wonder how a 66-year old that has spent the last four decades working at a level where the head coach has all the power will adjust to the NBA, where the players have control. How will he handle guys talking back in practice? How will he handle players not practicing everyday? There’s going to be a big adjustment there for him.

“Can he embrace being a rookie?” one former NBA player said of his biggest concern with Beilein in the NBA. “Steve Kerr, with all his NBA experience, embraced his players calling him a rook. Brad Stevens embraced that he didn’t know [all he needed to know]. David Blatt fought it. Will John Beilein fight it?”

And that’s before we get into the whole terminology deal.

In the NBA, the language is more or less universal. Every coach essentially speaks the same language in regards to every action, every set and every call defensively. Whether you’re with the Knicks or the Warriors or whoever, it’s the same, because everyone in the NBA is learning from someone already in the NBA.

Beilein’s terminology is completely off the wall, and that’s because he invented his own basketball system. Perhaps the most impressive thing about his career is that in 44 years in the profession, he’s never been an assistant coach. He didn’t learn directly from anyone. He built it from the ground up himself, adding layers each year he’s been on the job.

“He comes up with a phrase that makes sense to him,” Jeff Neubauer, Fordham’s head coach who spent eight seasons on Beilein’s staff, told me in October. “If there was something he was trying to name and anyone would recommend a name for it, it probably wouldn’t fly. It had to be something that made sense to him.

“The classic one that he’s had in his vernacular forever is a play that’s called ‘Harry’. The reason it’s called ‘Harry’ is because the person that catches the ball at the top of the key holds the ball, and the word ‘hold’ starts with H and ‘Harry’ starts with H. So 30 years ago, ‘hold’ became ‘Harry’. Everything has a name that, in his brain, makes sense.

“It’s coded. His is exactly the opposite of what anyone in basketball would call it, and that’s the way he likes it.”

Beilein has made adjustments before, and they’ve worked out incredibly well.

He has been successful everywhere he has been in his career, and I hesitate to bet against someone that has found a way to make it work at every stop over the course of four decades.

I just think that Beilein’s move to the NBA is going to be more difficult that some will lead you to believe.

Because, at the end of the day, coaching an NBA team is about more than simply being able to scheme up new ways to get Kevin Love open.

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.