John Thompson remembered as builder of young lives

Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama remembered John Thompson not so much as a basketball coach but as someone who reshaped lives.

“What made coach Thompson special, what compelled us to celebrate his life today, is what he did to build young men,” Obama said Saturday.

Thompson’s life was honored during a virtual memorial. It was held in conjunction with the Georgetown University and the Thompson Family and through Facebook Live.

The 78-year-old Hall of Famer, who coached Georgetown from 1972 to 1999, died Aug. 30. He was described by those who knew him best — players, colleagues and others in the community — as a leader, mentor and social activist.

Obama was one of the first speakers, and he rattled off the names of Hoyas greats Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson.

The former president spoke of the boycott Thompson took in 1989 against NCAA Proposition 42 after he felt it was biased against underprivileged students. He referred to the time that year Thompson met with a local drug kingpin who was believed to be fraternizing with his players.

“He was brave then and it’s astonishing in hindsight. We haven’t banished injustice from our society, far from it,” Obama said. “But we are living through a golden age of young black activism. We’re living through a golden of activism on the basketball court, too,” Obama said. “Coach Thompson didn’t like it when people called him a pioneer but there’s no doubt his example has echoed down the generations. There’s no doubt his imprint endures.”

Thompson’s former players Ewing, Mutombo, and Mourning all spoke as well as coaching peers Jim Boeheim and Nolan Richardson and Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Ewing, who was Thompson’s star player on the 1984 national championship team and is now the current Hoyas coach, started out a theme of the afternoon which was the tough love shown by the 6-foot-10 coach who strolled the sidelines with his signature white towel over his shoulder for three decades.

“I felt like I’ve lost a father,” Ewing said. “I know he’s in heaven looking down on me cursing me out like he does from time to time but also with pride in the work we’re doing here.”

Knight said he knew Thompson in a variety of ways for over 50 years and wanted him early on to be the first African-American on his board of directors when Nike went public because he knew nobody would take him as a token.

“John proved to be a great member and he had a great insight,” said Knight. “He wasn’t just a basketball coach he contributed enormously to society in total.”

Thompson’s Hoyas would be one of Nike’s signature teams as he served on the board for 30 years.

Thompson was there is the early days of the Big East Conference. Among his coaching rivals was Boeheim of Syracuse.

“He always will be Big John,” Boeheim said. “I’m just proud I had the opportunity to compete against him for so many years.”

Despite retiring as a coach after 27 years, Thompson never left Georgetown and put in 48 years at the school.

Georgetown President John DeGioia described Thompson as one of the most influential figures in school history.

“He led us to a place where we might be better able to live up to our ideals,” DeGioia said.

“He had a very different idea of what it meant to be a head men’s basketball coach,” DeGioia said. “He demanded the best of us and brought out the best of us. He held us true. We were privileged to be at Georgetown at the same time that John Thompson was here. We are the university that we are today because of John Thompson.”

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

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

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

1 Comment

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

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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.