Difference in COVID-19 testing has Stanford coach, others upset

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Add COVID-19 testing to the differences between the women’s and men’s tournaments that has coaches and players unhappy in Texas about what they say is a growing list of inequities.

The NCAA had run 8,015 tests through Saturday with only one confirmed positive at the women’s tournament using daily antigen testing. The men are using daily PCR tests, considered more accurate. A few false positives at the women’s tournament have been quickly retested using the PCR test.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer issued a statement Saturday night upset at “evidence of blatant sexism” that is “purposeful and hurtful” leaving her program feeling betrayed by the NCAA.

“Women athletes and coaches are done waiting, not just for upgrades of a weight room, but for equity in every facet of life,” according to the statement. “Seeing men’s health valued at a higher level than that of women, as evidenced by different testing protocols at both tournaments, is disheartening.”

On Sunday, she acknowledged how difficult it is to run a tournament during the challenging times of COVID-19.

NCAA basketball administrators apologized Friday for the differences between the tournaments and vowed to do better after photos went viral highlighting the contrast between the women’s weight room and the men.

“What I pointed out was the leadership making some decisions that are clearly one way for the men and one way for the women,” VanDerveer said Sunday night. “I was most upset with the testing because obviously I’m not as young as our players. But our players have handled things extremely well. And what we’ve really tried to focus on is not get bent out of shape about the swag bag, they have addressed the weight room, but to just come out and focus on playing and playing well.”

But Stanford asked university presidents and conference commissioners for accountability on who made these decisions and why after team performance coach Ali Kershner publicly pointed out the issue.

“I’m extremely proud that our strength and conditioning coach Ali spoke up and said what she said,” Stanford senior Kiana Williams said after he team’s first-round victory against Utah Valley. “She kind of got the train on the tracks and made some stuff happen. It was very unfortunate and hurting to see that we didn’t have the same effort put in. We don’t need the exact same weight room as the men, but there just could have been a little bit more effort. I’m extremely thankful that they made changes as quickly as they did.”

The NCAA followed recommendations of its COVID-19 medical advisory group, collaborated with the CDC and local medical authorities at each location for testing requirements. The NCAA advisory group said either daily PCR or daily antigen testing were “equally effective models for basketball championships.”

The recommendation was to adopt the testing approach that worked best with the provider and local health officials. The director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District reviewed and approved using daily antigen tests and weekly PCR tests.

The NCAA noted both men and women required either the daily antigen or PCR testing for seven straight days before arriving in Indianapolis or San Antonio.

“It’s mind-blowing,” UConn guard Christyn Williams said of the testing differences.

MUST-SEE TV

WNBA all-time assist leader Sue Bird has no doubt who is must-see TV in women’s college basketball: Iowa freshman guard Caitlin Clark, the nation’s leading scorer.

“To me, she’s the most exciting player in college basketball right now,” Bird told ESPN. “I was like, ‘Oh, Iowa’s on, let me turn this on. She’s exciting to watch.”

Clark admitted to being a little star-struck when told Sunday of Bird’s comments after leading Iowa to an 87-72 win over Central Michigan to open the women’s NCAA Tournament. She grew up watching Bird, including a game against the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, and trying to model her game after Bird.

“It’s special she says that to me,” Clark said, “and I think that’s one of the biggest compliments you can receive.”

ALL-AMERICAN PEDIGREE

When Michigan star Naz Hillmon was younger, she had to ask her mom what it meant when people called her an All-American.

Na’Sheema Hillmon, now Na’Sheema Anderson, earned the honor in high school, before playing at Vanderbilt.

Her daughter, the Big Ten’s player of the year, got to learn all about All-Americans when she was named last week to The Associated Press second team.

“Me and my mom have a very competitive basketball relationship,” Hillmon said. “And I’ve just been really kicking her butt with all the college accolades, ’cause I didn’t get to do that for all the high school stuff. But, we continue that competitiveness and she’s been very supportive through it all.”

Hillmon, the first Wolverine in program history to earn AP All-America honors, is actually a third-generation college player. Gail Hillmon-Williams, Naz’s grandmother, played basketball at Cleveland State. She also hopes to follow in the footsteps of her uncle, Jawad Williams, who won a national title at North Carolina.

AARI’S DEDICATION

Arizona senior Aari McDonald penned a heartfelt post for The Players’ Tribune, dedicating the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament to the seniors who missed out last year.

McDonald herself contemplated moving on to the pros last year, when the season was shut down by coronavirus. But her mind kept returning to the seniors and a proper send-off that never was.

“When I thought about our seniors, something didn’t feel right about me leaving school early. I really took that to heart,” McDonald wrote. I wanted to come back and achieve more. I wanted to take this program somewhere it’s never been. That’s what I came here to do. I knew the job wasn’t done. So, this is for them. This is for our seniors who never got to see an NCAA tournament.”

The third-seeded Wildcats (16-5) play No. 14 Stony Brook (15-5) on Monday. Arizona is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005.

McDonald was named the Pac-12 player of the year and defensive player of the year, the first to earn both honors since Stanford’s Chiney Oguwmike in 2013.

In addition to being the NCAA’s active scoring leader, she also leads the nation with an 86-game streak of scoring in double figures. She’s averaging 19.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season.

“This is our time now,” forward Cate Reese said. “This is Aari’s last year, Trinity’s (Baptiste) last year, Sam’s (Thomas) last year, so I think it’s exciting just to be able to finish off the season and finally get our answer of how the NCAA Tournament is and how we’re all going to be able to compete together on a higher level.”

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.