Kim Mulkey celebrates emotional homecoming at LSU introduction

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey’s introduction at LSU had an overriding theme that echoed constantly under the domed roof of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

It was the word, “home.”

“When you grow up, you don’t forget where you come from,” said Mulkey, who is leaving a Baylor women’s basketball program she built into a three-time national champion to return to her native Louisiana. “This state made us who we were. … It’s so unbelievably comfortable for me to come back to my roots.”

A native of Tickfaw, Louisiana, Mulkey won state championships at Hammond High School, about 45 miles east of LSU,. She then won national titles as both a player and assistant coach at Louisiana Tech before spending 21 years in Waco, Texas.

So when an opportunity was presented to the 58-year-old to return to Louisiana and coach at the state’s flagship institution, the pull was too hard to resist – even if it meant leaving a program she’d built into a perennial contender for another that missed the 2021 NCAA Tournament after going 9-13 last season.

LSU hasn’t made it past the Sweet 16 since 2007.

“There’s only one institution I would have left for, and they made the commitment and I’m home,” said Mulkey, who helped Baylor win the 2019 NCAA championship.

The Bears lost to UConn last month in the regional finals of this years NCAA tournament.

“If you have followed my career, I’ve said it numerous times. No matter where I go … Louisiana is my home,” said Mulkey, who grew up near the town that hosts the state’s annual strawberry festival. “I can’t wait to eat some Ponchatoula strawberries. I can’t wait to have some crawfish.

“I can now tell Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes and people don’t look at me like I’ve lost my mind.”

Mulkey was flown into Baton Rouge by LSU on the university’s jet and was greeted by athletic director Scott Woodward, along with men’s basketball coach Will Wade and baseball coach Paul Mainieri, for whom her son, Kramer Robertson, played from 2014 to 2017.

After Mulkey arrived on campus, she was greeted by football coach Ed Orgeron. Mulkey also credited recently retired LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux, who remains with LSU’s athletic department, for talking her through what she described as an emotional decision to leave the program she’d built during two decades.

“Many, many tears were shed,” Mulkey said as she described discussions with the Baylor players she was leaving. “All I could tell them was I was going home and that I love them and that I hope that they could understand and not be angry at me. But it’s just a feeling in my gut that it was time to go home.”

A number of Mulkey’s family and LSU dignitaries, and even Gov. John Bel Edwards, were present at her introduction, which was open to the public.

“There are great coaches all over this country, but it’s not every day you get to hire a champion,” Woodward said, noting how LSU fans had watched and admired Mulkey from “down the road” throughout her playing and coaching career.

“The next championship coach Mulkey wins, we all will be watching from the front row,” Woodward said. “The best coach in the country is coming home to Louisiana.”

While Mulkey doesn’t have the most victories or championships of any active coach, she became the fastest coach in Division I history to reach 600 wins – needing only 700 games to do it.

In 21 years as the head coach at Baylor, Mulkey led the Lady Bears to four Final Fours. Her teams reached the Elite Eight six times and the Sweet 16 on five other occasions.

A member of the 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class, Mulkey built Baylor into a national power, as they became just the third program in NCAA history to have at least three national titles, joining UConn and Tennessee.

She takes over for Nikki Fargas, who stepped down last week.

Before coming to Baylor, Mulkey spent 19 years as a player or coach at Louisiana Tech. As a player, she helped the Lady Techsters win the first NCAA championship in 1982. She also played for the gold medal-winning U.S. National team at the 1984 Olympics.

Mulkey asked current LSU players, who’d she’d met earlier in the day, to stand and be recognized before directing their attention to five Final Four banners hanging above them.

“No where on there does it say, `National Champion,”‘ Mulkey said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. … Give it time. But I can assure you that’s what I came here to do.”

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.