Plenty of under-the-radar players bear watching this season

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Marshall’s Taevion Kinsey believes he’s heading into his senior year as a better and more relaxed player after debating whether to turn pro during the offseason.

He also has come back as a bigger player.

Kinsey entered his name into NBA draft consideration before announcing prior to the draft that he would return to school. The 6-foot-5 guard now enters his senior season as one of the top college basketball players from outside the major conferences.

“I got some great feedback from guys in the NBA,” Kinsey said. “I’ve got a lot of NBA guys now – players and coaches – who reach out now and try to help me. That’s a big plus going into this year.”

Kinsey averaged 19.5 points and 6.2 rebounds last season to lead Marshall in both categories and earn first-team all-Conference USA honors. He bulked up in the offseason without losing the athleticism that has made him an intriguing pro prospect.

“He’s about 15 pounds heavier and his vertical’s the same,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said.

Kinsey also spent the offseason trying to improve his shooting. Kinsey says the 2020-21 season was a little stressful for him as he weighed his options.

Now that he’s tested the draft waters and has a greater understanding of how he must improve before he launches his pro career, Kinsey is feeling better.

“Me going through that process, I think it took a lot of weight off my shoulders for me to just play freely this year and not have to worry about things,” Kinsey said.

Kinsey is among the under-the-radar players who bear watching during the upcoming college basketball season. For the purposes of this list, we considered players from outside the six major conferences (the Power Five and Big East).

We also didn’t include players from No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 15 Houston, which didn’t exactly fit the under-the-radar profile after reaching the Final Four last season. The same goes for No. 12 Memphis, which brought in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.

ORAL ROBERTS: G Max Abmas

This 6-footer averaged 24.5 points to lead all Division I players last season and thrived in the spotlight while helping Oral Roberts reach the Sweet 16. He averaged 26.7 points in three NCAA Tournament games and scored at least 25 points in each of them. He had over 40 points in two regular-season games last year. He shot 43% from 3-point range and 89% from the free-throw line.

DETROIT MERCY: G Antoine Davis

Davis ranked among the nation’s top four Division I scorers each of the last three seasons. He ranked third in 2018-19 (26.1), fourth in 2019-20 (24.3) and third last season (24.0). The 6-1 guard ranked second nationally last year in minutes per game (38:34) and 3-pointers per game (3.77).

NORTHERN IOWA: G AJ Green

Green was the Missouri Valley Conference’s player of the year in the 2019-20 season, but the 6-4 guard played just three games last year before getting knocked out by a hip injury. He averaged 22.3 points in the three games he did play. He had 19.7 points per game during the 2019-20 season.

BELMONT: G Grayson Murphy

Murphy was the only player in the nation to collect at least 900 points, 550 rebounds, 550 assists and 150 steals last season. The 6-3 guard averaged 10.9 point, 8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals. He ranked 16th nationally in assists per game and 20th in assist-turnover ratio (2.82) and tied for 14th in steals per game.

ARKANSAS STATE: F Norchad Omier

Omier averaged 12.6 points and 12.3 rebounds as a freshman last season. The only other freshmen since the 1992-93 season to average at least 12 points and 12 rebounds were Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, Louisiana Tech’s Paul Millsap and Colgate’s Adonal Foyle. The 6-7 forward had 15 double-doubles.

NEVADA: G Grant Sherfield

Sherfield, who is 6-2, began his college career at Wichita State. He averaged 18.6 points, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals last season in his first year with Nevada. Sherfield led the Mountain West Conference in assists and steals and ranked second in the league in scoring.

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.