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.

Texas guard Jones, who fought leukemia, to enter NBA draft

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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas shooting guard Andrew Jones, whose college basketball career was interrupted for nearly two years by leukemia, has announced he will skip a final season with the Longhorns and turn pro.

Jones ranks ninth in scoring in program history with 1,620 points. He announced his decision to enter the NBA draft in a statement posted Sunday night on social media.

“We have shared every emotion possible together and I will always cherish the experience I had with you all,” Jones said. “As I officially enter my name into the 2022 NBA draft, I am excited and most importantly ready for this next chapter of life.”

Jones considered turning pro after his freshman season but opted to return to Texas for the 2017-2018 season. But just a few games into his sophomore season, Jones was sidelined with leukemia that left him fighting for his life.

He posted several short videos of himself as he fought through treatment and recovery, including one showing him standing still and trying to shoot a basketball into a hoop barely taller than he was.

He finally returned to the court full-time in the 2019-2020 season, when he averaged 11.5 points and was named the Big 12’s Male Sportsperson of the Year.

The NBA draft is June 23.

Neptune ready to keep Villanova elite as Wright’s successor

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PHILADELPHIA – Jay Wright patted his chest in appreciation of the cheering crowd before he threw a first pitch to Phillies manager Joe Girardi. Wright then took the ball from Girardi, hustled back and handed it to Kyle Neptune so the new Villanova coach could lob his own ceremonial strike.

Wright’s call to the bullpen worked great on a lazy Sunday night.

Now comes the part where every game is the bottom of the ninth for the 37-year-old Neptune as he succeeds the retired Wright: Can a longtime assistant with one season of head coaching experience keep Villanova humming along as a perennial Big East Conference champion with Final Four expectations?

Neptune certainly knows Wright’s blueprint following a lengthy stint that started in 2008 as a video coordinator and ended with him as the longest-tenured member on the coaching staff that won the 2016 and 2018 national championships.

“He knows it all. He has the answers to the test,” Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson said.

Neptune was mapping out Fordham’s season and was headfirst into recruiting when he got the call early last week that Wright had made the shocking decision to retire. The hiring process was short: Neptune talked with Villanova’s key decision-makers – sounding less like a formal interview and more like a confirmation hearing – and was named just the program’s sixth coach since 1938.

Neptune already had recruited or coached most of the players on Villanova’s roster and already was colleagues with the assistant coaches he said would stay on staff. George Halcovage, Mike Nardi and Dwayne Anderson have spent years with Neptune.

“I don’t think he thinks of himself as the boss. I think he wants to feel like one of the guys, like he’s always done,” said Nardi, who also played under Wright. “The only thing that’s going to change is he’s got to make the final decision.”

Taking over for a Hall of Famer is rarely easy. The Wildcats are a top team seemingly every season, and they went to their fourth Final Four under Wright this season after winning the Big East Tournament.

One knock on Wright is a coaching tree with cracks in the trunk. Pat Chambers, Ashley Howard, Baker Dunleavy, Tom Pecora, Joe Jones and Billy Lange are among Wright’s former assistants who never reached the NCAA Tournament as head coaches. Neptune went 16-16 in his lone season at Fordham, an Atlantic 10 program with just four NCAA Tournament appearances.

“That’s where our assistants struggle,” Wright said. “They learn here there’s no place like this place. There’s so many great things about this place that don’t kind of fit at other places.”

Wright did wonder about staying for another season, but what if Neptune had a losing record at Fordham? Wright knew the sales job would only get harder, so he suggested a successor with deep Villanova ties coming off what could only be considered a successful season for a downtrodden Fordham program.

“It’s not like the old days where the coach just picks his guy,” Wright said. “You’ve got to do it in concert with the university.”

A native of Brooklyn, Neptune played four seasons at Lehigh and served as a team captain in his senior year of 2006-07. He briefly played overseas, but a coaching career tugged at him. Wright hired him as a low-salary, long-hour, little-appreciated video coordinator.

“Back then, the technology wasn’t what it was now. It was a lot of breaking down film, long hours of scouting reports,” he said.

Neptune is the seventh Black head coach in the Big East, but the first one at a university that is roughly 70% white.

“I’m thrilled for any example that I could be to young, especially younger, African Americans in general, but also young males, that are coming up in the coaching world; I’m excited to be an ambassador in that regard,” Neptune said. “I hope that this trend continues.”

Wright was known as GQ Jay for his custom-made suits but he moved to casual sweats during the pandemic. Neptune wore a suit at Fordham – a look that fit him as well as the title of head coach. Now the man gets to try both on for size at Villanova.

“We’ve got everything here. We’ve got the leadership. Everything is in place,” Wright said. “So now it’s going to be, you’re going to come to play for Kyle, but also this culture is going to stay the same.”

Florida big man, leading scorer Castleton back for 5th year

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida big man Colin Castleton is returning for a fifth season, a huge boost for new coach Todd Golden.

Castleton, a 6-foot-11 forward from nearby DeLand who transferred to Florida after two years at Michigan, led the Gators in scoring and rebounding last season. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds despite playing nearly the final dozen games with a torn labrum that will require surgery. He also finished second in the Southeastern Conference with 62 blocked shots.

Castleton recorded 10 double-doubles and was eighth in the league in scoring, third in rebounding and fourth in field-goal percentage.

“The past couple weeks have helped me reflect on the season, as well as give me time to decide what’s next for my future,” Castleton said in a social media post Monday. “Thank you to my family and everyone who has helped me make this decision. Everyone’s process is different, and I’m adding another chapter to mine.

“Gator Nation, I’m back!”

Castleton missed six games after injuring his left shoulder during practice in mid-January but returned in hopes of helping the Gators make the NCAA Tournament; they fell short and ended up in the NIT. Castleton is expected to have surgery in the coming weeks to repair the damage and should be ready in time for summer workouts.

His return gives the Gators seven scholarship players back from the 2021-22 roster, including Kowacie Reeves, Myreon Jones, CJ Felder, Jason Jitoboh, Niels Lane and Eli Kennedy.

Three others opted to move on. Forward Anthony Duruji entered the NBA draft. Point guard Tyree Appleby, the team’s second-leading scorer, and forward Tuongthach Gatkek entered the transfer portal. Others still could join them there.

Golden and his staff hosted several potential transfers over the past week, expecting some of them to fill roster holes. Florida also has two incoming freshman signees: forward Jalen Reed and guard Denzel Aberdeen.

Florida big man, leading scorer Castleton back for 5th year

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida big man Colin Castleton is returning for a fifth season, a huge boost for new coach Todd Golden.

Castleton, a 6-foot-11 forward from nearby DeLand who transferred to Florida after two years at Michigan, led the Gators in scoring and rebounding last season. He averaged 16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds despite playing nearly the final dozen games with a torn labrum that will require surgery. He also finished second in the Southeastern Conference with 62 blocked shots.

Castleton recorded 10 double-doubles and was eighth in the league in scoring, third in rebounding and fourth in field-goal percentage.

“The past couple weeks have helped me reflect on the season, as well as give me time to decide what’s next for my future,” Castleton said in a social media post Monday. “Thank you to my family and everyone who has helped me make this decision. Everyone’s process is different, and I’m adding another chapter to mine.

“Gator Nation, I’m back!”

Castleton missed six games after injuring his left shoulder during practice in mid-January but returned in hopes of helping the Gators make the NCAA Tournament; they fell short and ended up in the NIT. Castleton is expected to have surgery in the coming weeks to repair the damage and should be ready in time for summer workouts.

His return gives the Gators seven scholarship players back from the 2021-22 roster, including Kowacie Reeves, Myreon Jones, CJ Felder, Jason Jitoboh, Niels Lane and Eli Kennedy.

Three others opted to move on. Forward Anthony Duruji entered the NBA draft. Point guard Tyree Appleby, the team’s second-leading scorer, and forward Tuongthach Gatkek entered the transfer portal. Others still could join them there.

Golden and his staff hosted several potential transfers over the past week, expecting some of them to fill roster holes. Florida also has two incoming freshman signees: forward Jalen Reed and guard Denzel Aberdeen.