The NCAA had already passed legislation that prevents Labor Day trips outside the United States beginning this fall (unless a team already had a signed contract for a trip). But to cut out all travel over the summer — even after summer school — for all sports?
The Pac-10 office said former commissioner Tom Hansen and former Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny were the two officials who were pushing the bill. But both are now retired, meaning that the amendment — 184.108.40.206 — is going through the legislative cycle without a lobbying effort. Still, legislation with a rationale that “saving the costs of such tours seems to be logical in difficult economic times” might catch the eye of administrators looking to trim any possible fat.
That’s the danger here. These trips aren’t an elite opportunity. IUPUI and Bethune Cookman went to Costa Rica this summer. Vanderbilt went to Australia, after Commodores coach Kevin Stallings filled the financial void by paying for the trip when the university could not afford the bill. Butler went to Italy. Pitt is planning to go to Ireland next summer. A year ago, Notre Dame went back to its roots with a tour of Ireland.
As you can see, there is a broad spectrum of schools here with varying budgets. Raising the money for these trips shouldn’t be legislated. Foreign trips can only be taken once every four years, so it’s not like this is a yearly budget issue. And since newcomers can’t go on the summer trip, a lot of coaches choose to stay home even when they have the opportunity to go overseas.
The rationale starts off with, “While visiting foreign nations is a part of the learning experience, foreign tours are viewed by many institutions as an additional opportunity to get a head start on the ensuing season.” Is this true? Yes. A team gets 10 practices to use before a trip. But let’s be honest here. Did Notre Dame get an advantage in going to Ireland that it benefited from in March? No. The Irish flamed out and didn’t make the tournament. So it’s hard to make some argument that by going on a trip overseas, suddenly that school will be light-years ahead of the rest.
That argument of the practice and head start might fly with squeezing in a three-day jaunt to Canada or the Bahamas over Labor Day. But the trips for 10 to 14 days overseas in August aren’t the same. Vanderbilt assistant Brad Frederick said the trips overseas are the first time a number of the players have been out of the country. Frederick said he has talked to a number of coaches both in men’s basketball and other sports who said they raise the money.
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeThree of our experts think Brad Stevens’ Butler squad might still be playing in hometown Indy in April.
To think these are just junkets is short-sighted. Butler coach Brad Stevens offered even more insight into the overall experience.
“Travel abroad is a terrific educational experience,” said Stevens, who played at DePauw and went to Europe during his freshman season. “I remember being in awe of Paris. To this day, one of my goals is to take my family over there when my kids are older, so that they can get the privilege of seeing firsthand the architecture, the history, the language and the culture.”
Going overseas during college, most of the time for a semester, is commonplace for the mainstream student body. It doesn’t matter the level of institution. There are opportunities for students to go all over the globe.
“If I wasn’t a basketball player, I would have loved to do a semester abroad,” Stevens said. “However, because the season spans both semesters, that isn’t an option, so the summer tour at least gives our players a chance to briefly experience a new country.”
Going overseas for a few games and sight-seeing can be beneficial if they want to play professionally but aren’t NBA-level. Familiarizing them with the foreign game, albeit for only a few games, is also worthwhile.
This summer, IUPUI’s Ron Hunter took his team to Costa Rica at the same time as Bethune Cookman and Bowling Green. Hunter gave away 2,000 shoes in his continued effort to put shoes on shoeless children around the globe.
“I just came back from the NABC board and we decided to be against this legislation,” Hunter said. “I don’t care what happens in the games. The experience they had being in another country and delivering shoes. We don’t have to mandate to do that, but there should be an educational and humanitarian aspect.”
Hunter isn’t worried about it because he doesn’t think the legislation has legs.
“I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but now that we’ve drawn attention to it, let’s not just have just 10 days of practice and play. Let’s do something to make the country better. If you want to give away shoes then do it — find something to do.”
Hunter said his players enjoyed the distribution of the shoes more than the games.
“I would have been devastated if something like that happens,” Hunter said of the legislation. “None of my kids could afford that trip, and none of the kids at Bethune Cookman could afford to do that. Let’s leave these countries with them thinking that American student-athletes are terrific and made [their] country better.”
The legislation will work its way through the membership and come up for a vote sometime during the 2009-10 legislative calendar. Voting out foreign tours without an exception over the summer would make no sense. The cost-cutting is minimal and isn’t across the board for every school. There are plenty of other areas where fat can be trimmed out of a budget that each individual school can address.
Legislating budget control when all budgets aren’t equal doesn’t equate. And judging by the names of the schools going on the trips, it’s obvious that some schools value taking the trip, even if they are in a lower level of Division I.
• Coaches usually don’t like to float out injury updates until the final diagnosis is known. That’s why it was a bit surprising that Clemson’s Oliver Purnell tweeted about Trevor Booker’s right foot injury before an official diagnosis. Purnell tweeted Aug. 28: “Waiting to hear the results of Trevor Booker’s MRI on his foot. The Doc’s suspect a Stress reaction injury or a fracture. Shoot!” Obviously that sounded ominous. Two hours later, Purnell tweeted: “The results just came in. Book has a low grade stress fracture and a bone bruise. It could have been worse.” There was a third update Sunday that said: “I spoke to Doc Bowman about Trevor’s foot. He thinks Book will be out for a very short period of time in the preseason.”
“I’m still trying to figure out how to use it,” Purnell said on the phone. “You try to show your personality, and I know that Clemson people and people in the ACC would be the ones following it. So I try to give them a little bit of what I’m like and feel. So when I said, ‘shoot,’ people who know me, know that I’m a little bit concerned, but not a lot. I knew I was going to come back and hear a little bit later from the trainer.”
Booker is the top returning scorer and rebounder for the Tigers. He’s likely an all-ACC first-team player. He was an enforcer for the World University Games squad that won bronze in Serbia. A broken foot would have crushed the Tigers.
The question going forward will be, how would coaches like Purnell handle injuries during the season? Will there be updates after a tweaked ankle in shootaround? Indiana coach Tom Crean was quick to tweet Monday that Maurice Creek was cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center. That’s good news. But will Crean and other coaches tweet when a player is injured? Suspended?
• The NCAA tournament selection committee should use Western Kentucky’s Ken McDonald as someone who understands how to schedule into the NCAA tournament out of a non-“big six” conference. McDonald’s Hilltoppers will be the favorite to win the Sun Belt, but he has positioned himself to get a possible at-large berth. WKU is in the NIT Season Tip-Off with a legitimate chance to get to New York since it’s in a bracket at rebuilding LSU. Western Kentucky also plays at South Carolina and Southern Illinois; hosts Tulane, Evansville and Houston (in February); and goes to Louisville, plays Vanderbilt in Nashville and hosts Mississippi State. Tulane and Evansville are solid home games for a team out of the Sun Belt. The other games are all against teams that could be in the postseason with South Carolina, Louisville, Vandy and Mississippi State projected to be in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s aggressive,” McDonald said on the first day of school Monday in Bowling Green. “A year ago we rolled the dice and we weren’t supposed to be very good [losing to Gonzaga on a buzzer-beater in the second round of the NCAA tournament]. We’ve got good young talent coming in and we’re going to test them early.”
The beauty of this schedule is that none of the games is a one-shot deal. The Vanderbilt game in Nashville is part of the Sun Belt Classic and is likely going to be a rotating scenario with Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State. The hope is that the four teams will switch in 2010 with Tennessee playing Western Kentucky and Middle playing Vandy.
The Louisville game is the second of a four-year deal. Western Kentucky beat Louisville last season in Nashville. This year’s game is at Freedom Hall, the game in 2010 is in Bowling Green, and the final game of the contract is at Louisville’s new arena. The Mississippi State game is the end of a two-year deal with the Bulldogs.
The contest with South Carolina is the first of a four-year deal that Darrin Horn has to own up to after leaving WKU for South Carolina. Horn’s exit contract called for a four-year deal with Western if he left for a BCS-level school. It’s the same thing that happened to Dennis Felton when he went from Western to Georgia. Horn is entering his second season at South Carolina. The contract was pushed off for a season after the two teams couldn’t agree on a date in 2009. McDonald also hopes he can continue the SIU series. A year ago, Western Kentucky lost to Houston and Mississippi State but beat Southern Illinois, Louisville, Georgia and Tulane in key nonconference games.
• Former Sacramento Kings and New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus was finishing up the negotiation of his assistant contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves over the weekend. Theus was frustrated this offseason by the way the job searches ended at Arizona, Memphis and USC. He was certainly qualified for all of them, but USC was the only one that granted him a formal interview. Coaching under Kurt Rambis with the T-Wolves should help Theus rehab quickly for a head-coaching job in either the NBA or college.
He met with Timberwolves executive David Kahn in Las Vegas. The discussion was about making Bzdelik a top assistant coach to be the nuts and bolts inside, while whomever Kahn selected to be the head coach would be the face of the team. But the head-coaching search dragged for weeks and into August before Kahn selected Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis for the gig.
Bzdelik didn’t wait for Kahn or Rambis or anyone else from the Timberwolves organization to make a play, if they were going to do so after the hire was official. He knew he had to renew his commitment to Colorado. He had invested too much the past two seasons with the Buffaloes, suffering through a 9-22 season last year (1-15 in the Big 12) while losing eight games by five points or fewer and one game in overtime (by nine points) to Texas. Colorado went 12-20 in 2007-08.
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJeff Bzdelik knows turning around Colorado hoops won’t be easy.
If Colorado was ever going to get out of the dungeon of a conference in which Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas A&M hold a firm grip on the talented top half of the league, Bzdelik had to stay. The school couldn’t afford another coaching turnover, even if it may have gone to well-respected associate head coach Steve McClain, who had done a decent job at Wyoming.
“This school has been through some bad situations,” Bzdelik said Thursday as he prepared for a team workout. “The football program has gone through some things. We had to build back up the academic integrity, the APR, the competitive spirit. We had to create a culture that would be rock-solid.
“Yeah, last year, we won only one game, but we did that with only one senior and one junior,” Bzdelik said. “Most of the time, we had three freshmen and a sophomore on the court. We weren’t mature enough or experienced enough, and that’s the truth.”
Bzdelik didn’t suddenly lose his ability to win games at CU. He led Air Force to a No. 11 ranking in the country after taking over a program that had been on quite a run from the Joe Scott-Chris Mooney Princeton-style revival. He was 50-16 in two seasons at the Academy, leading it to the NCAA tournament in 2006 and the NIT in 2007. Bzdelik, 56, coached for 31 years prior to CU, including taking the Denver Nuggets to the NBA playoffs. His two-year win total of 50-plus wins at Air Force was the best two-year period in Air Force basketball history, and he guided the Falcons to a 31-1 home record.
Bzdelik is coveted in the NBA. But he has been able to bridge the NBA and college game because of his wealth of knowledge and spending quality time early in his career at Davidson with Eddie Biedenbach (now at UNC Asheville), Bob McKillop (now the head coach at Davidson) and Rick Barnes (now the head coach at Texas). That was before he went to work for Wes Unseld and Pat Riley in the NBA.
“I’ve learned to coach at every level from great people who teach the game,” Bzdelik said. “There’s a balance there. And then I did inherit a junior- and senior-laden Air Force team.”
The Air Force run appears over in the Mountain West, as the Falcons have won 16 and 10 games, respectively, in the two years since Bzdelik left and Jeff Reynolds took over.
But even Air Force in the Mountain West isn’t comparable to Colorado in the Big 12. No one would argue that taking Air Force to the top of the MWC is harder. The MWC doesn’t have national title contenders in the league, while the Big 12 does. The state of Colorado, home to both schools, doesn’t produce elite talent. The most notable of late is senior Matt Bouldin at Gonzaga and sophomore Reggie Jackson at Boston College. Neither player is deemed a lock to be a pro.
The facilities at Colorado pale in comparison to those of the rest of the conference. The Buffaloes don’t receive special treatment like other members of the league.
The abyss from which Colorado retreated included Bzdelik’s flirtation with the NBA and rumors that Cory Higgins, who averaged 17 points per game, wasn’t going to return for his junior season. Rumors were hot in the summer that Higgins would bolt. Bzdelik heard them and had to investigate.
“There were some coaches who approached him,” Bzdelik said. “But he’s rock-solid. He’s a heckuva player.”
The Buffaloes will need point guard Shannon Sharpe and Australian center Shane Harris-Tunks to contribute, and the expectations are low outside of Boulder. But there is certainly hope inside the basketball office. That’s why Bzdelik said he called up Dick and Tony Bennett, formerly of Washington State, and Herb Sendek at Arizona State to see how they were able to resuscitate their programs. The Washington State example is probably more akin to Colorado, with a recruiting base that is hardly fertile.
Bzdelik said he has in his contract that by Year 3 a practice facility would break ground. It hasn’t yet as Year 3 begins. But Bzdelik is committed to staying at CU.
“I realized last year, when the Chicago Bulls called me and when Minnesota called me, that I know I can do better here,” Bzdelik said. “I can’t say I’ve taken a team to the Final Four, but I’ve been to the NBA playoffs nine times [as an assistant or head coach]. A lot of people can’t say that, including some of the big names in college. I have an opportunity here. I’m committed to the players. We dug ourselves a big hole, and now we’re peeking out over the horizon to see what we can do. If it doesn’t work, somebody else will be coaching here.”
But to make it work in the near future, Bzdelik has to stay. A turnover every few years won’t work at a place like Colorado. Bzdelik made the commitment to stay. We’ll see if it pans out with a commitment from the school and, more important, players who can help turn around a program that hasn’t been relevant for some time.
• Kentucky held its first individual workout this week, and the overall opinion of coach John Calipari is this: “What I saw is that we don’t have any bad players; every guy can play,” Calipari said late Thursday night. “Even Mark Krebs, who we just gave a scholarship to, can play. He can shoot. He’s not bad. I don’t know what all this means because we are still inexperienced.”
Calipari didn’t break down every player but added a few quips, saying that freshmen DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe need to pick up their conditioning; that Darnell Dodson can score but has to be stronger; that Daniel Orton still isn’t 100 percent in both legs after dealing with a knee injury last year; and that he was impressed with Ramon Harris’ shooting, the activity of Perry Stevenson and the overall skill development of Patrick Patterson.
As for that other guard, the one who is hyped as the top pick in 2010 — John Wall. Well, Calipari said he’s more verbal than his last elite guard, Derrick Rose (at Memphis), but is just as much a leader. “Neither one would reprimand a teammate. They’ll defer to their teammates to make sure they get better,” Calipari said.
• The Memphis case brought up Duke’s 1999 Final Four appearance in a valid way. The case, presented by a few columnists at CBS Sports, was made that if Derrick Rose was ruled ineligible after the season once he was already cleared by the NCAA to play for the Tigers, and Memphis still had its season vacated, then why shouldn’t Duke’s 1999 season suffer the same fate after reports emerged of Corey Maggette receiving funds from his former AAU coach, Myron Piggie?
Todd Warshaw /Allsport Does the Corey Maggette-Duke case deserve the same ruling as the recent Memphis case?
The charge of favoritism is certainly felt among a number of other programs. But there is a distinct difference in the cases. Whether you believe there was special treatment or not, the basic fact is this: Rose was ruled ineligible after the season when his test score was invalidated in May 2008. Maggette, according to Duke, was never ruled ineligible. You may believe that he should have been ruled ineligible. But he wasn’t, and that remains the main difference between the two cases.
At the 2004 Final Four, an event in which Duke participated, NCAA vice president of enforcement David Price said at the time that the NCAA and Duke “conducted a fairly lengthy joint investigation” into the allegations that Maggette received illegal payments from his summer-league coach (Piggie) from 1997 to 1999. Maggette spent one season at Duke (1998-99) before declaring for the NBA draft.
“Our executive regulations specify that if an individual plays while ineligible in the NCAA championships, we can either vacate the team’s participation in the championship and/or assess a fine for the money that they received.” Price said in an April 2, 2004, Boston Globe article. “The standard for that is whether either the institution knew or should have known that Maggette was ineligible or if Maggette himself knew that — or should have known that he was ineligible.”
Price went on to say that the NCAA came to the conclusion that there was “insufficient evidence to determine that Maggette knew or should have known, and we believe firmly that the institution did not know and should not have known. Consequently, we have notified the institution that there will be no action taken by the NCAA.”
The NCAA eligibility center was clear in stating earlier this year that regardless of when a player becomes ineligible, he’s ineligible and that the center has the right to review new information when it comes to light. The same standard is likely going to be applied to O.J. Mayo if the allegations of agent-related payments prove correct. Mayo was cleared to play for USC, yet he might be deemed ineligible after the fact, and the Trojans may end up vacating wins from his one season in L.A.
Duke contended this week that it didn’t know about the payments to Maggette, since it didn’t start recruiting him until the fall of his senior season.
Had Maggette deemed ineligible by the NCAA — even years after his one season at Duke — then the Blue Devils would have had to vacate the Final Four season. If Maggette had been deemed ineligible after he completed his one season and the NCAA didn’t vacate Duke’s season, a charge of favoritism would have rung from every other Division I institution.
NCB, Colorado Buffaloes, Kentucky Wildcats, Memphis Tigers, Duke Blue Devils
The lawsuit against Kentucky was sensational and certainly could be perceived as a negative when candidates were compared.
Suing your former employer isn’t exactly going to put one candidate ahead of another when there is a close call for a job. But contractual rifts can occur, even if this one seemed to be a bit extreme: Kentucky fired him thinking it wouldn’t have to pay his $6 million salary, but Gillispie felt he deserved the money even though he never formally signed his long-term contract and was basing his case on an internal memorandum.
Despite all that, he could’ve survived.
What likely has forced Gillispie to the assistant route before landing another job as a head coach was his arrest early Thursday morning on a charge of driving under the influence. Coaches who get fired find it incredibly difficult to be recycled in the next coaching carousel. Most have to become assistant coaches again to find their footing before proving themselves worthy of head-coaching positions again.
But Gillispie was coming from Kentucky, one of the premier jobs in the country. He was a proven success in his brief tenures at UTEP and Texas A&M, where he had done a marvelous job of turning each into a legit program. The Kentucky gig didn’t go as well on the court in his second season in Lexington, but the recruiting wasn’t the issue.
Let’s remember that Gillispie beat out Florida’s Billy Donovan and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski to get Patrick Patterson, who may well be the SEC Player of the Year this season for new Wildcats coach John Calipari. Gillispie is also the one who secured Daniel Orton, a big-time get who should flourish under Calipari this season.
But the DUI charge is the clincher for Gillispie. This is not the first time he has faced such a charge. He was arrested in 1999 on charges of driving while intoxicated and use of an improper lane in Tulsa, Okla. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving, and the other charges were dropped.
In 2003, when he was the head coach at UTEP, Gillispie was arrested again, this time on suspicion of drunken driving. The charges were later dropped because of a lack of evidence that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit.
The damage has been done with Thursday’s arrest.
One athletic director who is well connected in the Midwest and West and would have considered Gillispie for an opening in the future, said Thursday that as soon as he saw Gillispie’s name back in the news: “I found myself thinking, ‘Can this guy be hired?’ I think an AD would have to think long and hard about the community he’s in. Drinking and driving is such a big issue.”
The athletic director, who asked to remain anonymous, said the DUI charge is the one transgression that could keep Gillispie from being hired.
“Lawsuits and litigation happen; contracts can have ambiguity, and there can be different interpretations,” the athletic director said. “To me, the DUI is much more problematic. There’s no question that if a job came open and you had two candidates, it would be hard to hire him. There are so many good candidates out there with less baggage.
“But who knows, someone may take a chance on him. My guess is that it will be a while and it won’t be the job he wants.”
Gillispie could have remained in College Station for a decade-plus. The Aggies were winning, and he was at home in his native Texas. It was hard to turn down Kentucky, though, considering all the job has to offer — from the prestige to the recruiting advantages to the money. But since he took the job, the star Gillispie has been on has plummeted and created a crater he will now need to crawl out of in the near future.
Gillispie has good friends in the business, is a likable soul and has a passion for the game. He has proved to be an intense, passionate and productive coach. But now is the time for him to make sure he makes decisions that will allow him to get back to what he loves doing instead of dealing with the embarrassment of a mug shot that will haunt him for some time.
• Louisville coach Rick Pitino made a point in his monologue at a news conference Wednesday that the Cardinals haven’t been hurt in recruiting and will continue to bring in top-10 classes. He’s probably right. Recruiting has changed. The days of a traditional recruiting experience in which an elite coach goes into the home to pitch the school are over.
Louisville, like a number of elite programs, gets players through a variety of ways and notably through connections. Pitino is still viewed as a coach who can land NBA-level players. He won’t have to be in a family’s home to convince a player and his parents that he has high moral standing and that they should come play for him. By the time he gets to a home visit, the decision to go to Louisville likely already has been made.
Decisions are made so early, often well before a home visit, that the sitdown with the family generally has become nothing more than a rubber-stamping of the decision.
• The contract the sports marketing firm Gazelle Group has with Florida International doesn’t have much wiggle room. It simply states that “the participant [FIU] will play one away game, on one of the above dates, at either the University of North Carolina or Ohio State University.”
Let’s take a little deeper look at this.
FIU is getting three home games out of this event — North Carolina Central (Nov. 20), James Madison (Nov. 22) and Murray State (Nov. 23). The Panthers have to play one road game — as far as Gazelle is concerned, at North Carolina, not Ohio State.
A year ago, FIU was in the CBE Classic and played three home games (Cleveland State, Toledo and non-Division I West Georgia) and then played at Washington. So in two seasons, FIU — I repeat, F-I-U — received six home games and just two road games from the organizers. That’s rather generous considering the Panthers haven’t really done anything on the court to justify being a relevant figure on the college basketball map.
If FIU athletic director Pete Garcia follows through on his threat to break the contract and play someone else, he’ll have a hard time finding three home games. The NCAA allows tournaments like the Coaches vs. Cancer to count four games as two. So FIU would have to find only two games to fill its schedule. But it’s hard to believe teams are lining up to play at FIU’s 5,000-seat arena, especially in September.
Rick Giles, founder of the Gazelle Group, isn’t backing down with the plan that calls for FIU to play at North Carolina to open the college basketball regular season on Nov. 9.
Thomas said late Tuesday night that the Panthers were planning on playing a road game at Monmouth after the trip to Columbus and that it would be made more difficult going from Chapel Hill. He said there is a chance FIU might squeeze in a game at Tulsa, too.
ESPNU was slated to televise the FIU-UNC game, giving the Panthers exposure they don’t normally receive. This is a rebuilding season for Florida International, but the exposure would help. Thomas said he knows that switching the Ohio State-UNC sites isn’t about competitive imbalance. He said he understands that Carolina returns one of five starters and Ohio State can claim the opposite with a veteran team that has all its major contributors returning, save reserve big man B.J. Mullens.
Sure, Carolina should be more of a contender later than Ohio State and has more NBA-level talent. But for a first game, playing UNC makes more sense for both parties.
Still, the Panthers are irritated by the way they received the news, despite the contractual agreement. If FIU plays hardball, they would lose three home games — something that most teams in the country wouldn’t dare do.
• FIU’s second-leading scorer, Freddy Asprilla, isn’t expected to show up for school, which started Monday. Thomas said that once the 6-foot-10 Asprilla (13.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game last season) didn’t show up, he was free to go anywhere. Asprilla was supposed to go home to Colombia and renew his visa so he could attend Miami Dade Junior College.
• Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has won Olympic gold and been around every big name in basketball. But he’s still an overall sports fan, and that’s why one of his biggest thrills was walking 18 holes Monday with Tiger Woods to play in Notah Begay’s charity event at Turning Stone near Syracuse.
“It was unbelievable,” Boeheim said. “He hit every fairway, every green.” Asked if Woods would help Boeheim’s game, Boeheim said, “No. What he does wouldn’t help me.”
“It was cool,” added Boeheim, who said golf is a close second for him in his love of sports, “one of the coolest things I’ve done.”
• Syracuse starts school next week, and Boeheim continues to pump up the eligibility of Iowa State transfer wing Wesley Johnson. “He’s the real deal; he’s pretty good,” Boeheim said. “He’ll be a little rusty, but eventually he’ll be great. He’s so talented. He can shoot. He’ll get a lot of shots.”
The Orange will also move into a new practice facility adjacent to Manley Field House on Sept. 22. “It’s got everything for us; it’s a spectacular place,” Boeheim said. “We’re one of the few programs [in the Big East] that has had to share a multipurpose place with everybody. We’ve needed a place for a while.”
• Miami opens the ACC regular season at Boston College on Dec. 6. It sounds incredibly early to start a conference season, but there is precedent. Just three seasons ago, the ACC opened on Dec. 3, with Miami playing host to Georgia Tech and Virginia hosting NC State. In the ACC’s first season, in 1953-54, the league opened with games on Dec. 2 (Maryland at South Carolina), Dec. 3 (Maryland at Clemson) and Dec. 5 (Maryland at Wake Forest). In the 1950s and ’60s, the ACC opened the conference schedule a number of times in the first week of December.
• February may seem like a lifetime from now, but circle a potential key game for a possible bubble team: Duke hosts Tulsa on Feb. 25. The Golden Hurricane, the favorite in Conference USA, could be in the position of needing a quality power-rating game at that late date.
The BracketBuster is a sound idea that matches two similar mid-major bubble teams. But rarely does a non-BCS league team get a chance to pick up a major win against a top-20 club two weeks before Selection Sunday. Playing the game will certainly help Tulsa; winning could clinch a bid.
Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager, a member of the COI from 1997-2006 and chair of the committee from 2001-04, said Memphis will have to prove the COI erred in its decision.
“They are not going to start over,” Yeager said. “The appeals process is a very narrow process. They have to focus on a few items and show inconsistencies.”
Yeager said when he was first on the COI, the appeals went to the NCAA council — and since they weren’t experts on the rules, the council rarely overturned the COI’s decision. But recently a separate appeals committee was created. Yeager said that two members of the COI, who didn’t participate in the hearing but were observers, would be involved in the appeal process. He said each entity would get a chance to give their side: the COI and the institution in the case (Memphis). And then the appeals committee will render a decision.
Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, who is a member of the COI, had to recuse himself from the Memphis case since the school is a C-USA member. He also cannot represent the COI to the appeals committee on this case.
Yeager said the COI has a vested interest in these appeals. He said the COI will be just as anxious about the decision as the school that is appealing. Its work is on the line, too. Yeager said to keep an eye on how the appeal process handles the Florida State case, which is set for a Nov. 15 hearing in front of the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee. FSU is seeking to overturn a decision that the school had to vacate wins in football after there was an academic-fraud scandal involving 61 student-athletes.
Yeager defended current COI chair Paul Dee in what appeared to be indifference as to why Derrick Rose took his challenged standardized test in Detroit instead of his native Chicago. Yeager said, without knowing the specifics of that aspect of the case, he anticipates that someone on the COI was privy to information on the matter. He said when he was on the committee they had a similar question with a standardized test when a New England prep school player took a test out of state. He said the player did so because the team was playing a game out of the region and decided to have the player take the test there since they were near a testing site.
• St. John’s sports information director Mark Fratto has been a proponent of Twitter since the social-networking site began. In an effort to reach a new medium, Fratto is doing something his colleagues in similar positions in professional sports leagues have not — embrace Twitter.
St. John’s was scheduled to announce Tuesday that it is credentialing Peter Robert Casey for all of its men’s basketball games. According to the school, Casey is believed to be the first primarily Twitter-based blogger anywhere in the country to earn a spot on press row.
Casey has more than 50,000 followers on Twitter, and Fratto has deemed that enough of a “circulation” of readers to credential him for all games. In terms of basketball-specific Tweeters, the Brooklyn-based blogger is among the top 10 in followers, behind only prolific posters such as Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Charlie Villanueva and Kentucky coach John Calipari.
In its press release, St. John’s included a quote from athletic director Chris Monasch promoting the addition of Casey to press row, saying “social media platforms like Twitter are what’s hot right now, and very few people are connecting better with the online basketball community than Peter.”
St. John’s, which has moved the majority of its home games away from Madison Square Garden and to its Queens campus, is hoping to reach more fans through the new medium.
NCB, Memphis Tigers, St. John’s Red Storm
The plan, as is the case every year, is to put it back up at FedExForum in the fall.
Memphis officials say the NCAA’s ruling against the Tigers in 1985, in which then-Memphis State was accused of several NCAA violations, never forbade the school from hanging the Final Four banner it earned that season. But last week’s ruling that required the Tigers to vacate their 2008 Final Four appearance and wins from that season is much more specific.
If the Tigers lose the appeal they vow to file, all references on stationery and signage relating to the event will have to be removed. The record books will have to be aligned to reflect that the Tigers’ 38 wins, including five in the NCAA tournament, are no longer valid.
For the NCAA’s part, it can’t redo its cover for the 2009 Men’s Final Four Records Book. That edition features former Memphis coach John Calipari and former Tigers players Derrick Rose — who was found to be ineligible — and Chris Douglas-Roberts among the nine photos. And you can visit the NCAA’s site and buy for the low, low price of $24.99 a DVD of your favorite Memphis 2008 tournament game. You know, one of those that never happened.
According to Ohio State, all references to the 1999 Final Four team as well as the records from 1999 to 2002 — the seasons for which the Buckeyes were penalized for using an ineligible player — were removed from the school’s media guides.
UCLA had an easy solution when it came to dealing with its vacated 1980 Final Four team: ignore it. Why? The Bruins hang only championship banners at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA officials say they have never been forced to change the record books.
What would have happened to the national title had Kansas’ Mario Chalmers missed the game-tying 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime, and Memphis had won? The banner still wouldn’t be in Lawrence.
Kansas’ duo of forward Cole Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins were third and fourth, respectively, with Notre Dame senior forward Luke Harangody rounding out the top five.
Michigan State junior guard Kalin Lucas was a close sixth. What does this tell us? That the race is wide-open, and Kentucky and Kansas fans might be the most passionate in voting for their respective players. It’s unlikely that KU and UK would have four of the five All-Americans, but they do have four legitimate candidates. The possibility exists for the second straight season that the player of the year could be the top pick in the NBA draft (Wall).
Anderson ranked in the top five in four different statistical categories in the Big 12. He is the third-leading returning scorer behind Iowa State’s Craig Brackins and Kansas’ Collins, and only he and Aldrich ranked in the top five in field goal percentage last season. Among Big 12 returnees, Anderson ranked fourth in scoring, fifth in field goal percentage, fifth in 3-point percentage, fifth in free throw percentage and 15th in rebounding.
Anderson also was on the World University Games squad that won the bronze medal in Serbia. He outscored Brackins, Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado, Ohio State’s Evan Turner and Clemson’s Trevor Booker. Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford expressed his dismay with Anderson’s absence from the list. All points are valid, and going forward, Anderson will be included on the Wooden watch list.
NCB, Memphis Tigers, Massachusetts Minutemen, Michigan Wolverines, Ohio State Buckeyes, UCLA Bruins, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Villanova Wildcats, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Saint Joseph’s Hawks, Kansas Jayhawks, Mississippi St. Bulldogs, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Kansas is the consensus No. 1 team in the country.
No individual player, though, can claim such favorite status.
Sure, even though Texas’ Kevin Durant entered his freshman season with plenty of hype, he could hardly be considered a favorite for national player of the year. But picking Durant to be a contender wasn’t completely off base, considering Texas coach Rick Barnes was adamant in the preseason that he had the best player in the country. He shocked the Big 12 establishment by bringing Durant with him to the preseason media day, the first time a freshman had come to that event with a head coach. Barnes’ instincts proved correct as Durant finished 2007 as the game’s most decorated player.
Solomon Alabi, Florida State
Cole Aldrich, Kansas
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
Luke Babbitt, Nevada
Talor Battle, Penn State
Trevor Booker, Clemson
Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga
Craig Brackins, Iowa State
Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
Patrick Christopher, Cal
Denis Clemente, Kansas State
Sherron Collins, Kansas
Ed Davis, North Carolina
Devan Downey, South Carolina
Jerome Dyson, Connecticut
Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State
Corey Fisher, Villanova
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Manny Harris, Michigan
Gordon Hayward, Butler
Robbie Hummel, Purdue
Damion James, Texas
Jerome Jordan, Tulsa
Sylven Landesberg, Virginia
Kalin Lucas, Michigan State
Tasmin Mitchell, LSU
Greg Monroe, Georgetown
E’Twaun Moore, Purdue
Raymar Morgan, Michigan State
A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
Tajuan Porter, Oregon
Jerome Randle, Cal
Deon Thompson, North Carolina
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
Larry Sanders, VCU
Rakim Sanders, Boston College
Kyle Singler, Duke
Tyler Smith, Tennessee
Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Klay Thompson, Washington State
Ryan Thompson, Rider
Evan Turner, Ohio State
Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State
Greivis Vasquez, Maryland
Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
Michael Washington, Arkansas
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Terrico White, Ole Miss
Nic Wise, Arizona
A case can be made for countless others, like UTEP’s Randy Culpepper or Dayton’s Chris Wright.
We released a poll today highlighting who I think are the main contenders for national player of the year. But for the purposes of the poll, let’s break from the Wooden rulebook and add in Wall because he’ll likely be in the mix come February and March.
2. Craig Brackins, Iowa State — The Big 12’s most potent scorer could keep quite a run going of player of the year candidates from this conference after a three-year stretch of Durant, Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin.
3. Sherron Collins, Kansas — Collins has the breakout scoring ability to be a title favorite.
4. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame — Harangody is the favorite for Big East Player of the Year and if he carries the Irish back to the tournament he could be in position to win the award.
5. Robbie Hummel, Purdue — Hummel is the scrappy player who will do anything for a win. He won’t have stunning stats but he’ll be involved in nearly every big play. If Purdue were to unseat Michigan State for the Big Ten title, then he would have to be considered.
7. Greg Monroe, Georgetown — Monroe is arguably the top big man in the country on a team that could be a surprising Big East title champ.
8. Patrick Patterson, Kentucky — Patterson withdrew from the draft and is poised for a powerful season on the most-watched team in the country.
12. Evan Turner, Ohio State — Turner could be a bust-out scorer for a Buckeyes’ team that is primed for a deep run in March. If Turner can make the Buckeyes stand out even more, then he’s got a shot to receive plenty of accolades.
13. Greivis Vasquez, Maryland — Vasquez is a lightning rod for the Terps. He’s either sensational or a bit erratic. When he’s on, and if he were to lead the Terps to the top of the ACC, he’ll be in the conversation for the honor.
14. John Wall, Kentucky — The top freshman has a shot to pull a Durant and be the POY as well as a top-two pick in next year’s NBA draft.
15. Willie Warren, Oklahoma — Warren has reportedly had a sensational summer and he seems ready to assume the leadership of the Sooners after two years of the spotlight being on Griffin.
Why isn’t Wake Forest’s Al-Farouq Aminu or Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors or Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado on this list? All are legit contenders. Aminu hasn’t had the standout personality to take over a team yet, Favors is still a frosh and Varnado’s offensive stats might not measure up to his defensive stats. I could go on with reasons for why someone else might not make the cut and we are open to plenty of changes. This will be a fluid race throughout the season. We’ll check back after the Daily Word returns on Aug. 24 to view the results.
Charges against Cunagin Sypher include trying to extort money from Pitino as well as lying to the FBI.
The fodder for those who want to direct their venom toward Pitino is already in place.
But how vicious it gets for Pitino on the road, months from now — especially at his former employer and present heated rival Kentucky on Jan. 2 — is still unknown. The case is still fluid. Yet how Pitino handles himself over the coming months, and then how he responds when he’s thrust into a hostile situation remains to be seen.
Pitino then gave Cunagin Sypher $3,000 after she said she needed an abortion and didn’t have health insurance, according to a summary of Pitino’s July 12 statement to police. The coach’s attorney, Steve Pence, said Wednesday that the money was to help her get medical coverage, not specifically to pay for an abortion.
That’s not akin to what then-Cincinnati and current West Virginia coach Bob Huggins had to deal with following the release of a video of his DUI arrest in early June 2004. Huggins was suspended by the university over the summer. He returned to coach the team that season but then was forced out the following summer.
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesBob Huggins faced hostility from opposing fans while he was head coach of Cincinnati following his DUI arrest in 2004.
Huggins said coaching Cincinnati always meant going into hostile arenas as one of the favorite teams. Louisville has shared that experience, like many other traditional powers, during rivalry games. Still, when it got personal about his family, Huggins said that’s when he had had enough.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, who was an assistant under Huggins and succeeded him at Cincinnati, said he didn’t see a difference in the way Huggins was treated by fans before or after the release of the video of his DUI arrest.
–Former Temple coach John Chaney
Larry Eustachy, who was photographed drinking with college students at a campus party while on the road in 2003, was ultimately forced out as basketball coach at Iowa State. He resurfaced at Southern Miss a year later in a less intense Conference USA setting.
NCB, Louisville Cardinals, Kentucky Wildcats, Cincinnati Bearcats, Mississippi Rebels, Temple Owls, Iowa State Cyclones, Connecticut Huskies
Now he’s back and will begin the arduous process of putting together a team at West Virginia that could challenge Villanova and Georgetown for the Big East title.
But there’s that nagging point guard question he can’t quite give a final answer. Joe Mazzulla or Darryl Bryant are currently suspended from all team activities. Will they be back? Will it be both of them? When?
The short answer is Huggins said he doesn’t believe he’ll have to go this season without either. It’s still only August. The team’s real practice doesn’t begin until Oct. 16. But even if they don’t return, Huggins said, senior Da’Sean Butler and sophomore Devin Ebanks — two scoring wings — played the point or the role of playmaker last season. Ebanks said last week that he and Butler have been bringing up the ball against one another in pickup games.
“They did it last year,” Huggins said. “I learned long ago that I deal with the players that are here. They are not trouble kids. It’s not like I don’t see these guys. They are good kids.”
Mazzulla was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested for a domestic violence incident in April. He was the starting point guard two seasons ago when the Mountaineers beat Duke in the second round of 2008 NCAA tournament. But last season, Mazzulla fractured the growth plate in his shoulder at Ole Miss on Dec. 3, six games into the season. He made a go of it a week later, but could only play six minutes in a loss to Davidson in New York City, then sat out the rest of the season.
Huggins said Mazzulla’s injury was incredibly rare. He said doctors were “shocked” when they found out that his bones in his shoulder didn’t grow together and that they were held together by membranes that broke when the injury occurred. Huggins said Mazzulla has been cleared physically and would be able to play this season, if he’s cleared from his suspension.
When Mazzulla went down, freshman Bryant stepped into the role. Bryant’s minutes jumped from 12 against Cleveland State to 27 in the Davidson game. He played more than 30 minutes a dozen times the rest of the season. Bryant, nicknamed Truck, was cruising toward being the playmaker until his offseason hit more than a few bumps.
He tried out for the Under-19 FIBA World Championship team in Colorado Springs, Colo., in June. He was cut for the squad that eventually won gold in New Zealand. And then a few weeks later, in July, he was suspended by Huggins indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Like Mazzulla, Bryant was suspended from all West Virginia team activities.
But Bryant was already booked to head to eastern Europe with an all-star team called the East Coast All-Stars. The team, run out of Bryant’s native New York, “had to set that up a long time ago,” Huggins said.
Bryant scored 22 points in the team’s win over AB Cosmetics Pezinok on Tuesday. Kansas State junior guard Jacob Pullen had the assist on a winning basket by Lycoming’s Michael Bradley at the buzzer for the 93-92 win. Pullen’s teammate, Dominique Sutton, scored 10 points and had four rebounds and three steals.
While Huggins isn’t fretting the possibility of losing Bryant, or for that matter a healthy Mazzulla next season, he isn’t ready to promote the Mountaineers as a Big East title contender yet. What he does know is that Butler should have a big season again. Huggins said he’s hoping Butler (17.1 ppg last season) won’t have to score as much and that the Mountaineers will be less dependent on him to do so much. To ensure that, though, the suspensions would have to be lifted. Alex Ruoff (15.7 ppg) is gone, leaving a void in scoring to be picked up by Ebanks (10.5 ppg), and probably Bryant (9.8 ppg) and/or Mazzulla (5.6 ppg) if they were to return.
• Boston College and South Carolina signed a home-and-home series for the next two seasons. This is the type of quality game both schools desperately need. The two clubs should be NCAA-worthy next season. The first of the two games is Dec. 30, 2009 at BC. The Eagles and Gamecocks were both looking to finalize their schedules. Landing a game like this should help prepare each for their respective conference seasons. Both teams return four starters next season.
• Kammeon Holsey missing the upcoming season because of a torn ACL is a crushing blow for the incoming Georgia Tech freshman. But the Yellow Jackets are deep up front. He probably won’t be as missed as he would have been had Gani Lawal left for the NBA. Lawal and Derrick Favors will gobble up most of the minutes, with Zach Peacock as the third big man in the bunch. Holsey was an athletic big man who could run the floor well and block shots, so having that off the bench would have been unique. But getting on the floor may have been more difficult. Now with that said, if another injury were to occur, the Yellow Jackets could be in trouble.
The timing was perfect. Teams are allowed to go overseas for an offseason trip once every four years. Coaches always make sure the trips are done when it makes the most sense. Incoming freshmen can’t go since the trips are supposed to occur when school is out of session, so having a veteran team coming back can maximize the experience.
The Commodores return 14 of 15 players from last season’s roster, including a likely first-round draft pick in Australian center A.J. Ogilvy. Vandy, which finished 19-12 last season (8-8 in the SEC), is primed for a breakout season that will lead it to the NCAA tournament for the third time in four seasons.
Then a few months ago, reality hit. David Williams, Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for student affairs and athletics, met with Stallings in early spring and told him the money wasn’t available for the trip.
“We had waited an extra two years, since it had been six years since we’d gone on a trip,” said Stallings, whose program traveled to Italy, Spain and the Canary Islands in 2003. “I knew the university was facing a tough time just like the rest of the country. There were people losing jobs. There was so much distress economically for the university to shell out $100,000 for us to make the trip.”
Jim Brown/US PresswireEntering his 11th season at Vanderbilt, Stallings was determined to take his team to Australia.
The majority of coaches would have likely just left the decision alone. But not Stallings, not with this team, not at a school that he has been so committed to the past decade — a school that has as sterling a reputation for its ethical behavior as Stallings has within the college basketball community.
“I was convinced it was the right time for the program; it was a hard thing to let die,” Stallings said. “So I went back to him and proposed the idea of me paying for it, and he agreed to that.”
Nevertheless, Stallings still had to convince his wife, Lisa. Foregoing $100,000 that the university would otherwise owe him as part of his salary is no joke. But this was the ultimate investment in his team, his program, and his future at Vanderbilt. If the trip is a success, it could ultimately be the impetus to catapult the Dores toward a banner season.
“I went home and was convinced the trip had to be made,” said Stallings by phone from Melbourne, Australia. “I felt our players earned it, deserved it. And my wife said to me, as she usually does, to make sure I’ve thought it through. I gave it some thought and said it did [make sense]. Our players deserve this and it is an investment in my program.”
Williams, who is traveling with the team on the trip, wrote in an e-mail to ESPN.com that Stallings “did not want the story told, but I am glad you are writing it so all can see that while he is a great ballcoach, he also cares about what’s happening around him.”
“He understood why we could not pay for the trip at this time and stepped up to help the team and the school,” Williams continued. “We are truly lucky and proud that Kevin Stallings is Vanderbilt’s basketball coach. I am sure his generous and commitment will pay back a hundred times over.”
Stallings said he didn’t promise Ogilvy a trip to Australia. But he did tell the rising junior that he would try. Ogilvy, who could have declared and been a first-round pick in June, was thrilled with the decision, according to Stallings. So, too, were the rest of his teammates. Stallings said as soon as the decision was made, he received text messages from the team thanking him for his generosity.
“This wasn’t a difficult decision to make,” Stallings said. “It wasn’t something I had to labor over. The players are having a terrific time. We demand a lot in this program, but our guys work hard, play hard and conduct themselves with a tremendous amount of class, and that’s important to me. Under normal circumstances, the university would step up and do what it is appropriate.”
Stallings covered the trip for 16 players, the five-person coaching staff, trainer, manager, strength coach and a few administrators. A few coaches who took family members had to cover that on their own. Stallings couldn’t take his family due to summer scheduling events with his children back in Nashville (while his son, Jacob, is playing Cape Cod League baseball before he returns to North Carolina).
In addition to attending an Australian Rules Football game and touring the highest point in the country, the Commodores have already played two games on the trip.
In the second game, against the Kilsyth Cobras of the South East Australian Basketball League, guard Jermaine Beal was stellar, scoring 23 points and grabbing seven boards. Ogilvy, as expected, poured in nearly a double-double with 19 and eight and the Dores had five players in double figures in their win. Vandy also took its opener with the Dandenong Rangers, led by Ogilvy’s 23 points and 16 boards. Beal added 10 points, six assists and four steals and Brad Tinsley had nine points and seven assists.
The 10-day trip will almost certainly prove useful when the Dores get to the Maui Invitational in November and open up against Cincinnati, one of the best first-round games in early-season tourney play. Prior to that game, Vanderbilt plays at Saint Mary’s (which is also on a tour of Australia this week). The Commodores will also host Missouri, travel to Illinois and play Western Kentucky in Nashville.
• Duke is awaiting the final class for Andre Dawkins as he gets set to graduate early from Virginia’s Atlantic Shores Christian School so he can be admissible a year early. Dawkins, who would have been in the class of 2009 had he not transferred high schools, is attempting to enter with his original class for the fall semester instead of going for a post-graduate year. According to a source, the Blue Devils are confident there won’t be a hiccup in Dawkins’ graduation. Rated the No. 2 shooting guard in ESPNU’s Top 100 for 2010, Dawkins would fill the void left by the departure of Elliot Williams, who transferred to Memphis to be closer to an ailing relative.
• Butler has played three games on its tour of Italy, dropping the first two to the Swiss National team. Butler beat Prima Veroli on Monday, but without three players who were hurt, including star junior Matt Howard (Grant Leiendecker and Ronald Nored also didn’t play). Gordon Hayward, who was a key contributor to the gold-medal-winning U.S. Under-19 team this summer, scored 27 points in a loss to the Swiss on Friday.
• Pitt’s pickup of Centenary guard Chase Adams was essentially a freebie. Centenary, which recently announced it is moving to Division III in the next few years, is barred from the 2010 postseason, thus allowing players to transfer immediately. Pitt already has a stellar recruiting class working for 2010, with Isaiah Epps and Cameron Wright verbally committed. But the Panthers needed another guard for this season. Adams is a senior and will offer up experience next to rising sophomore Ashton Gibbs. Redshirt Travon Woodall will log minutes in the rotation, as will Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wanamaker, two significant role players from last season.
• Xavier always plays a challenging schedule, regardless of who is the head coach. So the transition from Sean Miller to Chris Mack didn’t matter — the Musketeers go after power-rating games in November and December and this year is no different. XU released its nonconference schedule Tuesday. The Musketeers play Marquette in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., and then either Creighton or Michigan in the second game, with a third against Alabama, Baylor, Florida State or Iona. From Dec. 8-19, they go to Big 12 sleeper Kansas State, host crosstown enemy Cincinnati and then travel to Butler, a likely top-15 team. Hosting rival Miami (Ohio) and then Tasmin Mitchell and LSU will hardly be a walk before a road game at Wake Forest on Jan. 3. Xavier squeezed in a February nonconference game at Florida as well. Welcome to the show, Chris Mack.
• Possible Summit League favorite Oakland has loaded up on marquee nonconference games to improve its power rating. The Golden Grizzlies probably wouldn’t get an at-large berth if they didn’t win the Summit, but playing this type of schedule could help it in the long run in terms of getting a better seed (14 to 13) in March. Oakland is playing Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Syracuse and Oregon all on the road. If the Golden Grizzlies can pull off one upset, maybe two, they would be putting themselves in position to make some noise in March. Oakland should be led inside by 6-foot-11 Keith Benson, who averaged 14.3 points a game last season for the 23-13 Grizzlies.
• Credit West Virginia sophomore Devin Ebanks for sticking with school and now trying to prove he made the right decision by speaking out a bit. Ebanks went to Kansas City this week to speak about recruiting to 65 12th-grade basketball players from across the country. The Long Island native was part of an NCAA conference on “Making the Decision, Making the Transition.” The assumption on Ebanks was that he was a one-and-done when he got to West Virginia. But that was hardly the case. Ebanks, who was originally slated to go to Indiana before Kelvin Sampson stepped down, was third on the team in scoring at 10.5 points a game. With Alex Ruoff gone and Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla suspended for now, the onus will be on Ebanks to produce even more. He should be expected to be the second-leading scorer behind returning wing Da’Sean Butler (17.1 ppg).
“I guess people thought I’d play well down the stretch and thought I’d go,” Ebanks said of the assumption he was declaring. “But I had it in my mind that I wasn’t ready and I needed to come back for another year.”
Ebanks said he has been told to improve his strength and added that he has put on 10 pounds since the summer started and is up to 215. He said he expects he’ll have the ball in his hands more often next season. He also said that in pickup games he and Butler have gone against one another, with each handling the ball in a playmaking role in the absence of Bryant and Mazzulla.
Ebanks said he compares Butler to Paul Pierce and said teams will struggle to match up against them because of their versatility. But he also didn’t seem worried about the status of the team’s regular point guards.
“We’ll get those guys back,” Ebanks said confidently.
NCB, Vanderbilt Commodores
Andy Katz is a senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com. He started working for the site in 1998, eventually leaving a 10-year newspaper career in 1999 to join ESPN.com full-time. In addition to covering games and breaking news on a daily basis, Katz is a reporter for studio and remote coverage of college basketball and the NBA draft on ESPN’s family of networks. He also writes the Daily Word, hosts ESPNU’s The Experts (1 p.m. ET) and Katz Korner (4:30 ET) on Tuesdays during the season and is co-host of the ESPNU college hoops podcast.