Posted: Tuesday October 22, 2002 2:48 PM
Updated: Monday October 28, 2002 2:08 PM
The following preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the most thorough preview available of the upcoming season, order the 2002-03 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
All of the departing seniors had spoken and the annual XU awards banquet was winding down as radio play-by-play man Joe Sunderman prepared to introduce university president Rev. Michael Graham at the podium for some closing remarks.
But the fun was just beginning.
David West, a 6-foot-9 forward and second-team All-American, stood up and walked toward the microphone. West had been wrestling with the decision of jumping to the NBA for weeks and finally had come to a decision. He told Matta the day before that he was leaning toward leaving and the coach figured his star was going to do the classy thing and share his decision with his teammates and fans.
Well, Matta was half right. West did share his decision with the people in the room and, in a stunning revelation, announced that he would return for his senior season. West broke down while he was talking and brought the house down when he was finished.
"It was a complete surprise," Matta said. "The more he started talking, the more I liked what he was saying."
After talking with Matta, West spent a great deal of time talking with teammates Lionel Chalmers and Anthony Coleman. Neither tried to talk him out of it, but he changed his mind anyway.
"The thing that I like is that he did it for his team," Matta said.
"It just doesnít feel like itís time to go," West told the Cincinnati Post. "We have unfinished business."
Such as a seventh straight 20-win season, second straight Atlantic 10 title and trip to the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history?
All of those accomplishments are certainly in reach for a Musketeers team that returns four starters, boasts two of the best players in the country at two positions (West and shooting guard Romain Sato). Matta also landed a stellar recruiting class.
Of course, after finding success away from the national spotlight for a number of years, the Musketeers will not be sneaking up on anyone this season.
"Hopefully the high expectations and rankings will be great motivation for our players to play at their highest level every time they step on the floor," Matta said. "If we want to fulfill those obligations, starting in October, we must have good practices every time out. We need to continue to get better every day as we did this past year.
"I think having the target on our backs, not just in the conference, but nationally, should be a source of great motivation for us and our opponents. We have to be ready every night."
West certainly is. He has started all 94 games since arriving in Cincinnati from Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia and is at his best when the game is on the line. A legitimate candidate for national player of the year, West can become the A-10ís first three-time player of the year and is willing to do whatever it takes to win.
"The great players have a way of bringing it every night and thatís what David West does," said La Salle coach Billy Hahn, who coached stars like Steve Francis, Joe Smith and Juan Dixon during his 12 years as an assistant at Maryland. "David West doesnít take plays off. He thinks he can score every time he gets it, he thinks he can get every rebound and he thinks he can block every shot. Even if he canít, he believes he can and the great ones do that."
Sato has made believers out of many, even though he didnít pick up a basketball for the first time until he was 14. A native of the Central African Republic, Sato came to the United States as part of a foreign exchange program with Dayton (Ohio) Christian School and has been turning heads ever since.
"Heís a tremendous kid who really loves the game of basketball," Matta said. "Every day is a new adventure for him as he sees himself getting better and he gets more and more used to improving as a player and a person."
How good is Sato? So good that Xavier is billing West and Sato as "the best inside-outside combination in the nation." Sato shoots .462 from the floor, including .415 from three-point range, and can guard every position on the floor except center. Once considered just a shooter, he is now a complete player.
"I wouldnít trade Romain for any player in the country," Matta said.
And Xavier probably wouldnít trade Matta for any coach in the country. In fact, it signed him to a contract extension in the offseason that will keep him in Cincinnati through the 2010 season.
Matta, who came to Xavier after one season at Butler, has won the regular season title, conference tournament and conference coach of the year in each of his two seasons as a head coach. He is also the only A-10 coach to win the regular season and tournament championships in his first season.
"We believe that the success our team enjoyed this past season under Thadís leadership is an indication of things to come," said Mike Bobinski, Xavierís director of athletics.
Although heís young, Mattaís philosophies are old school. He credits Barry Collier, his coach and mentor at Butler, Tates Locke, Charlie Coles, Phil Hopkins and others with helping him learn the profession.
"You can never thank those guys enough," said Matta, who played guard on Collierís first team at Butler. "You take from them, you steal from them and then you try to fit it into your personality.
"I try to coach the guys like I want to be coached and treat them like men."
So far, his philosophy has worked well. He led Butler to an upset of Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2001. Xavier played Oklahoma, which advanced to the Final Four, close before the Sooners used their defense to pull away for a 78-65 victory in the second round of the NCAAs last season.
Although it was a difficult loss, it gives the Musketeers something more to shoot for this season. With West and Sato to build around, it will be up to Matta and his staff to keep everyone on the team pointed in the same direction this year, and in the years to come.
In fact, Matta has already received two commitments for the 2003-04 season. Robert Barker, a 6-5 shooting guard from Greensburg (Ind.) High School, gave a commitment to Xavier in February and Justin Doellman, a 6-8 swingman from Ryle (Ky.), made the Musketeers his choice in May.
While the future is always now in college basketball, Xavier fans do not want to get ahead of themselves. This season could be special and it would be wise to enjoy the ride.
F -- KEVIN FREY (6-8, 8.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 33.5 minutes, .375 FG, .259 3PT, .716 FT). Nobody has played more games in Xavier history than Frey, a gritty banger who made 130 appearances and 106 starts in his career.
Frey gave the Musketeers another scoring option on the block and a solid defender in the post. Although rarely spectacular, Frey was a consistent contributor and good team leader.
His aggressive style of play earned him the respect of teammates and opponents, as well as the one and only Dick Vitale.
"Heís a tough, hard-nosed competitor," Vitale said.
Frey finished his career with 1,102 points, which ranks 28th all-time at Xavier.
G -- ALVIN BROWN (6-3, 2.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.8 apg, 10.3 minutes, .397 FG, .423 3PT, .737 FT). A dependable reserve throughout his Xavier career, Brown brought experience and depth to both guard positions. He started the final two games of the Atlantic 10 Tournament when Dave Young was out with a wrist injury and helped the Musketeers to the championship.
G -- JAISON WILLIAMS (6-3, 2.2 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.9 apg, 8.0 minutes, .449 FG, .407 3PT, .706 FT). Williams, who played in all but one game as a freshman, asked for and was granted his release to transfer at the end of the season. An all-state high school player in Colorado, he would have probably been a reliable backup for the Musketeers but he wanted to find a situation where he could play a bigger role.
F -- JAMES BARONAS (6-8, 0.9 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 2.4 minutes, .500 FG, .667 FT). A four-year walk-on, Baronas provided Xavier with a dedicated practice player throughout his college career. He played in 27 games during his four seasons and finished with 16 points. He hopes to become a real "Dr. J," as in physician, someday.
PG -- LIONEL CHALMERS (6-0, 180 lbs., SR, #0, 12.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.2 apg, 3.3 tpg, 1.5 spg, 34.1 minutes, .421 FG, .351 3PT, .719 FT, Albany HS/Albany N.Y.). Chalmers replaced Maurice McAfee in XUís starting lineup and held up pretty well.
He finished 19th in the league in scoring and eighth in assists while earning third-team All-Atlantic 10 honors. He also played well in the postseason, including a 19-point, six-assist, three-steal effort in the A-10 championship game that helped land him a spot on the all-tournament team.
"He really showed last year that he is capable of having big games," Matta said.
A reliable outside shooter, steady ball handler and good passer, Chalmersí challenge this season is to become more of a true point and really run the team. He must continue to improve his decision-making and get the ball to the right people at the right times.
"Lionelís got to learn how to make everyone on the court better," Matta said. "And I think heís more eager to do it this season."
Donít be surprised if Chalmers succeeds. He was a four-time team MVP in high school and understands that his success and team success go hand in hand. A partial qualifier as a freshman, Chalmers could return for another season if he completes his degree requirements on time.
SG -- DAVE YOUNG (6-5, 200 lbs., SR, #13, 8.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.4 tpg, 0.8 spg, 25.5 minutes, .397 FG, .284 3PT .699 FT, New Castle HS/New Castle, Pa.). Like Chalmers, Young moved into the starting lineup last season and gave a solid accounting of himself.
A prolific scorer (1,958 points) and two-time Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year in high school, his shooting was a bit inconsistent last season and he needs to find the range from the outside. Young is a tough defender with the ability to check both guards and small forwards and help on the boards.
"Heís a tremendous athlete," Matta said. "We need a good year out of him."
Young has the ability. He just has to perform at the top of his game more regularly. He can also regain another season of eligibility by graduating on time.
SG -- ROMAIN SATO (6-5, 205 lbs., JR, #10, 16.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.8 tpg, 0.9 spg, 0.7 bpg, 34.6 minutes, .462 FG, .415 3PT, .688 FT, Dayton Christian/Bangui, Central Africa Republic). The sky is the limit for Sato, who has been playing organized basketball for only six seasons.
Sato was thought of as a shooter when he came to Xavier because of the numbers he put up in his only season of high school ball (26.4 ppg, 15. 6. rpg, 5.3 apg) after arriving in the United States. He can still light it up from the outside, but also can lock down opponents by guarding point guards and power forwards, along with everyone else in between.
"I really believe this. Iím not sure there is a better shooting guard in the country at both ends of the floor," Matta said.
A second-team All-Atlantic 10 performer in the regular season, Sato also earned a spot on the leagueís all-defensive and all-tournament teams. He also plays with a great deal of desire, which inspires his teammates and is obvious to anyone watching the game.
"He loves to play the game," La Salleís Hahn said. "He plays with a smile on his face, he plays with passion. That guyís a killer."
PF -- DAVID WEST (6-9, 240 lbs., SR, #30, 18.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 3.1 tpg, 2.5 bpg, 34.2 minutes, .536 FG, .321 3PT, .768 FT, Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy/Garner, N.C.). Thereís not much more you can write about this guy that hasnít already been written. As long as he stays healthy this season, he will again be the best player in the Atlantic 10 and could find himself in serious contention for some pretty prestigious hardware.
Thereís no doubt West could have gone to the NBA and made some good money as a mid-first-round pick. West decided he wanted more out of college and himself (if thatís possible from a guy who was selected both player of the year and defensive player of the year in his conference).
"He had a tremendous summer," Matta said. "Iím very encouraged because he has taken the approach that I can get better."
West led the league in both rebounding and blocked shots while finishing fifth in scoring last season. He has added more range to his jump shot, which should open things up around the basket for him and improve his value in the eyes of NBA scouts.
A remarkably consistent player, West has hit for double figures in 54 of his last 55 games and also plays his best when the game is on the line. He has a tendency to make big plays at both ends of the floor and needs 512 points and 70 rebounds to become just the second Musketeer with 2,000 points and 1,000 boards.
"David West does it all," Hall of Famer and TV analyst Bill Walton said. "He rebounds, blocks shots, runs the floor very well, he scores with a complete repertoire -- both facing the basket and with his back to the basket -- and he is a willing and capable passer."
"The thing that I love most about him is that heís a winner and he loves to win," Matta said. "And, that is much easier said than done. He does not accept mediocrity from himself or his teammates."
C -- WILL CAUDLE (6-9, 240 lbs., SO, #52, 13.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.2 bpg, .640 FG, .670 FT in 2000-01, Warren Central HS/Indianapolis, Ind.). A partial qualifier last year, Caudle practiced with the Musketeers but was not allowed to participate in games and it may take him time to round into peak form. Matta has a lot of options with his lineup because of Xavierís versatility, but Caudle makes sense because heís big and physical and can help West on the boards.
He also made the most of last year, adding 25 pounds of muscle to his frame and learning by knocking heads with West every day. His presence will also help offset the loss of Frey on defense.
"He brings great energy to the floor every time he plays," Matta said. "Heís a good low post scorer and a good athlete."
G/F -- KEITH JACKSON (6-5, 215 lbs., SO, #25, 3.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 tpg, 16.5 minutes, .495 FG, .559 FT, Purcell Marian HS/Cincinnati, Ohio). He led Xavierís reserves in minutes played last season and could wind up starting if Matta, who likes versatile players who can force tempo, decides to go with a smaller lineup.
Jackson came to Xavier listed as a Top 100 recruit and filled his sixth-man role nicely, although much more of him will be expected this season. An athletic, aggressive defender, Jackson is safe handling the ball and has worked hard to improve his offense. Still, more of a scorer than a shooter (he did not attempt a three-point shot all of last season), Jackson can get points around the basket and in transition.
He will play a key role this season, but it wonít be determined until the Musketeers hit the floor for real.
F -- ANTHONY COLEMAN (6-10, 215 lbs., FR, #21, 1.4 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 6.3 minutes, .462 FG, .818 FT, Centennial HS/Carson, Calif.) Coleman was forced to learn on the fly because of Xavierís lack of depth in the frontcourt, and it may end up helping him in the long run.
"Heís long, athletic, blocks shots, has a nice jump shot and passes well," Matta said.
Coleman came on strong in the second half of the season and his playing time increased in the final six games. He will only get better with experience.
G -- DEDRICK FINN (6-1, 190 lbs., FR, #12, 18.0 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.6 spg, .407 3PT, .84 FT, Castle HS/Newburgh, Ind.). Considered a Top 100 recruit by several services (BlueChipHoops, CNNSI.com, Hoop Scoop and ESPN.com), Finn is the only newcomer in the backcourt and gives Xavier another outside shooting option and solid ball handler. He played point guard in high school, but also was a clutch shooter on the perimeter and at the foul line for a 22-4 team that earned its school a spot in the state semifinals for the first time.
"Heís a winner," Matta said. "Heís a good leader on the floor who passes the ball where it needs to be."
F -- ANTHONY MYLES (6-9, 245 lbs., JR, #24, 13.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.5 bpg, .527 FG, .514 FT, Harper HS, Chicago, Ill. and Olney College/Chicago, Ill.). Myles gives the Musketeers some much-needed muscle and depth in the post
Rated as high as 17th among junior college power forwards, he made all-region and all-conference last season and can provide some additional inside scoring. His outside shooting isnít great, but he has worked hard in the offseason to improve his free throws.
"Heís a guy who is very capable of coming in and helping us," Matta said.
F -- RYAN CALDWELL (6-5, 250 lbs., SO #53, 0.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.4 minutes, .250 FG, 1.000 FT, McNicholas HS/Cincinnati, Ohio). A strong, aggressive player, Caldwell returns for his fourth season as a walk-on. He appeared in five games last season.
F -- TOM COMPTON (6-11, 225 lbs., JR, #54, 0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 1.0 minutes, Xavier HS/Cincinnati, Ohio). Xavierís tallest player, Compton played in three games last season and is back for his third season as a walk-on.
F -- ANGELO SMITH (6-8, 220 lbs., FR #11, 14.1 ppg, 10.0 rpg, Lawrence North HS/Indianapolis, IN.). A developing talent, Smith has shown steady improvement and an ability to guard more than one position. He scored 26 points and had 15 rebounds in the Indiana North-South All-Star Game against the best players in Indiana. Mostly an inside player, he was selected all-state and second-team All-Marion County after his senior year.
"He has great knowledge of the game and truly understands it," Matta said. "He is long and athletic with good speed for his size."
F -- BRANDON COLE (6-7, 220 lbs., FR #33, 22.3 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.1 apg, Rich South HS/Richton Park, IL.). Cole was the unanimous choice for conference MVP after setting a school record with his scoring average last season.
A rugged inside player, he grabbed a school-record 23 rebounds in one game and set records for rebounds (303), offensive rebounds (156), free throws made (131) and free throws attempted. In addition to having a good scoring touch and the ability to get to the line, Cole can also play away from the basket and could be a Frey-type player down the road.
"Brandon is a guy who has a great knack for scoring," Matta said. "He is very good around about the basket, but he can also step out a little bit and take a guy off the dribble if he needs to. Heís got great feet and is a very good defender who can guard a couple of positions for us."
The days when Xavier was considered a "sleeper" are long gone. This program is alive and well, and anyone who does not know that has been asleep under a rock somewhere.
West is one of the best players in the country, a star who gives the Musketeers a chance to beat anyone on any given game. He has improved his shooting range and face-up game, which will make him even more difficult to defend.
Sato is also a joy to watch because you get his all on both ends each game, and he seems to master something new in almost every game. Already a known commodity to close followers of college basketball, he could be on the verge of becoming one of the biggest stars in the game.
The Musketeers will be helped by the fact that their best players are their hardest workers, so a letdown is highly unlikely. Chalmers, Young and Jackson should take the next step and Caudle and Coleman will continue to emerge and benefit from another season of playing and practicing with West.
If a couple of the newcomers, probably Finn and Myles, can fill in the gaps, the Musketeers could have a very special season.
Then thereís Matta, who seems to have the Midas touch. Heís young, charismatic and knows his stuff, but even he is a bit surprised that everything has fallen into place for him so quickly.
"No, I had no idea," Matta said. "My thoughts were to keep working hard and good things would happen to me."
They already have. If Xavier lives up to all of this seasonís hype, those good things will become great things.