Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
8/30/2006 10:27:00 AM
Blog Q&A With ... UNC's Tyler Hansbrough
Tyler Hansbrough was a freshman All-America pick after leading the Heels to a No. 3 seed in the 2006 NCAA tournament.
For the fourth in a series of summer blog Q&As, I checked in on UNC sophomore Tyler Hansbrough, who powered the Tar Heels to a surprise second-place finish in the ACC in 2005-06 as well as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. After averaging 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a freshman, he'll enter this year as a likely preseason All-America pick.
SI: Since this is a blog thing, I have to start with a Web-related question. You're probably the college player -- now that Darius Washington has left -- with the most elaborate personal Web site, Tyler50.com. How much of a role do you have in it?
Tyler Hansbrough: I have a little bit of a role in it. One of my dad's friends back in Poplar Bluff [Mo.] runs the site, and he pretty much asks me a bunch of questions about it. He started it back when I was a senior in high school, and a lot of people back home, they like to know what I'm up to, so it's cool.
SI: Even your high school senior pictures are on there. Do you approve of that?
TH: I approve. Some of my friends have joked around about it, but it's fine.
SI: So, this summer, how much time did you have to go back home to Missouri and what did you do while you were there?
TH: I went home for a month, mostly after summer school was over. I went fishing, played pool and ping-pong with my friends, and caught up with my family.
SI: I actually remember calling your house in April 2005, when you were still in high school, and all the stars of the UNC title team had just announced they were turning pro ... and you were out fishing. Seems like that's a big thing for you.
TH: Yeah. I fish a lot. Mostly for catfish and bass. We have a lot of private lakes that I like to go to [near Poplar Bluff] -- places where I know where all the fish are. My favorite is a friend's lake; it's mostly like an overblown pond. Sometimes I'll wade in, other times I'll just fish from the shore.
SI: Who's your favorite pro fisherman -- assuming you watch it on TV?
SI: Fine. Let's move on to basketball. I've read that your favorite experience from last season was beating Duke at Cameron Indoor [83-76 on March 4]. Can you explain what that experience felt like, for a freshman coming there his first time?
TH: It was a great feeling. With all the hype that goes into that game, and for how long people talk about it, it just builds up. When [the Blue Devils] came in here [to the Smith Center] and beat us, it got us ready. It maybe gave us a little advantage [for the rematch]. ... It's hard to tell you what it really felt like. But to go into that atmosphere, and win, it was special.
SI: What was the worst thing you heard from the Cameron Crazies that night?
TH: You know, I can't really remember exactly what they said. But they did all have my senior pictures printed out.
SI: And I bet they got them from your Web site. It came back to haunt you ...
TH: Yeah, it was the picture of me laying down with the basketball. But I just laughed, man. I knew everybody else would laugh, so there was nothing else I could really do about it.
SI: So 'Psycho T' could laugh it off. Can you give the full story on how you got that nickname?
TH: My strength coach [Jonas Sahratian] at UNC gave it to me while we were lifting in the weight room. I was pushing up some heavy weights -- doing bicep curls -- and he just started screaming. I got into it with him, and he called me "Psycho T." Ever since then, it's stuck.
SI: You've become somewhat of a celebrity in North Carolina. What's the craziest celebrity request you've received?
TH: Well, this summer, a guy sent an e-mail that [sophomore guard] Bobby [Frasor] showed to me. The guy wanted us to be in a movie he was making -- he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him, and he was making this tape that, I guess, had a whole bunch of people in it saying things to her. We aren't going to do it, though -- I think we're going to be gone when he wanted to film us.
SI: You have an extremely talented group of freshmen coming in this year. Top-five guys such as Brandan Wright and Tywon Lawson, just to start. How much did you get to play with them this summer, and what were your impressions?
TH: We played together for about a month, total. Brandan is a really long player who can get a lot of tough rebounds and can block shots. Lawson brings us a lot of speed, and that's going to be really useful. But at the same time, no one knows what their roles are yet. Coach [Roy Williams] will determine that later. And I think everyone is going to have to work hard to achieve what we want.
SI: You were able to have a lot of success right from the start at UNC. What is it about Williams' system that allows a freshman to get acclimated to the college game so quickly?
TH: Well, with the kind of team we had last year -- with all the guys that left -- we were kind of shorthanded. So I had to come in and make an impact right away. And with coach Williams' system, the way he likes to go up and down a lot, it worked well with my style.
SI: Last question. At the Final Four last year in Indy, it seemed like everyone was on the George Mason bandwagon, and was caught up in the mid-major Cinderella story. Was it possible for you to root for them after what happened, losing to Mason in the second round?
TH: It was tough. Because we felt like, with all the hard work that we put in, we should have won that game, but it didn't play out that way. To be honest with you, I didn't watch a single game [of the NCAA tournament] after we lost. I didn't want to watch, because every time I saw it on TV, I'd get mad.
Micah Downs quit the Kansas team on Jan. 24 and headed to Gonzaga, where he'll have to sit out part of the 2006-07 season.
This is the strangest story I've read all summer. In the Aug. 24 issues of the Lawrence Journal-World, Tom Keegan wrote a column after receiving an unsolicited phone call from the father of ex-Jayhawk forward Micah Downs, who transferred to Gonzaga midway through his freshman season. Steven Downs wanted to make a clarification, in the press, that when his eldest son left KU, it wasn't Bill Self's fault.
"It wasn't Bill at all," Steven Downs alleged in the LJ-W. It was Micah's own fault, man. You can't blame the coach or the staff."
Papa Downs then went on to pledge an awkward allegiance to the Jayhawks, rather than Micah. He told Keegan that he wishes Micah would've stayed in Lawrence, and that he still wants his other son, Steven Jr., a prep sophomore, to play for the Jayhawks. "I want everyone to know how much our family appreciated Bill Self and Kansas University," Steven said. "I feel like I owe you guys a basketball player. If I could afford it, I'd be coming down to Kansas for every game. I've been a Kansas fan all my life. I still wear my Kansas Jayhawk cap. We still have our Kansas Jayhawk flag hanging up in our room."
Now, here's the real stunner: The reason there is no objection to all the KU paraphernalia still hanging in the Downs household ... is because Micah no longer has a relationship with his parents. Tough for pops, then, to know the whole truth.
"He hasn't spoken to me for months now," Steven said of Micah in the LJ-W. "We have personal issues because of his girlfriend. I never approved of her."
A very sad tale. And unfortunate, I think, that it had to be aired through the press.
Super-recruit O.J. Mayo will be spending his senior season at home -- in Huntington.
Michael J. LeBrecht II/1Deuce3 Photography
O.J. Mayo may only be ranked No. 5 in the Class of 2007 by Rivals.com, but no other high-schooler, I think, is capable of making national headlines by transferring in August. Mayo confirmed on Tuesday in USA Today that he was leaving Cincinnati's North College Hill High to return to his original hometown of Huntington, W.V., for his senior season.
When I reached Huntington High athletic director Steve Morris on Monday, while Mayo was completing his last day of classes in Cincy, all Morris could say was, "We haven't seen him yet. I'm not going to lie to you. He's not here." But Morris had received, just on the strength of the rumors Mayo was homeward bound (as first reported by a TV station in West Virginia), nearly 100 calls and even one offer from ESPN to televise a 2006-07 game.
Huntington head coach Lloyd McGuffin said he was similarly in the dark on the situation. "I really have no idea [about Mayo]," he said Monday. "I was bringing in something from my car and somebody told me, 'Hey, you better watch TV.' I had to wait for them to say who was coming here."
Mayo -- as well as the revenue stream attached to him, and the rumors over disciplinary problems, and the strange course of his college recruitment -- is coming. Joe Nickel, the athletic director at North College Hill, where Mayo and cohort Bill Walker played for the past three seasons, told SI in May that "We're set financially for the next 10 years because O.J. and Bill came to our school. No matter what happens, nobody can take that away."
Huntington High was already set, basketball-wise, before Mayo: McGuffin's teams -- led by nationally ranked recruits Patrick Patterson (of MySpace fame), Jamaal Williams and Michael Taylor -- have won back-to-back state titles. Mayo said now they'll arguably be the "best team in the nation." And, for better or worse, they'll have to deal with the circus that follows him back to West Virginia.
Acie Law and the Aggies are top-10 material -- with a schedule to match.
Dead for a week (of late-summer vacation), the blog has been revived. The first order of business, after scanning the scant college hoops news from the past seven days, is to offer a bit of praise to coach Billy Gillispie and Texas A&M. Usually it is not particularly worthwhile to pay attention to the Aggies until January, when they emerge from a cakewalk against schools with RPIs the size of O-linemen's weights to begin the Big 12 schedule. Last season A&M went 10-0 by playing every game in November and December at home, with the best opponent being Big Ten near-doormat Penn State and the worst being Savannah State, one year removed from going 0-28.
This December, the Aggies are overcompensating for their cupcake past ... by running through an eight-day gauntlet:
Dec. 2 vs. Pacific, which has made three straight trips to the NCAA tournament. (Final '05-06 RPI: 88) Dec. 5 at LSU, which was in the Final Four … and beat A&M in the second round. (RPI: 13) Dec. 9 in Anaheim, Calif., "at" UCLA, which was the national runner-up. (RPI: 9) (Average RPI: 36.7)
Before you call him a masochist, Gillispie makes it clear that he didn't intentionally slate the Final Four teams back-to-back. A&M had the home-and-home series with LSU first, and then the Wooden Classic and the Bruins came knocking. "When that opportunity arose, we said, 'It's not perfect,' but we took it," Gillispie explained Monday.
What the Aggies accepted, for their new schedule, is absurdly more difficult than what they opened December with in 2005-06:
Dec. 3: Win over Penn State. (Final '05-06 RPI: 106) Dec. 7: Win over North Texas. (RPI: 200) Dec. 10: win over Grambling State. (RPI: 282) (Average RPI: 196. D-I rank of overall non-conference strength of schedule: 240.)
Although Gillispie asserts, vehemently, that A&M's philosophy hasn't changed -- "we do whatever it takes to prepare our team to play well in conference" -- there's a significant reason the Aggies are now willing to get their hands dirty before the New Year: They'll enter 2006-07 with a top-10 caliber team. I put the Aggies at No. 9 in SI's ultra-early rankings on the night of the title game. I suspect the AP will slot them at least in the top 15.
A&M has reached the point, finally, where a light prance to 10-0 isn't going to prepare them for much of anything. Kudos to Gillispie for recognizing it. As he said, "When you have more experience" -- like senior guard Acie Law and junior forward Joseph Jones, both pro prospects -- "you're able to play a more difficult schedule."
Readers: Which teams do you excuse for playing cushy early slates, and which do you criticize? I went and dug up -- from kenpom.com's sortable data -- the weakest non-conference schedules played by BCS-conference teams in '04-05 and '05-06. A&M ranked second and 12th, respectively. The repeat offenders in the top 10? Virginia Tech (third, both times); and Ole Miss (10th and sixth). Baylor would likely have been one, had its non-con schedule not been wiped out due to NCAA sanctions. And the most interesting figure of all? The fact that Florida -- your national champs -- played the seventh-easiest slate in the nation. It goes to show you just how unsure of his young team Billy Donovan really was.
Weakest in 2004-05Weakest in 2005-06 Rk. Team SOS Rk. Team SOS 1. Baylor 329 1. Florida State 316 2. Texas A&M 320 2. Oregon State 312 3. Virginia Tech 312 3. Virginia Tech 290 4. West Virginia 269 4. Boston College 282 5. Notre Dame 267 5. Colorado 271 6. Pittsburgh 262 6. Ole Miss 270 7. N.C. State 259 7. Florida 253 8. Kansas State 257 8. Penn State 248 9. Arkansas 249 9. USC 245 10. Ole Miss 237 10. Nebraska 242 12. Texas A&M 240
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, outrebounding NBA lottery pick Tyrus Thomas in the Final Four.
For the third in a series of summer blog Q&As, I checked in on UCLA sophomore Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who as a freshman played a major role in the Bruins' 2005-06 run to the Final Four. His 7-foot-2 wingspan helped him average a team-leading 8.2 rebounds per game, and his hard-to-pronounce name (umbah-a-moo-teh) and status as Cameroonian royalty (he's a real-life prince) made him a cult figure in Westwood.
LR: A couple of my friends have them, but I personally don't have one. I won't wear one, because I can't wear anything with my name on it like that [the "Boute" shirt has "Prince" and "23" on the back]. I'm not an arrogant guy, and to me that would be arrogant.
SI: But you're fine with the fact that they exist?
LR: Oh yeah. I was very excited when I saw them. I was so happy with the guys who made the shirts -- I think I had a great game the first day I saw them. Seriously. It meant a lot. Those people give me a lot of love and support. Sometimes that boost can help you win the game. That's one of the reasons I'm happy being here at UCLA.
SI: You've been playing in the Nike SayNo Pro City League this summer in L.A. with a bunch of other Bruins. What's the biggest summer development to the Prince's game?
LR: I've basically been trying to get my confidence back from the perimeter. I've always played perimeter spots [he started playing hoops as a point guard], but last year I ended up playing the four, so I'm getting used to playing back outside again.
SI: So you're not going to be playing the four this season? I didn't know that ...
LR: No, I'm going to be playing both. The three and the four. If guys like [incoming freshman] James Keefe and Alfred Aboya are down low, I can play outside. Keefe's on my team [the Sinclair Bruins] and from what I saw this summer, he can play. He has good moves down low, he can shoot from mid-range and he can rebound. He's going to be able help us this year because of how much he works.
SI: What was your reaction when you found out in June that your point guard from the Final Four run, Jordan Farmar, was turning pro?
LR: I was happy for him. He felt like it was the best decision, and the coaches were happy for him, too. Especially because he got taken by the Lakers. He can get better there, and he's playing at home. At the same time, it's a great loss for our program, since Farmar was such a great leader. We have the right person to step in, though. Darren Collison is ready. SI: What's the difference between playing with Collison at the point, as opposed to when Farmar's running the show?
LR: The difference is, especially last year, Darren was kind of tentative. He was a freshman. He didn't know what to expect. Jordan was the leader, he always knew what was going to happen, and had the right words for everything. Next year I know Darren will be fine, because he has had the experience and love from Jordan and everything.
SI: And Collison's speed will help, too, right?
LR: Yeah, Darren is a quicker, faster guy. Jordan was a more controlled point guard who could penetrate; Darren goes much faster, but they can both run the team well. This year we're going to have the right personnel to run more, which is good. And it's not just because of Darren. We've got players like Josh [Shipp] coming back, we've got a freshman guard, Russell Westbrook, who can run too.
SI: Switching gears a bit ... I know Cameroon missed the World Cup, but this was a huge summer for soccer. I assume you're still a big fan?
LR: Definitely! What kind of question is that? My dad played pro soccer in Cameroon -- he tried out for the national team, even. People would always tell me, "Your dad was a great player." I didn't get to see him play until he was older, but he was still good -- a flashy player with talent. He was a striker, one of the best positions in soccer. To play that position is not easy.
SI: And what position did you play as a kid?
LR: I started as a goalie, then played striker from when I was nine or 10 to about 14. After that I got into basketball, at a junior club in Yaounde called Onyx.
SI: Have you played any pickup soccer at UCLA since you've arrived?
LR: I don't have a chance to because I'm so busy with basketall. I want to play a little soccer, but I can't go out and get hurt for basketball.
SI: Well, do you play the FIFA video games, at least? I've been hooked on FIFA World Cup lately ...
LR: Yeah, I play. I'm undefeatable on FIFA! I'm indomitable, just like the Lions -- the "Lions Indomptables," that's Cameroon's nickname. I do everything, I score, I play D.
SI: Cameroon's D isn't very good on that game, though. Their offense is sick, with Eto'o -- but the defense, not so much.
LR: I make 'em good. I'm a soccer player, man. I take the ball. I create, I use people the right way. I use the midfield to distribute the ball, I use my wings to cross, I do everything.
SI: I'm going to have to play you at some point, if I come out to L.A.
LR: You better get two or three months of practice in. Just let me know when you want to get schooled.
SI: OK, OK. Since Cameroon didn't play in the World Cup in real life -- only in video games -- who was your favorite player this summer?
LR: Hmm. I'd have to say Zidane.
SI: And do you care about what he did in the final? The head-butt?
LR: Kind of. You know, the way it looked, that's not a great thing for a player like him to do. At the same time, if the guy [Italy's Marco Materazzi] really said what he said, you never know if you're in that situation. You never know what's going to happen. Zidane's a great player, and there are so many great things about him … but maybe that was a mistake.
SI: So should Pac-10 opponents be worried about you head-butting them next year?
LR: We'll see. They better not say anything about my family.
Readers: Can Mbah a Moute and the Bruins make another Final Four trip, even without Farmar at the point? Is Luc going to be more than a "Glue Guy" this season? And do you think you could school him in FIFA? Discuss all that and more in the comments. The blog will be on a one-week hiatus, starting on Monday ...
I left the SI offices early last night and hopped on the D Train, uptown. Jumped off four stops later, in Harlem. The destination: Rucker Park. I was psyched; it was going to be my first night at the street hoops mecca on 155th and Frederick Douglass. 'Twas the night of the Entertainer's Basketball Classic championship game, pitting rapper Fat Joe's Terror Squad (with ex-Arkansas Razorback Kareem Reid and prep phenom Lance Stephenson) against The Game's Black Wall Street (with ex-LIU stars Richie Parker and Charles Jones).
There was no (The) Game, the rapper. He didn't show. And there was no actual game, either.
It was, all in all, pretty embarrassing. The championship, scheduled to start at 6 p.m., was delayed due to a massive dispute over referees. Fat Joe, according to four different (and independent) sources I questioned on the court, refused to accept -- or let his team play with -- the female official who was heading the original crew. "They're letting Joe call the shots because he's a big rap artist," said a man at the scorer's table. "I've never seen anything like this, letting somebody dictate the refs." The officiating crew, frustrated, left the premises. The game kept being delayed and delayed ... and delayed, until at 9:20 p.m., they called the whole thing off until Monday.
And so I left, with the absurdity of the scene in my head and just one good sound bite in my tape recorder. This, from Fat Joe, whom I stood with behind the stands at 8:30 p.m.: "There were people saying I didn't want some of the refs, which is really just a rumor that wasn't true. And it turned out that the refs got tired of hearing all the rumors, and they left. But I can't believe the refs would leave the championship game. I just don't want them to pin this sh-- on me!"
I did get to mingle on the court for a couple of hours amid the chaos. Watched a few celebs come and go. Ja Rule was hanging around for a while. They tried to get him to sing the national anthem. He eventually left. Stephon Marbury -- or Starbury, at Rucker -- came, did some interviews, and split. Someone asked him to ref, and he said, "I'm not reffing! That's f---ing crazy!" Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made his first trip to the court in decades ... but he left, frustrated, by 7:30 p.m.
The crowd's intensity reached its peak when an, um, "video star"-slash-"model" named "Buffie The Body" rolled in during the delay and was mobbed on the court by the emcees, who were struggling to make idle chatter to keep the fans in the crowd -- a few thousand strong -- from getting restless.
"A big shout-out to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! Is he still here?" one emcee said. "No, Kareem bounced," another shot back. "Oh, Kareem left? Maybe Buffy would have given Kareem a lap dance."
There were no lap dances. To fill the time, the emcees later recruited spectators at random to play a pickup game, while the actual players watched from the benches. Rucker, I'm guessing, has seen better nights.
As the second installment in a series of the blog's summer Q&As, I chatted with Wisconsin forward Alando Tucker, whose Badgers leave Thursday for a 10-day tour of Italy. Tucker, a fifth-year senior with a massive vertical leap (38 inches), was an All-Big Ten pick in 2005-06. He's the leading scorer (20.0 points per game) on a UW team that could begin the season in the top 10.
SI: Most kids are just moving back to school this week, and you're leaving for Europe. Pretty nice deal. What's the best non-basketball thing on your itinerary?
Alando Tucker: I've never been out of the country before, so it's really exciting. Especially that we're going to the Coliseum. I always joke around with my coaches and say, "I'm a gladiator" -- like, if I'm going hard and I throw down a dunk, I'll yell it out -- and to be able to be there, where the real gladiators were, will be a real experience.
SI: Do you think real gladiators wore clear masks [like the one you wore most of last season after breaking your nose on Nov. 29]?
AT: Ha. Probably not. I guess I'm a modernized gladiator.
SI: What did you do with that thing once you finally got to take it off? Smash it, or retire it up on a wall somewhere?
AT: Actually, I had surgery this summer to straighten my septum, because when I broke my nose, my septum was pushed over and it was hard for me to breathe. So I had to keep the mask and wear it up until July. The school still wants to hold on to it, in case something else happens.
SI: And what do you want to do with it?
AT: We can drop a 100-pound dumbbell on it and crush it. I just don't want to see it anymore.
SI: I read a pretty stunning quote from you recently, in which you said you actually couldn't breathe out of your nose at all for the last 27 games of the '05-06 season. What does that feel like? And how happy are you after that septum surgery?
AT: After I broke my nose [against Wake Forest], it was really tough for me. I was only breathing through my mouth, which was causing me to feel exhausted a lot quicker. Doing everything on the floor was harder for me. It's so much easier now. I'm laughing a lot. I'm more energetic. I'm able to get up and down the court without always putting my hands on my knees and looking like I'm dead.
SI: You're often called the most underrated player in the Big Ten, and Wisconsin the most underrated team. Is this the year that underrated stuff finally gets dropped, and you're simply looked at as one of the best in the whole country?
AT: This is the team that will really grab some eyes across the nation. I've been organizing the pickup games all summer, and I've seen the components we have. There's a lot more depth in the post, with Marcus Landry and [Greg] Stiemsma back. We're getting them back in the flow [after both players were ruled academically ineligible for the second semester in '05-06]. There's depth at the guard postion, which is what we needed. We have all the pieces to be a more athletic team that pushes the ball up and doesn't lull people to sleep during games -- like some people like to say we do.
SI: Your freshman guards -- Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon -- may not be able to go to Italy with you, but how are they looking so far in the summer? They're two of the bigger recruits to come to UW in a while.
AT: They can both definitely be in the mix. Hughes can really handle the ball. He's a true point guard who makes good decisions and goes strong to the basket. He has the body of a sophomore or junior already. Bohannon surprised me; coming in I thought he was just going to be a shooter. And he can shoot -- but he can also handle the ball better than most people give him credit for, and he can finish slashing to the hole.
SI: We'll switch away from hoops for the last Q. Wisconsin was named the No. 1 party school in the nation by Playboy this offseason. And this is your fifth year there. So where are your choice spots?
AT: The spot everybody likes to meet up at is the Kollege Klub, the "KK." A lot of hockey, and basketball players go there -- we're close to the hockey team [which beat Boston College for the 2006 NCAA title in April]. Or Monday's on State Street, that's the other one we hit up a lot.
SI: So basketball and hockey, huh? You guys don't hold a grudge because your floor at the Kohl Center gets lifted for an ice rink on a regular basis?
AT: No way. We watch them as much as we can, and give them support. As long as you're sharing a floor with national champs, it's not a problem.
Finally, one comments-section question for blog readers: Is this Tucker and Wisconsin's year in the Big Ten, or will Greg Oden & Co. take the league by storm in their freshman season? Share your thoughts below.
My apologies for the blogging drought at the end of last week. Football duties called in the form of a whirlwind tour of Florida and Florida State. Hoops was not altogether neglected, though. Before hitting the practice field, I snuck in some time with a few members of the national champion Gators hoops team, who were going through their summer workouts while Billy D and the staff (everyone other than new assistant Lewis Preston) were taking a brief vacation.
A few bits of news from the Florida camp, which embarks on a brief Canadian tour beginning Labor Day weekend:
• The Gators' offseason pickup games, I'm told, usually take this form: They break into three groups of five (they have to recruit an extra player or two), with big guys Chris Richard, Joakim Noah and Al Horford as captains. They then draft in a 1-1-2 format. "My first pick is always Walter Hodge," said Richard, "and Jo and Al either take Corey [Brewer] or Taurean [Green], depending on what order they're in." Richard also noted that he's on the losing team more often than not. Perhaps his avoidance of the junior class (he's a senior, Hodge is a soph) is holding Richard back. Just a thought.
• Horford said he, Noah, Green and Brewer are still living together in a four-bedroom apartment on campus. They did, however, upgrade from their sophomore-season pad. "We're trying to do it big this year," Horford explained. He said while they were not done decorating yet, Noah's African mask collection was their centerpiece. And when it comes to cleaning, it's mostly Horford and Green's duty, because, as Al said, "we have to stay on top of Corey and Jo."
• Horford's assessment of the roommates' living habits:
On Green: "No matter if it's 7 a.m. or 11 at night, he's always got a lot of energy. He can get on our nerves sometimes." On Noah: "He has a lot of energy on the court. Off the court he just wants to lay around the house." On Brewer: "All he likes to do is sleep. Between classes, the 40-minute nap, 30-minute nap, two-hour nap." On himself: "I just chill. That's what I do."
• The players had input on designing their national title rings, which they tentatively plan to receive at halftime of the football game against UCF on Sept. 9. They'll be made, coincidentally, by Jostens, the company of Donovan's old college roomie at Providence, and were modeled after Texas' football national championship hardware. I saw a printout of the final look. There is nothing subtle about it. Basically, bling in every sense of the word. Said guard Lee Humphrey -- probably the least-blinging Gator -- of the rings, "They're pretty big. They'll weigh down my hand, that's for sure."
• The team has been deluged with autograph requests. There's a meeting room in the Gators' practice facility where new goods are piled up daily. "I feel like there's at least 100 things a week that we sign," said Richard. "I've signed balls, posters, shirts, hats -- I even signed a car. The day we got back [from winning the title], this guy had a limo from the '50s or '60s, and he had us sign it. It was crazy."
The (rather obvious) question that everyone seems to immediately ask after I tell them I checked in on the Gators is: Do you think they'll repeat? I'm not foolish enough to make such a proclamation in August, but I would like to open up a discussion. What I'd like to hear from you, fans, are your best reasons why Florida won't repeat. Because, on paper, no other team is even remotely as title-worthy as the Gators -- so I'm going to have to be convinced otherwise between now and the start of the season.
It's not without risk, but UTEP's Doc Sadler couldn't pass up the Nebraska job.
The marriage of Doc Sadler and Nebraska, which was made official on Tuesday, is a union based on equal risk: The Huskers are willing to put their faith in a promising, albeit nationally obscure coach from UTEP whose team was in the NIT in March; and Sadler is willing to accept a major-conference gig in a setting where NCAA tourney success has been difficult to achieve.
While Nevada's Mark Fox was smart to turn down Nebraska's advances (see Monday's blog post), there was no way Sadler could've passed up this job. Fox would have been leaving behind a likely WAC champ in Reno, while Sadler was looking at another NCAA bubble team, at best, in El Paso. The Miners' top four scorers were gone after a 21-10 season, and although a whopping seven transfers were coming in, UTEP was no lock to reach the dance.
The bottom line: A mid-major coach becomes much less attractive to major-conference ADs when he's coming off two straight NIT trips, and Sadler could have been in that position next spring. He upgraded before his stock had a chance to drop -- and got a nice six-year deal, rather than the standard five, from the Huskers' Steve Pederson. If someone offers you a package worth $4.2 million (over six years, before incentives) to leave a place like El Paso, you take it.
Expect Sadler to attempt to fill the void left by Kelvin Sampson in the Big 12 -- that of the coach who contends with a juco-stocked roster. The Doc used his juco hookups to lure six of those seven incoming transfers on UTEP's 2006-07 roster, and he'll likely follow the same route at Nebraska. Can he, however, find someone (soon) to replace 6-foot-11 star center Aleks Maric, who told the Lincoln Journal-Star on Monday that he wouldn't be returning for his junior season? That's hardly the kind of news one wants to hear in Week 1 on the job.
Perhaps, if Sadler wants to make an early recruiting splash, he'll find a way to lure Maric back into town.
Nevada's Mark Fox passed on Nebraska, but how many more seasons will he remain in Reno?
The first real news out of the Nebraska coaching search dropped this weekend: Nevada coach Mark Fox said -- and said very publicly, with a statement on his school's Web site -- that he was not interested in the Huskers' job.
To that I say, smart move.
In the short term, it's not a monetarily sound decision for Fox: He makes $400,000 a year, base salary, in Reno. How much would Huskers AD Steve Pederson have anted up for a quality mid-major coach? Maybe $750,000 per year? A cool mil, even? Fox left money on the table by saying no. And he'll likely be better off for it.
Fox, as a head coach, has decent stock: He may not have been the architect for Nevada's rise, but he has maintained its success after taking over for Trent Johnson (who's now at Stanford) in 2004, winning the WAC regular-season title and making an NCAA tournament trip in each of his two seasons. Those are the kind of credentials that could get you a gig like Nebraska, where the Huskers missed out on the dance during every year of Barry Collier's recently-ended tenure.
But Fox is also sitting on another WAC title team in Reno. He received a rare gift in the offseason, in that his junior star, forward Nick Fazekas, pulled put of the NBA Draft. Five of the Wolf Pack's top six scorers will be back. Another NCAA tourney trip -- plus perhaps a run into the Sweet 16 -- and Fox's stock could be at the point where he'll be in line for better destinations than Lincoln, where it will be difficult to produce a consistent winner.
The next jump Fox makes, from mid-major to major, will be the crucial move of his career. To have hopped to Nebraska, a state devoid of home-grown, Big 12-caliber basketball talent -- it produced just one four-star recruit in the past four years, Lincoln's Matt Hill, who bolted for Texas -- could have been disastrous. By leaving in August, Fox would have been set back a year in recruiting, and by 2010, who knows -- he could have found himself in a similar position to Collier, on shaky job footing after a series of NIT berths, scouting out potential parachute landings back into mid-majordom. Basically, back at square one, with a black mark on his coaching resume.
So Fox opted to wait, and pile up more victories in Reno, while it appears that Nebraska will turn to UTEP's Doc Sadler instead. Next year, or the year after, I think Fox will pounce on a gig with more winning potential than Nebraska. Will it be a place like Oregon? Or Minnesota? Or will something suitable not come available? Therein lies the gamble -- but it's a gamble I'd be willing to take.
New SMU coach Matt Doherty is taking a page from former rival Mike Krzyzewski's book.
Craig Jones/Getty Images
As the first in a series of blog Q&As with college hoops figures leading up to the season, I spoke with new SMU coach Matt Doherty, who may be the first blogging coach in the history of college basketball -- even if he's only writing the Mustang Hoops Blog twice per month. (If he has a predecessor, let us know in the comments.) We covered a variety of topics, from the "Cuban" genesis of his blog, to his rep in Dallas, to his plan for rebuilding the Mustangs' program.
Matt Doherty: When I got to SMU, [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban and his stockbroker, a guy named Charlie McKinney, an SMU grad who's involved with a youth basketball program called the Dallas Heroes, came over to my office and talked. It was cool; we sat around for at least an hour, and I picked [Cuban's] brain about a lot of things, like marketing basketball in Dallas. I just sat there with paper and pen, taking notes. One of the things he said was to have a blog, because it's a great way to interact with fans, and be honest and insightful -- and you don't have to talk only about basketball. Mark told me that, from his blog, he gets lots of great ideas from fans about how to better run or market his team, so I decided to start one of my own.
SI: I see you've blogged about everything from SMU, to the Mavs, to misplacing rental cars on the summer recruiting circuit. How has it been going so far?
MD: Like Mark said, it's fun, and it gets you to tell your story the way you want to tell it, because not every quote gets put in the paper. There's a lot of value in that, but I realize you have to do it consistently. Coach Dean Smith had a saying: "Start how you finish." If you're going to commit to something, do it. In July I did it two times, and might continue twice a month, because it does take a good hour of concentration to do it. I enjoy writing; I have a bit of a sarcastic style sometimes.
SI: What has the feedback been like?
MD: I'm getting notes from fans all over the country. A lot of Carolina people, actually. I don't know if it got linked on a Carolina website or what....
SI: Are they harassing you?
MD: You know, they're actually wishing me well. There have been notes saying, "Sorry about what happened in Chapel Hill," or saying thanks for helping build the team that won the championship [in 2005]. Some people who I haven't communicated with in a while tracked me down through the blog. Old friends. It's cool, and I'm definitely going to continue it during the season, but I might bring in a guest or one of my assistants to help me keep it up.
SI: There was a list of the "50 Most Powerful People in [Dallas] Sports" that ran this summer in the Dallas Observer, and you were No. 23 -- one ahead of Dirk Nowitzki. Too high? Too low? Or just right?
MD: Well, when they put T.O. at No. 1, I thought it lost all credibility, because it's hard to beat Mark Cuban or Jerry Jones. But to be frank, even though I don't put a lot of stock in those, to be mentioned was kind of neat. There's a new day in SMU basketball, and Dallas is recognizing that, and hopefully we can put a product on the floor that validates my ranking. But it's not like I went to bed the night [the story ran] thinking, "I'm the man," because there are certainly people like Cuban, Jones, Troy Aikman and Dirk who are far more prominent. I'm just a new guy on the block.
SI: Are you using any kind of model for rebuilding the program? MD: I'm using the Duke model. We're not a quick-fix kind of place; we're not going to load up on transfers or juco players. We want to build a foundation. When Mike Krzyzewski got to Duke, he had one or two recruits his first year. The second year he brought in Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie and Dave Henderson, and he played them all early, and they got their butts kicked. The next season Tommy Amaker came in; they still lost, but not as bad. And in the fourth year, everything clicked -- they beat us [North Carolina, where Doherty played] when we were ranked No. 1, and went on to the NCAA tournament. The next year, Duke was in the Elite Eight, and the next, the Final Four. That's the model we're using.
SI: Duke and SMU ... interesting.
MD: It's eerie how similar SMU and Duke are -- and this is coming from a Carolina guy. Moody Coliseum reminds me a lot of Cameron Indoor, and we're really similar in terms of academic profile and alumni base. I tell recruits, we're the Duke of Dallas.
In case you're unfamiliar with the calendar concept ... Nebraska AD Steve Pederson points out his timetable for hiring a basketball coach.
Pederson, left, with new Pitt coach Ben Howland, center, on March 8, 1999.
When embattled Nebraska coach Barry Collier stepped -- or, some would say, backed -- out of Lincoln to take the athletic director's job at his alma mater, Butler, on Tuesday, he restarted a carousel that had been closed for the summer. In Collier's wake, the "who's-next" lists have followed an age-old formula, identifying non-BCS-conference overachievers (Creighton's Dana Altman, Nevada's Mark Fox, George Washington's Karl Hobbs), coaches with ties to the state (Altman again; Wyoming's Steve McClain; ex-Husker assistant Scott Spinelli, now at Wichita State), and coaches with even the remotest of connections to Nebraska AD Steve Pederson (Kent State's Jim Christian, a former Pitt assistant; UCLA assistant Kerry Keating, Ben Howland's ace recruiter).
This, however, is one occasion where the list is no lock to contain the successor -- because the man doing the hiring, Pederson, has a history of bucking conventional wisdom. Need evidence? Rewind to the last time Pederson was charged with hiring a coach to turn around a slumping hoops program, seven and a half years ago at Pittsburgh:
On Feb. 2, 1999, Panthers coach Ralph Willard announced he would resign at the end of the '98-99 season. The first list of rumored candidates that the public saw (the day after Willard's revelation) included the unemployed Fran Fraschilla, Nebraska's Danny Nee, Siena's Paul Hewitt, Marquette's Mike Deane, Quinnipiac's Joe DeSantis, Minnesota assistant Bobby Jones and N.C. State assistant Sean Miller, a former Panthers player. Newspaper stories from Feb. 9 began to talk about Hewitt and Xavier's Skip Prosser as the leaders.
By Feb. 19 -- 17 days after Willard's revelation -- two ex-NBA coaches, Bob Hill and Dick Versace, were thrown into the media mix. And one line, almost as an afterthought in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story headlined "PROSSER MIGHT BE OUT, BUT 2 EX-NBA COACHES ENTER PITT PICTURE" mentioned that a coach from Northern Arizona named Ben Howland, "a Rick Majerus disciple who comes heavily recommended by the Utah coach," would also be considered.
Pederson conducted a face-to-face interview with just one guy: Howland, who was working in the obscurity of Flagstaff, Ariz., and the Big Sky conference. Howland got the Pitt job and went on (with the Panthers and presently, UCLA) to win two conference titles, reach two Sweet 16s and one Final Four since 2000 -- a resume that trumps that of any of the other coaches who were on the media's initial short list.
An actual list, no doubt, exists in Pederson's head for his latest basketball opening. He declined to return an interview request on Thursday, but I expect that he's considering at least a couple of outside-the-box candidates. Does he dare drop down to Division II and grab fundamentals guru Mike Dunlap of Denver's Metro State? Or follow Texas A&M's lead and hire a relatively unknown UTEP head coach (Doc Sadler, who apprenticed under the Aggies' Billy Gillispie) to rebuild the Huskers? Or, just as Pederson with Bill Callahan for the football team, surprisingly give another ex-pro skipper new life in Lincoln?
Pederson prefers to put his own stamp on his hires, rather than echo public opinion. He's in a tough spot with this one, though; early spring, not late summer, is the best time to find a new basketball coach, and he intends to have someone in place by Aug. 21, when Nebraska begins fall classes. Can Pederson find another gem like Howland, or will one of the obvious candidates suit him this time? Husker fans are eagerly awaiting the surprise.
Three new things in the world of barely basketball-related tunage (and not Gnarls Barkley):
- I intended to never play or mention the "George Mason song" -- Purple Ribbon All-Stars' Kryptonite -- again ... and then my girlfriend snuck it into my stereo via Girl Talk's new disc, Night Ripper. Girl Talk is a Pittsburgh mash-up DJ who may be the most prolific sampler in the business. The track that uses Kryptonite as its backbone, Bounce That, runs its lyrics (mostly the "I'll be on that" part) over no less than eight different samples in just 2:20 -- from The Emotions, to LCD Soundsystem, to The Breeders, to Stevie Wonder, to Steve Winwood, to Britney Spears, to Wreckx-N-Effect, to Elastica. I'm not sure if I actually like it, but you must give it at least one listen. Download it (for free!) on this site.
- For the Michigan folks who complained the Wolverines should have been included in my list of the "freshly hot" national recruiting powers ... sorry, I'm not changing my rankings. But, I will give a nod to an Ann Arbor octet I saw last night at Joe's Pub here in NYC: The afrobeat big-band NOMO. I snapped a pic of them with my souped-up new phone; the Motorola Q obviously has photographic limitations, but the show was excellent. This is perhaps the greatest funk-jazz-congrotronic dance party band you've never heard of (or at least I hadn't, 'til this week). Get a taste here.
- LSU's Glen Davis tells us that Young Dro's Shoulder Lean is the new hot track in Baton Rouge -- even if it did come from Atlanta. MySpace it if you like ... and tell Dro to fix his page.
Point guard Chris Wright is one of a trio of 5-star recruits in the D.C. area for the Class of 2007.
Monday's blog launch looked at some of the new heavies (including Purdue!) on the national recruiting scene. Today, the focus is much narrower: the changing dynamics of the Washington D.C. talent market.
In last November's college basketball preview issue, SI ran a four-page spread entitled "Hoops Hotbeds: SI's Survey of America's Basketball Boomtowns," with Washington D.C. as one of the featured hotbeds, albeit in a secondary position behind New York. The story listed "Pipelines" for each hotbed; for D.C., it read, "Maryland and Georgetown have divided the city's spoils in recent years, but North Carolina's Roy Williams has muscled in to sign freshman Marcus Ginyard and '06 freshman Tywon Lawson."
While NYC has since stagnated to a point where it has no 4- or 5-star recruits, the D.C. area has blown up: Its Class of 2007 crop includes three 5-star prospects -- PF Michael Beasley (headed to Kansas State), SG Austin Freeman (Georgetown) and PG Chris Wright (uncommitted) -- and four with 4-star grades -- PF Jeff Allen (Virginia Tech), center Anthony McClain (uncommitted), SG Nolan Smith (Duke) and PF Julian Vaughn (uncommitted). From that group, all but Wright and Allen play for the D.C. Assault, an adidas outfit that may be the East Coast's top AAU team.
So how does an outsider program without the cachet of a Duke or UNC infiltrate a market in which there's intense competition from the local powers? It's easier than you think: Just go out and add someone to your staff who has connections to the Assault. That's what Kansas State did in April; new coach Bob Huggins shrewdly hired Dalonte Hill, an ex-Assault coach and Charlotte assistant. Hill is a father figure to Beasley, the No. 5 overall player in the '07 class … and lo and behold, Beasley backed out of his verbal commitment to Charlotte and said this summer that he intends to play at K-State instead.
The Wildcats, however, are not the only ones crashing the D.C. party. Next up? Pittsburgh, which must forge a new recruiting identity after losing ace assistant Barry "Slice" Rohrssen -- a Sopranos-like character -- to the top job at Manhattan. Rohrssen is a Brooklyn guy who dominated NYC recruiting and stocked the Panthers' with talents such as Chris Taft, Carl Krauser, Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon. Pitt's '05-06 roster had six players from New York as opposed to one (Sam Young) from the D.C. area.
A nice story in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes how coach Jamie Dixon is banking on newly hired director of basketball operations David Cox to help make Pitt a player in D.C. recruiting. Cox, to put it lightly, is "hooked up" inside the Beltway after serving as an assistant with the Assault for seven years. Coincidentally, with Cox in the fold in July, the Panthers landed Darnell Dodson, a 6-foot-6, three-star wing player for the Assault. They're also now in the hunt for Vaughn and McClain and are said to be considered by Beasley as a possible back-up option should he change his mind about K-State. Cox also gives Dixon more pull in his battle against Huggins for Herb Pope, an ultra-talented power forward from Alquippa, Pa., who formerly played for the Assault.
Oh -- and Chris Wright, the lone, five-star D.C. prospect who hasn't made his college decision? He doesn't play for the Assault, but that doesn't mean he's unfamiliar with Cox. "Actually," Wright told Scout.com this summer, "[Cox] was the assistant principal at my school [St. John's College High]. We had a very good relationship before he went to the University of Pittsburgh.”
Wright has two Big East schools on his short list: Georgetown … and Pittsburgh. Is anyone surprised?
Digging into the mailbag ... Last week I penned a column about the potentially large number of recruiting violations occurring between alleged "boosters" and recruits on MySpace.com pages. It was based on the fact that Kentucky had self-reported violations after its fans had posted recruiting-related messages on the MySpace page of Patrick Patterson, a five-star power forward out of West Virginia. And it pointed out that if UK's "violation" was actually punishable, a number of other major schools -- from UNC, to UCLA, to Kansas -- were in similar trouble due to the actions of their Internet-savvy (and overzealous) fans.
I figured I'd run a handful of responses -- with my comments -- here in the blog. (If you're unfamiliar with the topic, read this first.)
Don't you find the behavior of these fans a little, um, creepy? -- Patrick Johnson, Ooltewah, Tenn.
Um, yeah. While simply being on MySpace is not creepy (fellow SI.commer Stew Mandel just joined, and is a 1,200-friend star), tracking down 17-year-olds and enticing them with photos of the dance team, as well as sexually suggestive comments (as the UK fans did to Patterson) is more than a little weird. While some recruits may be swayed by those methods, Patterson said he was unaffected; I think if I were in his shoes, I'd find it a tad uncomfortable that fans were already being so intrusive into my personal life. And c'mon -- Patterson, who has since made his profile private, is old enough to already be aware of the existence of sports-loving co-eds at major state schools. As his mom, Tywanna, told the Lexington Herald-Leader (seriously, I'm not making this up), "You can get that anywhere. You don't have to go to Kentucky to get hotties. You can get hotties everywhere."
If the NCAA is going to consider MySpace comments to be improper recruitment by "boosters," then my prescription is to encourage as many fans as possible to use MySpace and leave such messages. Only when the NCAA realizes their regulations are ineffectual and ill-suited to reality will they finally consider meaningful reform. Asking fans to cut back on MySpace messages only begs the NCAA rules committee to churn out more ridiculous, unenforceable, and unfair nonsense for ADs and coaches to deal with. -- Andrew, Long Beach, Calif.
I hope it wouldn't take a deluge of (creepy) fan-on-recruit MySpace commenting to convince the NCAA that any rules dealing with that site are futile. Then again, you're talking about an organization that has waited until 2006 to address the concept of the Internet in its recruiting rules, so it would be wrong to assume the NCAA actually has a solid grasp on how to regulate new technologies. Perhaps Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens -- the guy who recently described the Internet as "a series of tubes" -- could be brought in to advise at the September meeting.
I practice entertainment law, and I have to ask myself how the NCAA can really monitor this and patrol it effectively. Is not MySpace like real life? What would happen to a recruit if he lived in the area of a big school and all the fans wanted him to stay at home and pressed him on the street every day? What then? Those fans are NOT boosters. They're fans. Secondly, what gives the NCAA ANY jurisdiction over what happens on MySpace? It is not as if the NCAA has any affiliation over MySpace. They are all separate, PRIVATE entities. -- Anthony Verna, Hoboken, N.J.
Fans deliver verbal recruiting messages all the time. Remember last year, when Jon Scheyer, the prep scoring star who played for Bruce Weber's brother, Dave, in Glenbrook, Ill., picked Duke over the Illini? Scheyer was forced to hear Illini fans' pleas on a near daily basis before he made us his mind. If you adopt Kentucky's hard-line interpretation that any fan who involves him/herself in the recruiting process is considered a booster, even that could be called improper contact. It's all very similar to a MySpace comment -- except that the Web stuff falls under the heading of "written communication."
As for the NCAA's jurisdiction over MySpace, it has none. But it can react to what happens there, and hand out punishments accordingly. Let's hope it just leaves the site alone.