Pac-12 Roundup for August 19th 2011 (Part One)

Aug 19, 2011, 5:00 PM | Updated: 5:47 pm

The big story in college sports is the Yahoo piece on the University of Miami. This is very big because it gives fans an up close look at a world that few will ever witness. This is big-time college sports for what it is with rare exceptions and in all it’s glory and superficiality. It isn’t pretty, but when the money starts flowing, it’s hard to stop the train. What this has to do with my column on Pac-12 Hoops this week is simple. I am characterized by my harshest critics as a lunatic and an amateur for speaking my mind on what I’ve seen going on in the Pac-12. I’ve stated that things which were documented in the Yahoo report are going on at other places, including schools in the conference.

Maybe now brighter minds may not feel that my accounts, which are based on first hand experiences and documented evidence are more worth considering. Yes there are cash pay-offs to recruits. Usually they are in cash, but when the larger amounts are tendered they are done through other financial vehicles like real estate, stock and complicated accounts. Yes there are prostitutes. Yes there are cash payments and improper benefits given to current players. Yes there’s drugs and alcohol. Yes there is gambling and even point shaving. I’ve said it before in this column and I’ll say it again. The worst offenders now in regards to this type of activity in the Pac-12 are Oregon, Arizona and UCLA in my opinion. Laugh all you want.

When scandal like this breaks, as it did recently with the David Salinas story out of Houston TX, ESPN is usually first to step up damage control. Face it, they have a conflict here. College sports is a huge part of what they are selling. Preserving it’s image is probably more important that digging down to the truth to them and others like CBS and Fox. The depth and sourcing of the Yahoo story was so full that ESPN was forced to cover it right off the bat, though their coverage was more about providing some doubt as to whether anything will happen of consequence to anyone involved. On Wednesday ESPN’s Andy Katz talked about Missouri likely “Sticking by” former Miami coach Frank Haith. Katz brought up incident after incident, where coaches were caught red-handed, that nothing or not much happened. I hope that new NCAA prez Mark Emmert makes Katz eat those words, as the NCAA made those at USC that didn’t fear the NCAA last year.

All of this Miami mess came at the same time that ESPN, Katz and blogger Diamond Leung happened to be focusing on the Pac-12 and the west. Katz stuck with his old line and his old buddies when commenting on college hoops in the west on Monday. He opened with the statement that the Pac-12 “shouldn’t define basketball in the West” as at the top of the page stood a picture of his close pal Mark Few of Gonzaga. Few was actually quoted right up front as saying, “Washington is a national player; Arizona is up again; UCLA is coming back”. Big of him to say anything nice about the Huskies. Basically, the article was one non-Pac-12 coach after another in the WAC’s Stew Morrill, the WCC’s Few and the Big West’s Dan Monson talking about the growth of those leagues.

Katz basically used the Pac-12 to make those leagues look better, by opening with Few’s quote before he launched into a bunch of self promotion and then ending with Andy’s thought that, “Cal, Arizona, Washington, UCLA and Oregon should be on your NCAA tournament radar out of the Pac-12”. Gee Andy, you mean the same conference that every year overachieves in the NCAA Tournament, compared to what you and your colleagues back east say about them all year long. Nice of you to take the time talk about who might make the tournament in the ragged Pac-12 while talking about truly important teams in those up and coming leagues. To Andy’s credit, that’s exactly who I have been saying are the tournament contenders. Katz knows his hoops and most of the time does his research, but his bias towards Gonzaga and his insistence that the Pac-10 has been so bad is often humorous.

On Tuesday Katz and Leung talked about the Pac-12 on a podcast. Leung talked about Arizona being his favorite. Katz talked about the money that is being pumped into Pac-12 teams, mentioning Oregon prominently. USC were also mentioned by
Katz, based on the money that they have. My question for Andy is where is this money going? Are facilities all of what he is talking about? I doubt it. Katz also talked about the Pac-10 having done well in the postseason, a rant that I’ve been on incessantly. Also on Tuesday Leung talked about how badly the Pac-10 has been promoted and how that should change with better coverage by their network naturally. The conference has done well in the tournaments and in the NBA draft because of great players and great coaches.

On Thursday Yahoo listed their opinions as to who the top players in the Pac-12 were for this season. The problem I see with this list is that there are too many good players in the Pac-12. There should be a top-10 for returnees and one for new players. Yahoo listed USC seven-foot sophomore transfer Dewayne Dedmon,but not Oregon senior transfer Olu Ashaolu who is probably more ready to produce this season. They mentioned WSU senior guard Faisal Aden, but not Fresno State transfer guard Mike Ladd, who should be a major catalyst for the Cougs. They mentioned OSU junior guard Jared Cunningham, but not ASU junior guard Trent Lockett who is certainly one of the top players in the league. They mentioned USC senior guard Jio Fontan, but not Oregon guard Jabari Brown, who is close to par with two other freshman guard they listed in Tony Wroten Jr. and Josiah Turner. I’m afraid that the preseason predictors are going to have to come up with at least one more great player to talk about though, as Fontan tore his ACL in Brazil on Tuesday. Coach Kevin O’Neill was understandably devastated when he spoke to the official ‘SC site on Wednesday.

“I couldn’t feel worse for any player I’ve coached in my career. Jio is the heart and soul of our team and had become a high-level player. His loss is a huge blow to our team.”

This sad news for Pac-12 fans removes much hope that USC would contend for an NCAA tournament bid again this year. Frosh guard Alex Moore and sophomore Maurice Jones will take over the point guard position, but Fontan was clearly their
go-to player and a senior leader. ‘SC will still have some quality players though, but this really bursts their bubble. Rivals also mentioned Cal senior post Harper Kamp, but neglected to list senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, sophomore guard Allen Crabbe or fantastic sophomore transfer guard Justin Cobbs, all of which are just as worthy. They mentioned the highly hyped Turner, but not the proven vets at ‘Zona in junior forwards Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill. It’s such a grab bag and tough to do to pick the best at this point, with so many players having not been seen under the lights.

If you just want to talk about returnees, I’d go with UW’s Terrence Ross, Aden, Cunningham, Oregon wing E.J. Singler, Gutierrez, UCLA sophomore post Josh Smith, Crabbe, UCLA junior post Reeves Nelson, Lockett and Hill. That’s almost one per team which looks pretty OCD, but it is also hard to argue with either of those choices. As far as newbies, I’d go with Wroten, Ladd, Brown, Ashaolu, Cobbs, Stanford frosh guard Chasson Randle, Dedmon, ASU frosh guard Jahii Carson, Turner, ‘Zona frosh post Angelo Chol and Colorado wing Andre Roberson. That still leaves out a few great players who could end up on those lists like ‘Zona frosh guard Nick Johnson, WSU junior guard Reggie Moore and senior guard Marcus Capers, UW junior guard Abdul Gaddy and both UW posts in junior Aziz N’Diaye and senior Darnell Gant, OSU sophomore guard Roberto Nelson, Oregon transfer center Tony Woods, UCLA JC transfer guard De’End Parker, Stanford sophomore post Dwight Powell and the list goes on.

NBAdraft.net updated their 2012 mock draft on Monday and a few conference players were projected as picks. Tops in the league was Ross at 12th, followed by Turner at 17th and Dedmon at 29th, all in the 1st round. The 2013 mock was also
updated on Monday by nbadraft.net and it was even more pro Pac-12. The first pick was Las Vegas 2012 wing Shabazz Muhammad, who could easily end up at a Pac-12 school (the rumor is UCLA). After that Roberson was listed 4th, Wroten 7th, Parrom 14th, Powell 19th, Crabbe 24th, USC transfer Ari Stewart 40th,
Cunningham 44th, Hill 46th, Nelson 52nd and Gaddy 56th.

That’s pretty good representation in the NBA draft, should it come to be, but the Pac-12 was no where to be found when ESPN released the list of coaches on Friday that would be appearing on his “College Coaches roundtable” to appear on ESPNU on August 15-19. In fact there were only two from schools west of the Mississippi river (barely) in Gregg Marshall of Wichita State and Mike Anderson of Arkansas. I find it hard to believe that ESPN couldn’t afford to bring coaches to Orlando FL from further away. I know I’m picking on ESPN today, but they actually deserve it at this point.

WSU Notes

Last Wednesday Doug Haller of azcentral.com ran a nice Q+A with WSU head coach Ken Bone that gave a lot of insight into the nuts and bolts of the Cougs this coming season. Ken did a very good job of underselling his team and talking about
their soft spots, but I have a good feeling about Ken’s ability to get the job done with this group. Two important things that Bone revealed was that Moore was not healthy after a wrist fracture last year and could be 100% this fall and that freshman guard DaVonte Lacy is “somebody that we’re planning on being able to step in and play right away”. He undersold Ladd, who I feel will be a solid veteran force in the conference. On Wednesday WSU announced their 2011-12 schedule and it starts out pretty rough with a trip to Spokane to face Gonzaga on the Zags home floor. Other highlights include Oklahoma and either New Mexico or Santa Clara and potentially another tough match-up in Anaheim CA at the 76 Classic on Thanksgiving weekend and full slate of tough Pac-12 match-ups. WSU could face Santa Clara twice as the Broncos also will travel to Pullman on December 11th, but the Lobos should take them down in Anaheim with projected MWC Player of the Year and former UCLA Bruin Drew Gordon and a very deep line-up of talent.

‘Zona Notes

Speaking of being deep in talent, ‘Zona was previewed on Tuesday by ESPN as part of their “Summer Buzz” series, as they go across the country to cover top D1 programs in the off-season. Eamonn Brennan talks about losing all-everything
Derrick Williams and side-kick Lamont “Momo” Jones, but still having a ton of talent both veterans and blue-chip frosh. I feel that the ‘Cats are loaded with talent and will compete for the Pac-12 title, especially with the news of Jerime Anderson of UCLA’s arrest for grand theft, which could lower UCLA’s ability to win the thing. If Anderson is there, I’d probably pick the Bruins to win it all, but losing a senior PG is never a good thing, even if you have another one. The problem for UCLA is depth and that Jerime was their most dependable outside shooter returning. A lot could change if Parker or freshman guard Norman Powell can step up to this level quickly.

As far as ‘Zona though, Turner, sophomore PG Jordin Mayes, Johnson, senior guard Kyle Fogg, Parrom, Hill and Chol are a strong enough core to go a long ways. On Wednesday Bruce Pascoe of azstarnet.com did an off season update feature on ‘Zona that was informative. According to Pascoe Fogg has “put up about 30,000 shots over the summer, and (UA coach Sean) Miller said he’s ‘by far’ been the
hardest worker on the team in the off season”. Pascoe also mentioned that senior post Jesse Perry has put on 10-15 lbs. Perry was a very effective player last season and I believe will push Hill and Chol for minutes in the paint. Bruce dropped a huge bomb by also including this in his notes later in the piece.

“During a podcast interview on 110 Sports Report, Derrick Williams says he’s heard about Lorenzo Romar possibly coaching the Timberwolves.”

110 Sports is an internet radio show based in Arizona, similar to my Monday night show “Talkin’ Hoops”, but with a general focus beyond basketball. I listened to the podcast and it sounded clearly to be the former Pac-10 Freshman and Player of the Year and 2nd pick in the NBA draft. He did in fact say that he was hearing that they were trying to get Romar there in Minny. I spoke to UW on Friday and they responded that “Romar already said he is staying” adding that they assumed that “Derrick was still going based on old rumors”. I tend to believe UW on this one. Another former ‘Cat is apparently returning to men’s volleyball. Chase Budinger was a great ‘Zona forward, who was known as a world class beach volleyball player and ESPN reported on Thursday that he will compete now with his NBA duties in limbo. Budinger did a Q+A on the subject which also included comments on his hoops career. The ‘Cats put $250K into improving the looks of McKale Center, according to Pascoe on Friday. One new wrinkle is a mural in a hallway designed to impress recruits.

“When future Arizona recruiting targets are escorted into McKale Center, they’ll first have to defend the dribbling Sean Elliott and Damon Stoudamire. Block Steve Kerr’s three-pointer. And try to stare down the steely eyed Jerryd Bayless.”

ASU Notes

Up the road in Tempe AZ things are not looking near as healthy at this point as they are in Tucson, but the Sun Devil faithful are still holding out hope that coach Herb Sendek can bring his program back. He did for a couple of years with James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, currently in the NBA, but since has not quite kept that train rolling. On August 5th it was announced that ASU will remember one of it’s many NBA players in Lafayette “Fat” Lever, who starred there in the early 80’s along with future NBA legend Byron Scott and future NBA journeyman center Alton Lister. He will be the 4th ASU hoops player to have his jersey honored on January 28th at the Washington game in Tempe. On Thursday azcentral.com reported that soph guard Bo Barnes would transfer to ASU from Hawaii, where he started eight games as a freshman and put up decent stats in the WAC conference. Basically a rifleman, he set a freshman record at Hawaii with 57 3-pointers made. Barnes should help Sendek, but Herb’s big challenge is finding big men. ASU has a couple of good looking frosh posts coming in the fall of 2012, but freshmen take time and he needs help right now. ASU fans should not be surprised if the group from last year, with the addition of foreigner Jonathan Gilling is not the kind of improved post unit that they need to rise from the bottom of the conference barrel. I expect ASU at 10-12th.

Cal Notes

Cal on the other hand is going to be in the top-5 with an NCAA invite, if not win it all in my opinion. A highlight film of a Bear scrimmage on August 9th, as they prepared for a summer trip to Scandinavia shows the Bears to be improved in a
number of ways. Cobbs is a big upgrade that will help Gutierrez and Crabbe greatly on offense and defense. Freshman post David Kravish looks to be able to at least provide some decent depth defensively while showing some pretty nifty looking moves with the ball on offense. Davis is just the kind of lower ranked post recruit that coach Mike Montgomery’s always been able to get great production from in the Pac-10 at Cal and especially Stanford. Cobbs, Gutirrez, Crabbe, sophomore Richard Solomon and Kamp are a much improved starting line-up and junior post Bak Bak and Kravish appear to be decent post depth. Returning starting PG Brandon Smith will be excellent depth at guard, while there are a number of young wings that look to be able to help back up Crabbe.

Cal traveled to Sweden to face Solna on Monday and a YouTube highlight clip on Tuesday did a good job of showing what the Pac-12 has to prepare for. Solomon is mufti-talented and athletic looking. Kravish is heady and skilled, as well as tall. Soph guard Emerson Murray from British Columbia has a nice stroke and junior Robert Thurman is yet another post option. “Monty” talked about the 6-foot-10 and 260 lb. Thurman to sfgate.com last Wednesday before the trip by saying, “If we can get him a little experience, we’re hoping Robert will be able to help us”. Mike also talked about Kravish (who also looks as if his body could put on quality weight and not lose much agility) in the article.

“Kravish is a very smart player. He’s a little undersized at 6-9 and 210 pounds soaking wet. He knows how to play. We’re anxious to see what he can do.”

Bak couldn’t make the trip because of passport problems and red-shirt freshman wing Alex Rossi and Murray are battling injuries, though Murray played a bit and looked good in the highlights. Alex, Emerson and part time starter Ed Powers will compete for back-up minutes on the wing behind Gutierrez and Crabbe. According to ibabuzz.com last Wednesday Murray is rehabbing after foot surgery and Rossi red-shirted because of an abdomen issue and neither has been 100% resolved. On August 9th Cal released it’s 2011-12 schedule and it seems a little light in non-conference play, though road games at (especially) UNLV, and San Diego State won’t be easy. The College Basketball Experience tourney in mid-November could
yield some good match-ups, the most potent being possibly Missouri (if they don’t lose their coach by then). On Monday Cal had a tough time, but beat Uppsala 76-74, after beating Solna 89-71 the night before. This time Kamp sat because of injury, but again Solomon was dynamic with 18 points, according to the Cal official site.

Crabbe scored 17, but grabbed a game high 13 boards and Smith also kicked in 17 against Uppsala. For the 2nd straight night Thurman looked good in the paint with seven boards and Kravish came up clutch when needed. In the first game against Solna it was Crabbe with 25 points, Cobbs with 12 points and six assists and Thurman with a surprising 14 points and eight rebounds in relief of Kamp, who saw “limited action”, according to ibabuzz.com. The Bears efforts this week were that much more impressive, as their best player overall (Gutierrez) was out with a sprained ankle. On Wednesday Cal lost 69-84 to the Norwegian National team as the shorthanded line-up finally showed signs of weakness. Solomon was once again brilliant with 15 points and six boards, followed by Cobbs with 13 points, Kamp doing his best to get in the action with 12 and Smith with nine. According to the official site Thurman, “continued his consistent play”. If Thurman can provide quality play against bigger line-ups, Cal has the material to go a long way. On Monday swooshnation.com picked Crabbe as one of the top “Impact sophomores nationally, but added unnecessarily that the Pac-12 is “Shallow”.

“Last year’s Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Crabbe could be in the running for Conference Player of the Year this season. A good long-range shooter, Crabbe has the ability to put points on the board quickly. With the veteran leadership of Jorge Gutierrez and the big body of Harper Kamp providing spacing on the floor, Crabbe should have many opportunities. However, as the only major scoring threat on the Golden Bears, Crabbe will need to find a way to continue to put up big numbers while being the major target of opposing defenses. If he can find a way to do this, Cal can find themselves near the top of a shallow Pac-12.”

I’m afraid that the Pac-12 is not shallow, but the knowledge of it from swooshnation’s Ed Isaacson could use a bit more depth. I’d mentioned a possibility of a late add for Cal in 2011 guard Devin Bookert of Alaska, but on Friday cbssports.com reported that Bookert had committed to Florida State and reclassified to 2012. This will not hurt the Bears this year, as they have great guard depth right now in Cobbs, Smith, Gutierrez, Crabbe, Rossi, Murray and Powers and all but Jorge will be eligible in 2012-13.

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Pac-12 Roundup for August 19th 2011 (Part One)