Pac-12 Roundup for July 24th 2011 (Part One)

Jul 24, 2011, 4:49 AM | Updated: 4:59 am

Who is the top program in the Pac-12? According to the a lot of what you hear it would either be Arizona or UCLA, based on the numbers of players in the NBA, NCAA tournament success, etc. A lot in college hoops depends on recruiting, but as time goes on it seems that more depends on what happens once those kids get on campus.

According to, UCLA has signed the most McDonald’s All-Americans since 2000 (eight). To their credit the Bruins went to three straight Final Fours, but have also struggled at times both under Ben Howland and Steve Lavin despite all of that elite level talent.

Nearly half of those Bruins turned out to be less than earth shattering successes in Pac-10 play. James Keefe was probably the most disappointing, but Cedric Bozeman and Malcolm Lee could also be mentioned as less than advertized. The
jury is out on current sophomore post Josh Smith, whose weight problems could again be an issue.

‘Zona was second with five Mickey D’s AA’s, but of those two turned out to be much less successful than most projections. Juwaan McClellan and Mustapha Shakur were all McD’s kids and the prize of huge recruiting wars, but failed to be the dominant force in the Pac-10 that their recruiting notices saw them being.

With four McDonald’s AA’s, Oregon was 3rd highest in the conference and true to form half of them had issues. Luke Ridnour and Aaron Brooks had strong Pac-10 careers, but Michael Dunigan’s and Malik Hairston’s were less than sensational as college players.

Washington was 4th with three in junior guard Abdul Gaddy, Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes, though you could add signee Martell Webster who went pro instead of playing college ball. For the most part UW looks better than the other three in doing well with what they have been able to get from the blue chip players.

Stanford also had three and in the Lopez Twins and Josh Childress they also did very well of getting production from these glamor boys of prep basketball. Butler made the title game two years running with no elite recruits at all and VCU made the Final Four with ditto. In general drawing the elite level players has it’s pitfalls.

These kids are often hyped unfairly, by a system that looks to play up to the big “factory” schools with their hype machines in tow. Many players have been chosen to the McD’s team from Duke and UNC (22 a piece since 2000) and similar 50/50 results have occurred.

Many make jokes that if “he” had gone to one of those schools or other “elite” schools he would have been in the McD’s game. This is probably true for Washington freshman guard Tony Wroten, though ‘Zona guard Josiah Turner and Oregon guard Jabari Brown could also make the same case for this year’s choices, which show huge disrespected in regards to the west coast.

The McDonald’s game has always had an east coast bias, but this past year it was off the charts. Usually if you sign with ‘Zona or UCLA it is as good as the national powers, but that didn’t seem to work in Turner’s case this year. There is also the possibility that Turner just wasn’t as good as the others that were chosen, but I disagree.

Turner, Wroten, Brown and probably ‘Zona post Angelo Chol were as good as any that were chosen to the game. We’ll see in this coming year how this plays out, but don’t be surprised if those three look head and shoulders above most of the kids that played in the 2011 game in Chicago IL.

Since Romar, UW has probably done the most with less highly rated recruits, though Stanford and Cal under Mike Montgomery also can make good arguments to that end. As far as quality coaching those guys are 1-2 in my opinion, much better with less “material” than the UCLA guys.

In my opinion Romar and “Monty” run very clean programs and UCLA and ‘Zona have not. To me that is justice, but I would like to think that the NCAA could provide much better police work to stop the “bad guys” across the nation, let alone out west. Oregon is also a program that I feel needs to be brought to NCAA justice, if there is such a thing.

The Ducks are cleaning up in finding players to rebuild after the scandal and failures of the Ernie Kent era, under Dana Altman. Transfers seem to be a key for Oregon, who on Saturday landed former 5-star center Tony Woods. Woods may not be a “bad guy”, but he has reportedly done some very bad things.

According to ESPN’s Andy Katz on Friday, “The 6-foot-11 Woods was arrested in Winston-Salem, N.C., over the previous Labor Day for kicking and pushing his girlfriend, Courtney Lorel Barbour, in front of their 8-month-old child”.

Woods ultimately plead guilty to a lesser plea and got off with 100 hours of community service and a suspended sentence according to Katz.

The Ducks also will benefit from senior transfer Olu Ashaolu, who sources that cover the WAC have unanimously agreed is a Ron Artest/ Dennis Rodman style show boat and instigator. Not a great guy on the court at the least, but no family
violence accusations to my knowledge.

Ashaolu was chosen as one of the top forward prospects of those at the New Jersey NBA combines before the draft deadline. He decided to stay in school and was a lock to go to Oregon, from other sources prior to and after his declaring for the draft. Doug Haller of made mention of Olu, as well as Duck transfer guard Devoe Joseph on July 12th.

“Joseph, a 6-3 combo guard, transferred from Minnesota last January. After averaging 13.7 points in the 2010 Big Ten Tournament, Joseph was suspended for the start of his junior season for violation of team rules. He returned just after
Thanksgiving and played eight games, averaging 11.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds. A perimeter threat, Joseph will be eligible in December.”

Team rules could mean a lot of things, but suffice to say, no one gets kicked off a team by Tubby Smith for nothing. Smith, like Romar and “Monty” is one of the many good guys in college hoops. Whatever the reason for Joseph’s separation from the Gophers, that’s three transfers with questions as to their character.

There are also questions in my mind as to why Oregon is able to get so much talent, Brown being a prime example. I believe that there were yet to be reported reasons why Jabari chose the Ducks, but in my opinion the presence of Nike CEO
Phil Knight is at or near the center of the issue.

Knight has his man though in Altman, who like John Calipari at Kentucky, Jim Calhoun at UConn, Rick Pitino at Louisville, Sean Miller at Arizona and a few others, has shown an ability to coach up an unruly bunch of players with questionable backgrounds at least in recruiting in my opinion, but often off the court conduct, though much of it is kept quiet by design. It’s a pro mentality and I feel that players at Oregon are motivated accordingly.

Altman has already shown to me that he is more effective with getting solid production from such characters than Kent, though one year is still not a lot to go on. I expect that Dana will win with Woods, Ashaolu, JC transfer post Carlos Emory, Brown, Joseph, senior guard Garrett Sim, junior wing E. J. Singler and senior posts Tyrone Nared and Jeremy Jacob.

Adding Woods stacks the deck (or the pick-up sticks stack) a little higher for Oregon, but so many questionable character guys in what appears to me as a shady setting could also crumble just as easy. It will be very interesting to see what the NCAA does in regards to Oregon, as the continued investigation continues.

Will the Ducks implode in the face of major problems being uncovered by the investigation, as USC did? Will this London Bridge of Emperor Knight come tumbling down or be the one place that the NCAA is too afraid to go after, based on his
ultimate political power in funding so much of college sports?

The Ducks are my well deserved dark horse to win the Pac-12 or at least make real noise in the big dance if things go well, with the addition of Woods and the rest to a team that really showed an ability to buy into Altman’s system and yield unlikely success with much less talent. Oregon could be the Pac-12’s “bad boys” that use it as a mantra for success.

Next year the Pac-12 will definitely be improved in my opinion. Most in the media don’t think so, but a few timid believers are starting to crawl out of the shadows. On Thursday Bleacher Report picked “Pac-12 Is Getting Stronger” as one of it’s “20 Reasons We Can’t Wait for the 2011-12 Season”.

“The past few seasons, the Pac has been the weakest major conference in college basketball; there is no denying that. It seems though that the Pac is finally growing stronger and starting to develop some talent that may allow them to compete on a larger scale, unlike the past few seasons. Look for Arizona, Washington State, Washington and UCLA to be strong this season.”

I disagree with that logic and the brief mention in a feature dominated by schools east of the Mississippi, but it shows that this notion is gaining popularity. Pac-10 schools and Colorado overachieved in the two ways that count the highest last season, those being post-season successes and the NBA draft.

The year before Pac-10 teams did much better than expected in the NCAA Tournament. Prior to those two supposed down years the Pac-10 literally dominated both of those categories for a handful of years with solid performances in the post season and high numbers of draft choices.

More importantly those draft choices have gone on to success at the top level. On Saturday Yahoo’s Jason King still sang, as James Brown once said in his classic put down track “Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing “, where James describes someone whose act is played out and predictable as “That same old funny song”.

In answering a letter in a mailbag feature, King focused on the losses of last year rather than the additions, solid coaching and more importantly additions and improvements by players returning.

“Who are the West Coast teams and Pac-12 schools that everyone is excited about heading into the season? Arizona lost its best player. So did Washington and Washington State. Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford will be better but are still a
ways away from competing for a league title. UCLA, Cal and USC will be the best teams in the Pac-12.”

King underscores a huge need for the major sites like Yahoo, ESPN and other east coast based coverage. There needs to be coverage from those that follow this stuff more closely. King has a huge area to cover in the entire nation and give him
credit for taking it on, but this is poor analysis in my opinion.

A Saturday tweet from MSG’s Jon Rothstein showed better insight.

“Early PAC-12 rankings 1. UCLA 2. Washington 3. Cal 4. Zona 5. Oregon 6. Stanford 7. USC 8. Wash State 9. ASU 10. Colorado 11. OSU 12. Utah”

I don’t see things this way, but I credit Rothstein for doing more homework. I do think that the Trojans are better than many think, after the loss of big men Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, but to name them as one of the top-3 is a bit out there. USC will be good, but only one of about 10 Pac-12 teams with measurable potential.

I think that only Utah and maybe ASU are looking at true rebuilding efforts this year and that every other team is in a position to move into postseason play with the right set of developments. The Sun Devils are building for the future, as are the Utes. On Monday Scout reported that solid, under the radar, 2012 post prospect Kenny Martin committed to ASU.

The problem for coach Herb Sendek seems to be keeping good recruits to stick with him, as also on Monday reported that sophomore guard Corey Hawkins will transfer to UC Davis.

ASU needs to keep players like 2011 guard signee Jahii Carson and 2010 signee Keala King. Junior guard Trent Lockett is a solid Pac-12 honors candidate, but lack of post play was a real sore spot for ASU last season and should be at least a
weakness again this year, despite returning the same crew with the addition of foreigner Jonathan Gilling.

The Sun Devils could be better and should be though, but the league is too tough for them to make much of a jump in my opinion. Utah really has a lot of work to do, as coach Larry Kristowiak attempts to build it from the ground up. I expect the
former Montana coach to make some noise there, but his is a very steep mountain to climb which should take a few years.

‘Zona didn’t take long to get back to conference prominence, but with the kind of help that so much support from boosters, Nike and just plain big money around that program bring, I didn’t think it would and plainly said so when voices like ESPN’s Katz were projecting a process that would take 5-6 years to recover from the loss of Lute Olson.

Whether you believe that these same forces have done things dirty of not, very few can deny that they are a major advantage in attracting talent. The recruiting game is muddy water to be certain and there is more grease than just oil residue in the landscape of Houston TX reportedly.

On Monday CBS Sports reported that David Salinas, the co-head of an elite level Houston AAU program, had committed suicide, “in light of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigating Salinas for fraudulent
practices that might have cost several college basketball coaches who had invested with Salinas millions of dollars”.

Why was an AAU coach getting major college coaches, who were also signing players on his teams, to invest millions? This is clearly a conflict of interest. Even if there was no influence attained by the actual money that was changing hands,
investing clearly is something that benefited Salinas and his partner in the brokerage and the AAU program Brian Bjork.

According to the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday, “The Galveston County medical examiner’s office Monday ruled the cause of death as suicide”. The article also quoted former Houston and Texas head coach Tom Penders, who said that Salinas in fact made reference to a connection between investing and gaining influence in recruiting.

“Former UH coach Tom Penders said Salinas asked him for a ‘significant sum of money’ to invest in exchange for steering players from his AAU program, Houston Select, to the coach’s school. ‘He hinted he could steer players my way,’ Penders
said. ‘I never got involved with him, period.'”

Rivals speculated on Monday that this situation looks like more of the same in college hoops. No more giving kids suitcases full of cash to gain influence in recruiting. Much more sophisticated techniques are being employed.

“It’s unclear whether the NCAA will view these coaches’ investments as a rules violations, but this story demonstrates how advanced the methods are that programs are using to gain influence over recruits. Handing a recruit a brief case full of cash is now as archaic as peach baskets or the four corners offense. Why do that when you can fund an AAU coach’s non-profit organization that specializes in bringing top African players to the United States? Or hire a recruit’s dad as an assistant coach? Or form a relationship with an agent or financial adviser willing to pay a player?”

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Pac-12 Roundup for July 24th 2011 (Part One)