Huskies favored, but Pac-10 is full of potential

Nov 1, 2010, 11:45 AM | Updated: Apr 5, 2011, 11:20 am

Washington was picked 1st by the “official” Pac-10 media, which had it’s annual media day in Los Angeles CA on Thursday. According to McClatchy News Services, Coach Lorenzo Romar deflected the notion that the Dawgs were deserving of honor.

“It’s flattering. I like our team, but I don’t know if we’re ready to win a Pac-10 yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Isaiah Thomas accompanied Romar on the press junket to the Nokia Theater in LA. Having been highly rated this past year, before digging a huge hole that only a tremendous 14-2 finish could resurrect, Isaiah let it be known that something was retained from that experience when he spoke to the media.

“People respect us, but at the same time you’ve got to bring your A-game every day. Everybody is aiming for you when you’re on top.”

Not everyone seems to respect Isaiah though as Rivals listed him at the #17 point guard on their preseason “Power Rankings”.

That is a huge helping of disrespect, as Thomas is not a point guard in Washington’s system, but more importantly he is not the 17th best anything. Thomas is one of the very best players in the country, without doubt, as his accomplishments demonstrate clearly. Hopefully Isaiah will take these kinds of slights and use them for motivation.

The Pac-10 also announced that the 2010-2011 season would be dedicated to the late John Wooden. According to the AP, “The conference is producing sportsmanship public service announcements that will share Wooden’s famous ;Pyramid of Success’ and air in each school’s arena during the season”.

Also the Pac-10 announced that the men’s and the women’s league tournament formats would be changed slightly. The women will hold their final and semifinal games where the men play all of their games, in LA’s staple Center.

The prior women’s games will remain at the Galen Center in LA, according to Gohuskies.com.

Romar spoke to ESPN on Thursday in an interview with Dana O’Neill. Lorenzo talked about why he does not do the traditional Midnight Madness approach to start the year and why his team this year knows better why early focus is so important.

The complete press appearance with Romar and Thomas, plus Lorenzo’s part of a panel discussion are available by podcast from Pac-10.org.

All 10 league teams Player and Coach representatives meetings with the media were also podcasted by Pac-10.org.

There was not too many huge announcements or gaffs, but Isaiah did tell Percy Allen of the Seattle Times before the event that he was “looking forward to spending time with (Malcolm) Lee”, but not so much anyone else as he didn’t really know them.

“I’ll be friendly with a few of them that I know. The other ones, I really don’t care too much for them so it’ll be what’s up and that’s about it.”

Lee was replaced by UCLA freshman center Josh Smith last minute, so I guess the meeting of the minds for the two junior guards will have to wait.

Husky Digest has reported that Lee is pretty much committed in private, according to sources, to leaving for the NBA after this season. Lee has expressed a desire to leave early before and has even expressed an interest in transferring to UW in the past privately, according to the same sources. He stuck with UCLA though and this season the Bruins should be improved.

The AP Poll came out for the 1st time this season and UW was ranked at #18.

Gonzaga was ranked at #12, but no other Pac-10 teams besides the Dawgs were in the top-25. Arizona and UCLA received 8 and 5 votes respectively.

UW senior guard Venoy Overton was chosen as one of the top-6 “Scariest” defensive players this coming season, according to blueribboninsider.com.

A lot of talk this fall has been centered on the effect that JC transfer center Aziz N’Diaye will have on the UW team, especially on defense. GoHuskies did a feature on Aziz that told the story of how they recruited him and surprisingly how long. Husky assistant coach Raphael Chillious saw N’Diaye in his original home of Sengal in 2006.

Romar said in the article that he feels that Aziz is a sorely needed puzzle piece that may allow UW to shore up some old sore spots.

“Every time we’ve gone to the Sweet 16, that (opposing) team looks the same. They have different jerseys, but the makeup of that team looks the same: they have size. Aziz is the guy that, when we play those type teams, he’s someone that hopefully can neutralize their big guys that way.”

The Dawgs could meet up with a team or two with that “look” to it sooner than March, as the Maui Classic features as old nemesis in the UConn Huskies, as well as Michigan State and (who can forget) Kentucky, should John Calipari’s bad boys get past the team that came in 2nd for Aziz in Oklahoma.

Though Nevada and Portland are both teams which could also end up in the NCAA Tournament this March, UW’s non-conference schedule is rather mild, other than the trip to the islands on Thanksgiving Weekend. The two games that will be the greatest challenges will be Texas A+M in College Station TX and when Texas Tech comes in to Hec-Ed.

The Red Raiders beat UW last year, as Elston Turner missed two late free throws, allowing a wild three at the buzzer to send the game into over-time where Tech pulled it off on their home floor. It was a tough loss for UW and one that made it that much tougher to get in the NCAA tournament at the end of the year.

Things have not gone so well for TTech since though, as Coach Pat Knight (son of the great Bobby Knight) is on the hot seat, according to Rivals.

Knight may be playing for much more than just a good win for his Selection Sunday resume, but possibly for his job when he brings his veteran team to Seattle on December 4th. Both the A+M and Tech games should be very hard fought and the recent canceling of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series seems to indicate little love lost between these two leagues.

According to GoHuskies.com, UW’s Exhibition opener against St. Martin’s on Saturday, Nov. 6 will start at 5:00 p.m. (PST) and be played at Hec-Edmundson Pavilion.

Husky Recruiting Corner

There was mention on Scout’s Washington premium hoops board that 2011 UW post recruit Norvel Pelle had eliminated UW and had a final list that didn’t include the Dawgs, but did include UCLA, Kansas, UTEP, Oregon, Oregon State and St. Johns. Pelle refuted that report, when I spoke to him on Saturday morning.

Norvel also sort of confirmed that he is close to taking his first official visit.

“Yes I am considering Washington, no I don’t have a list and most likely I’m taking a visit to St. Johns.”

Norvel also stated the same to Zagsblog on Saturday night, but added that Washington was also in his visit plans.

“Norvel Pelle told me tonight by phone that he plans to visit St. John’s and Washington, but didn’t have the specific dates nailed down. ‘I’m starting visits next week,’ he said. The NCAA early signing period runs Nov. 10-17 and Pelle said he hoped to take ‘two or three’ visits before it ends.”

That doesn’t sound to me like he has eliminated UW. Pelle went on to confirm that he was also considering, “UTEP, UCLA and Oregon”, but made no mention of OSU or Kansas. Norvel mentioned also that they only school he had unofficially visited was UCLA, but that is not accurate. He visited UW at the Husky elite camp in the summer of 2009.

Pelle said that he is still open though and not leaning anywhere. As for Washington Norvel said to Zagsblog, “It’s a nice environment, beautiful school, wonderful coach”. He also added that, wherever he goes he “will be able to play a fast-paced game”.

That would seem to eliminate UCLA, as the Bruins according to numerous sources have named Josh Smith to the starting line-up, along with Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee and either Jerime Anderson or Lazeric Jones.

Perhaps Norvel is buying the sales pitch that Norman Powell bought about the Bruins playing uptempo, but we will have to see just what that means shortly. As far as UTEP and Oregon, what I have to say about those two isn’t very nice, so suffice so I’ll keep it brief. Floyd is dirty and proven so in my opinion.

Why he’s coaching so soon after the Louis Johnson incident and the rest of the USC hokum is a tribute to the cavalier attitude being shown by the Nike machine in the face of a newly aggressive stance on corruption by the NCAA. Floyd was close to accepting the Arizona job, another focus school for the dirty (though not cheap) tricks of the Nike machine.

Nike/Oregon is doing a diligent job in my opinion in quietly build up the Ducks hoops program to kick off the arena, while having to manage the NCAA investigation. So far with Jabari Brown, it’s been business as usual.

Husky Digest reported that there was some concern from the Brown camp (according to sources) after his commitment in regards to what was in store for him in Eugene, though it appears to have been dealt with by Nike/Oregon.

Just to provide fairness and balance, UCLA is the top west coast focus of the adidas dirty (but also not cheap) trick squad in my opinion.

So it appears that Norvel is getting hit on by the red carpet crew, as well as the guys who play the game by the rules. I don’t have enough info on St. Johns to get a feel for which way they are going to play it, but based on my impression of Steve Lavin, I am staying positive that they are going to play it above board and fairly.

On Sunday Adam Zagoria tweeted that Norvel “may be visiting St. John’s next weekend,” according to his sister. It looks like Pelle’s visits and decision could be just around the corner. I truly hope that whatever Norvel decides to do, that he gets an education and has a chance to mature a bit before jumping into the shark infested waters of the NBA.

One situation that is very suspect in my opinion is that of Kyle Wiltjer. After Kyle went out of his way to dispel rumors, much as Norvel did on the rumor of his new list, Wiltjer went on record as saying that there was nothing to them and that he never wavered a bit.

Kyle contradicted that statement, though only slightly when interviewed at the Clash of the Classes event in Beaverton OR last weekend saying that his visit to Big Blue Madness “Solidified” his commitment to Kentucky. If it was 100% solid, how could it be solidified?

I am very convinced (and I don’t need it to be solidified) that Romar and UW are recruiting by the books and without the influences of corruption. They are not the only ones like that in D1, but in my opinion they are one of the very cleanest programs and Husky fans deserve to feel proud of that fact.

Another 2011 post prospect from Southern CA who told Rivals recently that Washington was still following him is PF Ronnie Stevens from Gardena CA. According to the LA Times, Stevens has committed to the Hawaii Rainbows.

2011 UW guard recruit Kiwi Gardner has reclassified to 2012, according to Rivals. Gardner has expressed sincere interest in UW on numerous occasions. A recent Youtube video shows him matched up against another smallish but outstanding guard in 2011 ASU commit Jahii Carson and Gardner looks every bit up to the task of covering the ultra speedy and athletic Carson.

Rivals Arizona Preps site sponsored the event and said some very nice things about Gardner.

“Led by the superb play of 5-foot-8 senior guard Kiwi Gardner, this year’s Westwind team was a sight to behold. Gardner was the catalyst in this year’s event and will be all season long for Westwind Prep International’s Blue Team. Gardner shot the basketball very well with unlimited range on his shot, and proved that he is as quick and explosive a guard as there is in the Western United States.”

Husky Digest reported that 2012 Canadian guard Martin Dixon-Green has recently picked up an offer from Washington. I spoke to Martin, who confirmed that he now has offers from UW, UConn, Oklahoma, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia, Detroit, Boston College and Oakland. Martin is a six-foot-four 195 lb. shooting guard that has no favorites at this point.

2012 UW guard recruit Negus Webster-Chan is still getting recruited hard by Washington, according to another update, this one from Scout’s Iowa State site.

According to Webster-Chan in the update, Negus does not yet have a UW offer, but has offers from “Iowa State, Cincinnati and UNLV”.

2012 UW wing recruit Langston Morris-Walker was the subject of a new youtube highlight reel that show him to be a very impression athlete with good strength for his age and budding ball skills. I recently spoke with Langston and he expressed sincere interest in Washington.

2012 UW forward recruit Danny Powell once again received good ink, this time from Rivals for his play at the Arizona Preps Fall Showcase.

“Powell is a power player that is very skilled and likes to score the basketball from the wing position or around the painted area. A tough, physical performer that enjoys contact and plays with good intensity on the floor. Has improved his athleticism a good deal, and looks much more agile these days with lost weight recently. An excellent rebounder. Good finisher. Will benefit from the leadership of Head Coach Dave Williams this high school season.”

According to Scout, 2012 UW post prospect Skylar Spencer of Los Angeles CA has a list and it does not include Washington.

Spencer has been attracting major attention from around the country. Washington is recruiting a number of 2012 big men, so it may be that either Skylar or the UW staff have decided that it is not a good fit.

(Huge) Pac-12 Round Up

Media Day on Thursday yielded little hard news, but there were a few tidbits around the Pac-10. Percy Allen summarized the event for the Seattle Times and had a few items of interest.

One was Isaiah Thomas confirming that he worked out consistently with NBA veteran Jason Terry over the summer. Arizona Coach Sean Miller again spoke highly of Jordin Mayes, who will likely be the back-up point guard. OSU Coach Craig Robinson said that Roberto Nelson would play this year, either from the start or after December 11th.

Robinson also again mentioned freshman PG Ahmad Starks as being an outstanding shooter, ala Tajuan Porter and a great dribbler. His defense appears to be the issue. OSU guard Jared Cunningham predicted on a campus radio show that the Beavers would play in the NCAA Tournament, according to Doug Haller of azcentral.com who also did a round-up of the day.

USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said that Nikola Vucevic has done a great job in the off-season with his conditioning, but that he needs to improve his free throw shooting.

From the sounds of things UCLA Coach Ben Howland is leaning towards starting Lazeric Jones over Jerime Anderson at PG. Ben talked all about Jones’ defense on Thursday, while merely saying that Anderson is “solid”. Haller also mentioned that Jones would be starting, based on his sources.

Oregeon’s Jeremy Jacob will be out 3-6 weeks after knee surgery, according to Coach the Eugene Register-Guard.

Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins confirmed that center Josh Owens has been cleared, is practicing and will play.

WSU Coach Ken Bone said that JC transfer guard Faisal Aden is just what they need to provide a third perimeter scoring option, along with Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore. Bone also mentioned that Tacoma frosh point guard Andre Winston would likely be Moore’s back-up.

ASU Coach Herb Sendek is impressed with freshman guard Corey Hawkins ability to put up points in practices.

According to Fox’s Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports, the best player at ASU’s private scrimmage (according to sources) was wing Carrick Felix, a former team mate of Washington’s Aziz N’Diaye.

Cal Coach Mike Montgomery said that he is likely to move Jorge Gutierrez off the point guard spot and put him on the wing because of his “intangibles”. The point guard spot will likely be filled by either sophomore Brandon Smith or freshman Gary Franklin.

The conference also released a Video on Thursday which I feel serves as an inspiring preview of the league for fans.

ESPN also did a feature summarizing the event and taking a look at the league with feature segments by blogger Diamond Leung on UW, USC, OSU and Cal, plus notable quotes from someone from all 10 teams. The UW segment focused on establishing a team first concept last year and Isaiah feeling good about it carrying over to this season.

CBSsports.com’s Gary Parrish was particularly positive about Washington in his Pac-10 preview, while bashing the conference who he feels may be as low as the 8th best in America after the other 5 Big-6 conferences, the A-10 and the MWC.

“The Huskies had to sneak into the Sweet 16 last season. This season, they should walk right through the front door.”

Parrish predicted Thomas as the “Player of the year” and Josh Smith as “Newcomer of the Year”. While I agree on Isaiah being a candidate, there will be competition from Derrick Williams of ‘Zona and Tyler Honeycutt of UCLA. Smith I have to see to believe, but to be fair I am reserving judgment.

All reports have been that Josh is still too slow, but if UCLA successfully slows it down around he and Reeves Nelson it may work. That would of course contradict reports that the Bruins are picking up the pace, as I mentioned before.

Yahoo picked 5 games that “The Pac-10 needs to restore its reputation” and Washington in the Maui Classic was one of them. Also mentioned were Arizona vs. Kansas, UCLA vs. BYU, Arizona State at Baylor and Gonzaga at Washington State. If the league comes out weak again and loses a lot of “easy ones” early, I wouldn’t be that surprised.

The problem is that the national media doesn’t take it seriously that these Pac-10 teams get a lot better during league play. The way the league does in the non-conference though this year is important to teams like WSU, USC, ASU and possibly OSU, if they want to be given a chance to prove it in the NCAA’s like Cal and UW did last year.

WSU was picked at #5 in the league and according to Scout, Ken Bone said that he feels that is “About right”. Bone also mentioned in the piece that sophomore post Brock Motum is challenging former starter Abe Lodwick for the starting spot along side DeAngelo Casto.

The other three starters appear to be set with Moore, Aden and Thompson, though Marcus Capers will likely play starters minutes and has improved his shooting.

Klay referenced the 2006-2007 team that went from 10th to 2nd in the league, when speaking to Percy Allen of the Seattle Times on Thursday.

“Being in in last place (last season) and that left a bitter taste in my mouth. And we saw the (2006-07) team do it. They went from 10th to second and we think we got as much talent as that team so why not us.”

According to the AP, Arizona’s Derrick Williams has really improved over the summer. He wasn’t bad last year in my opinion,.so if this is true look out.

“Bigger, stronger and more confident after earning Pac-10 freshman of the year honors, Williams has positioned himself to become one of the nation’s elite players as a sophomore. He’s got the talent and now, with a more assertive mindset, is on the cusp of making the good to great jump.”

Stanford is continuing to find great recruits, as they received a verbal commitment from Illinois point guard Chasson Randle on Wednesday, according to ESPN. They will need help there and Randle, who is rated as one of the top-5 at his position in the nation could start right away.

This season sophomore Gabriel Harris and freshman Aaron Bright are fighting for the starting spot, with last year’s starter, poor shooting Jarrett Mann being moved to the wing. Stanford will struggle with all of their youth, but with guys like Randle, Dwight Powell, Anthony Brown, Josh Huestis and more coming in they might be very good in 2011-2012 once again.

UCLA’s Josh Smith “appears heavier than his listed weight of 305 pounds”, according to the LA Times Ben Bolch last Monday. Bolch also mentioned that Reeves Nelson’s 3-point shot is more of a work in progress than ready for prime time.

Smith admitted on Thursday to the LA Times that he has had trouble adjusting to the speed of the game at this level, when he spoke to the LA Times on Thursday.

“It’s a lot faster than high school. I realized that the first time I was able to play with them.”

Draftexpress.com is projecting both Tyler Honeycutt (#17) and Malcolm Lee (#25) in the NBA draft this coming June.

The word is that they will very likely be in it, though nothing official has been stated by either or UCLA. The draft sites tend to base their rankings on who they feel is going to be there and the word is all over that both really want to come out. If both guys leave early, Howland will have an other rebuilding problem on his hands, though not as bad of one as 2009-2010.

The word that I’ve heard from sources in the West LA area is that Josh Smith also would like to go to the league if at all possible and that he is also still considering a run at playing offensive line for UCLA as another option.

ESPN’s Diamond Leung wrote a feature on the “State of” UCLA hoops, which amounted to a rah, rah piece. Bringing in chips like John Wooden (including a photo of the Wizard with Howland), the three Final-Fours and how they came after a 7th place Pac-10 finish, Leung made his best case for UCLA coming back in a big way this year.

After that 14-18 season, I think it is unrealistic to think that a Final-Four is the next step, even with the improvements. UCLA will be better, as will the Pac-10, but they are not going to be “that good” and if Lee and Honeycutt (and possibly others) leave after this year, 2011-2012 could be a step in the other direction

The Colorado Buffs are a program that could start off the Pac-12 as a team that can compete. Though wings Alec Burks (who is a sophomore but projected to go in the 1st round of the NBA draft) and Cory Higgins will probably both be gone by the time that they enter the Pac-12, Colorado is a respectable program that is growing a fans base in Boulder.

Denver.sbnation.com did a preview of the Buffs this year and what seems to be the reason is a coach that has really been able to court both fans and recruits in Tad Boyle. Colorado could be a Pac-12 hoops team that carves out a winning record right from the jump.

According to the Colorado Rivals site, 2011 point guard Askia Booker of Price High School in Los Angeles CA, which is also Norvel Pelle’s school, as well as former Dawg Tyreese Breshers and Cal’s Allen Crabbe. Booker can shoot the 3 ball well, according to numerous reports.

Colorado’s season received a setback when the Colorado Scout site reported that “Sophomore Shane Harris-Tunks will miss the 2010-11 college basketball season after suffering a torn knee ligament in his left knee in practice this week”.

Shane played his freshman year last season and will be able to return when the Buffs start in the Pac-12 as a red-shirt sophomore. He is a six-foot-eleven 250 lb. center from Liverpool, New South Wales who played almost 12 minutes per game last season but didn’t score or rebound much.

According to The Sports Xchange, Cal will base their team around rebounding and defense with “6-foot-8, 250-pound junior power forward Harper Kamp and 6-7, 265-pound center Markhuri Sanders-Frison” in the middle and defensive instigator Jorge Gutierrez on the perimeter.

“Those three players — Kamp, Sanders-Frison and Gutierrez — give the Bears a level of toughness that will allow them to play more of a bump-and-grind style this season, reminiscent of the way Montgomery’s teams played at Stanford in the mid-1990s. The Bears won’t be as explosive — or as good — as a year ago, but they won’t be any fun to play, either.”

The Trojans will also build their team around a couple of big horses in the middle, but will likely have a few more weapons come conference play. USC will be forced to play Vucevic and Stepheson long minutes though, for lack of depth and for that reason both big guys have centered their off-season training on endurance training, according to Rivals.

“Since USC will count on Stepheson and Vucevic to play a minimum of 30 to 35 minutes a night this season, the two big men put an emphasis on conditioning while working out this summer. They’ve also talked about the importance of playing sound defense and avoiding foul trouble, especially the over-the-back calls on the glass that plagued both of them a year ago.”

OSU was picked at the #7 spot by MontlakeMadness.com and I thought their reasoning to be sound, though I feel that the Beavers are a lot closer to the #4 spot then they are to the #8 spot. Cal, Stanford and Oregon are clearly the bottom three squads, while OSU stands firmly on the same level as ASU, WSU and USC.

NW Schools

Seattle U used a 25 point performance from freshman wing Mark McLaughlin on 9-12 from the floor and 5-5 from the line and a well balanced scoring attack to beat PLU in their exhibition game at the Key Arena on Sunday night.

Center Alex Jones scored 15 on 9-10 from the free throw line. Freshman point guard Freddy Wilson scored 14 points, followed by Cervante Burrell and Gavin Gilmore with 13 a piece. chad Rasmussen hit 3-5 from three point land and finished with 10 points and Aaron Broussard finished with 8 points on 2-3 from three.

Broussard will be our guest on “Talkin’ Hoops” tonight at 8PM (PST).

The Redhawks shot 60% from the field and 50% from behind the arc, but allowed the Lutes to pull down 24 offensive rebounds and committed 30 turnovers. It was a sloppy game that Seattle U clearly dominated. Now the Redhawks will travel to Maryland to face the Terps of the ACC on Monday November 8th at 5PM (PST).

Seattle U is getting mentioned in connection with the WAC’s search to fill out it’s ranks. According to ESPN, “In Seattle, without the NBA in town, maybe coach Cameron Dollar and the Redhawks can create a niche fan base as an alternative to Washington”.

I think it would be a great move for the Redhawks to join a conference, but it hardly makes sense until they are eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Until then, if they can, playing as an independent can only help expose Dollar’s disciplined and fast-paced style.

NCAA Corruption

According to the AP, the July AAU season will not be off-limits to college coaches “yet”.

There will be a review of the issue next January, after doing plenty of research this coming summer as to what goes on in July. Depending on what is decided after the study July recruiting could be either changed or dropped completely.

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