LOS ANGELES -- UCLA coach Ben Howland didn't seem to mind talking about freshman center Kevin Love, who is considered by many to be the top recruit in the country.
When asked what Love would do for the offense, he smiled and said, "Well there will be more post feeds for sure," and also said Love should open things up for players on the perimeter and said he's shown already he will command the double team and isn't afraid to "kick it back out."
LOS ANGELES -- Washington State was picked second in the Pac-10 Conference preseason media poll but Coach Tony Bennett first heard about another poll earlier this summer.
"A friend called and told me we were picked seventh and I thought, OK, well we were 10th in the conference last year so we have moved up a little bit," Bennett said. "Then he told me, 'No, you were picked seventh in the country."
LOS ANGELES -- There might be a few teams in the Pac-10 concerned about experience, but it's not a concern for Oregon coach Ernie Kent, who has five seniors including Malik Hairston, who graduated in three years, and talented shooting guard Bryce Taylor.
LOS ANGELES -- USC has no seniors and just three juniors on its roster which could make some coaches very nervous and likely explains why the Trojans were picked sixth in the Pac-10 Conference preseason media poll. Coach Tim Floyd even admitted his past experiences with young teams weren't the best -- citing a young team at Iowa State in his last year and a team at UTEP, which both didn't do so well.
LOS ANGELES -- Players like Miles Simon, Hassan Adams and Gilbert Arenas left the Los Angeles area to play at Arizona, but Coach Lute Olson admitted it has gotten much more difficult to lock down the top players in the most important recruiting area for the Pac-10 Conference since UCLA and USC have found strong recruiters in Ben Howland and Tim Floyd.
LOS ANGELES -- Most media days are light affairs with a couple chuckles and a few yawns from the bored reporters in the audience. This year's Pac-10 Media Day isn't much different as most coaches are fielding just a few questions and the large ballroom isn't even half-full this morning.
LOS ANGELES -- There's a date on California coach Ben Braun's calendar and it could be seen as an early Christmas gift.
Jamal Boykin, a former Parade All-American from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, will be eligible to play for the Bears on Dec. 21. Boykin transferred to Berkeley after starting his college career at Duke.
LOS ANGELES -- Oregon State coach Jay John could have a rough season. If it's not bad enough his team was picked last in the Pac-10 Conference preseason media poll, he is also the coach under the most pressure to win in the conference.
The Beavers have had just one winning season (2004-05) this decade and haven't made the NCAA Tournament since the 1989-90 season. Last year, Oregon State went 11-21 overall and won just three games in conference.
LOS ANGELES -- Arizona State men's basketball coach Herb Sendek kicked off the Pac-10 men's basketball media day at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport with a bit of a snafu.
Sendek started his talk at a secondary podium, placed on one side of the room before a Pac-10 official stopped him and pushed him to the main podium.
"With our record last year, I thought that was where I was supposed to stand," Sendek said while pointing to the secondary podium.
ST. LOUIS -- The Valley saved its more gregarious coaches for the afternoon session. On the big stage were Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery, Barry Hinson of Missouri St, and three newcomers, Marty Simmons of Evansville, Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, and Tim Jankovich of Illinois St. This group was a lot more loose...
ST. LOUIS -- This just in from the Department of Shameless Self-Interest: While I was waiting for the second session with the men's coaches to start, I went over to introduce myself to Tricia Cullop, the head women's coach at Evansville and a fellow Boilermaker.
She saw my CSTV shirt and starting gushing about the coverage CSTV gives women's basketball. She said it's the first place she goes every day and is the only consistent and reliable source for news in her sport.
Someone alert the promotions folks.
We now return you to the men's basketball coverage, already in progress.
CHICAGO -- Michigan State guard Travis Walton was a freshman the last time the Spartans were picked by the media to win the Big Ten in the preseason.
He can still remember that like it was yesterday.
Michigan State didn't win the Big Ten regular season or Tournament titles and it still reverberates inside Walton's head. But if everything happens for a reason, then that was a lesson well learned for the Tom Izzo, Walton and the Spartans.
CHICAGO -- A few days ago from Birmingham, Ala., I wrote about Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings' qualms for the new NCAA-wide rule that bans cursing on the sidelines.
In that blog, I quoted Stallings as saying it is hard for him to curb his potty mouth when he learned the game from longtime Purdue coach Gene Keady. Keady apparently taught Stallings much of what he knows, including his penchant for a good swear every now and then.
So, of course, I wondered what Keady thought about one of his former protege's using his mentor as an example of why it will be hard NOT to curse.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The Atlantic-10 is filled with talented players. But some of these players don't get the recognition on a national level.
Let's start with George Washington senior guard Maureece Rice, who led the Colonials in scoring (16.2 ppg) last season.
"Maureece is so quick and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time," George Washington coach Karl Hobbs said. "He's gotten better every year. I think the same thing will happen this year."
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- It took three years and three Big 12 Coach of the Year awards for Billy Gillispie to earn the moniker of "Miracle Worker" for the dramatic improvements he made to former team Texas A&M in such a short amount of time.
So when the job at Kentucky became available and coach Gillispie took it, the folks in Lexington had a lot to be excited about.
And for Gillispie, what an opportunity this was. Instead of going to program like A&M, where they suffered through an incredibly long losing streak prior to Gillispie taking over, now he's at the winningest basketball program in the history of the NCAA.
This should be a piece of cake for the Miracle Worker, no?
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- South Carolina coach Dave Odom didn't have a very deep team last year, and after losing three starters from that team, you'd think this year would be much of the same. But seven newcomers make things better, especially when three of those newcomers have played Division I basketball before.
Branden Conrad averaged 18 points and five assists in his last season at the Naval Academy, Zam Fredrick averaged 10.6 points at Georgia Tech and transfer of the year Devan Downey poured in 12.3 points and 4.1 dimes at Cincinnati.
Three D-I transfers who all scored in double figures at their respective former schools is not something you see a program find very often. But all these players had good reasons for coming to Columbia...for two of them, it was like coming home.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The topic that seemed to interest Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings the most at this SEC Media Days was the fact that swearing on the sidelines would no longer be tolerated by SEC officials, according to the statement made by supervisor of officials Boudreaux.
Stallings, apparently one who enjoys a good swear on the sidelines, said he understands the basis behind the new rulings, but says it will be difficult to change his ways, that's just how he talks.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury has a new toy to play with for this year. Except unlike if the Bulldogs hung out at Cheers, nobody knows his name.
Phil Turner is a redshirt freshman, one of seven newcomers to the team this season, and he can flat out shoot. While most people are discussing Louisville transfer Brian Johnson - and with good reason - Stansbury is very excited about Turner.
"Phil Turner, he's the one that nobody is talking about, doesn't know much about," the 10-year coach said. "Wasn't recruited, I think he has a chance to be very good for us. He's one of our best shooters. We had a scrimmage the other day and he led it in scoring. He can really shoot the jump shot."
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- I'm here live in Atlantic City, N.J., at Atlantic 10 Media Day, and for the second straight year, Xavier has been selected as the top team in the preseason poll conducted by the head coaches and media.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Tennessee senior guard Chris Lofton doesn't like preseason rankings.
The media selected his Volunteers to win the SEC this season but Lofton wants to hear none of that talk.
"The preseason rankings don't mean anything," he says. "It matters at the end of the season how you do."
Lofton begs, Who cares? "It's the preseason," he adds.
But with Florida and Kentucky down, this league is Lofton's and Tennessee's for the taking. You better get used to the predictions, Chris, that's what happens when you play for an elite program. That mean's Tennessee has arrrived.
NEW YORK -- The Big East has released its preseason coaches' poll for the 2007-08 season and Georgetown and Louisville -- to no one's surprise -- are sharing the role as conference favorite.
The Hoyas and Cardinals each received eight first-place votes, while the coaches were not allowed to vote for their respective teams.
Marquette followed in third in the balloting after earning trips to the NCAA Tournament in its first two seasons in the Big East, and Pittsburgh, despite losing First Team All-Big East center Aaron Gray, has been tabbed to finish for fourth.
NEW YORK -- When Jay Wright talks about the upcoming 2007-08 and the potential that he sees at Villanova this season, a smile quickly lights up on his face.
Despite losing three critical contributors from last year in Curtis Sumpter, Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan, the former Hofstra coach likes what he has this season, and he made that known at Big East Media Day with a crowd of reporters standing in his presence.
That, in large part, might be due to the fact that he does have sophomore combo guard Scottie Reynolds returning to campus this fall after a sensational freshman year.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Last season the Auburn Tigers didn't field a single player taller than 6-foot-9, and no starter was over 6-foot-7. Historically, the Tigers just haven't been a big-man factory.
But the Tigers don't feel they need to be to be successful, of course, they did go out and sign 7-foot-1 freshman true center Boubacar Sylla, who at 275 pounds is 30 pounds heavier than any other player on the roster.
"It's not a problem for us because we are used to it," said junior guard Quantez Robertson. "And now that we've got a true center in Boubacar Sylla, 7-foot-1, he'll contribute a lot. He's got to get used to the running conditions and the plays, but once he gets all that down and gets used to running, then he'll be just like everybody else. He's going to be a good player."
NEW YORK -- After three straight trips to the NIT, Notre Dame found itself back in the NCAA Tournament with an 11-5 conference record and a fourth-place finish last season.
But after falling to Big South champ Winthrop -- the No. 11 seed out of the Midwest Regional -- in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Fighting Irish return in 2007-08 not nearly the same team as they were a year ago with forward Rusell Carter and guard Colin Falls taking charge in South Bend.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, nevertheless, doesn't see that as too much of a concern for this year's squad.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- For LSU, two years removed from a magical Final Four run and one year removed from finishing 17-15 and missing the postseason altogether, getting back to winning is all about building team chemistry.
"You've got to have team chemistry to play basketball," said junior forward and leading returning scorer Tasmin Mitchell. "You've gotta understand your teammates, you've gotta believe in your teammates and you've gotta be one with your teammates."
NEW YORK -- Another soft-spoken character, legendary Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, faced a good crowd of reporters all throughout the day's event and of course was asked mutliple times about last year's NCAA Tournament snub.
But what happened last year is done with and over, and all the Orangemen can do now is look forward to the 2007-08 with five new faces, including highly-regarded recruits Donte' Green, Jonny Flynn and Antonio "Scoop" Jardine.
"A lot of the guys on this year's team didn't experience what happened last year," junior guard Eric Devendorf said. "We got a lot of new faces, and it's a new season and a new start. I think that's what everyone's looking forward to."
The West Virginia head coach, who left Kansas State last April after guiding the Wildcats to 23 wins in his only year in Manhattan, Kan., has started to settle in at his alma mater in Morgantown, W. Va., and plenty of reporters were certainly interested in hearing about Huggins' thoughts on joining the Big East.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- And I don't mean back in Gainesville after deciding not to coach the Orlando Magic.
No, I'm referring to the fact that since his days as a player at Providence when he suffered two fractures in his back, Florida coach Billy Donovan has struggled with back issues.
And right now, it is as bad as it has ever been. So much so that it is affecting the way he coaches in practice. And with a team that returns just Walter Hodge who had any sort of consistent PT last year, now is not a good time for Donovan to be out with an injury.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- First up to the podium at the Tipoff 2008 Media Days was SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
Slive spoke about the league's 75th anniversary and mentioned the first SEC Men's Tournament way back in 1933 in Atlanta. All SEC teams will wear a 75th anniversary patch this season.
Slive also mentioned the turnover that the SEC is experiencing on both the men's and women's sides. Seven new coaches will grab the reins of their respective programs this year, the most since 1990 when a 10-team SEC witnessed eight coaching changes.
But most importantly, Slive talked about what a great time it is to be the commissioner of the SEC.
NEW YORK -- Big East Media Day has gotten underway here at the Theatre Lobby inside Madison Square Garden and the players and coaches of each team have been speaking for the last hour to the media.
Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese addressed the media to open up the event and touched upon a few points but specifically focused on the strength of the conference this year and the unfortunate NCAA Tournament snub that Syracuse endured last year even after winning 24 games overall and going 10-6 in the conference.
NEW YORK -- Before the crowd of coaches and players dissipated from the building here at Madison Square Garden, I got a chance to talk with Rider senior Jason Thompson, who was named the MAAC's Preseason Player of the Year earlier this afternoon.
Thompson spent the summer working out at the LeBron James, Amare Stoudemaire and Pete Newell camps and returns for his final year in Lawrenceville, N.J. as a potential NBA Draft pick next June.
And in talking with the 6-foot-11 forward, it's seemed to have paid off.
NEW YORK -- We're here at Madison Square Garden after sorting out a few issues with internet in the Theatre Lobby.
Things kicked off with the women's preseason poll and the conference's preseason player of the year candidates, and it looks like Marist, last year's Cinderella story after reaching the Sweet 16, is the favorite once again to top the MAAC.
The men's preseason poll and player of the year picks just got finished being announced, and despite losing two fifth-year seniors starters from last year, Siena seems to be the favorite to win the conference and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- We're wrapping up ACC Media Day here with the coaches and players leaving the Grandover Hotel -- quite a fine hotel I must say -- so I'll bid farewell with a few more notes about today's event.
North Carolina, which figures to be the No. 1 team in the nation when the preseason polls are released in a matter of days, was voted by the media as the preseason favorite to win the ACC. The Tar Heels earned 768 votes, including 65 first-place votes, while Duke followed with 653 votes.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- With off-the-court news often dominating most of the headlines this offseason, you don't always get to talk strictly basketball at media days.
Here at the Grandover Resort, that notion seemed to hold true with the NCAA announcing earlier this month that bench decorum will be looked at much more closely as a point of emphasis during the 2007-08 season.
The rule, which was put in place in order to crack down on coaches frequently running outside of the coaching box, has been a big hit among the media, as each coach was forced to give their thoughts on the ruling on multiple occasions.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Losing six seniors in one summer can be a lot to overcome.
For Gary Williams, it's just part of the game.
The Maryland coach seemed to be rather relaxed and calm -- something you don't get to see too often from Williams, especially during a game -- while meeting with the print media this afternoon, and part of that can probably be attributed to the fact that he has two potential all-conference players in senior James Gist and sophomore Greivis Vasquez coming back to College Park.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- After suffering a shocking upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to VCU last season, there was a lot of talk following the 2006-07 campaign about how Duke's run as one of the nation's elite programs had finally come to an end.
But one disappointing season shouldn't change the entire perception of a program, especially not the Blue Devils', and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has certainly learned that better than anyone else in his 33 years of coaching college basketball.
"We have good players," Krzyzewski assured. "I'm not saying we have great players, but we have really good players. And if we can keep them all healthy and get them to feel comfortable with our system, we have a chance to be a very good team."
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Select players from each conference school are meeting with the media before we get a crack at the coaches in a few minutes, and while the North Carolina table featuring Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard seemed to be the popular choice, there's been plenty of talk about parity throughout the ACC.
And after last season saw seven ACC teams earn bids to the NCAA Tournament, there's reason to believe it could happen again with the veterans returning and the young talent coming in across the league.
MAC Media Day hit Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland Thursday, and Kent State was named this year's preseason favorite to win the conference.
The Golden Flashes, which play in the MAC's East Division, finished last season at 21-11 but missed the NCAA Tournament with a home loss to cross-town rival Akron in its final regular season game.
Now Kent State welcomes back its entire starting lineup, including preseason All-MAC selection Mike Scott. The 6-foot-7 forward started in all 32 games for the Golden Flashes while averaging 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game as an All-MAC Honorable Mention.
Just a follow-up to the note from yesterday that concerned Baylor coach Scott Drew (and his two players) leaving Big 12 Media Day early so the coach could be with his wife Kelly as she gave birth to their second child.
An athletic department spokesman confirmed that Scott, Kelly and big sister Mackenzie welcomed "a 7 lb, 14 oz, 20.5 inch baby boy last night. As of this afternoon he was still unnamed."
BALTIMORE -- Army and Navy, picked to finish sixth and seventh in the conference respectively, nonetheless have the respect of the other teams in their conference.
Before talking about his own team, Bucknell head coach called for the room to give Army coach Jim Crews and Navy coach Billy Lange a round of applause for the work they do at Westpoint and in Annapolis.
BALTIMORE -- American University head coach Jeff Jones is a realistic man.
He understands why his team was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in Patriot League this season. He also knows that it will take a great year to be able to overcome what has become a two-horse race in the conference between Holy Cross and Bucknell. Still, Jones feels like the team he takes the court with this season is better than the ones in years past.
BALTIMORE -- Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard has his hands full these days, from dispensing advice to fellow coaches in his conference, to coaching up his team in preparation for defending their Patriot League title.
Willard, who has been the head coach for the Crusaders for nine years, has a resume that includes a 278-204 record and six NCAA Tournament appearances, including four while at Holy Cross. It's not hard to say why he is a role model for some of the younger and less successful coaches in the conference.
BALTIMORE -- We're getting rolling here at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore's Inner Harbor as the Patriot League holds its Men's Basketball Media Day.
Holy Cross sits atop the preseason poll as the favorite to repeat as Patriot League champions, but Bucknell was hot on their heels in the voting. The Bison, of course, parlayed two straight league titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 into second round appearances in the NCAA Tournament before being beat out by Crusaders last year.
Just an update on the promised Bobby Knight column: Because of the fine folks at Northworst airlines, I've spent much of the last 16 hours in airports, on planes and in a beyond-cheap motel where even the rats were complaining about the accommodations.
In light of these disturbing hours and the lack of sleep that resulted, I will hold off on the Knight column. But it will be done, so you'll just need to check back over the next few days.
Thanks for your patience and please accept my apologies. Which is more than the airline people would ever say.
LITTLETON, Colo. -- UNLV head coach Lon Kruger had bypass surgery on Aug. 2, but says he's feeling fine. Kruger discovered his heart troubles during a routine stress test, and had six bypasses performed.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We're not sure how much of a dark horse they can be, having placed fourth in the pre-season coaches' poll, but if there's a team that could legitimately challenge de facto No. 1 Kansas, it very well could be their arch rival, Kansas State.
A healthy Bill Walker -- who played in just six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury -- and the return of seniors Clent Stewart and David Hoskins, along with the addition of Michael Beasley and other heralded freshmen give first-year coach Frank Martin a lot of tools to work with.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Before we get into some of what we gathered during one-on-ones, we can't let the bizarre story out of Syracuse go without some mention.
Months ago it was reported that Mike Hopkins, a long-time Jim Boeheim assistant and former Orange player, would be the next in line to succeed Boeheim when (if) the coach decides to ride off into the sunset. A story from The Associated Press on Tuesday indicated that the deal had been formalized and put in writing.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Baylor coach Scott Drew needs to be forgiven for ducking out of the one-on-one interviews a bit early.
His wife Kelly called in the middle of the session to inform him it would be a good idea to get home. She's going into labor. Drew hastily arranged to have his plane and pilot prepared and bolted from the Marriott to the airport.
Interviews Done, Eating To Commence and Then Highlights
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One-on-one interviews with players and coaches have just about wrapped up from Big 12 Media Day and we were able to stockpile some tidbits from Rick Barnes of Texas, a couple of his players, some Kansas players' thoughts and also some K State players.
WASHINGTON -- We've just spent much of the past three hours talking with the CAA coaches about their teams and the conference as a whole. There's a little noteworthy from each team that we'll share, as well as some notable thoughts about the conference. We'll start with half of the teams, then come back with the other half and more after lunch and the post-lunch presentation.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The final head coach press conference of the day featured Frank Martin of Kansas State. He's a favorite of our boy Kasiecki, so he immediately becomes a favorite of ours. And with good reason -- he's no nonsense and direct.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As you'd expect, Bobby Knight was worth the price of admission -- and more. Knight addressed just one basketball-related question in his 15 minutes of pure gold, preferring instead to focus on his other passion, baseball.
Much to the chagrin of moderator Peter Irwin who wanted to get basketball questions asked of the coach, Knight led off with an assessment of the ALCS between Cleveland and Boston and proceeded to take almost all baseball questions.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Just heard from my fellow Bostonian, the incomparable Phil Kasiecki, who is on-scene at CAA Media Day for Hang Time. You'll recall that Phil attended a ludicrous amount of college basketball games last year, something like 8,545. Despite the season having not started yet, Phil has most certainly been to a couple of dozen games already. Dude's a legend.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Oklahoma's Jeff Capel tipped off things and a couple of highlights from Capel include...
On junior college transfer guard Omar Leary:
"Omar has to learn how to work hard every day and work at a different level. When you come from a junior college it's a little different."
On the Sooners' main challenge:
"The main thing is guard play, we have to have consistent guard play on both sides of the floor. I thought last year we had a chance but just couldn't close games out (finishing 16-15)."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Welcome to the second floor of the Marriott Country Club Plaza for Big 12 Media Day. We're just about ready to get started with coach interviews, where Jeff Capel of Oklahoma will tip things off at 8 a.m. CST.
Players are available starting in the 11 a.m. (CST) hour and here's the list of players in attendance. As always, if you have specific, relevant and thoughtful questions to ask of the players, feel free to send them in via the commenting section and we'll do our best to get them answered.
DETROIT -- Just a heads up to everyone to let you know that Hang Time is en route to the Big 12 Conference's media day being held in Kansas City on Wednesday. Questions abound for the league that saw Billy Gillespie ditch Texas A&M for Kentucky and also saw a 33-win Kansas team fall in the Elite Eight last season.
Can Mark Turgeon keep things rolling in College Station without Acie Law? Will ex-Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik turn Colorado around? Does the loss of Kevin Durant necessarily mean Texas will have to take a step back? And, of course, the eternal question: which one of us media-types will ask the question that ticks off Texas Tech's Bobby Knight the most?
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The Late Night With Roy festivities here at the Dean Dome finished up with a 20-minute scrimmage between the Tar Heels (split up into a Blue team and a White team), the first glimpse the fans got of this year's team in action.
MEMPHIS -- We've just about hit our blogging limit for the day, so we'll finish up with a "Best Of C-USA Media Day" and remind you to join us for Memphis Madness on Friday night when we'll be live-blogging from the Forum beginning in the 7 p.m. CT hour.
MEMPHIS -- With coaches in a meeting and players hanging loosely in the interview room, Hang Time barged into a three-way conversation between UTEP junior guard Stefon Jackson, Tulane senior David Gomez and Houston senior Marcus Malone.
Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:
MEMPHIS -- As expected, the table with Memphis players Joey Dorsey and Chris Douglas-Roberts is drawing the biggest gathering of media-types. Dorsey's pre-Ohio State game comments from the NCAA Tournament last season were a big topic of conversation and Dorsey, to his credit, did not dodge the questions.
MEMPHIS -- The final grouping of coaches has finished and the media free for all will begin shortly. We'll work the room to the best of our ability and then report back with tidbits and information that we gather.
MEMPHIS -- We got a bit distracted over lunch by some great storytelling by Houston coach Tom Penders and therefore missed early portions of the coaches' availability on the dais. Order for the groupings has changed from what were told yesterday and the group that just finished included John Calipari, Matt Doherty, Dave Dickerson and Mike Davis.
MEMPHIS -- Hello and welcome to Hang Time's comprehensive coverage of Conference USA Media Day live from the FedEx Forum. We're currently stationed in the Methodist Healthcare Practice Facility located within the Forum, which has been transformed into a large working media area, a seated table interview section and an interview dais.
MEMPHIS -- Conference USA has announced it's preseason honors and there are no surprises of merit. Memphis is the favorite to repeat as the league champ and Tiger junior Chris Douglas-Roberts is the preseason Player of the Year.
Following the jump is the full release from C-USA. We'll be back in about an hour from the FedEx Forum.
MEMPHIS -- We need to get our beauty rest for the big day of blogging from C-USA Media Day on Thursday, but we couldn't leave you with nothing for the morning read.
So, for something completely different, here is the incredibly bountiful and scrumptious menu that was served to the Calipari Chinese Contingent at an authentic Chinese Banquet held at the hidden gem, New Asia Restaurant on the outskirts of Memphis.
MEMPHIS -- The interior designer Laurie Samuels, from Samuels Furniture and Interiors is putting finishing touches on the Memphis basketball offices' classy re-design. The Foreign 15 Chinese delegation is filtering through after admiring the myriad balls and mementoes in John Calipari's private office. Assistant coaches are busy recruiting and getting ready for the start of practice and Calipari himself is attempting to get a handle on all of it - the interior design, the Chinese contingent and the basketball (not in that order, of course).
Welcome to life in Tiger Town where the only thing faster than the Memphis offense is the rate at which things swirl under the Calipari circus tent.
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Western Athletic Conference media poll has arrived, and the scribes picked New Mexico State as this year's favorite while Utah State guard Jaycee Carroll was billed preseason Player of the Year.
MEMPHIS -- When the Boss informed us that we'd be getting the repeat assignment for Conference USA Media Day, we did what any red-blooded, red meat eating college hoops head would rightfully do: We booked a couple of extra days on Beale Street, doubled up on the Lipitor and prepared ourselves for five magnificent days and four luxurious nights on the outskirts of Graceland.
So here we find ourselves a full 36 hours before the start of C-USA Media Day having already scarfed down a half rack of Blues City Cafe ribs, imbibed a handful of adult beverages and enjoyed the musical meanderings of the oustanding "high energy rockabilly trio," The Dempseys.
Forget March Madness, we've got Memphis Madness in early October.
CONCORD, N.C. -- Barclay Radebaugh sat in the Charleston Southern locker room before his team's final game and the apparent truth to the downfalls of the 2006-2007 season continued to smack him in the face.
Through injuries and suspensions, Radebaugh's team was down to just six scholarship players for that final game. Throw in the buzz saw that was Winthrop and Radebaugh's close friend Gregg Marshall, and the Buccaneers didn't stand a chance.
Some more newsy notes from the MVC event in St. Louis:
The MVC, which is celebrating its centennial during the 2006-07 season, is the nation's second-oldest conference after the Big Ten.
Twenty-eight different schools have claimed Valley membership over the league's 99-year history. Among them are Tulsa (1934-1996), Grinnell (1918-1939), Kansas (1907-1928), Nebraska (1907-1919; 1920-1928), Cincinnati (1957-1970), Louisville (1964-1975), Houston (1950-1960) and Memphis (1967-1973).
Last season, the Valley was 12-12 against the power conferences, including a pair of Top 25 victories over Big Ten teams, Wichita State's one-point loss to nationally ranked Illinois and Drake's three-point loss to nationally ranked Boston College.
While Wichita State, Bradley, Illinois State and Southern Illinois have each taken turns as national media darlings for the Missouri Valley Conference, the true standard-bearer of the league over the past decade has been Creighton.
Under the steady leadership of Dana Altman, the Blue Jays have emerged as the top program in Nebraska -- besting even the state school’s Cornhuskers and their Big 12 pedigree. Playing before sellout crowds on an almost-nightly basis at the state-of-the-art Qwest Center Omaha, Creighton established school and conference records last season for average home attendance, ranking 20th among the national leaders with 13,901 fans per game.
Altman has won at least 20 games each season over the last eight years, a Missouri Valley Conference record. Creighton is one of 11 programs in college hoops -- and one of just two non-BCS schools (along with Kent State) -- that can make that claim.
But for all their success, the Blue Jays have yet to make that signature run deep into the NCAA tournament under Altman. Could this be the year?
In 1997, the Atlantic 10 sent five teams to the NCAA tournament -- this coming just one season after Massachusetts became the first team in league history to advance to the Final Four. After a number of disappointing one- or two-bid seasons, A-10 made another strong showing in 2004, sending four teams to the field -- including a pair (Saint Joseph’s and Xavier) that advanced to the Elite Eight.
But while the league which Temple put on the national map during the ‘80s and ‘90s has enjoyed flashes of multi-bid brilliance over its three-decade history, sustained success from a conference point of view has eluded the A-10 over the years.
The MVC’s two longest-tenured coaches spoke Monday about the idea of building upon the unprecedented success enjoyed around the Valley in 2005-06 -- a season that saw the nation’s second-oldest conference send a record four schools to the NCAAs.
Perhaps no single anecdote crystalizes the perceived slight of MVC schools better than Missouri State, which made national headlines on Selection Sunday when the Bears missed the NCAA Tournament despite having the best RPI standing (No. 21) of a team that didn't crack the tourney field.
Barry Hinson's club finished the season at 20-8 overall with a 12-6 mark in league play -- good for a second-place finish in the nation's sixth-best conference. Its worst loss from an RPI standpoint was a four-point setback on the road against SEC staple Arkansas, a ballclub that would go on to make the tournament with an at-large bid.
So have the last seven months healed any wounds?
"Absolutely not," said Hinson, deadly serious. "You've just got to move on. I think there's two ways you can approach it: You can be angry or you can be motivated. We chose not to be angry, we chose to be disappointed but hopefully it will be a motivating factor for us with the experience that we've got coming back this year."
I got an e-mail this morning from a friend that Camden -- the New Jersey municipality just a hop, skip and jump away from my Philadelphia birthplace -- has relinquished its longtime title as the Most Dangerous City in America in a study released Monday.
The challenger that wrested the crown from Camden?
You guessed it: St. Louis, the site of today’s Missouri Valley Conference Centennial Gala and Media Day.
But despite the ubiquity of perils that such a scientific study would indicate, your faithful narrator did manage to navigate from the airport to the Renaissance Grand Hotel in one piece.
Before interview opportunities with the league coaches and the Preseason All-Valley team members get underway, here’s a quick look at the MVC Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll as conducted by the league’s coaches, media and sports information directors:
The Preseason All-Conference Team is headed by Creighton guard Nate Funk, the consensus choice for MVC Player of the Year. Also making the team are Missouri State guard Blake Ahearn, Creighton center Anthony Tolliver, Southern Illinois guard Jamaal Tatum, UNI forward Grant Stout and Southern Illinois guard Tony Young.
I'll be checking in Monday morning with posts from the Missouri Valley Conference Centennial Gala and Basketball Media Day at the Renassance Grand Hotel in St. Louis, as the nation's second-oldest conference celebrates its big birthday. To hold you over, here are some parting thoughts from today's Big Ten event -- from their mouths to your eyes:
"That is the thing about sports that drives you crazy. That was a special team: 25 wins, we had just come off the [Big Ten tournament] championship, we had missed the league [regular-season championship] by a game. We were coming off a high and had been consistent all year. We played a game like that -- have two 15-point leads, don't make free throws down the stretch, turn the ball over -- and did things in that game that we hadn't done all year long. The heartbreak was I wanted to coach that team as long as I could. Once it ended, that group of seniors moved on. Now, we are excited again because we have a new team -- but that was hard to sit on for a while." --Iowa coach Steve Alford on last year's season-ending upset at the hands of No. 14-seeded Northwestern State in the first round of the NCAAs
"You've got to walk before you can run. Anytime you can get into postseason play is important. The environment the game was played in was good for us. It did a lot with our student body coming out and supporting the team. Our season tickets have sold very well. It creates some excitement around our program and is good for us." --Penn State coach Ed DeChellis on the importance of last season's NIT bid
"He is unique. He has separated himself in more areas than just on the court. I read some excerpts from interviews he did when he was 15 or 16 years old. I could tell he was special from his response. His responses were always about going to school for the right reasons. You very rarely hear him use the words 'I' or 'me' in a response; it is always about the team. That is what really impressed me about him." --Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson on Ohio State rising freshman Greg Oden
I've since retreated to my room at the Chicago Marriott O'Hare to post some last newsy notes over some Gino's East deep-dish delivery. While my pizza-snob friends back in New York insist almost angrily that the product served in Chicago isn't pizza by definition, all I know is that this stuff -- whatever it is -- is a bleeding godsend.
Now that I've whet your appetites, on to the fodder:
The Big Ten non-conference season opens on Nov. 8 when Brown travels to East Lansing to face Michigan State.
Wisconsin's Alando Tucker, the only returning member of last season's All-Big Ten first team, will be vying for his second consecutive conference scoring title after leading the Big Ten with 20.0 points per league contest as a junior. The Lockport, Ill., native would be the first Big Ten player to win back-to-back scoring titles since Purdue's Glenn Robinson turned the trick in 1993 (22.5 ppg) and 1994 (31.1 ppg).
Iowa enters the 2006-07 season with the longest current home winning streak in the conference. The Hawkeyes were the only Big Ten team to go undefeated at home last season and have won 18 consecutive contests at Carver-Hawkeye Arena dating back to a loss at the hands of Illinois on Feb. 19, 2005. The current streak is tied with Akron for third in the country behind Gonzaga (40) and Connecticut (19). The Big Ten record for consecutive home victories was established by Michigan State, which won 53 straight games at the Breslin Center from 1998 through 2002.
Seven years into his tenure with the Hawkeyes -- and just months after re-upping for another five -- Iowa City has become an adopted home for Iowa coach Steve Alford and his family.
“I’ve always felt like this was going to be home and, now that I’ve been here seven years, it feels so much more like home,” said Alford, the Franklin, Ind., native who was 34 years old upon taking the Iowa job. “My daughter’s nine years old and she knows nothing but Iowa. She was one when we left Missouri -- she only knows she was born there. My children, they’ve grown up being Hawks just like I grew up following Indiana and following Bob Knight and that’s what I dreamed about doing as a kid.”
Perhaps the most engaging interview of the afternoon came at the Indiana round table, as first-year coach Kelvin Sampson held court with about a dozen reporters, asking the many unfamiliar faces from a different media circuit their names and where they were from. He also took each question as an opportunity to expound on his more general philosophies of the sport.
“We spend a lot of time watching how hard we play,” said Sampson of his approach since assuming the reins in Bloomington. “The first thing that we’re trying to teach these kids is not some tricky offense or some intricate defensive scheme. It’s a foundation: Play hard, compete, play with some emotion, play with some enthusiasm, play with a little passion.
“College basketball is not a ‘cool-daddy’ game. There are some NBA guys that [relax] when they hit around Game No. 42 -- like Game No. 42 is not necessarily the same as the playoffs. In college basketball, every game has to be the Fourth of July, Christmas morning or happy birthday. You try to get kids to play with some enthusiasm and passion.”
Illinois coach Bruce Weber spoke at length about the Big Ten as a “league in transition” -- and his belief that the top-heavy conference is up for grabs beyond the top two teams.
“Wisconsin has the most experience. Ohio State has the big hype from the young kids, and they have [Jamar] Butler who I think is a tremendous point guard,” Weber said. “After that, it’s probably a hodgepodge. Whether it’s us, Indiana or Michigan, even a Purdue or a Penn State. There are a lot of variables that could take place and that would be the difference.”
When pressed for his sleepers, Weber threw support behind the Boilermakers and the Nittany Lions -- neither of whom have been significant players in the Big Ten for quite some time.
The burning question around the Big Ten -- nay, around college basketball -- has surrounded the return of All-World center Greg Oden.
In case you’ve been living in a hole for the past year or so, Oden is the gifted 7-foot center from Lawrence North High who has drawn comparisons to such hallowed collegiate figures as Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and Bill Russell. If not for the new NBA rule precluding 18-year-old players from entering the league’s player draft, Oden would have certainly been the No. 1 overall pick this past June.
As it is, Oden will attend Ohio State (for a year, at least) alongside Lawrence North teammate Mike Conley. Despite having played as many minutes of Division I basketball as your faithful narrator (that is, zero), Oden was named to the Preseason All-Big Ten team -- complete with a big, fat N/A in the space designated for his 2005-06 final stats.
But since undergoing surgery on June 16 to repair a ligament injury in his right wrist, an exact return date has yet to be determined.
One of the few interesting tidbits related to the otherwise-unsurprising USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll released Friday -- the first official Top 25 of the 2006-07 season -- had to do with the distribution of first-place votes.
Florida, which returns all five starters from a team that finished 33-6 and won the school's first-ever national championship, received 30 of the 31 first-place votes cast -- making the Gators a near-unanimous selection.
The lone remaining first-place vote went to Ohio State, which ranked fourth behind No. 2 North Carolina and No. 3 Kansas. When asked whether he knew who cast the single vote, Matta didn’t miss a beat.
“My mom,” deadpanned the third-year coach of the Buckeyes to the laughter of a dozen surrounding reporters. “How you don’t vote Florida No. 1, I don’t know. Maybe somebody knows something that I don’t know [about the Buckeyes] after 18 practices.”
Greetings from Big Ten Basketball Media Day at the Chicago Marriott O’Hare. Coaches and players and reporters have been trickling into the hotel over the past hour and the action is expected to get underway shortly.
Ohio State, the defending Big Ten champion returning five letterwinners and one starter from a team that finished 26-6 overall, has been selected as the conference favorite in a vote of the media members attending today’s event. (We were asked as part of our credential application.) Wisconsin and Illinois were tabbed for second and third, respectively.
LAS VEGAS - We could re-hash the incident at Kansas that wound up leading to the place where J.R. Giddens now finds himself. We could get into the "he said," "they said" and the terse way Giddens' Jayhawk career ended. We could probably even Google the subject and find some loose ends and dangling participles from the circumstances that led to Giddens winding up in New Mexico for Ritchie McKay’s Lobos.
We could do all that and more, of course. Instead we're going to start with a smile. Specifically the smile on Giddens face during his time here in Vegas for MWC Media Day. With a mini Jordan show replica dangling from his necklace and red Lobos golf shirt, Giddens is ready to put all that other stuff behind him.
LAS VEGAS - It's been our experience that in the course of head-down, minute-by-minute blogging, we sometimes forget to sit back and observe all that's going on around us. Something about the forest for the trees or some other mixed metaphor that we never quite get right.
With that in mind, we now present, after the jump, a conglomeration of snippets from the past several hours of MWC immersion.
LAS VEGAS – The men’s portion of the CSTV media slam is starting to wind down and we’ve been busy in the Green Room getting some sit-down time with three of the league’s premiere players: San Diego State’s senior guard Brandon Heath (the MWC’s reigning Player of the Year); UNLV’s senior guard Michael Umeh (coming back from a knee injury that cut short his 2005-06 season) and perhaps the league’s most intriguing player, New Mexico junior guard J.R. Giddens, a Kansas transfer who averaged 10.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in two seasons as a Jayhawk.
We’ll work on some featurettes on those three players for posting early on Thursday as an appetizer to the Live-Blogging we’ll be starting at 11 a.m. (EST) direct from the Aladdin’s Grand Ballroom where MWC Media Day is being held.
For now, we can report that MWC commissioner Craig Thompson is in the house and we’re planning on getting some time with the Commish on Thursday. We’re even in discussions to have Thompson – one of the nation’s most progressive league leaders – live-blog with Hang Time, much the way we did with Marshall Coach Ron Jirsa last week. We continue to push the envelope of blogdom, and we do it all for you, the valued CSTV.com reader.
LAS VEGAS – CSTV’s live coverage of the Mountain West Conference’s “Media Slam” is underway and Hang Time is with you from the Green Room off-set at media day headquarters, in the Aladdin Hotel.
Basically, here's how it works: You watch, we blog.
The MWC, you should know, is only the league in the country that has its CSTV preview show covering both the men’s and women’s teams – a full three hours of hoop heaven for MWC fans.
Several of the men’s players and coaches are trickling in and first up is Air Force and senior forward Jacob Burtschi with the Falcons’ assistant coach, Derrick Clark, filling in for head coach Jeff Bzdelik who had to tend to a family emergency.
When asked which of his team’s two headline-grabbing preseason honors was more gratifying -- Pitt’s selection as league champ or Aaron Gray’s selection as Player of the Year -- Jamie Dixon paused to consider the question before choosing his seven-footer’s individual accolade.
“Aaron’s is probably more gratifying because of how he’s become the Big East Preseason Player of the Year,” Dixon said. “If you look back at the guys who have been Preseason Player of the Year, I don’t see anybody who’s come from where he’s come as far as a high school player and also his development.”
LAS VEGAS - The utilization of the Coach's Son (Kevin Kruger) at the point guard position is nothing new at UNLV. Former coach Jerry Tarkanian had his son, All American, Danny, running things for the Rebels in the early 80s.
These days, Danny is looking to run a different kind of team, as he seeks Nevada's Secretary of State slot in the upcoming election, as a Republican. In the interest of equal time, his opponent is Democrat Ross Miller.
Hang Time is throwing its substantial support behind Tarkanian, but if his dad continues to blow us off during our visit, we'll be forced to reconsider.
LAS VEGAS – With a few turns of the Hang Time Dodge Neon we easily arrived at Tarkanian Way on the UNLV campus and meandered into the Thomas & Mack/COX Pavilion parking lot.
We’re now live in the bowels of COX in the Runnin’ Rebels basement practice facility where Lon Kruger’s team is scrimmaging itself (Reds vs. Grays) with four referees (three at a time) calling fouls and giving a game feel and tempo to the proceedings.
When it comes to programs around the nation positioned for a potential breakthrough this season, DePaul has been one of the most frequently cited candidates.
Aside from returning all five starters from last year’s team, the Blue Demons are the only group in the conference to return four double-figure scorers. DePaul seemed to play much better toward the end of their first Big East go-round last year -- culminating with a 108-69 thumping of eventual league tourney champ Syracuse on Mar. 2.
Though each year is a snapshot unto itself, Wainwright is counting on his veteran team’s ability to carry over the momentum.
That Villanova would be without All-American guards Randy Foye and Allan Ray for the 2006-07 season was never any surprise to supporters of the program. But since rough-and-tumble guard Kyle Lowry left school following his sophomore season for the NBA draft last June, Nova Nation has been somewhat uneasy about the team’s immediate future.
Will Sheridan, one of two starters returning to the Main Line and the “other guy” in last year’s vaunted four-guard offense, has one message for the Villanova faithful: Fear not.
Twelve months ago, the Wildcats lost Curtis Sumpter -- a Preseason Big East Player of the Year candidate that was widely considered Villanova’s most important contributor -- to a knee injury during the first week of practice. Rather than pack it in, Jay Wright’s team would circle the wagons and establish a school record for most victories in a season on its way to the first No. 1 seed in program history and an Elite Eight appearance.
LAS VEGAS – Hang Time has arrived in Las Vegas and we’ve yet to lose a dollar, which we’re taking as an encouraging sign.
The cross country trip was smooth and lady luck shone upon us immediately by leaving the center seat vacant on a 98-percent full flight. (We’re taking that as a sign of good things to come our way in Casino Land.)
We also took special notice of the occupant of First Class Seat 1C on Flight 67 from Boston – former Boston University and 1980 Team USA team member, Mike Eruzione. To re-cap – in the course of 10 minutes we had a Miracle on Ice sighting and, with our roomy seating arrangement for the five-hour flight, a Miracle in Air.
Anybody care for a Miracle at Aladdin’s blackjack tables?
Anyway, we’re here for college hoops, specifically the Mountain West Conference’s annual media day. Last season, the league placed two 24-win teams in the NCAA tournament with both Air Force and San Diego State suffering first round losses to Big Ten teams (Illinois and Indiana respectively). It looks like a two-bid league again this year, but the outside possibility exists that three MWC teams could wind up dancing.
It's been a whirlwind couple of years in Morgantown, what with West Virginia making deadly serious challenges for the last two national championships. Two years ago, the Mountaineers came this close to taking down Louisville in the Elite Eight. Last year, John Beilein’s club advanced to the Sweet 16 before bowing to Texas at the buzzer.
But with the Perfect Storm class of Mike Gansey, Kevin Pittsnogle, J.D. Collins, Joe Herber and Patrick Beilein having graduated, the Mountaineers return just two players who averaged more than four minutes a game.
“Here we have a team that’s picked 12th,” Beilein said to a throng of about a dozen writers. “Four years ago, we came in here and I think we talked to one or two reporters the entire time that we were here.”
Pittsburgh has taken center stage at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Here at Big East media day, the Panthers were selected by the league's head coaches to win the conference championship for just the third time in league history. Seven-footer Aaron Gray, Pitt's linchpin in the pivot, was named Preseason Player of the Year.
The Panthers were also chosen to take home the title in 1987-88 and 2002-03. Both times, they would make good on the preseason prediction and win the regular-season championship.
No one was more surprised when it came to Massachusetts’ second-place standing in the preseason poll than second-year coach Travis Ford.
“It’s weird being ranked second for a team that hasn’t done anything to back that up yet,” Ford said. “There are going to be four or five players that play significant minutes that have never put on a UMass uniform before.”
Among the four transfer players Ford welcomes into the fold are Virginia expat Gary Forbes and one-time Syracuse signee Tiki Mayben, who was named to the preseason All-Rookie team.
George Washington loses four starters from a team that went undefeated in the conference before bowing to Temple in the A-10 tournament then Duke in the second round of the NCAAs.
Gone are all-league performers Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Mike Hall, Alex Kireev, Danilo Pinnock and Omar Williams -- a collection of veterans who accounted for close to two-thirds of the team’s scoring during last year’s headline-grabbing campaign.
So how did the Colonials finish fifth in the preseason poll in spite of such considerable losses?
“I like to think of it as respect,” sixth-year coach Karl Hobbs said. “Based on what everyone else has coming back -- if you base it just on paper -- we probably should be picked to finish eighth or ninth. I think it’s just more out of respect.”
The ever-vigilant fan base on Hawk Hill is up in arms about Saint Joseph’s eighth-place standing in the preseason poll. But with six new players joining Martelli’s youngest-ever group, the ranking is somewhat understandable.
Martelli’s solution in the early going has been to overcoach with an almost-fanatical attention to detail.
“Everything that we do has been coached. We had a practice for practice, because I have two new coaches, too,” Martelli said. “So when I say, ’This is the way that we’re going to guard,’ I had to take them on the court and show them. During the last week of our individual instruction, we used that time to practice practice.
“We probably have 65 different drills that we could use at any point during a practice and it’s all skill work, but we call it different names. So we might call something 'UCLA,' we might call something else 'UConn,' we might call something else 'Carolina,' we might call something 'Dayton.' I had to let the coaches know, ‘OK, this is where you go.’ Because the thing that I can’t handle in practice is standing around -- it just drives me crazy. So everything that we do in practice is timed, everything is paced, and we pack a lot into two hours and 20 minutes -- but none of it includes everybody standing around while I say, ‘You go to that end, you go to this end, you go to that end.’"
In a quiet and unassuming manner, Xavier has made a pretty convincing case for Team of the Decade in the Atlantic 10, having won three conference championships since the turn of the millennium (in 2002, 2004 and 2006). Twice, the Musketeers have won four games in four days to take the league’s automatic bid -- becoming the only school in the history of the NCAAs to turn that near-impossible trick on two separate occasions.
This season, Xavier won’t be sneaking up on anyone. As the overwhelming favorite to repeat as league champs, the Musketeers are expected to hang another banner in the Cintas Center rafters. But third-year coach Sean Miller is mindful not to let the hype get to the heads of his players.
“It’s a good feeling,” Miller admitted. “But I think it’s a feeling that can leave us very fast.”
With the playing status of key holdovers Mark Tyndale and Wayne Marshall in question -- each having been declared academically ineligible for the first semester -- Temple was tabbed for ninth in the league's preseason poll, an unusual position for the Atlantic 10's longtime standard-bearer.
In preparation for his first season with the Owls, incoming coach Fran Dunphy -- the first person to man the sidelines at two different Big 5 schools -- hasn't maintained Hall of Fame coach John Chaney's insane early-morning practice schedule. But that doesn't mean Dunph has completely eschewed the unorthodox. The 57-year-old coach had his players participate in yoga classes during the early weeks of practice, even joining in the sessions with his charges.
“They would lift three days a week and they did yoga two days a week. I tried to do it with them -- not at quite the same flexibility level as some of our guys,” Dunphy said. “It was fun. I don’t think they loved it by any stretch, but I think they understood the quality of work that can come out of it -- whether it’s better breathing, better flexibility, more balance, more discipline, more focus.”
Perhaps my guiltiest pleasure this side of Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor album is my lifelong affinity for Atlantic City -- which, for whatever quirks it may have, is one of my three or four favorite towns in the United States. So I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my Tuesday morning than paying a rare autumn visit to America's Playground and attending Atlantic 10 media day at Boardwalk Hall, where the conference will hold its 2007 and 2008 postseason tournaments.
With the Rolling Stones prepping the arena proper for their concert Friday night, the media event was held in an adjacent practice gym. (Commissioner Linda Bruno quipped that Mick Jagger sent his apologies for not attending in her opening remarks.) Though I’ve never seen an actual basketball game played at Boardwalk Hall, I can’t imagine a more beautiful room for a sporting event from a purely aesthetic standpoint. As the last major structure remaining from the city’s heyday as a seaside resort, Boardwalk Hall was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Ornate columns and a lavish, barrel-vaulted ceiling give the room a unique and museum-like feel and will make for a unique hoop experience -- starting with the Atlantic City Lenape Trail Classic game between Temple and Cincinnati on Dec. 9 and culminating in March with the A-10 tournament, back on the east coast following a four-year jaunt in Ohio.
Things are tapering down at the Grandover Resort & Conference Center. Below are some parting thoughts before heading out:
The polar opposite to the chattery Jared Dudley was Florida State's Al Thornton, who conducted his interviews in a sotto voce that befit his unassuming demeanor. No individual player around the ACC not named Tyler Hansbrough is receiving more preseason hype than Thornton, but it would seem that the versatile 6-foot-7 swingman is more interested in doing his talking on the hardwood. ("I'm really looking forward to getting out there and playing," Thornton said. "Playing every game like it's my last.")
Said Duke's DeMarcus Nelson of forward Josh McRoberts, whose decision to spurn the NBA for a second collegiate season was met with an overwhelming sense of relief in Durham, "I believe Josh made a great decision coming back. He can still improve and evolve into the player that he's going to become, and it's going to be an exciting time for him." (Then added the junior tri-captain, with a wry smile: "I'm selfish about it because it makes my job a lot easier with him out there.")
North Carolina State's Engin Atsur, who competed for Turkey in the FIBA World Championship this summer, intimated that playing college basketball wasn't the most sound financial choice -- but the correct personal decision: "Personally, for me, it was the best decision because I wanted to have my degree and also play at a high level of basketball. But if I really wanted to play just professional basketball, I could have just stayed with my club team and signed a contract, which would have been better for a professional career maybe. I could be at that [professional] level right now -- you're talking about four years that you're not playing professional basketball. Some people could see that as a large economic loss but, personally, I see it as a positive because I have a college degree now."
Last season, the ACC sent four teams to the NCAA tournament -- as many as the Missouri Valley Conference. Today, Maryland coach Gary Williams was one of several coaches who got defensive when the subject was brought up.
Williams mentioned the importance of an open campaign on behalf of the ACC, even entreating the league's television announcers to do their part.
"You’re the third-ranked conference in the country and you get four teams in. Why should anybody but the two conferences ranked ahead of us get more teams than us in the tournament?," Williams opined. "As a coach I’m saying right now -- and this is legitimate -- that we should get six or seven teams in the NCAA tournament.
"But I think it has to come from our league office, too. It’s one thing to send out facts and information, but the ear is really important. It’s important that the announcers in our regional games talk about the ACC like the Big Ten announcers do. It’s OK to be a homer when you’re talking about a league. If you’ve got two league teams playing or whatever, we shouldn’t worry about being politically correct about how we feel about the ACC."
Attending members of the media voted for preseason predictions earlier in the afternoon. The results have since been tabulated and distributed around the workroom. Here's what were looking at:
North Carolina was a comfortable favorite to win the conference, collecting 59 of the 62 first-place votes cast and 741 total points. (Two dissenters voted for Duke to finish first, a third for Boston College.)
Sure, Duke lost their All-American tandem of J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams to graduation. Yes, the Blue Devils don’t have a single senior on the roster.
But is Mike Krzyzewski’s establishment in Durham ever really down?
“I’d rather be expected to do well than to not do well,” the Hall of Fame coach said during an interview session with the print media. “There would be a high expectation if we returned everybody. There’s a high expectation with us just having one junior and no seniors. That just comes with the territory.”
There's a word for the weather in Greensboro this morning and I'd better not use it.
But cold wind and rain notwithstanding, your faithful narrator has arrived at ACC Operation Basketball at the Grandover Resort and Conference Center.
The media and players are upstairs eating for another 25 minutes before interview sessions get underway. Among the players in attendance are Boston College's Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall, Clemson's Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds, Duke's DeMarcus Nelson, Florida State's Al Thornton and Jerel Allen, Georgia Tech's Anthony Morrow and Mario West, Maryland's Ekene Ibekwe and D.J. Strawberry, Miami's Anthony Harris and Anthony King, North Carolina's Wes Miller and Reyshawn Terry, North Carolina State's Engin Atsur, Virginia's J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary, Virginia Tech's Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon and Wake Forest's Michael Drum and Kyle Visser.
MEMPHIS – Hang Time has had a few hours to digest the happenings of Conference USA’s 2006 Men’s basketball Media Day – and a few more to digest the scrumptious charcoal ribs at the famous Rendezvous restaurant.
(Yes, Mission: Eat Ribs was a smashing success – thanks for all your email tips and suggestions.)
The lasting impression – aside from a stained dress shirt and the lingering smell of dry rub – is that C-USA is a league with many intriguing possibilities for the 2006-07 season; but also one struggling to gain its identity.
MEMPHIS - We've got some bad news on the Tiger cheer squad and dance team. Not only are they no longer stretching, they have, as Elvis once did, left the building.
Hang Time is vowing to launch a full investigation into the sudden disappearance, but initial reports indicate that because of rainy weather the scheduled outside performance was cancelled. We will not sleep until we get to the bottom of this travesty.
MEMPHIS - Ahhhhh - that's much better. Not only can we now see our keyboard, we have been given a legitimate excuse to belly up to the bar as we have commandeered center space at the Jack Daniels Old. No. 7 sports bar.
Even more exciting is the fact that we've managed to get fourth-year Marshall head coach Ron Jirsa to join us for a first-of-its-kind (for Hang Time anyway) live-blogging session.
"I'm a one finger typer," said Jirsa.
No worries - Hang Time will type, Coach can provide the answers:
HT: What is that makes you think Marshall can be a basketball power year in and year out?
RJ: It starts at the top for us with our Athletic Director, Bob Marcum. He has has had tremednous success at schools known for basketball like UMass, where he had a great run with John Calipari. He's got a clear vision, and he was a strong propnent of us getting into C-USA. You get a sense of working together when you work with Mr. Marcum.
MEMPHIS - The last 60-90 minutes got a bit away from your Hang Time hanger-on, and for that we must apologize.
We're pretty confident we can lay the blame at the feet of Houston head coach Tom Penders, who got us enthralled in a wide-ranging conversation of everything from heart medications to international basketball to - and this really got us - some memories of going to long-ago Celtics practices to "steal" plays and philosophies from Tom Heinsohn and Red Auerbach.
We also got trapped by a serious internal debate that UAB's new head man, Mike Davis, is having over whether or not he should allow his young son and his wife to procure a dog. "I don't want it, I don't want it on my property and I don't want to hear about it," laughed Davis, as he unbuttoned his suit coat, took it off and began to relax after surviving his first C-USA media day.
In other words - you can fully expect the Davises to be adding a dog to the household in the very near future.
After the jump is some random scribblings form the Hang Time notebook following our table-to-table bounce around.
We're heading over to the FedEx Forum for tonight's live CSTV broadcast of Full Court Press (6-8 p.m. EST), so you can expect continued updates through the early evening and leading up to Hang Time's newly announced initiative: Operation Eat Ribs.
MEMPHIS - The Hang Time operation has relocated to Salon C of the Hilton as assorted media, administrators, coaches and student-athletes are beginning to gather and mingle.
A TV interview room has been set up for the schools' local affiliates to conduct interviews with players and coaches and Salon A will facilitate the print media's interviews with players and coaches.
Salon B is housing the feeding tables, so that's where we're headed.
One last reminder that it's not too late to get in your questions for Hang Time to pose to your favorite coach or player. Our list is getting pretty long, so bring it strong and give us quality over quantity. Send questions to cstvhangtimATyahoo.com.
MEMPHIS - Set up for C-USA Media Day is underway as the Hilton's "Salon A" is festooned with member banners and interview tables set up throughout the ballroom.
Players scheduled to be in attendance along with the league's 12 head coaches are: Houston's Dion Dowell, Marshall's Tre Whitted, Rice's Morris Almond, Tulane's Chris Moore, Tulsa's Charles Ramsdell, UCF's Josh Peppers and the host city foursome of Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier.
MEMPHIS - Coaches and media were trickling into the Memphis Hilton during Wednesday's evening hours and the league's annual media confab is nearing its official commencement in the noon hour on Thursday. Spotted in the Hitlon's spacious, tres-chic lobby were first year UTEP head coach, Tony Barbee; CSTV analyst (and story teller extraordinaire) Pete Gillen; former Georgetown coach (now CSTV employee) Craig Esherick; second-year Tulane head coach, Dave Dickerson; and the ubiquitous CSTV talent Seth Davis.
Barbee told Hang Time he is adjusting nicely to life in El Paso and has been leaning heavily on the de facto Mayor of El Paso, Hall of Famer Don Haskins. "He's an incredible man," said Barbee. "It's amazing to be able to talk basketball with him."
Barbee, proving to be a wily veteran even on the eve of his first media day, is already trying to temper expectations for his inaugural season. "We've got one senior (guard Kevin Henderson, Minneapolis), so we'll have to see how our young guys play."
Speaking of expectations, you, the Hang Time Hangers, have already exceeded ours with the bevy of great Media Day Questions which you have submitted to our special email: CSTVhangtimeATyahoo.com. We won't be able to ask all of your tremednous queries, but we will select more than a handful and report back throughout the day with players' and coaches' responses. Keep 'em clean and keep 'em educated.
MEMPHIS - Hang Time has landed in Memphis for the CUSA Media Day Extravaganza and we’ve headed straight to the on-campus Larry O. Finch Recreation Facility, where Coach John Calipari is currently putting his Tigers through a rigorous workout.
Joining Hang Time at midcourt is CSTV’s Seth Davis, who is preparing for Thursday night’s Full Court Press Conference USA preview special (6-8 p.m. EST on CSTV), which he’ll work live form the FedEx Forum with Pete Gillen. Adam Zucker will anchor from the CSTV New York studio.
The Tigers, in blue and white practice jerseys, are, as the coaches like to say “getting’ after it.” Calipari, the consummate teacher, stops things periodically for instruction, criticism and even some good-natured ribbing.
South Carolina State coach Jamal Brown, a former star center at the Orangeburg university, is one of three first-year coaches in the MEAC.
"It’s been a fast experience," said Brown, the youngest coach in the conference. "I went to school there, I was an assistant there, so I've been refamiliarizing myself with the environment. It’s always good to come home, to come back to the comfort zone."
First-year coach Kevin Nickelberry spoke like a visionary during a one-on-one interview on the future of Hampton basketball.
"I am excited to start a journey that I hope will end with me, the president and our fans walking out that front door, looking at USA Today and seeing us in the Top 25. That’s my goal," Nickelberry said. "I’m here to win championships."
About 150 press members, conference administrators, school officials and alumni attended a two-hour press luncheon that was not without its highlights.
And Now For Something Completely Different: Each place setting featured purple napkins with the itinerary for the lunch printed on one side.
Former NBA player Kenny Smith emceed the event. Said the Inside the NBA studio host in his introduction: "I look at the collection of college coaches before us, and I would say there is not a college conference anywhere that has the same knowledge and same character in the coaches that we have here."
A three-hour drive out of Charlotte late Tuesday night brought your humble narrator to Raleigh for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference media day and press luncheon at the RBC Center.
Delaware State, which returns four starters from a club that finished 16-2 in the MEAC (and 21-14 overall), received all 14 first-place votes in a poll of the league's head coaches and sports information directors. Chief among the returnees for the two-time defending regular-season champs is reigning MEAC Player of the Year, Jahsha Bluntt.
Torrell Martin didn't miss a beat when I asked what the Columbia, S.C., native was most looking forward to this season.
"I’m ready to get into conference play. I really am," Martin said. "The games are just great. I love knowing who we play and being familiar with the guys that we play [against] -- trying to see what they’re going bring at us differently to try and get a win."
So which particular intra-conference dates does Martin have circled on his calendar?
Nothing would help the Big South build on its growing reputation than a few victories in these five high-profile games.
Nov. 14: Winthrop vs. Iona at Charlotte Bobcats Arena (Charlotte, N.C.)
Should Craig Bradshaw, Torrell Martin and the Eagles take down an Iona team depleted by graduation in the first round of the Preseason NIT, a second-round meeting with North Carolina -- presuming the Heels get past Sacred Heart -- would come to fruition.
Nov. 24: High Point vs. Maryland at the Comcast Center (College Park, Md.)
Arizona Reid and the Panthers get a rare shot against an ACC team -- and a hungry one. The Ekene Ibekwe-led Terrapins are dead-set on snapping a two-year NCAA tournament drought.
Dec. 17: Charleston Southern vs. Southern California at the Galen Center (Los Angeles, Calif.)
The Buccaneers, tabbed for fourth in the Big South preseason poll, travel to USC's brand-spanking-new Galen Center for a date with a Trojans side featuring NBA prospects Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young.
Dec. 21: Coastal Carolina vs. Florida State at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Reigning Big South Player of the Year Jack Leasure will lead the Buzz Peterson-coached Chanticleers into Tallahassee, where Coastal Carolina -- picked to finish second behind Winthrop in the Big South -- will have their hands full with Florida State's Al Horford.
Jan. 2: Liberty vs. Florida at the O'Connell Center (Gainesville, Fla.)
What an end to a whale of a week for Randy Dunton's Flames. Just days before meeting the defending national champions on their home turf, Liberty travels to the BYU Holiday Classic in Provo to face the host school (Dec. 28), Seton Hall (Dec. 29) and Mid-Continent Conference frontrunner Oral Roberts (Dec. 30).
The overwhelming sentiment in Charlotte is that the Big South is a league on the rise. And the numbers would agree.
After bottoming out with an RPI of .4614 in the 2001-02 season -- dead last in Division I (even worse than the collection of Independents!) -- the league has plotted a steady improvement on a year-by-year basis. The Big South ranked No. 28 in '02-03, No. 28 again in '03-04, No. 27 in '04-05 all the way up to No. 19 this past season.
One of the most prominent challengers to Winthrop's supremacy in the Big South is High Point, the tiny North Carolina school (enrollment: 3,100) tabbed for third place by the pollsters.
Leading the way for the Panthers is rising junior Arizona Reid, a 6-foot-5 swingman who averaged 18.3 points and 8.9 boards on his way to first-team All-Big South honors as a sophomore. The Gaffney, S.C., native's 10 double-doubles ranked tops among league players and his 29-point, 16-rebound performance against Kentucky at Rupp Arena garnered national headlines.
Following lunch, Coastal Carolina associate athletics director Matt Hogue emceed a video presentation of the Men's Preseason Poll, All-Conference Team and Player of the Year announcements. To the surprise of no one, two-time defending Big South champion Winthrop was a unanimous pick to three-peat in voting conducted by the league's head coaches, sports information directors and media.
With six of eight first-place votes and 94 total points, Preseason POY Torrell Martin headlines the All-Conference team. Joining the Columbia, S.C., native on the five-man squad is teammate and New Zealand native Craig Bradshaw, Liberty's Larry Blair, High Point's Arizona Reid, Coastal Carolina's Jack Leasure.
One hundred ninety days have passed since I last covered a college basketball event -- a little tangle in Indianapolis between Florida and UCLA. But as I type these words from the Big South media day at the Renaissance Suites in Charlotte, N.C., your faithful narrator's offseason is coming to its official end.
Sure, the recruiting game gives us college hoop junkies something to satiate our fix during the summer months. But there's nothing like this parade of media days in October and early November to hammer home the fact that basketball -- the games that matter -- are just weeks away. (Twenty-seven days, to be exact.)