Enes Kanter Isn’t The Only One Who Needs Freeing

Posted by jstevrtc on September 27th, 2010

It looks like some Kentucky students (we’re assuming) had a little fun with GarageBand recently and put together a little tune and, um, rap “video” about Kentucky freshman-in-limbo Enes Kanter and the desire to see his eligibility confirmed by the NCAA:

Now, we don’t imagine a certain Mr. Mathers is shaking in his sneakers at the prospect of a showdown versus “Rich Breezy,” but we salute the creators of the “Free Enes” video, since it’s certainly better than this particular RTC contributor could do.

The video did remind us, though, of that wonderful annual ritual of sweating out tardy eligibility determinations by the NCAA, that seemingly endless process that players, coaches, and fans must endure before each season. We  are still awaiting final eligibility decisions on three players in the 2010 Rivals top twelve — specifically Kanter, Missouri commit Tony Mitchell and top-ranked Josh Selby at Kansas. Last year, Deniz Kalicli, another extremely talented Turkish player, had to sit out 20 games before making his debut at West Virginia. Kentucky’s John Wall wasn’t cleared to play until late October. Lance Stephenson didn’t know if he was eligible at Cincinnati until November 5th, and Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney missed all of last season (his situation was admittedly a tad more complex than the others, we should note).

We assume that the NCAA adjudicates these matters as quickly as it can and is reliant upon the timeliness and veracity of the information they receive, but it seems like these decisions get handed down later and later each season. The final decision on Kanter was due almost a week ago, and we’re unaware of a timeline regarding a call being made for Selby, and for Mitchell’s chances to play in the second semester this year (he’s ineligible for the first). We all agree that in the end the most important thing is that the fairest decision be made for each kid, and that the NCAA’s calls are consistent. Unfortunately, with practices officially starting in 17 days, it’s about as likely that all of these issues will be ruled on by the time basketballs hit hardwood as it is that Rich Breezy is a pseudonym for Pete Thamel.

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Recruiting Rumor Mill: 09.27.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 27th, 2010

After a prolonged absence from the summer circuit it appears like Sonny Vaccaro, who was once quiet possibly the most powerful man in AAU basketball, is making his triumphant return. As Gary Parrish notes, Vaccaro should make things more interesting.

  • It’s already almost a week old, but ESPN released its team recruiting rankings and you will be shocked to see who is #1.
  • Arizona was able to land some big names like Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson over the past few weeks, but as we pointed out last week their haul would be coming to an end soon due to the Lute Olson-era sanctions against the program. Now we see the results as Sean Miller has told super recruit LeBryan Nash that there isn’t any room for him in Tucson.
LeBryan isn’t welcome in Arizona
  • Speaking of the Wildcats, last week we mentioned the refreshing case of Norvel Pelle who was just starting to do in-house visits, but now Pelle has moved ahead to planning official visits as he recently expressed interest in St John’s, UTEP, UConn, and “the whole PAC 10 except Arizona according to a phone interview with Adam Zagoria, although Pelle has not committed to any official visits yet.
  • In yet another reaction to Arizona’s filling its scholarships already . . . Quinn Cook, who had been high on Arizona before Turner’s surprise commitment, is now considering Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Villanova, and UNC. In a rather unsurprising surprising comment, Steve Smith, his new coach at Oak Hill, says Cook is “comparable” to Rajon Rondo, Ty Lawson, Marcus Williams (hopefully leaving the laptops out of it), and Brandon Jennings who all played at Oak Hill. Cook is a talented prospect, but outside of Williams I think Smith might be stretching the truth a bit. To be fair, I can say my paycheck is comparable to John Paulson’s paycheck, but Paulson made way more than I did (at least before the RTC royalty checks get processed).
  • Last week we noted that Austin Rivers had taken Florida off his list of potential schools and now it seems like he has set dates for his official visits: UNC (October 1st), Duke (October 15th), and Kansas (October 22nd). You can guess that the basketball coaches will be especially interested in the football team’s performances those weekends against East Carolina (could be challenging for the depleted Tar Heels), Miami (this one could be ugly), and Texas A&M (depends on the week for the inconsistent Jayhawks).
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Morning Five: 09.27.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 27th, 2010

  1. You may have missed this news during a busy football weekend, but the Birmingham (Alabama) School Board decided late Friday to not change former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe’s official transcript despite an independent law firm’s finding that justifications for grade changes thereon were “not credible.”  We covered this on Friday night, and people are generally falling into two camps.  On one side is the “Really?  WTF?” camp, as articulated by Gary Parrish in his piece on the matter; while on the other side, we have giddy UK fans who seem to believe that they got over on the NCAA, New York Times, jealous Calipari-haters and the liberal media, depending on whom you ask.  This ordeal is probably dead with respect to the NCAA and Kentucky, but Tom Arenberg of the Birmingham News believes that Birmingham schools should seek more answers with respect to what happened here, while we’re left wondering why we didn’t buddy up to a couple of amenable teachers in high school right before our applications to Stanford and MIT went into the mail.
  2. California’s 7’3 center Max Zhang will not be enrolled at Berkeley for the fall semester, as he is staying in his native China to play in the Asia Games this November.  He could be back for the spring semester, though, just in time for Pac-10 play and definitely needed after a mass exodus of players from Mike Montgomery’s team this offseason.  He only averaged 3/2 in his sophomore season for the Bears, but with a nice shooting touch and scouts keeping a watchful eye on his development, there is a sense that he is ready to break out and could one day play professionally.
  3. Kansas center Jeff Withey is on the shelf after breaking his right foot during individual workouts last week.  Withey played sparingly as a freshman last season in Lawrence, but he was a four-star recruit out of San Diego and is expected to get considerably more run this season.  He’ll be out four to six weeks, which will unfortunately somewhat hinder his development, as practice officially begins in less than three weeks.
  4. Late last week John Calipari stated to reporters that he thought Enes Kanter was going to be eligible to play for him this coming season.  Gary Parrish seems to think that Calipari has convinced himself of such a fiction, although he’s quick to say that he doesn’t have any proof to the contrary either (sounds a lot like #1).  Turns out that very few coaches Parrish knows and has talked to about this ever thought that Kanter would be eligible to play college ball (even before Kanter signed with UK).  That seems reasonable enough to us.
  5. What do you guys think — will UNC bounce back strong this year after a disastrous (for them) 20-17 NIT season?  Some of the problems the Heels had last year, such as spotty point guard play and a lot of tall but soft players inside, are still there.  Adding a superstar like Harrison Barnes to the lineup won’t solve those specific issues.  Will Roy Williams have the magic touch to get his team back to the NCAA Tournament as he’s done in every season he’s coached but one?  The smart money is that he’ll find a way, but unless Larry Drew II and/or Dexter Strickland suddenly transform into  reasonable facsimiles of Ed Cota, Ray Felton or Ty Lawson, we’re not sure that this team is any better than a borderline top 25 team.  Are we wrong?
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2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by zhayes9 on September 26th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

Following a blissful 2009 that culminated in Roy Williams’ second national championship since taking over at his alma mater, life as a North Carolina basketball fan hasn’t exactly been business as usual. The development of the John Henson-led recruiting class didn’t advance as quickly as hoped, guard play and defense continued to be lingering issues, injuries curtailed the seasons of some key players and a staggering five ACC losses at the Dean Dome followed. This all resulted in a spot in the NIT while their bitter rivals from down Tobacco Road emerged as the final team standing. Don’t feel so sorry for Tar Heel fans, though. With a Hall of Famer at the helm, continued success on the recruiting trail and the history and lore of UNC basketball remaining strong, there won’t be too many more NIT berths on the horizon. With a questionable ACC and arguably the best freshman in the nation wearing the powder blue, a jump from tenth to second in the conference isn’t out of the question (schedule here).

A common Roy Williams expression last season

Team Outlook: One thing that Roy Williams should stress during October practice and even into non-conference play is that every single spot in the starting five is an open competition. There’s talent and potential stardom flooding this roster, but the roles and minutes have yet to be determined. Larry Drew improved his court vision and shooting touch from his freshman to sophomore seasons, but he could be challenged by incoming freshman Kendall Marshall. Williams also has sophomores Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and rookie Reggie Bullock, known for his athleticism and outside shooting, to compete for time in the backcourt. Harrison Barnes will in all likelihood instantly be their most dynamic player. Barnes is a one-and-done who can create his own shot and has such a mature and refined game for an 18-year old. The question mark could be in the frontcourt where it’s yet to be determined if Tyler Zeller can remain healthy and John Henson can contribute more offensively as a sophomore. Both possess the skill level for breakout campaigns, giving Williams plenty of weapons.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 7. After a warm-up against Lipscomb, the Tar Heels embark for Puerto Rico where they’ll be the prohibitive favorites to take the tournament crown. The most threatening obstacles will be Minnesota in the semifinals and a potential championship game against Kevin Jones and West Virginia. After downing Michigan State the last two seasons in the Challenge, Carolina receives another tough test in lllinois on the road. The Illini should be greatly improved in 2010-11 with Demetri McCamey opting to return for a senior season and the skilled frontcourt duo of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. The series with Kentucky continues with the Wildcats visiting the Dean Dome, a young, inexperienced group still likely trying to mesh at that early stage in the season. The final challenge is a semi-home game in Greensboro against Texas after the two teams battled it out in Dallas last December, a hyped battle that turned out to be quite pedestrian when both schools grossly underachieved by seasons end. Carolina also faces rebuilding Rutgers in NYC and travels to Evansville for a game against the Missouri Valley bottom feeder.

Cupcake City: I’d give Williams credit for striking an appropriate balance on the number of challenging games a program with the stature of North Carolina should take on while also sprinkling in a handful of cupcakes that will help this curious team mesh and develop chemistry. The opener against Lipscomb is a glorified exhibition and the Puerto Rico opener against Hofstra shouldn’t be an upset threat unless Williams’ rotation is in flux and CAA POY candidate Charles Jenkins has a career performance. The Heels also draw UNC-Asheville and will be looking for some revenge when College of Charleston comes to town (unbelievably, Carolina was ranked ninth during that upset). Two teams that may challenge the Heels are Long Beach State and William & Mary. The 49ers return their top three scorers under former Minnesota headman Dan Monson. The Tribe, one of the feel-good stories of last season that saw their season end in the NIT against Carolina, brings back Quinn McDowell to a team that attempted the third most three-pointers in the nation last season, a dangerous proposition should they catch fire.

Toughest Early Season Test: Due to Kentucky’s inexperience, the question marks surrounding Texas and the lack of another preseason top-25 caliber school in Puerto Rico, look for the Tar Heels toughest early season test to take place when they travel to Champaign to visit the Orange Krush.  The return of McCamey changed the prospects of this entire team. The 6’3 senior led the nation in assist rate last season and will have an instant matchup advantage against any one of Drew, Marshall or Strickland. Look for sophomores Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson to greatly improve during their sophomore seasons, the twin towers of Davis and Tisdale are back to man the paint and stretch defenses, and head coach Bruce Weber was able to lure McDonalds All-American Jereme Richmond to Illinois. If the leadership and toughness improve this winter, the Illini could very well challenge Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State atop the Big Ten. Harrison Barnes will have to be the best player on the floor for UNC to leave such a rabid atmosphere with a confidence-building victory.

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The Bledsoe Ordeal Is Over

Posted by jstevrtc on September 25th, 2010

Earlier today the independent law firm investigating the question of Eric Bledsoe’s eligibility at Kentucky last season turned in its final report on the issue. By this time, you likely know why this was being done; Bledsoe’s high school transcript said he got two As in a pair of classes, but the grade reports said that he got a C and a B, and the improvement put him over the top in terms of eligibility to play basketball at UK. You can see the report here, but here’s what you really need to know: the Birmingham school board isn’t issuing Bledsoe a revised high school transcript, which means he keeps the As in those classes. Which means Bledsoe was and will always be considered eligible to have played at Kentucky.

Even Bledsoe Might Not Know What Really Happened In This Business.

The whole ordeal should serve as a reminder that, in any investigation, it’s not what happened that matters. What matters is what you can prove.

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Morning Five: 09.24.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 24th, 2010

  1. Put.  The.  Phones.  Down.  UT-Chattanooga was placed on two years probation by the NCAA for “major” violations that AGAIN included a situation where the head coach John Shulman was busily texting recruits during a no-contact period.  The Mocs will not suffer a postseason ban as a result of these violations, but we simply cannot understand why coaches continue to fall victim to such an easily traceable mistake.  Every husband in the entire world knows that you don’t text or call your mistress using the phone that your wife can access — yet coaches seem oblivious to this codified man-law, so time and time again we see problems arise in this area.  Gary Parrish discussed this last week, but coaches have proven to be slow on the uptick here.  Get some burners, fellas — hell, use Skype — just stop this nonsense already.
  2. Speaking of Parrish, his latest article captures John Wooden’s mantra of “don’t mistake activity for achievement” really well.  Too many coaches waste too much time trying to recruit prospects that they never had a shot with to begin with.  To continue with the analogies, it’s like the guy who sadly yet consistently shoots for 9s when everyone in the bar knows that he should be focusing on the 6s.  Finishing second or third in recruiting is like hearing the click with five more bullets in the barrel — you end up in the same place regardless.
  3. Scathing.  That’s how we’d describe the latest piece by Fanhouse’s Ray Holloman about the Bruce Pearl/Tennessee recruiting violations that were exposed last week.  Better than any other article we’ve seen written on this situation, Holloman perfectly exposes the true underlying motives of the “executive officers of a multi-million dollar athletic program.”  The lesson here, and we sorta already knew it: treat these guys like politicians or CEOs by assuming that everything that comes out of their mouths is a half-truth or outright lie.  Start there, and then figure out the rest.
  4. We rarely mention women’s college basketball here but this was too bizarre to ignoreUNC-Wilmington head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke (this is not a joke) apologized for a punishment that her assistant Johnetta Hayes put junior guard Julia Finlay through during practice on Monday.  Apparently Hayes forced Finlay to ‘log roll’ up and down the court at least twelve times in a row during a half-hour period as a penalty for getting booted from practice last week.  She’s suffering from plantar fasciitis, so incredulously, Hayes believed this would be an appropriate punishment in place of the normal sprints a player gets as punishment.  Finlay vomited several times during the “puke-and-roll”, and we’re pretty certain that a little piece of America died as a result of this story.
  5. “Dumb Catholic boys.”  Oh, Bob Knight, always making friends.  Just days after enjoying his roast in Hammond, Indiana, Knight took shots at both the NCAA and Notre Dame during a speaking engagement at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana yesterday.  In reference to whether Notre Dame should join the Big Ten, Knight ripped the ND brass, suggesting that being in the Big East in all sports other than football hurts their recruiting.  Surely this will come up at some point during Gameday with Digger Phelps this coming season, although we think we already know how this ends, right?  Do we even need to say it?
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Morning Five: 09.23.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 23rd, 2010

  1. It appears that NPOY candidate Kyle Singler will be 100% in time for Midnight Madness in three weeks (and a day) after surgery to repair some cartilage damage in his left meniscus (knee).  The Duke forward is TSN’s preseason player of the year, and he is expected to lead an even better team into 2010-11 than the one that cut the nets down last April.  It’s still hard to believe considering the star power that previous Duke players shooting for B2B titles brought to bear, but Singler has an opportunity to join very select company in the Blue Devil Annals (Hurley, Hill, Laettner to name the troika).
  2. Oklahoma basketball has certainly taken it on the chin in the last twelve months, but this is ridiculous.  Senior guard Cade Davis, the top returning scorer/rebounder/assister/stealer/3-point shooter from last year’s Sooner debacle, fractured his face in a recent team workout.  He’s not expected to miss any practice time, but we’re quite certain that we’re going to be rooting for this guy to have a great senior campaign.
  3. Mick Cronin is entering his fifth season at Cincinnati, and although he cites an improved win total in his four previous years (from 11 to 13 to 18 to 19), he’s definitely feeling the heat under his rear to get the Bearcats to the NCAA Tournament.  This article by Paul Daugherty looks into the difficulties that Cronin faces in an environment where he is supposed to win without taking any chances in recruiting.
  4. Rivals #1 high school senior Austin Rivers published his latest diary where he describes his in-home visits with Coach K, Roy Williams and Bill Self.  If you read between the lines; hell, or just read the actual lines (Duke “was kinda like old friends coming to the house.”), it’s fairly clear that Duke is his current leader.  Assume Kyrie Irving sticks around for his sophomore year… can you imagine a backcourt of Irving, Rivers and Seth Curry in Durham? — wow!  Dan Wiederer makes the case that Roy Williams may slide in through the back door by trying to sell Rivers on an opportunity to play with Harrison Barnes for one season, but that’s a longshot.
  5. This is an interesting article describing the popularity of the first name “Shaquille” among athletes in the 15-18 year-old range.  Shaquille O’Neal was a global phenomenon in the early-mid 1990s as he blew up rims from Baton Rouge to Orlando and arenas everywhere in-between — it appears that many pregnant ladies who later had children who became star athletes in basketball and football liked that name quite a bit.
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Turner Sports Pulls Off a Coup With NCAA Digital

Posted by rtmsf on September 22nd, 2010

Ten years ago we were carrying around a mobile phone that weighed about a half-pound and was the size of a baby’s arm.  The Internet was ubiquitous but you still needed a land line in most places to access it.  Remember that comical drill?  A quick burst of dialing notes followed by a cacophany of beeps and hisses on the external modem resulting in a satisfying echo effect that signified that you were, once again, online (at the blistering pace of 56k speed, mind you).  Google was a small search engine company that hadn’t really caught on yet, while iPods were something more closely aligned with the horrendous Star Wars prequels than an Apple product.  The word “blog” had not yet entered the popular lexicon, The Facebook was still four years from its genesis, and Twitter, well, let’s just say that tweeting was something left to our aviary friends.

It Doesn't Feel All That Long Ago! (photo credit: SI)

The point of this trip down memory lane is not to make everyone feel old, but rather to show that technology, more than just about any other part of our lives, changes very quickly.  We can remember Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves cutting down the nets in Indy like it was yesterday; but the thought of using dial-up web access seems like the paleolithic era at this point.  Some of the changes are predictable, natural progressions — from land lines to wireless Internet access, for example — but others, such as the burst of social networking applications, come as a bit of a surprise.  If you can predict right now what the “killer apps” will be in 2020, then you are a lot smarter and prescient that most, and you’ll likely become a rich man as a result of it.

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Morning Five: 09.22.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 22nd, 2010

  1. Shaun Assael of ESPN’s The File Blog (Insider) published the complete 208-page transcript of Rick Pitino’s courtroom testimony from the trial of extortionist Karen Sypher back in July.  Even if you don’t have time to read all of it (and really, who does?), he gives a nice rundown of what Pitino the Man faced in the spring of 2009 at the time he first received extortion demands from Sypher, while Pitino the Coach was trying to win the Cardinals’ first-ever Big East title on the court.  Interesting primary source material there.
  2. While we’re on the subject of litigation, Tubby Smith may have saved himself a quarter-million bucks — well, the Hennepin County justice system may have — as the monetary damages awarded to Jimmy Williams from the trial against Smith and Minnesota was lowered from $1.25M to a cool $1.0M.  You may recall that Williams successfully sued Smith and the University of Minnesota for misrepresentation based on Smith offering Williams an assistant coaching job that led him to resign from Oklahoma State.  When UM athletic director got spooked by Williams’ association with prior NCAA violations at Minnesota, the school rescinded its offer.  Williams was left high and dry, and thus, the verdict went in his favor.  Minnesota isn’t satisfied yet, though, as the school plans to appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in an effort to vacate the verdict completely.
  3. The Big 12 took the initiative and announced monetary settlements with Colorado and Nebraska on Tuesday that will allow both schools to become members of their new conferences — the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively — on July 1, 2011.  So what is the going rate for a conference buyout these days?  Try $6.863M for the Buffs and $9.255M for the Huskers.  Nebraska has a provision in its settlement that will allow it to reduce its penalty by $500k if the school is invited to a BCS bowl this football season.  Initially both schools were taking the stance that they owed nothing because the league was on the verge of dissolution, but saner heads prevailed and ultimately the fans of both sides (schools and conferences) will be better off for it.
  4. It’s down to Duke, UNC or Kansas for Rivals #1 player Austin Rivers.  Just over two years ago Rivers committed to play for Billy Donovan at Florida, but the nearby Gators are now officially off of his list in favor of three of the biggest names in the game.  He plans on visiting all of his finalists in October, including UNC (Oct. 8), Duke (Oct. 15 – Midnight Madness) and Kansas (Oct. 22).  Carolina is so juiced for his visit to Chapel Hill that they’re already writing haikus about the kid.
  5. In case you missed it, yesterday our very own columnist Andrew Murawa released the first of an eight-part series called In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level, a tremendously informative overview of the difficulties that mid-major coaches and athletic staff face by virtue of limited resources and restricted budgets.  It’s not often that we promote our own stuff (note: this is not true), but the insights Murawa weaves from the voices of those at the mid-major level is well worth a read.  In Their Words will release every Tuesday morning for the next two months.
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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level

Posted by rtmsf on September 21st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.


Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.

First up: recruiting. This is the biggest, most pressure-packed area in college athletics. No matter how good coaches are at the X’s-and-O’s, they need players to execute their plans. At the mid-major level, the likelihood of a coach winding up with a ready-made pro is minuscule, so coaches have to find diamonds-in-the-rough, and, perhaps more importantly, develop their players over the course of their careers. Not only do schools at this level have to compete with other schools of similar size, if they find themselves competing with  a higher-level school for the same prospect, they may have to make a decision as to whether or not continuing to recruit the player is a worthwhile use of time. And the schools have to make the most of every advantage they can find in order to land the best student-athletes for their institution.

Recruiting Players Takes on Many Forms

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Obviously, if you’re a college basketball coach, the most important part of your job is making sure that you’ve got good players.

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: There are a lot of things that go into recruiting. It comes down to what that kid is really looking for and what that kid wants out of college.

Bartow: There are so many things that go into it. There is no question that the relationship is critical, whether that’s with the head coach or an assistant coach. But that is very pivotal in the decision, building the relationship with not only the prospect, but a mom or a dad or whoever is going to be helping them make that decision. And certainly the product you’re trying to show them is important. Fortunately, I think I’m in a situation where I think we’ve got a good product, but there are a lot of things that are important: the school, the community, the housing, the fan’s support of your program, how many times you’re potentially going to be on TV and what conference you’re in, your history, the success you’ve had and how many times you’ve been to the NCAA tournament recently. So there are a lot of things and certainly different things are important to different players. For instance, we’ve been to the NCAA Tournament the last two years, and for some prospects that is very, very critical and important, and for others that might not be so important. So there are different things for different prospects.

When George Mason broke through to the Final Four in 2006, they were the first big mid-major success story in the NCAA Tournament since, arguably, Larry Bird’s Indiana State team made it there in 1979. Sure, there have been other non-BCS schools to get to the Final Four (Memphis ’08, Louisville ’05 and Marquette ’03 all came out of Conference USA, and Utah ’98 out of the WAC are all examples of non-BCS teams advancing to the Final Four, but none of those teams can really be considered a mid-major given their substantial basketball budgets), but Mason, an 11-seed and one of the last teams into the tournament that season, is clearly the first “modern” mid-major Cinderella story. While their success opened some doors recruiting-wise, new challenges arose as well.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: I don’t think anything has gotten easier since the Final Four, but it has been different for sure. I think we’ve gotten some good players, but you’ve got to caution yourself against those with superficial interest, people who will put you on their list because it sounds good, but they’re really not considering you because they are too far from home or whatever. You still want to make sure you’re getting guys that really want to be there and they’re hungry. Sometimes when you have success there are certain kids who are really attracted to the success and maybe not as attracted to working, almost like they’re feeling, “hey, if I get a scholarship over at George Mason, that’s it, I don’t have to work anymore.” But the guys that helped us get there, they signed with George Mason when it wasn’t as fashionable and they were driven to succeed. The one thing that the Final Four appearance has done for us is that it has helped us get involved with guys who maybe we previously couldn’t have gotten involved with. It helps us get into homes in different areas. You know, our school is much more of a household name nationally, and we’ve become a stronger name in our area as well. I think it has been good, but you also have to be careful with it too.

For mid-majors, a lot of the big-name recruits (McDonald’s All-Americans), are out of the question in all but the rarest of circumstances. This season, point guard Ray McCallum, Jr. chose Detroit over BCS schools like Arizona, Florida and UCLA, a decision which would have been startling were it not for the fact that his dad is the head coach there. For most mid-major programs, these players aren’t even in consideration. To make up for that, mid-majors have to find players that fly under the radar of some of the bigger schools and guys who are willing to put in the hard work to improve.

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