Notes From a Pac-12 Media Day, UCLA is Still Slow EditionPosted by rtmsf on October 18th, 2013
Despite being picked to finish last, Ken Bone did not seem too concerned. He was, however, concerned about his team’s inability to close games last year and he wore a portion of that blame; letting us all know that his team’s lack of composure down the stretch lay partially on his shoulders. Though some of it could be tossed up to luck, for which we consult KenPom. The Cougars were the 345 luckiest team in the country last year. For context, that means there were only two other teams that were less lucky. And to contextualize quantified luck, it’s to say that their actual success (or lack thereof) was below their predicted success and therefore: unlucky. They lost the close ones and the thought is that this trend would normalize and the Cougars wouldn’t, say, finish last. With that and mind, and the return of DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge, Bone thinks he might have something a little better than the cellar cooking.
Craig Robinson jumped right in to things by telling us about how much more frontcourt depth he’s going to have. He did mention the other guy on stage with him, Roberto Nelson (18/3/2), then dove right into the return of Angust Brandt and Daniel Gomis, a player who’s been on campus for three years with nary a game played. CRob was re-introducing us to more than 13 additional feet of frontcourt to be added to Eric Moreland (more later), Devon Collier, and Olaf Schaftenaar. Big Beavers. So on to Moreland. According to Robinson, he’s irreplaceable; which makes it really difficult when he’s suspended for the season’s first 14 games. So how do you replace the irreplaceable? Well you put a positive twist on it, elevate the roles of a few peripheral guys and say, “What I think is going to happen is we’re going to have more tools in our toolkit to use once Eric does come back.” I liked that and I also liked that, when asked about impact newcomers to the Pac-12, Robinson didn’t bother (much) on Aaron Gordon or Jabari Bird. He told us about his new guys: Cheikh N’diaye, Malcolm Duvivier, and Hallice Cooke. Good for you, coach.
His first year in Utah was “survival.” He’d brought in something like 12-if-not-more newcomers and he just needed to survive. That year the Utes were in the conversation for worst High Major team of all time. Like I said, Larry Krystkowiak called it survival. And then there was last year and now we find ourselves here. Drake might call it starting from the bottom but I won’t soon put the Utes at the top (which is what I assume Drake implies through his lyrics and that he’s not a middling Pac-12 team). “I think that playing hard is a talent,” Larry K said. And it was that level of talent he’s had to rely on. But now he’s starting to see an influx. His culture hasn’t changed but there may be “a few more stars behind their name.” Insinuating that K thinks he just might have a slightly more talented squad and some higher expectations for where his team could go. And if nothing else, he claims to have a deep squad. Something he’ll use to exploit their distinct altitude advantage. That high up he wants to run people out of the gym with their depth and altitude aptitude. And if nothing else, he can rely on all-freshman performer Jordan Loveridge for survival. A young man K has asked to be a leader, “[Coach Krystkowiak] challenged me to lead more verbally.” We know the Utes are high up, but are they up for the challenge?
Well you knew what the first question was going to be. What we didn’t know was how Andy Enfield was going to follow up on his spicy little quote from earlier this week. So when it was asked, he gushed about UCLA and his respect for Steve Alford and all that is the powder blue school. But it was all being discussed and there’s something to that. He said what he said and while he did note that “What I say in the locker room and on the practice court to my team is meant to be for my team only,” someone is hearing those UCLA jabs. The right people are hearing it. No, not you and me: USC basketball players. The other school, as it were. Enfield doesn’t just have a coaching job, he has a rebuilding job and that begins with culture. And sometimes a little chip on the shoulder doesn’t hurt. Neither does playing in what appears to be a very fun basketball system. At least I think it looks fun and so I asked JT Terrell. He said, “It’s new and it has been very exciting in practice. There’s been a lot of people getting dunked on.” And so Dunk City moved west, at least in practice, and a whole new era begins in Los Angeles college basketball history. A big deal if you judge by the number of questions asked pertaining to UCLA (four). Of course the others were regarding pace and to that Enfield cited the athleticism of his team saying, “It’s just basketball. These guys are athletic.” There’s something perfect about that simplicity. If only coaching in LA was that simple.
Interestingly, CJ Wilcox was the only player to be asked a first question. And when he responded, he reminded us of just how loaded the collective Pac-12 backcourt is, “I feel like every game we’re going to go in to there’s going to be a key match-up between the guards. Every team I can think of has a good guard on their team. Actually a couple good guards on their team.” In fact, among the 12 players invited to media day, just two weren’t guards (Powell and Loveridge). Lest we forget that CJ Wilcox is pretty damn good himself after taking nearly 30% of his team’s shots at their highest offensive rating (111.3). He’s good. And so too is Andrew Andrews and the ballyhooed Nigel Williams-Goss, a McDonald’s All-American. But among all his players and newcomers, Lorenzo Romar wanted to focus on Perris Blackwell. This is a big bodied transfer who’s going to give the Dawgs a low-post presence that Romar says they “haven’t had in recent years.” Such a presence was certainly missed last year, is he – and an improved Kemp Jr. – enough to get the Dawgs back into the NCAA tournament?
Johnny Dawkins was quick to remind of us of the accolades of two his better players, Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis. These are indeed two very fine basketball players that return to Palo Alto. As are Chasson Randle, Aaron Bright, Anthony Brown (welcome back from hip injury), and the other 84% of the minutes the 9-9 Cardinal return. The crux of this conversation was that Stanford returns a lot of their team from last year and some very good players with significant accolades: What’s going to be different? And I asked Dawkins exactly that. Basically, the Cardinal approach this season is going to be different. Synergy and SEAL training. I suppose if you’re looking for a different way of thinking you get in with the SEALS. And you don’t mess with the them either (though Colorado went hand-to-hand combat with military). That said, you know what you do mess with? A .500 group that’s seemingly flat-lined and needs to start showing signs of life. Dawkins all but said it himself, “I think for this year to be a success for our group we should make the Tournament.” And nothing else needs to be said.
To say Herb Sendek took to hyperbole in his 10 minutes on stage would be an understatement. Countless times (which is to say I’m not going to count) he mentioned that the Pac-12 or Jahii Carson or something pertaining to something was the best in the nation or country or all of college basketball. “We were spitting out lottery picks like nickels,” Sendek said. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? I don’t know but I do know that he is right when he tells us that his point guard, Jahii Carson, is one of the best in the country. And because he’s that good, Sendek has taken to adjusting his team’s style of play to put them “in a position to be successful.” They’ve implemented a 3-12-24 rule across practice in which players have three seconds to get the ball across half court, 12 seconds to take a good shot, and a 24-second shot clock. He believes they played fast last season. This season he wants to further “push the accelerator.” One of the players who’s going to be vital in helping Carson and Herb push that pace is Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall. With the loss of Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon, the Devils are going to need some offensive help. Marshall can be that guy. He also, evidently, can play the role of veteran leader. The guy who Carson is learning from, “He’s a veteran and he brings all the veteran qualities, as far as rebounding, taking charges, hitting his free throws, hitting his open jump shots and finding the open man. So I just learn every day from him.” Carson to Marshall. Marshall to Carson. Should we get used to hearing it?
I’m struggling to wrap my mind around whether Tad Boyle and the Buffs were humble or brazen. He was basically the only coach to not anoint Arizona the leader of the Pac but he also was quick to tell you that his team isn’t nearly as experienced as everyone wants to say they are. “We have got four starters coming back, but outside of that… this year we have six freshmen. Ten of our 13 players are freshmen or sophomores. So we got a lot of youth. That’s not going to be an excuse, but it’s a fact that we’re dealing with in practice every day.” They also dealt with the military in a team building effort and Boyle very casually mentioned hand-to-hand combat. But it was Spencer Dinwiddie who provided the only combat of the day, “We don’t view Arizona as the top, the cream, and everybody else is the rest. We view ourselves as the cream and everybody else can fight for the rest of the spots.” Dinwiddie, who Boyle said has never lacked for confidence, called his team the prohibitive favorite. Bless him because it was the most honest thing spoken the whole day long; lot of PC in The Networks. The question, I suppose, is just how right is Dinwiddie?
They lost the conference’s player of the year to the NBA Draft and their latest star player has a broken foot, but rest assured – and this is good to hear – Mike Montgomery “likes his guys.” OK, that’s simple to be sure but he didn’t bother to gloat on the rest of the conference. He’d rather talk about his guys and his guys include Jabari Bird and an improved Ty Wallace. First on Wallace, “He can play multiple positions for us. He’s great at penetration and finishing around the basket. He potentially could be an excellent defender.” And on his marquee freshman, Bird, “He can really shoot the ball… inclined to try to get to the basket. He can play above the rim.” Well doesn’t all that sound nice? But what they’re really trying to do here – and that’s obviously to win games – is to “have veteran players that know how to win in this league.” For such, I present to you Justin Cobbs, Richard Solomon, David Kravish, and Ricky Kreklow. Four players, aged to perfection, providing what Monty wants for his team to be successful. After all, the pageantry of the highly regarded freshman is a bit unfair he feels, “I think that the adjustment of a freshman coming into a successful college program is always a little bit difficult.” I won’t soon say that Jabari Bird has a steep learning curve – he’s good – but the other key pups – Sam Singer, Jordan Mathews, Roger Moute a Bidias, and Kameron Rooks – will have issues. Should one of them, however, manage to jump that curve? Well, I don’t imagine Monty would be all too upset.
Oregon is quickly becoming known as Transfer U and Dana Altman would address that. He would also address the impending – or not – eligibility of Joseph Young for whom the NCAA has not decided on. He talked about their trip to South Korea and who is going to have to step up to fill the void of the departed frontcourt. But my favorite part of Dana’s time on stage was his very laissez faire response to the possibility that his team is the unfair beneficiary of donation monies. He kindly let us know that Matthew Knight Arena – though a beautiful and state of the art update – was little more than an updating of the nation’s second oldest arena. As for Uncle Phil? “I think every university has benefactors that benefit their programs, athletically, academically. Ours just happens to be someone that runs Nike,” said Dana with every bit of his soft, midwestern charm. Suddenly, I was believing that every school deserved gajillions of dollars from gajabillionaires. It’s the norm! It’s not and it’s also not the norm to run your program – successfully – with transfers galore. But hey, Dana Altman seems fine finding guys for brief stints. “It’s important,” he says, “that myself and he get along, that we have common goals.” To date, it’s worked out. And should things work out with the NCAA and Joseph Young, the Ducks could be seeing their way back in to the Dance with what looks like another brand new team.
Tad Boyle wasn’t quick to anoint Arizona as the conference champions and neither was Sean Miller, “I’ll also tell you that we’re not experienced enough to be head and shoulders above the field.” OK, so he didn’t quite say that his team isn’t any good, but he also isn’t quick to remind you that his team is ranked fifth in the nation. He’ll tell you they work hard and about the motors of his different players. But he won’t soon tell you they’re good. And more about this experience thing. It’s interesting that he’s quick to bring that up and mentions the losses of Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, and Mark Lyons. Those three had a wealth of experience – and varying experiences at that. Miller’s now left with a lineup that returns just 44% of the minutes played from last season. To be clear: No one is feeling sorry for Coach Miller. But that number and his comments do highlight a possible “flaw” for the Wildcats – that and their outside shooting which went unaddressed. But as Larry Krtystkowiak said, “Playing hard is a talent,” and if we’re to believe both him and what Miller had to say about Aaron Gordon’s motor and what Nick Johnson had to say about new point guard TJ McConnell (BULLDOG), well then the Wildcats just might have enough talented players using their play hard talents to be the cream that rises to the top.
The last team to speak was the defending champion Bruins, one of two teams with a new head coach. Now that’s a sentence you don’t often have to write but such is the case in Westwood. And of course, as was expected when Andy Enfield took the stage, new coach Steve Alford had to field questions on whether or not his team is LA’s slow team. He let us know that he has the utmost respect for Andy and his program is going to move right ahead and do things the way they see fit. Excellence was the word he kept coming back to and in good Bruin style. That’s the cornerstone of John Wooden’s pyramid. Now I’m not sure where style falls on that triangle but Alford looked sharp. He was cool on the mic and he was the only other coach to mention championships (besides Miller) the entire Media Day long. This is a fact I found to be quite interesting. You can’t accomplish what you don’t discuss and Alford gleefully put the C-bomb out there. Good for him. And you know what? When you get accused of being the slow school and then you go ahead and remind everyone that your second best player (Kyle Anderson, because Jordan Adams is his best player) is nicknamed Slow-mo, I dig that, too! It hasn’t been the warmest of welcomes for Alford but that’s why the temperature is dropping and the season is beginning. Winning cures all and that first ball getting tipped is the only way we’re going to really get to judge Alford as UCLA’s 13th head coach.