Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part OnePosted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014
Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day in San Francisco on Thursday. Check back later in the day for his notes on the conference’s other six teams.
Coach Andy Enfield took the stage with his starting power forward (or center, Enfield noted both), Nikola Jovanovic, and provided opening remarks lasting about as long as a USC possession: 16 seconds. It was swift and brief. He was complimentary of his fellow, on-stage Trojan, and left the rest to us. Which is probably indicative of the program he’s building. It is just year two and arguably the least interesting season during a rebuild. It’s neither new and exciting nor developed enough to garner much attention. His team is picked to finish 10th, but he likes what he’s building, “We have more athleticism, better shooting. We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited,” said Enfield. These components, he notes, are and will become major parts of what we presume is the Enfield system, aka Dunk City, aka Galen Dunk Center. The addition of McLaughlin is huge, and, without directly saying it, Enfield knows how important he is to their future, “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity. We’re excited for him.” Which is great because I am, too! I’ll be closely following McLaughlin’s progress as his commitment to USC, rather than UCLA when the Bruins were in dire need for a 2014 point guard, is a fascinating storyline to this season. USC might play in flashes and make swift opening remarks, but they just might be a program to stick around awhile.
Easily the most charismatic of the coaches, Ernie Kent considered himself back from sabbatical: “Any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical. I’m just amazed at what it’s done for me in terms of your energy, your spirt.” Energy and spirit he provided. He was colorful and funny, even having a slight back-and-forth with his accompanying star, DaVonte Lacy. The two seemed to understand the challenges ahead considering the roster in Pullman and the depth of the conference. But Lacy believes they have the unique opportunity to come together, build on chemistry and do something special. It’s something he learned in his short stint with the Pac-12 All-Star team while in China and it’s something he expanded upon when I asked him about leadership, “Being someone that’s been through the fire already, preparing [newcomers] to go through it, that’s how I’m approaching leadership.” Lacy hopes to galvanize this group, building chemistry and subsequently surprising a few people with what the Cougars can do. And speaking of surprises, can you imagine a “lost” Ernie Kent knocking on your door looking for directions? “Hi, I’m lost. I’m also your new basketball coach.” It’s something Kent has been doing in trying to energize the Cougars fan base, “I’ve tried to make myself available as much as possible… it’s been fun getting out and meeting people in Pullman.” Like I said, the most charismatic of the 12 lead gentlemen.
First year coach Wayne Tinkle did not fully oblige my request to know what his brother-in-law’s job is. I respect his privacy and followed up with a question about the ease of transition into a program with almost no returning players. “I think coming from the situation that Oregon State hasn’t had the success, it does make it easier. We can go and bring in some players that we feel fit our style and the things that we base our program around.” The bare cupboard seems to behoove what Tinkle and his staff are going to, and beginning, to do. And let’s be clear, they’re starting from almost the very bare bottom. They project to be one of the worst teams among the high majors, returning just 31 percent of last year’s minutes on a .500 team. They held open tryouts to ensure the team could practice 5-v-5. Throughout the Beavers’ time on stage, there were a lot of mentions of Larry Krystkowiak and his Utah program. This has dual meaning. Not only did K and Tinkle play and coach together at Montana, but they both started their Pac-12 careers similarly. If you’ll recall, K’s 2012 Utes won six games. Many people noted this to Tinkle and he appreciated the blueprint his former teammate and boss set, “I’m really proud of Larry for what he’s done, but most importantly how he’s achieved those things.” It’s going to be a tough one in Corvallis no matter how you slice it. Tinkle knows this and his old boss told him as much: “He said, ‘Coach, hold your breath and get through the first six months, that the toughest, but everything is going to be alright.’” Welcome to Tinkle Town.
It might be easy to forget that there’s a forthcoming season in Seattle considering the work Lorenzo Romar has put in on the recruiting trail. He’s already locked in the sixth best class (per Scout) for 2015. But not so fast, my friend, 2014 has yet to come and Romar is looking forward to that: “We’re excited that the season is upon us. For us at the University of Washington, I know Nigel can attest to this, seems like it’s been forever for us to get back to practice and start to play games again.” Which is a nice distinction because the Huskies haven’t been playing the games all that well lately. They’ve lost more games than the previous season for three straight years now and haven’t danced since 2011. A big part of getting back to the winning ways will be the captainship of Nigel Williams-Goss (in attendance) and the healthy return of Jernard Jarreau. According to Williams-Goss, “He won’t be the skinny Jernard. He is so skilled. He’s a guard in a 6’11” body. We can do a lot of things offensively and defensively. I think he can be big for us.” The last bit seems obvious considering his size but it’s something the Huskies seemed to miss last year in producing (is that the right word?) the worst defense LoRo has ever coached (per AdjD). It was those misses on defense that I had to ask Romar about, and he said, “Well, we’ve hit [defense] hard early. I think trying to create an identity in that regard, making sure our group understands the importance of what we’re going to do on the defensive end.” The emphasis is there. It now becomes a question of whether the personnel (in house, not forthcoming in 2015) builds that identity.
Do you like to talk basketball? Like sit down and talk about effort and movement and the parts of the game that don’t necessarily look sexy or make an #SCTop10, but that will certainly win you ball games? The kind of stuff that gets you to the Sweet Sixteen? If that sounds like something you’re into then you need a chance to talk to, or at the least listen to, Cuonzo Martin. The man stood on the stage and commanded a basketball audience. He was pure business, pure basketball, and has me believing that, while his group may be undersized, they won’t be underworked. This group is going to be tough or he’ll make them tough. He talked a lot about getting outside of one’s comfort zone. This is a life philosophy that I fully endorse but don’t always practice. If I had a Cuonzo Martin in my daily life, I might be better about doing it. But because Jabari Bird has Cuonzo around daily, he’s being pushed into corners he hasn’t previously visited. So too are Sam Singer and Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Matthews. These dynamic wings are going to chip in on the tough defense that Martin wants to run. “Don’t consume yourself on the offensive side of the ball,” he said about the consistencies of his sophomores. He elaborated on style: “I think for me, personally, my style is a level of toughness, defend, rebound, play hard, try to push the ball in transition if you have an opportunity.” If I’m one of those dynamic wings, I love this. They’ll have the reins to play freely and hard. Martin will reward that and it just might translate to a surprisingly nice season in Berkeley.
The darlings of this event, the Utes won just six games three seasons ago. Yesterday they were picked to finish second in the conference and Larry Krystkowiak had some poignant thoughts on that distinction: “The first thing that comes to mind when I see us picked second is that I’m hoping that you guys are right with the votes.” Great quote. He expanded, however, to note that he’s proud of the recognition and understands that his program might now have a target, a very new distinction for a program that hasn’t been at this level in a while. One of the things I love about where K has his program is the scheduling. The Utes have taken a softer approach in years past, not necessarily taking big risks in the non-conference slate. This year, however, with Krystkowiak perhaps understanding that he’d have a much improved team, he jumped at some “ESPN opportunities.” The Utes will be a part of ESPN’s kickoff event in San Diego against the Aztecs and will play Kansas in Kansas (though it’ll technically be a neutral site). Additionally they’ll travel to both UNLV and BYU. A key part of these expectations is the emergence of Delon Wright as a nationally recognized talent, if not star. One site thinks he could have a historically significant year. Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure we know what we’re going to get out of Wright. He’s good. The big question becomes the move of Jordan Loveridge to the wing. This is a transition that concerns me but K managed his skills while in China with the Pac-12 All-Stars and Wright seems to think Loveridge will be just fine: “During our scrimmage, he got a lot of points. He looked real good playing on the perimeter, knocking down shots, getting to the rim, just making plays.” If we’re to take Wright at his scrimmage word, the media voters just might be right about the Utes.