West Coast Bias: Pac-12 Media Day Happenings

Posted by Adam Butler on October 16th, 2015

They say the media doesn’t pay attention to anything that happens out West, but no such claim could be made yesterday. Here is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2015 edition of Pac-12 Media Day, in order of their appearance.

USC Trojans

You only take the podium first if you’re the commissioner or the last place team in the conference. Andy Enfield isn’t Larry Scott. His squad is the latter. Andy Enfield is interesting to me in that Enfield “won the presser.” He was the flashy hire meant to breathe life into a stale program. And then he spouted off about UCLA! Of course those remarks were “off the record” and not meant to be disseminated anywhere beyond his practice. Two years ago we thought he was every bit the flashy hire Pat Haden promised. They’ve won six conference games since and Enfield really hasn’t had a ton to say. This year, however, he seemed to receive more questions and have more to say. It was a refreshing change from the previous platitudes. And while he didn’t say much – and distinctly promised nothing – there seems to be optimism inside this program. They’re older, wiser, stronger, and presumably better. Enfield has a talented roster: How will it translate?

Washington Huskies

Another program with the allusion of optimism, but I maintain it’s going to be a long one in Seattle. They’re bringing in a top recruiting class and return a senior point guard, but the Huskies feel another year away to me. Which of course is not the seat you want to sit in when you’ve had four progressively worse seasons. It’s the seat of a team predicted to finish 11th by the media. But let’s talk about the important stuff: #Globalization. The PAC is sending its Dawgs to China for the first ever regular season game – collegiate or professional – in China. LoRo’s squad will square off against Shaka Smart’s first Longhorn team in an overseas battle. The Huskies, in fact, are taking classes in prep for this trip. Fact: Andrew Andrews seamlessly spoke Mandarin during Pac-12 Media Day. Fact: Malik Dime is bilingual and the best Mandarin speaker on the team (according to Andrews). And while these are all admirable things, they might not be enough to create a particularly good basketball team.

Lorenzo Romar's Team Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season For Their Coach In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Lorenzo Romar Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Colorado Buffaloes

Tad walked in all smiles and I loved it. At Media Day, while there isn’t anything particularly stressful, it isn’t everyone’s favorite day. There are logistics, entrances, platitudes, smiles for the camera, and a lot of ‘hey howya doings.’ Media Day is polite. But Tad Boyle waltzed onto the stage with his senior leader, Josh Scott, and a genuine grin on his face. He said, “I was just sitting down with Josh in the waiting room right there, and I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I’m just ready to play.” And doesn’t that make sense? Colorado closed last season in joyless fashion, watching a plethora of players transfer and a senior – Askia Booker – decline an invitation to play in the CBI. About five months ago, there was little to smile about surrounding Colorado basketball. “Looking at last year, I think me and my teammates kind of had to evaluate where we went wrong as a group, and in looking at it, we were afraid to call each other out,” Scott said. Now winning doesn’t necessarily demand a bunch of guys telling each other they’re out of position or screwing up, but it doesn’t hurt to have the kind of trust where teammates work together towards a common goal. The Buffs might not be great this year, but it seems they might be working towards cohesion. And that’s got Tad smiling.

Washington State Cougars

I can’t speak to many Ernie Kent press conferences, but what I have seen of a mic’d up Ernie seems a lot more Socrates than Mikan. Seemingly 80% of his speech is philosophical, touching on the sort of things that make men rather than shooting guards. On Klay Thompson’s return to Pullman with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, “I thought for him to have come that far and to come back to that campus with the type of growth that took place and has taken place in his life is just a tremendous compliment to him and his parents.” On getting his coaching start abroad, “[I] spend seven years in a foreign country with two of them in a Shiite Muslim village, it was a tremendous growing experience, it taught you humility, and it taught you patience.” Naturally, his team will stink. But you know what? They surprised people last year and they return an All-Conference player in Josh Hawkinson. You win games with talent and there’s a semblance of such on Ernie’s roster. Enough so that I don’t believe Ernie is completely wrong when he says, “If we’re the last place team, this conference is going to be a really, really good conference, and that’s a good thing for all of you.” He just might be right.

California Golden Bears

As I see it, this was the belle of the ball. Cal is the most intriguing team in the conference for a multitude of reasons, most notably the incoming freshmen they have. Interestingly enough, neither Jaylen Brown nor Ivan Rabb were mentioned during Thursdays festivities. And maybe that’s fitting? Not one player was mentioned during all of Cal’s (Cuonzo Martin and Tyrone Wallace) time on stage. Isn’t this thing supposed to be about the players? For the media, the questions surrounded the lofty expectations now set inside Haas. To his credit, Cuonzo was all about the expectation setting, “I think the most important thing is to get better every day and try to develop your guys to post them to be the best men they can possibly become on and off the court, to try to be successful in the classroom and to win games.” This quote was par for the Martin course, and doesn’t it make sense? This is unchartered territory for the second-year Cal man. He’s never been at the helm of a team expected to have this sort of success. I, for one, am intrigued-if-not-excited for what’s to come.

Oregon State Beavers

It was fitting that Oregon State and Cal followed one another. Each had fine-ish 2014-15 seasons but brought in recruiting classes that have us expecting bigger things. And Wayne knew what was up. He understood that his team wasn’t necessarily supposed to be as successful as they were last year. It’s probably why he coaches the kind of basketball he does: slow and low scoring. A key to what they’ve done is slow things down. College basketball doesn’t want to have a slow product and is shortening the shot clock. So when asked about pace of play – a CBB point of emphasis – Wayne countered, “Did Larry tell you to ask me that?” Now I can’t speak to whether or not Larry Scott asked for Wayne Tinkle’s 327th slowest team to be questioned by the media. What I can say – and it seems Wayne agrees – is his offense must get better. Bill Walton agrees, “I was sharing a cab ride at an event with Bill Walton and he begged we play differently as an offense this year, if you can imagine that, but I said that’s what we have to do to give ourselves a chance.” Wayne would go on to talk about his team’s advancing talent level (five walk ons last year) and how another year in the system will help everyone. But while you think about the Beaver offense, I’m still stuck on what kinda cab was able to hold Walton and Tinkle!?

Two Large Men. One Cab.

Two Large Men. One Cab. (Photo: Twitter)

Arizona State Sun Devils

The Sun Devils didn’t necessarily receive preferential treatment, but they were the only school specifically called out by Commissioner Larry Scott. ASU is home to the newest Pac-12 coach, Bobby Hurley. This new leading man – he of two NCAA titles and the all-time NCAA leader in assists – inherits a pretty hearty roster from Herb Sendek. Granted, it was surprising that the Devils finished fifth one year ago, but they also return four fifths of that fifth place roster and upgrade to a coach who might have a system better suited for their styles. Or at least a coach who’s dedicated to building a team in his mold. Center Eric Jacobsen has lost 25 pounds in order to – presumably – play an impactful role on a team that looks to move, move, move. At Buffalo, Hurley’s team was 23rd nationally in adjusted tempo. For years we heard Herb Sendek discuss an increase in tempo. Bobby Hurley seems poised to be the man to bring pace to the Sun Devil offense.

Stanford Cardinal

I wasn’t really sure what Johnny Dawkins would have to say at the event. His team is interesting in that they have talent. But not so much that we’re really drawn to learn about them. One thing that I was intrigued by was the fact that Stanford – who won Dawkins’ second NIT title last year – successfully played with a 30-second shot clock. So I asked Rosco Allen about that because – ya know – people are fascinated by the shot clock dropping five seconds. Rosco on the 30-second matter, “When you press on defense, then it might make a difference because now after the 10 seconds goes down on the backcourt, you only have 20 seconds left as opposed to 25, so that’s the only real difference I saw.” Basically what Rosco noted was that the 30-second shot clock is nothing more than a math equation; further proof that aspects of the game are more quantifiable than we care to admit. Which naturally is a plug for kenpom.com or hoop-math.com. I don’t expect a ton from the Cardinal – they tend not to improve much year over year. But they’ve got a nice enough roster that they should be feared if not respected.

UCLA Bruins

I appreciate Steve Alford’s candidness. Leadership is an open question for his team and he made no apologies for it. “That’s going to be one of our questions that we have to get answered because Norman, you look at what he did freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, statistically he developed very nicely, but some of the intangibles you didn’t see, his leadership ability, his personality, growing from a young man to a man.” Sure, Norman Powell is a unique example. But often a coach dives into platitudes about how great his current roster might be. Not Steve. There was a tinge of honesty, an understanding that things aren’t exactly “normal” at UCLA. After all, his program has put seven players in the NBA the past two seasons. And while there might not be much NBA-bound talent ready right now, the Bruins aren’t shying away from anyone. They’re playing both preseason co-number ones, UNC and Kentucky. They play at Gonzaga and in the Maui Classic. UCLA basketball – as Steve reminded us – is historically great. They won’t soon distance themselves from that history.

After Another Offseason Talent Exodus, Steve Alford Will Lean Heavily On Son Bryce (Photo: USA Today Sports)

After Another Offseason Talent Exodus, Steve Alford Will Lean Heavily On Son Bryce (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Utah Utes

There was a great question posed to Coach Larry Krystkowiak, “How do you take a step forward with a team that’s already very, very good?” Great question, right? At what point have you “arrived” or what does “arrived” even mean? I suppose, as it pertains to success, one has never made it to where they’re going until they’ve made it to the top. Utah has won neither a conference nor national title, presumable goals for a program of its caliber. But as one tries to win more-and-more each season, what constitutes the end of a rebuild? Larry K: “The goal is still the same for us, to try to get better when we practice tomorrow, and I think you consistently do that, and you hope that that graph is trending upward.” Coach speak? Perhaps. But in working to keep a group moving towards the top, understanding that your daily process is the means to the summit is critical. That it’s process over destination and that team triumphs over individual. It’s why the Utes don’t fear the departure of Delon Wright, instead embracing it. Coach K thought he could’ve invited any of four other Utes to Media Day – each deserving of a seat at the head of the table. So have the Utes “arrived?” I don’t know. But they certainly appear to be a damn good basketball program.

Oregon Ducks

This was a segment that didn’t reveal much. Oregon returns the most minutes it ever has in the Dana Altman era and he didn’t really have much to say on that. Sure he said plenty, but never really addressed anything specific about how this team might differ from any previous team. I suppose the most telling bit from Altman’s time on stage was that he seemed adamant that his team didn’t rely on Joseph Young as much as we assumed. “Well, we were more balanced last year than people gave us credit for. You know, Joe did get 20 a game, but Elgin was at 13, 14; Dillon Brooks was in double figures.” I’m not sure his response really addresses whether or not the Ducks were balanced, but it does give rise to the possibility. Because his roster has been in the trenches before and whether Dana is willing to admit it or not, Elgin Cook is. “I think since we have more returners, we kind of know what to expect, how to come into practice and what we need to be doing, what we need to accomplish, and it’s a lot more intense,” Cook said. And that’s what could possibly set the Ducks apart. The fact they’re getting better right now instead of learning one another. Sure they’ve got shiny new parts in Dylan Ennis and Tyler Dorsey. But so too does every other team – it’s college basketball! Still, the learning curve is shortened and Oregon could have their best team yet.

Arizona Wildcats

Even when considered with all the Arizona basketball teams that preceded his arrival, Sean Miller has coached two historically great teams. That’s saying something. Beyond the scope of Tucson, no team has won more games the past two seasons than Miller’s Wildcats. That’s saying something, too. So what do you do as a (double?) encore after losing four of five starters to NBA rosters? Well, you naturally open your presser with a shout out to the Bay Area’s defending NBA champions who are interim head coached by Luke Walton, actually head coached by Steve Kerr, and finals MVP’d by Andre Iguodala. Oh – and you’re also predicted to win the conference for the fourth consecutive year (*by fourth I mean the media has now picked Miller’s Wildcats to win the conference title at each of the last four media days. They’ve been right twice, wrong once, and this year is obviously TBD). And maybe its because of that success that the questions posed to Miller pertained to other teams. He was asked about Cal’s expectations following their off-season on the recruiting trail and what his time with Thomas Welsh was like. In classic Miller fashion, he noted how many consecutive days Welsh thanked Miller for something. According to Miller, Thomas Welsh is a “nice kid.” Alas, in a season of unpredictability, we’re drawn to a familiar favorite.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *