As we mentioned yesterday, Wednesday was the day that four major basketball conferences, all of their own independent accord, decided, “hey, let’s dominate the news cycle for our basketball product by competing for attention with three other competitors, even though we could have easily chosen any of a number of other days during the month of October! Brilliant!” Sometimes the ruling parties of this sport really make you wonder. Alas, the ACC, AAC, Big East and SEC all held their media events yesterday, providing us with a steady stream of quotes, notes, predictions and controversy throughout the day. You’ll get better coverage of the details of each of those leagues at each of our microsites (excepting the SEC, which relaunches next week), but for now, here are some of the things we learned. ACC: Jim Boeheim says the only thing Syracuse fans will miss is the Big East Tournament; AAC: Commissioner Mike Aresco says no-way, no-how to paying players. Big East: Are the biggest celebrities in this league Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson? SEC: Kentucky’s best player is James Young? The SEC will continue with its two-day event in Birmingham today, and the Pac-12 will hold its one-day media event in San Francisco as well. The Big 12 and Big Ten will follow with theirs over the next couple of weeks.
The best quote of the day, however, didn’t come from one of the roughly 50 coaches assembled yesterday at the various conference media days. It came from USC’s Andy Enfield, who exhorted his team during a recent practice by telling the Trojans, “We play up-tempo basketball here. If you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Perhaps not since the days of Shaq and Kobe trashing each other through Jerry Buss has the City of Angels heard such a fine display of braggadoccio. Given that it’s coming from a brash young coach who quite literally was making a CPA’s salary somewhere on the gulf coast of Florida one year ago, even better. The two schools have never liked one another, but sometimes the crosstown rivalry got lost in the football vs. basketball focus of each. It would be nice to see the rivalry heat up with two cocky new coaches in town ready to trade barbs back and forth for the better part of the next decade. The Pac-12 microsite has a fantastic piece coming later today on this topic, and we highly encourage you to check it out in a few hours. Meanwhile, do you think the west coast media will bring up this quote to Steve Alford and his counterparts later today?
There was a period in the mid-1990s when Georgetown basketball, so feared and despised by so many in the 1980s, became the coolest thing around, in a retro sort of way. Sporting some of the best college basketball uniforms ever produced and an electrifying backcourt led by the unguardable Allen Iverson and his sidekick, Victor Page, the Hoyas became everything they hadn’t been during the previous era: fun, fast and perimeter-oriented. Bubba Chuck, of course, went on to an MVP award and great riches in the NBA, but Page, the Big East Tournament MVP in 1996 and Big East scoring champion in 1997, was never able to get there. As a result, Page has spent much of the last two decades in and out of correctional institutions for a series of petty and serious crimes, the most recent of which, a brutally violent assault against a Maryland woman, was described by Nathan Fenno in the Washington Times as the product of “one wasted opportunity after another.” Page has been charged with 33 crimes in the last 42 months (guilty of six, including the assault, for which he was sentences to 10 years in prison), but the clear lesson here is that young players with all the talent in the world still need to have realistic backup plans. Education, work, whatever. Because if there’s nothing else to live for, that allows the darkness to creep in.
After that one, let’s finish today off with a good story. In an era of coaches working themselves to the bone with all the different CEO aspects of running a Division I college basketball program, the New York Times‘ Zach Schnobrun writes about the youngest D-I coach in the country, Wagner’s 29-year old Bashir Mason. Mason, it turns out, is finishing up a Master’s in elementary education at the school and the second-year head coach must complete 220 hours of classroom instruction to earn the degree. As a result, he spends five mornings and one afternoon a week at a local elementary school, working through reading comprehension and other practical exercises with kids who are too young to recognize that their teacher is a bit of a local celebrity. It’s a story about persistence and follow-through, and it’s one that Mason deserves to have heard. Here’s hoping that his team listens to him as intently as his six-year old students do — they’ll assuredly learn a thing or two about discipline and hard work.
Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the NEC.
A Dynasty Grows In Brooklyn: It’s probably fitting that the Northeast Conference administrators chose the brand-new Barclays Center to host its annual media day. The NEC trophy has resided in this borough two straight years and LIUBrooklyn is planning on a unique ‘three-peat’. In the NEC’s 32-year history, no team has captured the title for three straight seasons. LIU Brooklyn is primed to finish the trifecta, but there will be stiff competition. Mainstays Robert Morris, Quinnipiac and Wagner will be in the hunt, and don’t forget ‘Battle of Brooklyn’ nemesis, St.Francis, just a mile away in Brooklyn Heights. The Terriers surprised last season and have enough returning talent to continue their recent success.
They’re Watching And Noticing: One of the significant aspects of the NEC’s improvement can be seen in coaching mobility. The higher-level schools are looking at and hiring mentors who prove they can X and O in this conference. Three years ago, Mike Rice went from Robert Morris to Rutgers. This past season, Duquesne chose LIU Brooklyn’s Jim Ferry, while Rhode Island, another Atlantic 10 school, obtained the services of Danny Hurley, who quickly reversed fortunes at Wagner. As one coach noted at media day, “you have a group of good, aggressive coaches here who can build and run a program.” No surprise NEC coaches are on the big boys’ short lists.
LIU Brooklyn’s Julian Boyd Returns For NEC Favorite LIU Brooklyn. (AP)
Circle the Date: Wagner faces off against Temple, Syracuse, Penn, Princeton, Hofstra and plays in the Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara. However, a relatively early game of note is January 10 at LIU Brooklyn. The Seahawks have a four-game losing streak in the series and Wagner coach Bashir Mason all too well knows the the road to the NEC title will go through Brooklyn.
Reader’s Take I
Early Power Rankings (last season’s record in parentheses)
LIU Brooklyn (25-9, 16-2 NEC): The Blackbirds seemingly have it all: Experience, depth and recent success of enviable excellence. And talent. Start with returning NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd. The 6’7” senior forward put together a sterling season where he averaged 17 points and nine rebounds per contest, highlighted by 14 double-doubles. Jamal Olasewere, another first team All-NEC pick, returns up front as well. In the backcourt is junior Jason Brickman. Seventh nationally with 7.3 assists per outing, Brickman has drawn praise from rival coaches for his passing ability and expertise in controlling the game. Coach Jack Perri is now at the helm with Jim Ferry gone to Duquesne. The transition has been very smooth for the former LIU assistant. Winners of 34 of their last 36 conference games, the Blackbirds are NEC favorites. Read the rest of this entry »
He may not be coaching this weekend, but Frank Martin may have been more active yesterday than any of the coaches that will be coaching in the Final Four. The former Kansas State coach will become the next South Carolina coach. Rumors about this initially came up a few days ago from a source on Twitter that wasn’t well-established and took them down soon after they spread like wildfire. Now a few days later, it looks like there may be some validity to the rumors. Initial reports indicate that South Carolina is looking at paying Martin $2.05 million per year, which is a substantial raise from the $1.45 million per year he was getting at Kansas State. And of course there was the admission on Sunday that Martin routinely sent money to his former high school players when they needed it in college much like what Jamar Samuels reportedly got that led to his suspension.
With Dan Hurley leaving to take over at Rhode Island, Wagner was in search of a coach and they looked inside their program to hire Bashir Mason, who was acting as an assistant coach before Hurley left. At 28 (not a typo), Mason will be the youngest head coach in Division I (and younger than both of the RTC editors). From our research/Twitter query, the youngest coach in Division I history we are aware of is Bob Knight in 1965 (at 24) and in the modern era is Dane Fife in 2005 (at 25). Fortunately for Mason, Hurley left the program in better shape than where he found it.
This morning UAB will announce Jerod Haase as its new head coach. Hasse, who will turn 38 on Sunday, has spent his entire college coaching career as an assistant under Roy Williams first at Kansas (five seasons) then at North Carolina (nine seasons). Of course, most of you will probably remember him as the co-captain on the great 1996-97 Kansas team that was upset in the Sweet Sixteen by eventual champion Arizona. It is probably not lost on Kansas fans that the game in 1997 against Arizona was in Birmingham. Fortunately for Hess, UAB plays at an on-campus arena so he will not have to battle those demons with every home game.
Murray State put an end to any speculation that Steve Prohm would be leaving after his first year as they signed him to an extension that pushes his contract through the 2015-16 season. Prohm, who went 31-2 in his first season, was mentioned as a target for the Mississippi State job after a search firm put him on the short list. As you may remember Murray State did not react too well to that and now appear to have secured Prohm for at least a little bit longer. It should be pointed out that even with the new contract his increased base salary is still “only” $270,000 per year with an additional $30,000 for doing TV and radio. If it ever becomes about the money for Prohm, any team from a power conference would be able to produce an offer several times higher than that.
A day after a report surfaced that George Mason and VCU, the premier basketball programs in the CAA, were headed to the Atlantic 10 the two schools and CAA refuted those claims. Of course, with the way the statements from the schools are written they could be making a move in the future as they are fairly well-crafted (outside of the occasional typo). Honestly, if we were George Mason or VCU we would be very tempted to move to the Atlantic 10 given the increased national exposure and the increased ability to earn an at-large bid from that conference compared to the CAA.If the schools do leave the CAA, it would be a devastating blow to the conference particularly in basketball.