Self, Calipari, Boeheim, Barnes and other coaches scout next season
LAS VEGAS -- "Heck, we were 33-2 going into that game,"
For the most part, all the college coaches working the summer circuit know whom they want to recruit by now. Their presence is a way for them to advertise their interest to the players. Generally speaking, they come less to see and more to
I was there mostly to see the coaches. Sure, I like to get a gander at the top high school prospects on the rise, but mostly I enjoy attending events like the Super 64 primarily because it gives me a chance to catch up with the fellas in the stands and take their temperature on the state of their teams heading into next season. Self had been explaining to me that his team at Kansas could be as good at the end of next season as last year's team was. Only, we all know how last year ended for the Jayhawks -- with a historic second-round loss to Northern Iowa. So when Self said the words "that game," I didn't have to ask what he meant. I only asked if he had ever watched it since it ended. "Nah," he said. "It's not gonna help me much."
Chatting with head coaches in the casual atmosphere of a high school gym sure helped me get ready for the 2011-12 season. Which means, Hoop Thinkers, it helped me help you. What follows is a quick-hit summary of my visits with 11 head coaches during my three-day stay in Vegas last week. Wednesday, I will have the second installment of my Vegas report, which will offer a view through the eyes of an NBA scout of the college players who were in town to scrimmage against the NBA players competing to play for Team USA at the World Championships later this summer. Part two will also include my thoughts on a few of the notable high school players I watched.
It's a lot to chew on, but hey, it's summertime. Allow me to fill your belly until you're ready to feast on Midnight Madness.
First up, the head coaches:
The Jayhawks lost
Up front, Self expects 6-8 junior forward
"I don't know if we'll be as good at the beginning of the year as we were last year," he said, "but if things fall right we could be as good late."
The first contest is more than three months away, but Calipari is already deftly playing the expectations game. "Everybody is trying to say we'll be better than a year ago," he told me. "I'm like, are you out of your mind?"
He has a point. The Wildcats might have comparable (though still inferior) talent than they had last season, but as young as they were, they'll be that much younger in '10-11. Calipari is once again bringing in the nation's top recruiting class, but while UK returns four experienced guys in
At least three of Calipari's incoming freshmen will have a great chance to start: 6-3 point guard
Even as Kentucky was rolling up victories (many of which were close) last season, Calipari cautioned people that the team's lack of experience, especially in postseason play, was still a major concern. That proved to be the case in the Wildcats' loss to West Virginia in the regional final. "You hope you can have some experience to go with the young guys," he said. "It's the Sweet 16 game, the Elite Eight game that you worry about. They had never gone through that anxiety, and for the first time all year, we just didn't have it [against West Virginia]."
Still, don't expect Calipari to alter his recruiting philosophy anytime soon. He scoffed at my suggestion that he should look to recruit a few players who won't be one-and-done but can still contribute during a four-year career. "If you recruit guys who you know are going to be there for four years, you'll probably be in the NIT, and that's not a good thing at Kentucky," he said. "You recruit the best players you can, and if someone is going to take them in the first round, I tell them to go."
The Longhorns had a very disappointing fall from grace last season after garnering the No. 1 ranking, but Barnes was quick to remind me that they had suffered injuries to their two experienced point guards,
It will also hurt that Texas lost
Barnes also said he's hopeful that two of last year's freshmen, swingman
It's a remarkable thing to say about a program in the West Coast Conference, but the Zags don't rebuild anymore, they just reload. Aside from
That frontcourt will again have an international flavor.
"We're just trying to get the best players out there, whether they're from California and Oregon or Germany and France," he told me. "Plus the recruiting process is a lot simpler over there. Usually there's a player and his parents and that's it. It's not as convoluted as it is over here."
Few also has high hopes for 6-10 forward
The Huskies bade farewell to the most valuable player from the team that won the Pac-10 conference tournament,
Though Romar said his team will be "as big as we've ever been," the strength will once again come from the perimeter, where Washington is flush with talent. Junior guard
"We probably will have the most experienced team since '06 when we had
The best news for Indiana fans is that
The Hoosiers did not lose anyone of significance from last season. Given that the team went 4-14 in the Big Ten, that may not be such a great thing. But assuming the returning players progress as they should, it's reasonable to expect that Indiana will be better across the board. Crean sounded especially excited about the addition of
Greenberg has a talented, experienced team coming back to Blacksburg, so he's not bothering to talk down its chances. "We have maturity, we have depth, we have a cause. We have everything you need to be successful," he said. "There are a lot of teams who have a chance to be really good, and we are going to be one of those teams."
The main reason, of course, is 6-3 senior guard
The Hokies will likely be able to start four seniors and a junior next season, but since they're lacking in frontcourt depth, it is imperative that
Greenberg also told me he has upgraded his team's schedule, which will include Purdue (though that game was assigned in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge), Mississippi State, Kansas State, Penn State, a road date at St. Bonaventure plus a spot in the Anaheim Classic, which also includes Oklahoma State, Stanford, UNLV and DePaul. When I asked Greenberg if he scheduled those games in response to his team's being snubbed from the NCAA tournament last season, he virtually growled and said, "Don't get me started."
"We're a senior team," he said. "I met with our guys and I told them I wanted to play this schedule. I wanted to challenge them. I think we'll be ready for it."
The Crimson Tide are still going to be in rebuilding mode next season, but Grant believes they will improve on their fourth-place finish in the SEC West, if only because the players will be more familiar with him in his second season in Tuscaloosa. "We'll be as good as the improvement of our returning guys," he said. "They should understand the system and our expectations and figure out where they need to get better."
One player who leaps to mind is 6-9 junior forward
Grant also said he is hopeful that sophomore guard
Ah, the optimism of summer. Johnson's Tigers went 11-20 in his second year in Baton Rouge and they have since lost their two top players --
LSU was beset by injuries last season, so Johnson is hopeful that players like 6-4 sophomore
Johnson could not comment on high school players who have not signed yet, but I can report that he has received a notable verbal commitment from 6-3 guard
I'll say this for Boeheim. If he thinks his players are good, he'll say it. If he thinks his players are not good, he'll say it (though usually not for attribution). Two years ago, I spoke with Boeheim at a USA Basketball event, and he told me that he had a transfer from Iowa State named
So when Boeheim says that his incoming 7-foot freshman center, the wonderfully named
Alas, there are no Wesley Johnsons among the four returning starters --
This is one coach I spoke with whom I didn't pepper with questions about his team. I was more curious as to why Drew, who will turn 66 in September and is about to begin his 42nd year in coaching, is still spending his summer chasing high school kids around the country. "I really don't enjoy this aspect of the job, to be honest," Drew told me. "You're away from home, you watch so many games, you've done it for 40 years. I tell [my son and assistant coach]
Still, it is always inspirational, not to mention great fun, to spend time visiting with Homer Drew. He is funny and pleasant and exudes such a genuine joie de vivre. Despite his distaste for recruiting (and he's hardly alone among his peers in that regard), he still loves his work and has no plans to retire soon. "I'm still a kid at heart. I enjoy the teaching part of it," he said. "One nice thing about it is, young people keep you young."
My advice to all Hoop Thinkers is to take some time if you get a chance to chat with Homer Drew about everything and nothing. And if you ever spot him in a Las Vegas casino, shake his hand right before you play craps. Trust me on that one.