The Dog Days of a Basketball Summer, Part Two
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Sequels are snoozers.
Sharon Stone’s long legs were a high school jock’s fantasy in Basic Instinct.
Age and a predictable story line made the second rendition slightly less sexy.
Did you know The Mask had a son? Not many outside Hollywood knew either, just
look at ticket sales. When Deuce Bigalow became a European Gigolo, moviegoers
decided to stay on this side of the Atlantic.
So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Until the college basketball season begins, From The End of the Bench is
keeping the college hoops enthusiasts satisfied with a three-part summer
series answering the important questions for the upcoming campaign.
If you missed the ribbon-cutting ceremony that accompanied the Q&A’s
unveiling, check out my July 25th column.
In this issue, we discuss North Carolina’s incoming recruiting class, assess
the ramifications of the offseason coaching carousel and briefly look ahead at
the major preseason tournaments.
Just don’t have any Great Expectations.
1. Ty Lawson. Wayne Ellington. Brandan Wright. How good is North Carolina’s
recruiting class? Compare it to Matt Doherty’s trio of Raymond Felton, Rashad
McCants and Sean May.
Tywon (his friends and I call him Ty) is another superstar out of Oak Hill
Academy’s basketball factory. Lawson can flat out fly…with the ball, which
makes him a mire image of Felton, who was faster end line to end line than any
point guard in the country during his time at UNC.
Ellington is a pure scorer, one of a truly dying breed who excels in the mid-
range game and displays tremendous court sense. I saw him play at Merion
Station Episcopal Academy — a private high school in the heart of
Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County –, and I marveled at how effortless he made
even the most extraordinary basketball moves look. My mouth dropped when the
6-foot-4 guard received a pass in mid-stride at the left wing, took one
dribble to his right, shifted his entire frame with one cross dribble to the
left, then used his left hand off the window while shielding his body from a
defender four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier.
I have exhibited more effort eating a turkey sandwich.
Wright is the definition of lanky, standing at 6-foot-9 and only 201 pounds.
His long arms were God’s gift to the Tar Heels, as he will provide a different
defensive presence than Tyler Hansbrough. The Atlantic Coast Conference
Freshman of the Year will wear out opponents on the interior, while Wright
will clean their shots off the window.
Ellington is not as physically gifted as McCants, who used his strength to
post up smaller guards. However, he may have more athleticism and is far more
emotionally equipped than the enigmatic McCants. May and Wright are also
different players, with May coming to Chapel Hill as a pudgy prodigy with
basketball genes and a deft touch.
Wright is farther along defensively, but lacks a well-rounded offensive skill
set. However, he has the luxury to grow offensively this season with
Hansbrough handling the scoring bulk on the interior.
2. Sixty-two of the 334 Division I basketball programs changed coaches in the
offseason, demonstrating the volatile nature of the job. The head coach’s
chair may truly be the “hot seat.” What changes were necessary? What
firings/resignations made you shake your head?
First things first. Print out The Sports Network’s official list of every
coaching change from the offseason to follow along.
We will begin at the beginning, with Arizona State pulling Herb Sendek away
from North Carolina State. No coach is going to leave the ACC for the Pac-10
(perhaps other than UCLA) unless he is unhappy.
Sendek should have been despondent after accomplishing so much with the
Wolfpack behind an advisory board that had an illusion of much more.
And it was an illusion, for North Carolina State plays third fiddle in the
Triangle and may be the fourth-best program in the state. The Wolfpack had not
been to the postseason in the six years prior to Sendek’s arrival, then played
extra hoops in nine of the coach’s 10 campaigns.
That’s not only progress, but in reality it’s success. Don’t tell the
hierarchy at North Carolina State that. The big-money donors believe the
program should be on par with North Carolina and Duke.
Good like Sidney Lowe.
Bob Huggins is in at Kansas State, an odd program to figure out. The
facilities appear above average, the conference is one of college basketball’s
best and the state is chalk full of high school talent.
From The End of the Bench knows Huggins will recruit — he already grabbed
five-star big man Jason Bennett from Jacksonville and four-star junior college
guard Blake Young from Daytona Beach for the upcoming season. The blazing path
on the recruiting trail will result in more victories on the court, but the
university should hold its collective breath about possible problems off the
Jeff Capel was hired at Oklahoma after Kelvin Sampson departed for Indiana. We
discussed Sampson in-depth during our first segment, but Capel’s hiring is an
interesting one. No one can question his playing pedigree — four seasons at
Duke — or his success at the mid-major level — Virginia Commonwealth made
its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996 in 2004 under Chapel’s watch.
However, one has to question if a 31-year-old coach has enough experience to
battle for recruits and push the right buttons on the bench in the Big 12.
Chapel will be an excellent coach one day, however, you have to wonder if he
will be another Doherty — a coach thrust into the spotlight (UNC) too soon
only to crash and burn before resurfacing elsewhere.
Speaking of Doherty, he was hired at Southern Methodist after one season at
Florida Atlantic. Doherty comes to Hilltop with both acclaim and baggage from
his time at North Carolina, a rocky tenure that sent Doherty into hiatus.
Remember when Al Gore lost the 2000 Presidential Election, grew a beard and
began teaching at Columbia while shuffling around the country in an angry rage
about the environment.
Doherty went into such depression, growing a beard and spending his days on
the links. While perfecting his golf game, Doherty gained a new perspective on
the game he truly loves.
From The End of the Bench believes Doherty will garner recognition at SMU,
which will serve as another springboard to where the coach truly belongs —
among the nation’s elite.
3. New York, Alaska, Maui. All are great places to visit, especially with
early-season basketball tournaments in town. What tournaments are worth the
hotel and plane reservations?
The Preseason NIT (New York City): The tournament is going back to the “common
site” format for the 2006 event. Four groups of four teams will play regionals
in Charlotte, Nashville, Indianapolis and Spokane. The aforementioned Tar
Heels are the class of a field that includes Indiana, Gonzaga and Notre Dame
as well as mid-major powers North Carolina-Wilmington and Winthrop.
2K Sports Classic: Coaches vs. Cancer (New York City): Texas, Michigan State,
Maryland and St. John’s each host a pod of this early-season event that moves
to Madison Square Garden for the Final Four. The four clubs should have easy
roads to the Big Apple, with Maryland’s potential second-round bout against
Vermont the only roadblock.
Maui Invitational (Maui, Hawaii): The breeze will be great on the beach, and
pure basketball fans will love the high school feel at Lahaina Civic Center.
The 2006 event is full of intrigue with Final Four participant UCLA and
powerhouse Kentucky headlining a field that also includes an up-and-coming
Georgia Tech squad, Chapel’s debut with Oklahoma and the retooled Memphis
Tigers. Purdue and DePaul aren’t bad clubs either. Poor host Chaminade.
Great Alaska Shootout (Anchorage, Alaska): It will be night almost all day in
Anchorage as winter approaches on The Last Frontier. The tournament itself
isn’t impressive with California and Hawaii leading a marginal field.