Last Sunday afternoon, Bucknuts was fortunate to be able to speak with one of the most reputable analysts in all of college sports. ESPN's college basketball guru Jay Bilas was kind enough to speak with Bucknuts, talking about some of the hottest topics today in college hoops, as well as answering questions about Ohio State basketball.
Here is the entire interview from start to finish.
On his background…
BN: "Explain how you chose Duke in high school, and how you got to ESPN afterwards."
JB: "About how I got to Duke -- I'm from L.A., I grew up there and I was just recruited there (to Duke). I think I was one of the top 30 players in the country in high school. I just trusted Coach K and decided I wanted to play for him. I got drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and played professionally for three years. Then I coached and was an assistant at Duke for three years, and I went to law school as well. I got involved in broadcasting almost by accident. I started doing games and it just sort of happened from there. I was doing 30 games a year, and next thing I know, I was doing work for ESPN and it just sort of progressed."
BN: "What schools did you consider besides Duke, or was that where you wanted to go all along?"
JB: "My visits were Syracuse, Iowa when Lute Olson was there, Kansas, and Stanford. I looked at some schools out west as well. UCLA was sort of down at the time, and I wasn't really interested after Larry Brown left."
BN: "Can you tell us just how much work goes into your job?"
JB: "The travel is tough. I'm on the road six days a week this time of year. It's tough. The airports take up a lot of your time. I just got back home today from Oklahoma State today and just got back from Charlotte airport."
On college basketball…
BN: "How much of a change do you see happening with college basketball if they implement the new 20-year old age requirement in the collective bargaining agreement for the NBA, and do you see it being implemented?"
JB: "That's up to the PA whether it's implemented. The league can push for it and hold out for it, but if the PA doesn't agree to it, it will never work. I don't know how much it will change things. It will be hard for the league to say to a high school kid who wants to go pro you can't do it, but if it's collectively bargained, it will hold up.
I think it would help to have more kids stay in school because I think there is too many kids going pro that aren't prepared for it. I think it has hurt the NBA and I think it has hurt college. At least, it's hurt the product, but I don't think it's really hurt the interest for it. I think people are still excited about basketball."
BN: "Do you feel the NCAA should address the issues with AAU basketball and recruiting? If so, what might be some of the things you would change?"
JB: "Not really. I think the high schools have to take more stock in that. Pay more attention to it as well. I just don't think the NCAA has the jurisdiction to tell AAU programs what to do. I think USA Basketball can take more of a role in it and shape the landscape better by taking more control, but that shouldn't be up to the NCAA, and I don't think they have the power to do it anyhow."
BN: "What do you think so far of the new academic requirements implemented in college basketball and how they relate to scholarship limits?"
JB: "It's too early to tell. I like the backbone behind it as I think it's well intentioned. I think the law of unintended consequences is likely to be a major factor. I just don't feel like the NCAA has any business telling schools who to educate and not to educate. If they want to have an eligibility standard, that's fine, but I just don't feel it should be up to the NCAA to tell the school who's making progress, how they should be making progress, and how they want to hand out their degrees. Because if, to me, you provide a disincentive and you start taking away scholarships and postseason play and money, you will have kids graduate but you might not get them educated. The first question should be not if we are getting guys graduated, but if we're getting them educated. If we get people educated, the graduation will follow. I don't buy the thing that if we get guys three years of college and they go pro, it's been a waste of time."
BN: "That's one thing I don't like, personally. I just feel while these institutions certainly know how this new system works, it's probably not right to implement something when it's a mythical formula. Is that practical?"
JB: "It's well intentioned. I don't have a problem with it as a whole. I just don't feel it's proper to mess with the individual economy of these institutions. Each school has their own mission statement, and you should judge them by the relative success against their own student body. Shouldn't you consider how athletes are doing against the general population at each school? What about private institutions versus public? Everyone does it differently, and there shouldn't be one uniform standard across the board."
BN: "This might be somewhat dated after today's loss, but where exactly does Illinois stack up to some of the best teams of all time, like the Duke teams, the UNLV teams of the early 90s, etc.?"
JB:" They stack up pretty favorably. They are really good. Are they as good as Las Vegas was in 1991? I doubt it. Vegas had three really good NBA players on that team, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, and Larry Johnson. It's probably not even fair to compare them because you're talking about teams now that don't have juniors and seniors that stick around as good as they used to be. You used to have junior and senior lottery picks, and you don't have that any more. It doesn't change their accomplishment, because their accomplishment is amazing. After all, this loss (to Ohio State) was to a good team and on the road nonetheless. Going undefeated is a tough thing to do, and that's why no one has done it since 1976."
BN: "What coaches do you feel are on the hot seat, or what changes do you see being made in the coaching ranks for next season?"
JB: "Every coach is in trouble. You've got to win, and I think there's been an unrealistic standard in college basketball. I don't really do the "coach on the hot seat" thing. If I have information that somebody is gone or going to get fired, I'll report it. But typically I don't mess with talk about coaches' jobs."
BN: "That's probably a good point since it seems nearly a third of all coaches are ‘in trouble' on a yearly basis. Are there too many coaches in trouble every season?
JB: "Like I said, there probably is an unrealistic standard in college basketball, and I don't particularly care for it. But I suppose it's just a matter of us in the media not reporting it unless we have specific information. My thing has always been that if you've got information that an administrator is not happy and he's going to dismiss the coach, that's fine, just report it. But if you're saying ‘Hey, the natives are restless in this town,' that's not really news to me; that's just guesswork. If somebody did that about our jobs, we would be livid."
BN: "Who is the best player in America right now?"
JB: "Andrew Bogut of Utah."
BN: "Who is the absolute best game day coach as far as managing a game and X's and O's in the country?"
JB: "I don't really break it down by categories. If you ask me who the best overall coach is, I would have an opinion, but I don't really think of coaches by a specific way like that. As far as best coaches period, Coach Krzyzewski is really good, Lute Olson, Roy Williams, Gary Williams, Calhoun, Boeheim, you go right down the list. Bobby Knight, 700 wins, you can start there.
BN: "And what is the best game atmosphere in college basketball?"
JB: "Well, I was just at Oklahoma State, that's a really good atmosphere. Kansas is one, North Carolina is unbelievable, Duke is fabulous, Arizona is great, Oregon, McArthur Court is a great place. The Pit at New Mexico, Illinois is tough is as good as I've seen this year. There really are a lot of great places where basketball is important. That's why this is such a great game."
His thoughts on Ohio State and head coach Thad Matta…
BN: "What do you think about the situation with Ohio State and Jim O'Brien? Are you kind of surprised about how things happened and the things being alleged under his watch? O'Brien obviously made a mistake, but he was generally considered to have a lot of integrity."
JB: "Yeah, I am. You know I was kind of surprised that a rule that was so fundamental was broken, but at the same time I don't consider it a major problem. It was a good-hearted gesture. It was just against the rules. I think you can look at every program and find things that are done wrong, but it was an intentional problem and that's wrong. I think it was handled honestly and straight forward by Ohio State. I don't have a problem with the way it was handled whatsoever."
BN: "For a program as a whole, how would you stack up Ohio State nationally right now against the elite programs? They obviously aren't on the same level as the top tier programs, but how far does Thad Matta have them from being there?"
JB: "Well, it just depends how they continue to recruit. They took a little hit in recruiting the last year or two with Jim's recruiting with his voice and him being dismissed. With Thad Matta, they have a really good young coach who will get better and better and help the program get really strong. He's the real deal. It's going to take time to build something up that's going to last. I don't think anyone can expect them to be great overnight. It takes time and a lot of hard work. But I think they can get there."
BN: "Being early, and this season not even being done with yet, where would you expect Ohio State to fit in or stack up against the rest of the Big 10 on paper for next season?"
JB: "Pretty favorably, actually; I think they have had a really good year this year. If they were eligible for the NCAA tournament, I think they would probably be in it, especially after today. I think they will be right in it. They have some good young guards and some good big guys, so I think they have a good chance next year. They are in a tough league and a lot of teams will continue to get better. You know, Minnesota is improving, I think Indiana is going to be a lot better next year, Michigan would have been an NCAA team if they had been healthy and not had suspensions. So I think a lot of teams that struggled this year might be better next year, and it will make it a tough league."
BN: "Where does Terence Dials rate among the best centers in the country?"
JB: "Well he's not a true center, and there aren't a lot of them out there. With the true centers, he doesn't rank very highly simply because he isn't one. He's more of a power forward. But, he's a really good player. He posts up hard, he's a good rebounder, he can finish plays, and he's a really hard worker. So yeah, he's a really good player. There's nobody he can't compete with out there."