Pac-10 Hoops Preview
Second-year coach Sean Miller wants to build something that will last at Arizona, and he knows that won't come overnight.
A year after the Wildcats finished fourth in the Pac-10 and failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 26 years, Miller told reporters, "I hope we finish in second. That means we're competing for the Pac-10 championship, and that is one of the expectations here.
"I'm certainly not attempting to trick anybody. (The ultimate goal is) competing for a Pac-10 championship, being part of an NCAA Tournament, having teams that advance in the NCAA Tournament and move toward that final weekend of the college basketball year, and the next year being able to do it again and again and again."
Arizona is at the beginning of that process, but there are some good parts already in place. Sophomore forward Derrick Williams may be the best player in the Pac-10, MoMo Jones and Kyle Fogg form a capable and improving backcourt duo, and the Wildcats hope center Kyryl Natyazhko will blossom after a productive summer with the Ukrainian national team.
The Wildcats also are looking for a breakthrough season from forward Jamelle Horne, their only senior. Horne has been erratic throughout his Arizona career, but he has skills that Miller believes can make a difference for the Cats.
Miller said Horne has his academics in order and is on pace to graduate in the spring, and he's added 12 pounds of muscle, bringing him to about 220 pounds.
"Just in terms of his mind-set, I think what he wants out of this is to have the best year at Arizona that he's had in his senior year," Miller said. "He won't be the first player that the light goes off in a positive way in the last year, and I really believe that.
"For him to be better than he ever has before is one of many factors that will play into our team's success."
Miller also anticipates the Wildcats will improve defensively over a year ago, when they allowed opponents to convert nearly 50 percent of their 2-point attempts.
However this season goes for the Wildcats, returning to the glory days of the Lute Olson era will require a sustained effort.
"The starting point was two Aprils ago," Miller said of the time he was hired. "It's a long, hard road, you need good fortune, there's nothing guaranteed.
"For us to compete this year for a Pac-10 championship, we're going to need to have a lot of these things I'm talking about come true, but certainly I think we're in the mix."
--Sophomore Derrick Williams is Arizona's best player, and coach Sean Miller needs him to act like it more often. The Wildcats want him to be more assertive and be unafraid to call his own number on offense. "Derrick is completely humble, has great humility, very unassuming, great teammate, and then there are times where you almost want him to be a little bit more prominent on the court, and that's what we're working with him to establish," Miller said. "He's going to do a better job in that area."
--Williams is one of six Pac-10 players on the John R. Wooden Award preseason top-50 list.
--Arizona returns players who started a combined 124 games (out of a possible 155) a year ago.
--The Wildcats won 11 Pac-10 regular-season titles in the 20-year span from 1985-86 through 2004-05, but they have not claimed a championship over the past five seasons.
LAST YEAR: 16-15 overall, 10-8 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Sean Miller, second year at Arizona (16-15 at Arizona; 136-62 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "MoMo's improvement a year ago gave me great confidence. I think he's eager to play that position full-time, and to improve, and I think we'll have some moments where it doesn't look right, but I'm confident that he has the ability to be a very good player at that position." -- Arizona coach Sean Miller, on sophomore Lamont "MoMo" Jones, set to replace Nic Wise as the starting point guard.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Lamont "MoMo" Jones, SG Kyle Fogg, SF Kevin Parrom, PF Derrick Williams, C Kyryl Natyazhko.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Jones will start at the point, but Miller believes he has two or three players who can provide minutes at the position. Freshman Jordin Mayes will back up Jones, and Fogg also can slide over from the wing. Natyazhko will start at center, but Miller notes that many college teams don't start a traditional center, and there will be times that Williams becomes the team's sole low-post presence.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Freshman Daniel Bejarano, who originally committed to Texas, is a 6-5 guard with excellent perimeter scoring ability. Jordin Mayes can play either guard spot and comes from a winning tradition in high school. Jesse Perry, the first significant junior-college player to come to Arizona in a decade, is a 6-foot-7 combo forward who can score inside or out and should help with rebounding.
--Sophomore F Derrick Williams averaged 15.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a year ago, shooting 57.4 percent from the field and getting himself to the free-throw line 232 times. He had nine 20-point games and scored in double digits 25 of the final 26 games.
--Sophomore C Kyryl Natyazhko had a productive summer, helping his native Ukraine to an eighth-place finish at the U-20 European Championships in Croatia. He averaged 17.2 points and 8.4 rebounds.
--Junior G Kyle Fogg averaged 11.1 ppg a year ago, but was dynamite against UCLA, averaging 25.5 on combined 17-for-24 shooting in two games.
You listen long enough to Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek, and you'd swear he's a chemistry professor.
"With this group, I'm really excited about them. I think this team has an engaging, fun personality. They light up a room when they come into it," Sendek said of his team. "They're generally good guys. They have an outstanding character quotient, and they seem to really have just come together and hit it off with each other.
"I think they naturally have developed some good chemistry early on. I think no matter how much you emphasize that as a coach, you can't make people like each other. That has to come from themselves."
If chemistry counts, the Sun Devils should be in the thick of things in the Pac-10. Sendek has three returning senior starters, and that's an equation that worked a year ago for Cal, which rode four seniors to its first Pac-10 title in 50 years.
Ty Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks combined to average more than 30 points per game last season, and they form the nucleus of this ASU squad.
McMillan said he expects a great finish to his time with Abbott and Kuksiks.
"We started here as dweebs, and now here we are," he said. "It's gone by fast. Coming in with those two and being here now, we are closer than I have ever been with any two teammates in my career, ever.
"I am looking forward to seeing what kind of year both of those guys are going to have."
Point guard Derek Glasser and center Eric Boateng are gone, but Sendek has recruited well. Sophomore Trent Lockett, who earned a spot on the Pac-10's All-Freshman team a year ago, will become a full-time starter.
The club's biggest questions are inside, where no returning player taller than 6-foot-6 made any tangible contributions a year ago.
But Sendek has proved himself to be one of the Pac-10's best and most creative coaches. He likes the hand he's been dealt this season.
"I want to dance at the end of the year, a basketball dance," he said. "That's always the goal, obviously, for any NCAA team. I think we are fully capable.
"We are an athletic group, (and) like I said before, (we have) high-character guys who love to compete and guys who are willing."
--Senior SG Ty Abbott is poised to end his college career on a high note, teammate Jamelle McMillan believes. "The mind is a crazy thing: Freshman year (he) is like all-world from the three-point line, then sophomore year (he) struggled a little bit, and then came back last year first-team All-Pac-10," McMillan said. "Ty is a guy that is an everyday guy. He comes in every single day, and you know what you are going to get . ... He should be extremely proud of his career so far, and hopefully he will build off that this year."
--Abbott, who averaged 12.0 ppg and shot 40 percent from the 3-point arc last season, is among six Pac-10 players on the John R. Wooden Award preseason top-50 list.
--The Sun Devils have won 20 games or more in three consecutive seasons for the first time since joining the Pac-10 in 1978-79.
LAST YEAR: 22-11 overall, 12-6 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Herb Sendek, fifth year at Arizona State (75-56 at Arizona State; 330-214 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think Jamelle McMillan as a senior, a guy that has played point guard as well as off-guard for us throughout his career, is poised to have a good senior year, and we have some other guys that are capable of playing that spot. The one thing about our system is it really takes advantage of guys being interchangeable." -- ASU coach Herb Sendek on who will replace Derek Glasser as the club's primary point guard.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Jamelle McMillan, SG Ty Abbott, SG Trent Lockett, PF Rihards Kuksiks, C Ruslan Pateev.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Herb Sendek has been successful at Arizona State using a smaller lineup with versatile parts at the wing spots and even inside. Kuksiks will play the power forward spot, but he's entirely comfortable on the perimeter, where he can utilize his 3-point shooting skills. The Sun Devils are hoping to get a productive season from the 7-foot Russian, Ruslan Pateev, who has put on 20 pounds since his freshman season a year ago. He may share time with 7-foot-2 Canadian Jordan Bachynski, who hopes to scrape off some basketball rust after two years on a Mormon mission. Watch for freshman Keala King, an aggressive and versatile wing player, to also get substantial minutes.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: The roster includes seven first-year players, led by three talented perimeter players. Keala King is a slasher and scorer who can play either wing spot. In-state recruit Corey Hawkins, the son of former NBA standout Hersey Hawkins, was a big-time scorer in high school. And Chase Creekmur, a 6-5 wing, brings a nice perimeter shooting touch. Kyle Cain, at 6-7, is an undersized interior player, and Brandon Dunson, a junior-college transfer, is expected to be McMillan's backup at the point.
--Senior F Rihards Kuksiks, who led the team with a 12.1-point scoring average last season, ended with a strange six-game stretch. He shot 14 for 25 from 3-point range in three of those games and 0 for 15 in the other three.
--Senior PG Jamelle McMillan totaled 81 assists and just 33 turnovers as the backup floor leader last season. But he provided the Sun Devils with just one double-digit scoring game after Jan. 2.
--Sophomore SF Trent Lockett hit a wall two-thirds the way through last season. He averaged 8.2 points over the first 23 games, then just 3.1 for the final 10.
When he arrived in Berkeley in the spring of 2008, coach Mike Montgomery inherited the nucleus that became last year's Pac-10 championship team. Now those four seniors, including conference Player of the Year Jerome Randle, are gone, and Montgomery must reinvent the Golden Bears.
Cal will be different out of necessity, going from a perimeter-oriented attack to a style that emphasizes inside-out offense and a more physical defense.
Giving Randle the freedom to fire away from the perimeter was a leap of faith for Montgomery. Making the move in this direction is merely returning to his roots.
At the heart of things for Cal will be two big bodies, 6-foot-8, 250-pound junior power forward Harper Kamp and 6-7, 265-pound center Markhuri Sanders-Frison.
Neither gave the Bears much a year ago, mostly because of health issues, but things have changed.
Kamp, who sat out last season due after knee surgery, is as healthy as he will be. His knee will need managing, but Kamp is a smart, tough player who will make his teammates better.
No one will benefit more than Sanders-Frison, who arrived at Cal as a junior-college transfer a year ago, weighing 293 pounds. He's shed nearly 30 pounds of that, and along with strengthening his core, the weight loss has helped relieve back pain he suffered last season.
"We've lost a lot of people," Montgomery said. "They're our veterans, really, our two oldest kids. It's going to be critical they stay healthy because of their leadership and maturity."
The Bears' third experienced player is junior guard Jorge Gutierrez, a tenacious defender and inspirational leader who will get the first opportunity to replace Randle at the point. If one of Cal's younger players evolves at the point, Gutierrez could be shifted back to one of the wing spots.
Those three players -- Kamp, Sanders-Frison and Gutierrez -- give the Bears a level of toughness that will allow them to play more of a bump-and-grind style this season, reminiscent of the way Montgomery's teams played at Stanford in the mid-1990s.
The Bears won't be as explosive -- or as good -- as a year ago, but they won't be any fun to play, either.
--The departed senior foursome of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin accounted for 5,796 points during their Cal careers, with Randle finishing as the school's all-time scoring king with 1,849 points.
--The Bears return only 315 points from last year's roster -- just 11.7 percent of their season scoring output.
--Including his final nine years at Stanford through the 2003-04 campaign, coach Mike Montgomery has directed teams to no worse than a third-place finish in the Pac-10 in 11 consecutive seasons.
LAST YEAR: 24-11 overall, 13-5 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Mike Montgomery, third year at Cal (46-22 at Cal; 593-266 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Their attitude's terrific. They had a great summer, really worked hard, and look good physically. They're freshmen, making an adjustment both academically and on the basketball floor. And they're going to be freshmen till they're not. There's a learning curve, but I like their talent level, like their attitude." -- Cal coach Mike Montgomery, on his five freshmen.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Jorge Gutierrez, SG Gary Franklin Jr., SF Allen Crabbe, PF Harper Kamp, C Markuri Sanders-Frison.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: In reality, there are only three certain starters heading into the season -- Gutierrez, Kamp and Sanders-Frison. Gutierrez, who has played primarily off the ball in his first two seasons, will get the first shot at point guard, but it's a fluid situation. Two perimeter spots are open, and freshmen Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin Jr. have as good a chance as anyone to secure them. But sophomore Brandon Smith, generally disappointing a year ago, could emerge at point guard, allowing Gutierrez to slide into one of the wing spots. Franklin and fellow freshman Emerson Murray also could compete at the point, while freshman Alex Rossi will challenge for time on the wing.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Montgomery secured a very strong recruiting class, headed by Allen Crabbe, a 6-foot-6 wing who was the California high school Player of the Year last season and has a nice all-around game. Gary Franklin Jr. is a combo guard with good offensive skills, and Canadian Emerson Murray is a wild card, boasting great leaping ability and excellent court sense. Alex Rossi is a Chicago-area recruit who is adept at coming off screens to shoot it. And 6-8 F Richard Solomon, a high school teammate of Crabbe, is raw but athletic.
--The Bears don't know when or if they will see 7-2 junior C Max Zhang, who played with the Chinese national team at the FIBA World Championships in September, then was invited to remain with the team for the Asian Games in November. But the Chinese squad was on the periphery of a bench-clearing brawl during a "friendly" game vs. Brazil on Oct. 12, prompting China to at least temporarily suspend team preparations for that event.
--Sophomore F Bak Bak, who is eligible again after missing the second semester last season due to grade issues, also has added some much-needed strength to his wiry 6-8 frame. Montgomery said he arrived on campus a year ago unable to do a single pull-up. Now he can do 18.
--Sophomore backup PG Brandon Smith, who missed most of spring workouts with a bad ankle sprain, is healthy and came into camp in better shape than anyone on the team, Montgomery said.
Dana Altman arrived as Oregon's newest coach, greeted by the prospect of the glistening new Matthew Knight Arena and the defection of five players from last year's team.
Altman slowly rebuilt his roster in the offseason, but this will be a challenging season for the Ducks, the clear pick to finish last in the Pac-10 Conference.
It might have been worse except that junior point guard Malcolm Armstead, after being tempted to leave, decided to remain with the program.
"I think he was pretty close to leaving," forward Joevan Catron told the Eugene Register-Guard. "He's a big piece to our team to be successful."
Armstead said he simply wasn't sure where the program was headed. "I felt like, I really don't want to leave Oregon. I love my teammates and this is a good situation, but at the same time, I needed to make sure that the coaching staff and everybody was on the same page," he said.
No one is more appreciative than Altman, who made a series of phone calls to Armstead and his family to convince him to stay put. Armstead averaged 10.3 points and 4.3 assists a year ago.
"I think it was a good decision for him," Altman said. "I know it was a good decision for us."
Certainly it was the in the wake of departures by Matt Humphrey, Jamil Wilson, Josh Crittle, Drew Wiley and Michael Dunigan. Those five combined to give the Ducks 25 points and 13 rebounds per game.
Senior TaJuan Porter -- the team's top scorer a year ago -- also is gone.
Catron and Jeremy Jacob return up front, and E.J. Singler and Teondre Williams likely form the rest of the perimeter alongside Armstead. Those five combined for 76 starting assignments last season.
--Dana Altman arrives at Oregon after an impressive 16-season run at Creighton, where he compiled a record of 327-176, including 13 consecutive postseason berths and 11 straight 20-victory seasons.
--The Ducks originally hoped to open the new $227 million Matthew Knight Arena with their Pac-10 opener. However, the schedule has been pushed back, and the first men's game in the new facility will be against USC on Jan. 13. The Oregon women will play a set against the Washington schools the weekend before to christen the court, which replaces venerable McArthur Court.
--Altman scored a major recruiting coup for next season when he got a mid-October oral commitment from Oakland High shooting guard Jabari Brown, rated as one of the top 25 players in the class of 2011.
LAST YEAR: 16-16 overall, 7-11 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Dana Altman, first year at Oregon (410-243 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's just people talking. That's just going off people leaving, players coming in. ... We've got to come in and prove to people where we belong." -- Junior point guard Malcolm Armstead, dismissing the notion that the Ducks will finish at the bottom of the Pac-10.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Malcolm Armstead, SG Teondre Williams, SF E.J. Singler, PF Jeremy Jacob, PF Joevan Catron.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: With the offseason defection of five players who had eligibility remaining, the Ducks were left with six scholarship returnees, so there is not much flexibility here. Junior G Garrett Sim will provide depth at both backcourt spots. Among four newcomers, fifth-year senior G Jay-R Strowbridge and junior-college transfer Tyrone Nared, a forward, figure to have the earliest impact.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Jay-R Strowbridge, a 5-11 fifth-year senior guard, was cleared by the NCAA in mid-October after transferring from Jacksonville State, where he averaged 12.5 points in 12 games. Previously, Strowbridge played three seasons at Nebraska. He gives the Ducks experience and scoring punch on the perimeter. Tyrone Nared, a 6-8, 220-pound forward who averaged 8.0 ppg and 5.6 rpg at Monroe College in the Bronx, figures to back up Catron and Jacob. The Ducks also expect an early lift from freshman Johnathan Loyd, a quick 5-9 point guard from Las Vegas who was the Nevada prep Player of the Year last season. Martin Seiferth, a 6-10, 220-pound center from Germany, may be more of a project.
--Fifth-year senior F Joevan Catron, who missed all but four games a year ago due to back problems, was voted the club's Most Improved Player the year before, when he averaged 7.2 ppg and 6.6 rpg.
--Junior F Jeremy Jacob averaged 7.5 ppg and 4.8 rpg last season, including three double-doubles. His best performance was a 19-point, 10-rebound effort in Oregon's win over UCLA.
--The Ducks hope junior G Teondre Williams can return to his form of the first six games a year ago, when he averaged 14.8 points and scored in double-digits in each game. Williams had just one more double-figuring scoring game the rest of the way and averaged 4.0 ppg the final 26 games.
No one accurately pegged coach Craig Robinson's Beavers in either of his first two seasons.
Oregon State was much better than anyone anticipated in his debut season, when the Beavers went 18-18 and won the postseason CBI title one year after an historic 0-18 skid in the Pac-10. And they fell short of expectations in year two, struggling to an 8-10 conference record.
Robinson's perspective is a bit different.
"I feel like it's ahead of schedule," he said. "I thought I would have this feeling in year four or five, but I have it in year three.
"I think our recruiting is ahead of schedule, and I think our ability is ahead of schedule. The progress has been quicker than I thought it would be."
So what does that mean for this season? Robinson isn't entirely sure.
The Beavers have a decent mix of experience and youth, and they have posted a combined 15 conference victories the past two seasons.
"You have to remember that this will be a real transition period," he said. "Even though we're going with my recruits, it's nine freshmen and sophomores. This will be a tough year, and we're going to really need to lean on the leadership of our upperclassmen."
That starts with senior guard Calvin Haynes, but also includes three other seniors -- forward Omari Johnson, forward Daniel Deane and guard Lathen Wallace.
Still, it's likely that Oregon State's second-year players will take center stage. Sophomore point guard Jared Cunningham, quick and athletic, started 19 games last season, averaging 6.2 points and 1.35 steals. He tied a school record with eight steals against Washington State.
Joe Burton, a 6-8, 280-pound forward/center, provides a wide body down low who averaged 4.7 points and 4.5 rebounds a year ago.
The wild card is redshirt freshman guard Roberto Nelson, who missed last season while awaiting academic clearance and still was not approved to play when practice began Oct. 15. Nelson is an explosive scorer who dominated in practice at times a year ago.
Robinson merely wants consistency out of his sophomores. "I believe in the sophomore slump," Robinson said. "I'm not looking for a huge leap out of those guys. I just want them to be steady and improve."
--Up for grabs as practice started was who would be the point man in the Beavers' 1-3-1 zone. Departed senior Seth Tarver -- the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year -- held the spot a year ago.
--Freshman forward Eric Moreland was granted four years of eligibility after escaping his letter of intent to UTEP and enrolling at OSU. Moreland asked out of his commitment to the Miners when coach Tony Barbee left to take the job at Auburn.
--Thanksgiving with the President? The Beavers will play Howard on Nov. 27 in Washington D.C., where coach Craig Robinson may get the chance to visit his sister, first lady Michelle Obama.
LAST YEAR: 14-18 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Craig Robinson, third year at Oregon State (32-36 at Oregon State; 62-64 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can expect big things from Roberto. I would be surprised if he didn't have an impact on this team right away. And, I am putting pressure on him now." -- Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, on redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Jared Cunningham, SG Calvin Haynes, SG Lathen Wallace, PF Omari Johnson, C Joe Burton.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: The Beavers have better depth than in recent years, thanks in part to a more talented batch of underclassmen. There are nine freshmen and sophomores on the roster, and most of them will get the chance to contribute. Redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson may eventually be part of the starting five, and 6-10 sophomore F/C Angus Brandt of Australia got good experience a year ago. Senior F Daniel Deane also will be in the mix.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Among five newcomers, the biggest impact could come from the smallest player -- 5-8 PG Ahmad Starks, who attended Whitney Young High School in Chicago, the alma mater of Robinson's sister, first lady Michelle Obama. Starks is quick and athletic, an excellent shooter with a high basketball IQ. "I don't want to put too much pressure on Ahmad, but he has some tools that we haven't had since I've been here," Robinson said. "His ability to be athletic at his size gives us a lot more options, and his overall basketball intelligence is going to help us." Robinson brought in three big men -- 6-10 UTEP transfer Eric Moreland, 6-11 freshman Chris Brown and 6-11 freshman Daniel Jones, along with 6-7 wing Devon Collier.
--Senior G Calvin Haynes, the club's top offensive threat, wants to become a defensive stopper. "Me and the coach have had a couple (talks)," Haynes told the Oregonian, "about me being a better defender. I don't want to be the 'weak link' on a defense a lot of the times. I want to work on my all-around game."
--Sophomore PG Jared Cunningham found his offensive rhythm late last season, averaging 15.5 ppg over the final four games, including a career-high 21 points in the season-ending loss to Boston University.
--Sophomore F/C Joe Burton scored in double digits six times as a freshman and had his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds against UCLA.
There is no getting around the loss Stanford sustained when senior forward Landry Fields took his versatile talents to the New York Knicks.
Once the definition of a role player, Fields emerged last year as the Pac-10's most consistently productive performer, topping the conference in scoring at 22.0 points per game and contributing 8.8 rebounds per outing.
Other than his departure, there is more bad news for Cardinal fans. Redshirt freshman forward Andy Brown sustained his third torn ACL in two years and is out for the season, again.
Balancing that, however, is the return of junior power forward Josh Owens, cleared to play after missing all of last season with an undisclosed medical condition.
And there is reason to feel good about the future, assuming some patience, because of a terrific six-man recruiting class.
Bottom line: No one will be expected to single-handedly replace Fields.
"We don't have anyone at the moment who we feel can produce those type of numbers, so I think we will have to do it more by committee," coach Johnny Dawkins said. "More guys stepping up, more guys contributing. And we feel we can find it.
"It's just a matter of these kids learning our system and getting comfortable with the level of competition we have to face."
The competition has gotten the best of Stanford most nights the past two seasons. The Cardinal tied for eighth in the Pac-10 last year after finishing ninth in 2008-09.
Projections aren't much rosier for this season, albeit merely because the team is so young. Guards Jeremy Green and Jarrett Mann return, but freshmen will compete for as many as four spots.
Even Mann's point guard spot may not be secure.
"I give Jarrett Mann a lot of credit. We asked a lot of him, and for most of the season, he was leading the Pac-10 in assists," Dawkins said. "He's a young man who was primarily a wing and changed positions because we needed him to."
Freshman Aaron Bright, more of a pure point guard, will offer an alternative. Anthony Brown figures to challenge at the wing opposite Green, and 6-foot-9 Dwight Powell is expected to start at one of the post positions.
--Johnny Dawkins expects more than points from junior SG Jeremy Green. "He needs to continue to grow, but more vocally than anything," Dawkins said. "Jeremy has an idea of what it takes to be successful in the Pac-10 because he has faced it. So for him to just be a voice to our guys will be important."
--Stanford is coming off back-to-back second-division finishes in the Pac-10 for the first time since the 1986 and '87 campaigns.
--The Cardinal hope junior F Josh Owens can regain the form he showed to start the 2008-09 season, when he averaged 12.2 points over the first nine games. He scored at just a 4.9-ppg clip the rest of the season, then sat out last year due to an undisclosed medical condition.
LAST YEAR: 14-18 overall, 7-11 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Johnny Dawkins, third year at Stanford (34-32 at Nevada and career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's kind of unusual, right, to have a team with no seniors? But by the same token, we are excited because the one thing that is known is we will have this group for the next several years. That's a good thing, to be able to build and grow together while developing continuity with these groups." -- Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Jarrett Mann, SG Jeremy Green, F Anthony Brown, PF Josh Owens, PF Dwight Powell.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: The lineup figures to be somewhat fluid depending on how quickly the freshmen develop. PF Dwight Powell and SF Anthony Brown could be starters early, and PG Aaron Bright may push for the No. 1 spot, although sophomore Gabriel Harris may have something to say about that. Johnny Dawkins said he had given little thought to the notion that as many as four freshmen could work themselves into the starting five. "Right now, it's a lot of teaching and fundamentals," he said. "From what I've seen...all of those freshmen have improved physically and showed the skill necessary to compete in this conference."
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Johnny Dawkins lured a six-man recruiting class that was ranked as the Pac-10's best. Leading the way is 6-foot-9 F Dwight Powell, who has a high skill level and performed consistently during early workouts, according to Dawkins. Expect him to start from perhaps day one. Aaron Bright, a 5-11 point guard, is a strong floor leader who will challenge incumbent Jarrett Mann. Anthony Brown, a 6-6 small forward, brings length, shooting skill and a high basketball IQ to the wing. John Huestis, a 6-8 forward from Montana, is considered a sleeper, while 6-10 F/C John Gage and 6-11 F Stefan Nastic both bring inside-outside skills.
--Junior SG Jeremy Green, who averaged 16.6 ppg last season, had 10 games of 20 points or more, including a career-high 30 in a win over UCLA. He had 18 games where he made at least three 3-point baskets.
--Junior PG Jarrett Mann averaged 5.8 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds last season, but he was a liability at the foul line, converting only 52.6 percent of his free throws. He also made just 26 percent from 3-point range.
--Junior F Jack Trotter, originally a walk-on, averaged 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds last season, including 11 double-doubles, as a part-time starter.
The Bruins have no seniors and very little depth.
What they do have is excellent young talent and the urgency to avoid the kind of season they went through last year.
They also have a big man. A very big man.
Will the equation work for UCLA, which comes off just its third losing season in 50 years? Can the Bruins return to the kind of defense that has become coach Ben Howland's trademark? Is there enough scoring punch?
A couple of returning sophomores think the chemistry is there for the Bruins to stage a big comeback.
"I'm really excited, most excited I've been about any season that I've been a part of," said small forward Tyler Honeycutt, who averaged 7.2 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game as a freshman. "We have a great group of guys. Everyone is really looking forward to playing with each other.
"We get along great off the court. It can only get better on the court."
Power forward Nelson Reeves agrees.
"Everybody talks about us not having seniors, but that's kind of benefited us in a way," said Reeves, who averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds a year ago. "Every single person on our team, I don't have to call them my teammate, I can call them my friend. That's going to help us a lot on the court this year."
Juniors Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee are expected to form the starting backcourt. However, junior-college arrival Lazeric Jones will push Anderson at the point, and highly touted Tyler Lamb will provide depth at shooting guard behind Lee, who averaged 12.1 ppg last season but shot just 25 percent from the 3-point arc and had a team-high 83 turnovers.
Then there's Joshua Smith, the senior who has worked hard to whittle down his 305 pounds.
"I was very excited with big Josh today," Howland said after the team's first practice on Oct. 15. "He's 6-10 1/2 in shoes, and he's got a 7-foot-3 wingspan. When he is planted on the block, you're not moving him."
Smith is taking a measured approach to his first collegiate season.
"This is a different stage, and obviously I'm not coming out here expecting to score 30 points," he said. "This is college; I'm not playing in my high school league anymore. If I do all the little things, the big things will open up."
--Months after rupturing his Achilles tendon in June, coach Ben Howland is still recovering. "I can't dunk," he quipped.
--The Bruins enter the season with just 10 available scholarship players. "We can't afford any major problems in terms of any significant injuries," Howland said. "That would be the one thing I would be most worried about that we have no control over."
--Howland said during UCLA's media day that he expects the Bruins to return to a steady diet of man-to-man defense this season after being forced to use zone at times last year.
--Six-foot-10 twin brothers Travis and David Wear, who grew up in Southern California, returned home as transfers after one season at North Carolina. They must sit out this year to meet NCAA transfer rules.
LAST YEAR: 14-18 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Ben Howland, eighth year at UCLA (166-72 at UCLA; 334-171 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's just kind of weird going to Taco Bell and being like, 'OK, this has too many calories, I can't have that.' " -- Freshman center Joshua Smith, who is listed as 6-foot-10, 305 pounds but says he has dropped 50 pounds since June through a combination of conditioning workouts and a better diet.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Jerime Anderson, SG Malcolm Lee, SF Tyler Honeycutt, PF Reeves Nelson, C Josh Smith.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: There will be competition at point guard, where Howland was so uncertain about the play of Anderson he made the unusual move of recruiting a junior-college player. Lazeric Jones will challenge Anderson and provide depth. Freshman Tyler Lamb likely won't displace junior SG Malcolm Lee, but he's too talented to keep on the bench. Expect him to play substantial minutes. Sophomores Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt should own the forward spots, with classmate Brendan Lane ready to provide backup after offseason ankle surgery. The arrival of C Joshua Smith allows Nelson to do more than chain himself to the low post.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: C Joshua Smith could be a beast in a conference that hasn't boasted many good big men in recent seasons. He has dropped weight and seems determined to fit in. G Tyler Lamb was a big-time high school star and will play a lot from the start. "He's strong, he's active, he's athletic and he's got pretty good lateral quickness," Howland said. "He's going to play an important role right away, no question." Junior-college PG Lazeric Jones was recruited to push Jerime Anderson or replace him. The final newcomer is Matt Carlino, a 6-foot-1 freshman guard from Bloomington, Ind.
--Sophomore F Reeves Nelson said he is fully recovered from the surgery he underwent late last season to repair a partially torn retina in his left eye.
--Nelson estimates he took between 25,000 and 30,000 outside shots during the summer to try to expand his game. As a freshman, he was forced to play near the basket because the Bruins didn't have many low-post options. The arrival of Joshua Smith allows Reeves to venture away from the hoop at times.
--Sophomore F Brendan Lane, who had surgery on his left ankle in April, began going full speed in early September. He has added about 20 pounds to his 6-foot-9 frame and now weighs 220.
--Kenny Jones, a 6-foot junior guard who played high school ball in Southern California, made the team as a walk-on in tryouts.
A year ago, the Trojans had excuses. The program was banned from the postseason by self-imposed sanctions in the wake of the O.J. Mayo scandal. Three players left school early, and five recruits who had committed never showed up.
The excuses were legit, and they explained the Trojans' 8-10 finish in the Pac-10.
Second-year coach Kevin O'Neill doesn't want to hear about excuses this season.
The Trojans face some obstacles, including youth in the backcourt and a lack of depth up front. O'Neill doesn't care.
Freshman Maurice Jones, a 5-foot-7 point guard who averaged 30 points, 12 assists and five rebounds as a high school senior in Michigan, is penciled in as the floor leader. That could change in mid-December, when Fordham transfer Jio Fontan becomes eligible.
In the meantime, O'Neill has made it clear to Jones that he expects production.
"You're going to find out I don't (care) how old you are, how much experience you have," O'Neill told Jones. "Your job is to win."
The strength of the team is the front-court tandem of 6-10, 240-pound junior Nikola Vucevic and 6-9, 235-pound senior Alex Stepheson. Stepheson was a transfer from North Carolina a year ago and had no real preseason, so he struggled with consistency.
Now his production should come closer to matching that of Vucevic, who averaged 10.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
"He's much more conditioned. He's more explosive," O'Neill said of Stepheson, who averaged 8.4 points and 7.2 rebounds. "I think he's going to have a great year."
Those two will have to demonstrate conditioning and an ability to stay out of foul trouble because the Trojans have no experience behind them up front.
The perimeter will be a work in progress. While Jones, then Jones and Fontan, will handle the point, the two wing spots are up for grabs.
Freshman Bryce Jones (no relation to Maurice) will get a good shot at one of them, and senior Marcus Simmons, who averaged just 3.0 points last year, may win the other.
"I think you're only as good as your guards, no matter what league you're in," O'Neill said. "They're going to have to step up."
--The Trojans drew an average of just 5,016 fans to games at the Galen Center last season, and coach Kevin O'Neill wants a non-conference schedule that is a bit more attractive. "It's a pro town. We have to play good people to get fans to come to our place," he said. USC plays Texas at home on Dec. 5, but the meat of its non-conference slate is on the road.
--O'Neill believes the Trojans will be better conditioned this season and credits first-year strength and conditioning manager Shaun Brown, who previously worked with the NBA's Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics.
--The Trojans averaged a conference-worst 59.6 points per game.
LAST YEAR: 16-14 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Kevin O'Neill, second year at USC (16-14 at USC; 187-194 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our go-to player is probably going to be our inside guys, at least early in the season." -- USC coach Kevin O'Neill.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Maurice Jones, SG Bryce Jones, SF Marcus Simmons, PF Alex Stepheson, C Nikola Vucevic.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Freshman Maurice Jones is the likely starter at the point, at least until Fordham transfer Jio Fontan becomes eligible in mid-December. Journeyman senior Donte Smith will also get the chance to compete there. Freshman Bryce Jones (no relation to Maurice) will get the chance to win the SG assignment with senior Marcus Simmons the frontrunner to land the other wing spot. Sophomore Evan Smith will also compete at the wing. Up front, Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic will have to be ironmen until untested rookies prove they can play.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Freshman Maurice Jones is likely to be the Trojans' starting point guard when the season begins. O'Neill has expectations of Jones. "I want him to be very, very aggressive without turning it over or taking a lot of shots," the coach said. "That's a lot to ask of a young guy, but I'm convinced he'll figure it out." Fontan becomes eligible in mid-December and brings experience. He averaged 15.3 ppg and 4.6 apg at Fordham. Freshman SG Bryce Jones was a top-100 high school prospect with great athletic ability. Freshmen forwards Garrett Jackson (6-6) and Curtis Washington (6-9) have upside, but neither weighs more than 200 pounds and both need strength.
--Junior F Nikola Vucevic is the Pac-10's top returning rebounder (9.4), and senior F Alex Stepheson (7.2) is second.
--Vucevic, named to the John R. Wooden Award preseason top-50 list, turned in 10 double-doubles last season and had 22 games with at least eight rebounds.
--Senior SG Marcus Simmons totaled 40 points in the three games in which he reached double figures last season, including a season-high 18 in the season-opening win over Loyola Marymount. But he had just 48 points in 26 games the rest of the season.
The Huskies are favored to win their second Pac-10 title in three seasons, and there is no bigger reason than the smallest player on their roster.
At 5-foot-8, junior point guard Isaiah Thomas is the most exciting player in the conference and can change the game with his explosive play and offensive outbursts.
Thomas averaged 16.9 points for a Washington team that won 26 games and reached the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Lorenzo Romar said the trick is to trust Thomas and not cramp his style.
"He's one of those delicate scorers," Romar told the Seattle Times. "The last time we had one was Nate Robinson. If you give them a script, you handcuff their initiative. You take away their instinct. Isaiah understands our basic structure, but you've got to let him play. Because he is a winner, he's going to do what's best."
Thomas appreciates the bottom line.
"I just play my game," Thomas said. "If I score 50, people will probably say I didn't pass enough. If I get 12 assists, they will say I didn't shoot enough. But as long as I play my game and we get the win, that's all that matters."
The Huskies struggled early last season, even while since-departed senior forward Quincy Pondexter thrived. But Thomas hiked his performance over the second half of the season, helping Washington to a 14-3 finish.
He averaged 15.7 points and 6.3 assists and had just seven turnovers in three NCAA games.
"I've matured so much the past two years," Thomas said. "Knowing when to take over, when to get my teammates off, when to shoot, when to pass, I'm so much better at it. I don't think too much about it. I just can read what's happening on the floor. At the end of the day, you've just gotta hoop."
--Sophomore F Tyreese Breshers, who has a history of leg injuries, retired from the team due to an undisclosed health issue. "I can't tell the specifics of what happened. All I can say is it that it's not my leg," Breshers told reporters in Seattle. "I'm still trying to get through it. I don't think I'll be completely over it until the time I was going to play in college is over. All the time that I have left to play, I'm not going to be fine not playing." Breshers averaged 3.0 ppg and 2.6 rpg last season.
--The Huskies are 35-3 at home since the start of the 2008-09 season.
--Junior PG Isaiah Thomas spent much of the summer in Dallas working out with Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry, who grew up in Seattle.
LAST YEAR: 26-10 overall, 12-6 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Lorenzo Romar, ninth year at Washington (171-91 at Washington; 264-179 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Don't tell Romar, but you can. You don't want to, but you can because you have a safety back there. Once you look at him, you're going to be scared to go into the paint anyway." -- Isaiah Thomas, when asked whether he can gamble more defensively knowing he has 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye behind him.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Isaiah Thomas, SG Venoy Overton, SF Justin Holiday, PF Matthew Bryan-Amaning, C Aziz N'Diaye.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: The Huskies may go smaller with a three-guard alignment that would include 6-foot-3 sophomore Abdul Gaddy. Freshman Terrence Ross, a 6-6 wing, also will see time on the perimeter. The Huskies have high hopes for 6-9 PF/C Matthew Bryan-Amaning in his senior season, and paired with 7-foot sophomore C Aziz N'Diaye, they could form an imposing 1-2 punch up front. PF Darnell Gant fell out of favor last season but is the club's only other power player after the retirement of Tyreese Breshers.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Freshman SF Terrence Ross has length and a good offensive skill set and should see action from the start. The Huskies are excited about how 7-foot sophomore Aziz N'Dyiaye might change their look. He's a native of Senegal who spent one season at College of Southern Idaho. He's still developing his offensive game, but runs the floor well and is a good defender. Redshirt freshman SG C.J. Wilcox is one of the team's better perimeter shooters. Freshman Desmond Simmons, a 6-7 small forward, is athletic but needs more strength.
--Junior PG Isaiah Thomas, named to the preseason top-50 list for the John R. Wooden Award, has 1,134 career points, the most by a Washington player after his freshman and sophomore seasons.
--Sophomore G Abdul Gaddy is expecting more from himself after a disappointing rookie season during which he averaged 3.9 ppg. "I think it was inconsistent," he said. "I underachieved, but we did great as a team. I think that was the best thing. I just hit a wall, and I just have to improve. I went into the summer trying to improve a lot so I can have a much better sophomore year."
--Senior G Venoy Overton, regarded as one of the nation's top perimeter defenders, said he expects to score more after averaging 8.5 ppg as a junior. "If you leave me open, I'm going to shoot the ball," he said. "This year I'm going to be more effective on offense and make the defense guard me. That will help my teammates also."
The Cougars skidded to last place in the Pac-10 a year ago after a 10-2 non-conference start to coach Ken Bone's debut campaign.
Bone's response to all: Don't get used to it.
"I foresee the program getting better in the next four to five years and believe we can become a very good Pac-10 team in the years to come," he said. "I would never have accepted the position at WSU if I didn't believe we could be a contender year in and year out."
Maybe the improvement can begin this year. The Cougars have three key starters back, including one of the nation's most explosive scorers, and the Pac-10 seems open, at least beyond conference favorite Washington.
Washington State has a nice core in junior small forward Klay Thompson, junior power forward DeAngelo Casto and sophomore point guard Reggie Moore. The three combined to average 43 points per game, topped by Thompson, who scored at a 19.6-point clip.
It sounds simplistic to suggest Thompson is the key player, but he certainly was a barometer of the team's success last season.
The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 25.6 ppg through the first 13 games of the season, 10 of them victories. He had 43 points against San Diego and 37 against IPFW. But after putting up 33 in a conference-opening loss to Oregon, Klay's performance level waned.
He averaged only 15.3 the rest of the way, and WSU went 6-12 to close the season, including back-to-back losses to an Oregon team that already had fired its coach, Ernie Kent. During one three-game stretch, Thompson shot 4-for-35 from the field and totaled only 15 points. The Cougars felt the difference, averaging just 51.3 points over the three contests.
The point is, Thompson doesn't need to score 30 points for the Cougars to win. But he cannot be invisible and cannot sulk when things are going badly. He's a junior, and Washington State needs him to evolve beyond a scorer into a leader.
--Coach Ken Bone said the Cougars likely would play a little more zone defense this year. But he added, "I believe the man-to-man principles are played whether you are in man or zone, so therefore, we always work on man defense from day one to the end of the season."
--Players who accounted for 140 of a possible 165 starting assignments return this season. That includes four players who started at least 28 games a year ago.
--Among three players who transferred in the offseason was 6-3 freshman G Xavier Thames, who showed good promise at times.
LAST YEAR: 16-15 overall, 6-12 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Ken Bone, second year at Washington State (16-15 at Washington State; 93-64 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Marcus is a good defender and showed last year that he can have a presence on the boards, and when he improves his shooting, he'll be a very good player for us. And this fall he has shown that he is heading that direction." -- WSU coach Ken Bone on junior G Marcus Capers, who is 0 for 7 from 3-point range his first two years with the team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Reggie Moore, SG Klay Thompson, SG Marcus Capers, SF Abe Lodwick, PF DeAngelo Casto.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Coach Ken Bone is fairly settled on four-fifths of his starting lineup, with the guard trio and Casto expected to be regulars. Lodwick is competing with Brock Motum for the final spot, and both provide different skill sets. At 6-7, Lodwick is a wing with perimeter skills, while the 6-9 Motum has a mix of inside-outside abilities. Junior F Charlie Enquist, a former walk-on, adds depth up front, where the Cougars are eager to find production to match what Casto brings. Junior-college arrival Faisal Aden is a long-range shooter who should see action right away.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: The Cougars have four new players, including 6-1 freshman Andre "Dre" Winston Jr., who is expected to be Reggie Moore's backup at the point. Winston is a strong playmaker but also scored 20 ppg in high school. Dexter Kernich-Drew, a 6-6 wing, was a big scorer back home in Melbourne, Australia. He needs strength, according to coach Ken Bone, but has shown himself to be a hard worker. Patrick Simon, a 6-8 freshman power forward, has a nice shooting touch. And junior-college transfer Faisal Aden, a 6-4 junior guard, brings perimeter scoring.
--Junior PF DeAngelo Casto averaged 10.7 ppg and 7.0 rpg a year ago, assembling seven double-doubles. He had an 18-point, 14-rebound effort vs. Nicholls State. Casto also led the Pac-10 in blocked shots with 2.0 per game.
--Sophomore PG Reggie Moore averaged 12.7 ppg and 4.2 apg last season, including 22 games of double-digit scoring. His two biggest scoring performances -- 25 vs. Cal and 24 vs. UCLA --came in defeats.
--Junior SG Klay Thompson was named to the 50-man John R. Wooden Award preseason list.
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