For Pac-10 Media Day Thursday, all of the Pac-10 basketball coaches converged on a Los Angeles hotel to talk about their teams and seasons.
According to a poll of media members who cover Pac-10 basketball, this is the predicted order of finish:
First place votes are in parentheses.
A big topic of discussion was the fact that D-1 teams are now scrimmaging other D-1 teams instead of playing exhibition games. A number of Pac-10 teams had already scrimmaged other D-1 teams, and the coaches were very enthusiastic about it, citing how it enabled them to get more productive work in, rather than playing some exhibition team that just shoots threes. Most coaches thought the scrimmages would be more prevalent next year, especially in the NCAA outlaws exhibitions.
Here is a synposis of what each conference coach said today.
Rob Evans, ASU
Last year, finishing last in the Pac-10, Evans thought he had his worst defensive team in his entire career. Ike Diogu, the 6-8 pre-season All-American forward returns after spurning the NBA. Evans said he's improved over the off-season, improving his outside shooting and overall perimeter skills. But he doesn't have much around him. The Sun Devils have brought in 7 freshmen and one JC transfer. Serge Angounou, a 6-7 sophomore forward should help out now that he's 90% healthy, still recovering from a knee injury that has kept him more or less sidelined for two years. Evans spoke highly of the JC transfer, 6-2 point guard Tyrone Jackson.
Dick Bennett, Washington State
Bennett reflected on how he's realize he really is out of retirement since he preferred to watch video tape of practice than go golfing. He said how the second year that a coach has with a program is usually the most interesting. They have a tough road schedule, playing at BYU, Kansas State and Wyoming, among others. He has brought in six new recruits, "and not many any of you have heard of." The point guard that came in that would have to fill the big shoes of Marcus Moore is 6-0 Derrick Low, but Low broke his foot in the second practice of the season. Bennett didn't expect him back until the Pac-10 schedule, so the point guard position is one of concern, and Bennet thought it might have to be done by committee until Low returns. The coach thought that 6-6 senior forward Jeff Varem is one of the keys to this year's team, and that, with the influx of new players, not all of the returning starters would necessarily start. Bennett believes the Pac-10 will return to elite status among conferences in the country this year.
USC, Henry Bibby
Bibby talked excitedly about breaking ground this week on USC's new basketball arena. He said that USC people have been talking about it "since the 1800s." Bibby said it would be an advantage to having Gregg Guenther for the entire season, rather than after football ends, that Guenther brings a lot of toughness and passion to the team. USC will be very big this year, with five guys inside, and they'll have a lot of fouls to give. Bibby liked the team's versatility, being able to play big but also small, with how many guards and wings they have. He cited the addition of Gabe Pruitt from Westchester as a big factor, comparing him to Gilbert Arenas. He believed that JC transfer guard Dwayne Shackelford would "solve a lot of our shooting problems," comparing him to Oregon's James Davis from last season. He said newcomer Nick Young reminded him of a Jerry Dupree type that could shoot. And Bibby said he thought freshman forward Emanuel Willis was the most athletic player he's ever coached. Bibby said the only certain starter at this point is center Rory O'Neil. He thought that forward Nick Curtis would have been another, but Curtis recently hurt his ankle in practice. Bibby thought that without high-scoring Desmon Farmer this year, the Trojans would have to spread around the scoring, and said that Lodrick Stewart would pick up the slack shooting. Rodrick Stewart will sit out the first six games due to academic issues.
Oregon, Ernie Kent
Kent gushed about his team this year, even though he said it would be difficult to replace Luke Jackson, James Davis and Andre Joseph. He said, though, that he liked how he has the talent to reload. He said, "Up front we go 7-0, 7-0, 7-0, 6-10, and 6-9." Kent said that in the team's two scrimmages thus far, point guard Aaron Brooks had looked very good, scoring 40 points in one. He said that freshman shooting guard Bryce Taylor had scored 25 and 23 points in the two scrimmages. Kent praised Malik Hairston, Oregon's new wing, saying, "He is way beyond his years in maturity, leadership and ability." He said that Hairston might not score 30, but that he was the best passing small forward he had ever seen as a freshman, a great rebounder, and had already been accepted by the team as a leader. When asked if he 7-0 Ian Crosswhite had yet to live up to his expectations, Kent said no, but that he was getting close. He cited how Crosswhite and 6-9 forward Mitch Platt had each lost 25 pounds in the off-season. He said that, while many think that Hairston was the "steal" of their recruiting class, before they got a commitment from Hairston, Kent thought Taylor was. Kent said the his past stars, such as Luke Ridnour, Luke Jackson and Freddie Jones "were not on the same level" as this year's freshmen.
California, Ben Braun
He's been asked the same question over and over this pre-season: What's life like without Leon? That is Leon Powe, Cal's 6-8 sophomore power forward who is the returning scorer and rebounder from a year ago - who is out for the season after two knee surgeries. He said that his other players are understanding that they have to step up to make up for the loss of Powe - and Cal's second leading scorer and rebounder, Amit Tamir, who they lost to graduation. Ben said that sophomore Dominic McGuire had been moved to the frontcourt, and in a scrimmage against Chico State had 16 rebounds, which encouraged him. Rod Benson, a 6-10 junior center, Braun said, would probably start. He thought he'd get significant contributions from 6-9 freshman Devon Hardin, as well as from 6-8 junior David Paris and 6-7 freshman Kevin Langford. He said he thought the strength and emphasis for the Bears this year would be in its guards, particularly Ayinde Ubaka and Richard Midgley.
Arizona, Lute Olson
Olson said he had been very pleased with the play in practice of senior center Channing Frye. Isaiah Fox, the 6-9 big body, returns this season from an injury, but has still been nagged by injuries. Olson thought one of the most improved players for the Wildcats was Serbian Ivan Radenovic, having improved in adapting to the speed, quickness and athleticism of the American game. Mohamed Tangara, a 6-9 freshman, was being slowed by lower back pain, and wouldn't play in Arizona's Sunday exhibition game. Hassan Adams will move to the wing spot vacated by Andre Iguodala, and Olson thought Adams would be able to fill it, even though he thought the loss of Iguodala was "huge." Olson said that guard Salim Stoudamire was asserting leadership and had matured. He said that point guard Mustafa Shakur had greatly improved. The other freshmen are Jesse Verdejo, a 6-4 wing who Olson said had performed well in practice; Daniel Dillon, a 6-3 guard from Australia, who looks like he'll be a shooting guard and not a point guard, and Jawann McClellan, the 6-4 guard that Olson said had struggled in his first week and a half of practice, but had been more productive lately. Olson said, "If we get everyone healthy, our talent compares to any of our teams in the past." Olson also said that he thought the Pac-10 would be the best its been in his 22 years in the conference. He thought that it'd be so competitive that the Pac-10 champion wouldn't be decided until the last week of conference play, and the champ could have five losses.
Oregon State, Jay John
John said that he returns his entire team from a season ago. His biggest concern is the health of his best player, forward David Lucas. Lucas recently underwent surgery on his toe, and John was uncertain as to what his prognosis is, unable to say if he would return this season. "Hopefully he's a fast healer," John said. He realizes how critical Lucas is, though, to his team, citing how when Lucas was in early foul trouble last year, they struggled. They added a player to their roster recently, 6-10 Croatian Aleksandar "Sasa" Cuic, who has only been in the U.S. for five weeks. Jason Fontenet, a quick, little point guard, is eligible, after transferring in. John said he'd been impressed with freshman Marcel Jones from Mater Dei. They are also still bringing along 7-1 Liam Hughes slowly, after he redshirted a year ago. Nick DeWitz, a 6-8 JC transfer, could have a big immediate impact.
Washington, Lorenzo Romar
Romar cited how in his first two years at Pac-10 Media Day he said how young and inexperienced his team would be. This year, he said, it'd be different for the first time, with a team dominated by upperclassmen. He liked how his upperclasmen were battle-tested: "This group has lost a lot of games over the last few years, and they're afraid of going back to poverty." Romar said that Nate Robinson had, over the summer, improved his perimeter shooting and had gotten more confident. "He's always had a chip on his shoulder because of his size, and that always drove him to compete," Romar said. "Now he's started to play more confidently." Romar said that no matter what happened last year that it all should be thrown out when considering this season. He also said he thought his team might not do as well since the conference had improved significantly from top to bottom.
Stanford, Trent Johnson
The coaching newcomer to the Pac-10 repeated a few times that his players were being "coached down," with him replacing Mike Montgomery. He had two main concerns - whether some players would be able to step up and assume important roles with the departure of some big players, and the health of point guard Chris Hernandez. Johnson cited how the Cardinal had lost Josh Childress, Matt Lottich and Justin Davis. "It's going to be interesting to see if Hernandez, (Matt) Haryazs and others can adjust to their new, bigger roles," Johnson said. Hernandez, who has been hampered by injuries since coming to Stanford, has only practiced four times so far due to an ankle sprain. When asked if he felt pressure to win at a successful program like Stanford, Johnson said, "I don't feel pressure. A heart surgeon, he has pressure, operating on someone in a life or death situation. I'm a basketball coach. That's not pressure."
The comments of UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland are coming up...