Hard to believe, but here we are, in Kansas City’s swank Sprint Center, meeting the coaches and players of the Big 12 teams (for the first time).
WVU brought with Bob Huggins sophomore Jabarie Hinds, who I’m told is taller, and senior Deniz Kilicli, who I see a potential show stealer, a la Jon Kimble in Dallas.
This Big 12 has had eight of its 10 teams reach at least one Sweet Sixteen since 2005. The 80 percent rate is the best of any conference. Eight teams have been ranked at least once in the past three seasons. No league has had more draft picks over the past five years or more consensus All-Americans since 2007.
Translation: They’re pretty good at this.
Texas Tech interim coach Chris Walker on his status this season replacing recently resigned Billy Gillespie. “There are a lot of interim coaches in across the country. They just don’t know it.”
Walker is a Villanova graduate getting his first shot at a head coaching job. He has the team’s top three and three of the top four scorers back from a team that went 8-23 and closed with seven straight losses last season.
- Bruce Weber, replacing Frank Martin, who replaced Bob Huggins, at Kansas State is fresh off nine seasons in the Big Ten with Illinois. “We had chances to play Kansas and play Texas and play Oklahoma state through the years. Maybe a little better athlete, maybe a little more length. The Big Ten is a little more possession oriented. This, possession-wise, is maybe get-up-and-down a little more maybe than the Big Ten.”
- Oklahoma State has the Big 12′s preseason freshman of the year, Marcus Smart, a 6 foot, 2 inch, 225-pound guard from Paul Millard’s Flower Mound High. He was a two-time Gatorade state player of the year and starred at the FIBA Americas U18. To hear Cowboys Coach Travis Ford tell it, Smart is the greatest player ever.
But if Smart is even in the neighborhood of the billing, than he and last year’s co-freshman of the year Le’Bryan Nash are a dynamite backcourt.
- Iowa State has a fascinating roster with four Division I transfers and five seniors. It’s a mature team that lost its top three scorers. Former Utah standout Will Clyburn and former Michigan State star Korie Lucious are eligible this season.
The Cyclones lost Royce White, a Minnesota transfer, to the NBA draft. “He led our team in five categories,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Well, six — turnovers.”
- Five Big 12 coaches have coached in the Final Four. Can you name them?
- TCU Coach Trent Johnson has bounced around a bit the past few years — Nevada, Stanford and LSU since 2003, but also five NCAA appearances despite the three jobs — yet he sounds like he’s both happy and excited about a new life at TCU and the challenges that come with trying to build a basketball tradition at a school that doesn’t have much of one.
“We’re going to have renovations start immediately after our season is complete and we’ll go forth from there,” he said. “All that needs to be said, and like I tell the players, is the bottom like is our football and baseball programs did a lot of winning before they got food facilities. We need to take care of our business and put a viable product on the floor and not have a sense of entitlement. Everything else will take care of itself.”
- Curtis Shaw is here. He’s actually the Big 12′s supervisor of officials. He just entered the room. Half the media is in foul trouble. Not sure how that happened.
- Taking a peek at the media guide and it’s nothing new. I did like this little swerve …
That’s Volodymr Gerun and that’s a standard pose.
Make that an almost standard pose. Check Gary Browne.
- Shaw is doing a film session. It’s is surprisingly not a highlight reel of him handing out Ts.
- I have to say, Curtis Shaw was really good. I feel a little guilty for slighting him before he even opened his mouth. His reputation precedes him, but he is surprisingly attuned to the way we all criticize officials and how they affect the game. It is his goal to explain and address that.
I think I’m actually going to write about this. I think I can’t believe that, either.
- Kansas has the Big 12′s preseason defensive player of the year in Jeff Withey, who blocked 140 shots in 39 games and only fouled out once. The 7-foot senior also shot 53.6 percent from the floor, but he took just 211 shots. Four others took more shots and the team’s sixth-man, who played three fewer minutes a game, had only 24 fewer.
Gone are the team’s top two scorers and Kansas Coach Bill Self wants his unanimous first-team all-Big 12 center to develop some offense.
“The big thing is he’s got to get to where he scores over his right shoulder,” self said. “We’re working hard with him on developing a right hook or a go-to move over his right shoulder. We have him work on it every day and if he doesn’t, we run him.”
- Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger is the sneaky fifth Final Four Big 12 coach, following the more obvious Bob Huggins, Bill Self, Bruce Weber and Rick Barnes. He’s also six wins shy of 500 in his career — and that doesn’t count his time in the NBA (Atlanta Hawks head coach from 2000-03 and New York Knicks assistant from 2003-04).
“Not something you think about, of course,” he said. “Been doing this quite a while, which is why they add up. We’ve had a lot of good players, so I don’t really think about that at al, nor will anyone else for long.”
- Scott Drew, the Baylor coach who I sense is really disliked within the fraternity, wastes no time getting to self-referential quotes. His opener: “If you saw the highlights of our Moonlight Madness, you saw we’re a very athletic team. I don’t know of another dunk contest quite like it with Brittney Griner doing 360 dunks and Duce Bellow dunking over 7-1 Ike Austin.”
- We’re also right next door to the college basketball hall of fame and Drew just said of Bob Huggins “everyone knows coach Huggins is a hall of fame coach for a reason.” Huggins is not yet a hall of fame coach, but is nevertheless revered by his old/new peers.
- You think Texas and you think they probably recruit really well and have an even and probably very talented roster. The Longhorns have only freshmen and sophomores on scholarship on the roster. And yet they were picked fourth in the Big 12′s preseason poll and no one knows where things stand with their star player, Myck Kabongo. The other side of this? Three of the top four scorers and four of the top six are back.
“I don’t think I go to practice and ever look at the guys as being young and I really don’t buy into being young,” Coach Rick Barnes said. “I think as a coach you have a tendency probably to get after teams you think can be good. Probably more so for this group we have confidence in them and think they have a chance to be good. I never look at them as being young and I’ve never used that term with them either.”
- Bob Huggins is up next. The media and the teams stayed in the same hotel last night, as did the U.S. men’s soccer team. I was on an elevator up to my room and with two of the players that were part of the 3-1 win against Guatemala. They had some friends and/or family with them and they were talking about Huggins.
- Huggins. Black pullover. First non-suit by the coaches. O.G.
- Big difference between Big East and Big 12? It’s not as much the style of play as it is the style of venue. “The teams in the Big 12 have probably the best home-court advantage of any of the leagues in the country. We played in a lot of NBA arenas. A lot of teams didn’t have their own arena and it wasn’t on campus. I think that makes a huge difference.”
- Huggins on travel and the time it takes to get form place to place: “It might help us. I might screw them up over-coaching them so maybe I won’t have as much time.” Huggins also said he thought about staying the night after a night game rather than traveling and getting home at early hour. “I thought maybe they’d sleep better, but they don’t sleep anyway. They sleep better on a plane anyway. Did you ever notice they sleep better sitting up? Put them in a chair and they fall right to sleep. Tell them to go to bed and they can’t do it.”