Sunday, August 22, 2010

Who says the summer is quiet?

If you think the off-season drama ended when the last of the elite recruits made their college decisions, if you think the drama ended when vital players announced their intentions to transfer, if you think the off-season drama ended on May 8th when the last early entrants stayed in the draft pool, well you would be sadly mistaken. The summertime is the time when the “crazy” roster changes occur for college basketball teams.

-First, Mississippi St. guard Dee Bost mysteriously withdrew from the NBA draft after the deadline and decided to re-enroll at Mississippi St. While Mississippi St. still lists Bost on their roster for this year, the consensus seems to be that he has little chance of regaining his eligibility. (Perhaps Mississippi St. just likes to have ineligible players on their roster after watching Renardo Sidney sit out all of last year.)

-Then my jaw dropped when I read that Providence’s leading scorer and rebounder Jamine Peterson was leaving school early, but not for the NBA. Say what you will about the crazy fast-break style Keno Davis has installed in his two years with the Friars, but one thing the system did was develop Peterson into a scoring star. And the fact that Peterson will not be returning is devastating to Davis’ attempt to rebuild the Providence program. The goal last season was to give young players a lot of minutes and identify the stars. Then this season would have been the year to focus on fundamentals and develop complimentary players to try to make an NCAA tournament run. Instead Providence is once again a team desperate for an offensive leader. (And as Ballin’ is a Habit describes it, ridiculously desperate.)

-Then by late summer, as is too often the case, we had a number of high profile recruits who were declared academically ineligible. I do not have the full list, but in the SEC alone this includes Mark Fox’s first big signing at Georgia Cady Lalanne, Auburn recruits Shawn Kemp Jr. and Luke Cothron, plus LSU recruit KC Ross Miller.

-Then there was the former Northwestern scoring star Kevin Coble, who was academically eligible, but athletically disinterested. Coble has decided not to return to the basketball team and focus on graduation. While I agree with statistical arguments John Gasaway and others have made that Northwestern needed to improve its defense more than it needs Coble’s scoring, Northwestern is not such a deep team that another offensive option would be irrelevant. And Coble’s return would have allowed the team to be more aggressive defensively and not worry as much about the starters fouling out. Plus Coble’s return may have helped motivate the fan-base and sell more tickets, building a more consistent home court advantage. Northwestern fans needed to have faith that the team would finally make the tournament and Coble provided much of that hope. And now he is done.

-Also this summer, there was the rare story of a player being declared academically eligible as Memphis recruit Will Barton was re-instated after further review. Ah academic eligibility, it just never gets old does it?

-If it does, the fun new summer event is the graduate school transfer. This is the rule that allows random players like Justin Knox to leave Alabama and play for North Carolina without sitting out a year, simply because he finished his undergraduate studies. And Knox is not the only player to take advantage of this rule.

-After that, the summer was filled with the normal “force-out” stories. Do not be fooled by Bo Spencer’s 14.5 points per game production, he was a horribly inefficient player for LSU shooting just 28% on his threes and 39% on his two point shots. I wonder if Trent Johnson was not happy to find an academic reason to officially dismiss the shot hog from the team.

-Taylor King was forced to leave Villanova after violating a team rule and now he’s transferring to USC. King was such a versatile scorer at Duke and Villanova making him the perfect fit for a USC team that couldn’t put the ball in the ocean last season.

-But it’s the high profile teams that get most of the attention. People seem to really care that Chris Allen is leaving Michigan St. And while Allen was a fantastic shooter and talented player, Michigan St. is not without other options at the off-guard position. Similarly, Kentucky’s Darnell Dodson will not be returning. The loss means Kentucky returns just two players with over 10% of the teams minutes last season, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. While I agree the loss of a proven three point gunner will hurt a young Kentucky team, losses like Dodson and Allen tend to get magnified because Michigan St. and Kentucky are such high profile teams. If similar role players left Seton Hall or Nebraska, I doubt anyone would even notice outside of the fan-base. Heck, most of the Oregon basketball team has left and no one even blinked.

-But what makes the silly summer roster season so fun is the odd stories that surround many of these roster changes. Take Phil Turner’s dismissal from Mississippi St. as an example. Turner claims he got the equivalent of a pink slip in the mail from his former employer. Now this is possible. Turner was not a great point guard or solid shooter and Mississippi St. was never going to use him as more than a reserve guard. But I doubt Rick Stansbury is that heartless. After all, Turner did hit a game winner for Mississippi St. in February, and Stansbury must have given him some respect to allow him to take that shot. Sadly, we may never find out what really happened. It seems like the topic is not up for further discussion.

In the end the summer season reminds me of the rule I instituted after Charlie Villanueva de-committee from Illinois a few years back. Until the players show up in uniform for Midnight Madness, don’t make any assumptions about what the roster will look like.

(Final note: I don’t have the time or the resources to update these stories on a daily basis which is why I include the Rush-the-Court link on the left, but I also have to emphasize the terrific work the folks at Ballin’ is a Habit are doing covering these stories. They are all over the summer drama including the current story of a top Texas recruit who is now considering Kentucky.)