The Big 12 is a league on the move. West Virginia and TCU officially join the conference this summer. Bruce Weber, whose lengthy tenure at Illinois ended earlier this year, has found a new home at Kansas State.
The league’s newcomers talked about their respective transitions during Thursday’s Big 12 men’s basketball media teleconference. The rest of the coaches offered updates on their programs and thoughts on the new rules regarding text messaging and summer access. Beginning Friday, coaches can call, text and tweet (via private messaging) high school players who’ve completed their sophomore seasons of high school. They’re also been granted more access to players during the summer. They agreed, not surprisingly, that the rules would prove to be beneficial in the long run.
Here are some of the highlights from Thursday’s teleconference:
*Kansas State’s Bruce Weber said he’s excited for the move to Manhattan, Kan. Literally. The former Illinois head coach responded to reporters’ questions as moving vans were parked outside of his home.
“I mean, obviously excited, happy to be at K-State. I’m just very fortunate to walk into a job, which we have a very good team coming back. Some veteran players, quality players, quality seniors,” Weber said. “Just excited and a tremendous reception, warm welcome from the K-State fans. … It’s been overwhelming, a bit exciting. A little bit of a whirlwind. I actually have the moving truck at my house right now in Champaign and we’re trying to get out of here and get settled in Manhattan. But it’s been fun but crazy.”
*Kansas’ Bill Self said he expects Jeff Withey, who set the NCAA tournament record for blocks in April, to improve his strength and develop offensively during the offseason. He said Withey has to be able to protect the rim and score more for the Jayhawks.
“Well, I think strength is obviously going to be a factor with him, lower body, especially. He’s got to get to a point where he can be the go-to guy offensively for us,” Self said. “He needs to be a guy who can get 13, 14 [points] a game for us and still hopefully protect the rim as well as he did this year on the other end. But he’s gotten a lot better, he’s gotten a lot better just since the season is over. I’m really excited for him.”
Self also praised the new rules on text messaging.
“Even though it may not seem like a big deal but any time you can put yourself in a situation where there’s more communication, where you get a chance to know families and recruits better, I think that’s nothing but positive and that should help a ton in the long run over the course of getting to know a recruit and getting to know a player,” he said. “So I think they’re positive. I think there’s going to be more work for coaches. But I think the good far outweighs the bad.”
*Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford said his staff believes top recruit Marcus Smart, No. 10 prospect in the class of 2012 on ESPN.com, can play multiple positions for the Cowboys next season. But running the offense might be his best slot, Ford said. (Smart is playing with the national 18-and-under squad but will start summer school in July.)
“We’ve put Marcus at pretty much every position except maybe center at this point. He could be a great point guard. That might be his best position,” Ford said.
He added, “He can play the 2, he can play the 3, he play the 4.”
*Baylor’s Scott Drew said the Bears’ series with Kentucky will help prepare the squad for Big 12 play. But he didn’t shy away from the hoopla surrounding a 2013 matchup against the Wildcats at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. He said he hopes the game sets the record for largest audience at a regular season game.
“I think that for every one of us Big 12 teams to get ready for the Big 12 you have to play the best teams in the country to prepare you for that. Playing at Kentucky, Rupp [Arena] on CBS is going to be an outstanding venue to help prepare us for the Big 12. And then the following year when they come back to Texas Stadium. ... We’re hoping to get [80,000-plus] to watch that game,” Drew said. “Great opportunity for Baylor. I know Kentucky is excited about it. I know a lot of people will be watching on TV.”
*West Virginia’s Bob Huggins said he likes the Big 12’s conference play format, one that will allow his squad to play every team in the league home and away. He said the setup will fuel more rivalries within the conference.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement. We were in the Big East for 16 years and I think any time there’s something new it’s a little bit maybe refreshing and exciting. … They’re certainly looking forward to the Big 12 teams coming into Morgantown to play. I think it’s great that we have a round-robin and they’re going to get to see all the teams,” Huggins said. “I think we played at Syracuse four years in a row. And I think Louisville played at our place four years in a row and so you don’t get to see all the teams. … You just don’t get to see the teams and I don’t think you develop quite the rivalry that you do when you’re playing people on a home and home basis like we’re going to be able to do.”
*Texas Christian’s Trent Johnson, former LSU coach, said the move to a new team and league has been an easy one.
“The transition has been very smooth. Our administration, not to mention the fact that our alumni base, and the level of the excitement just here in the Fort Worth area, it’s been good. It’s probably as smooth a transition as I’ve ever been involved in,” he said.
*Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg said the Cyclones’ offense will change with Royce White leaving the program to enter the NBA draft. White was the primary ballhandler for Iowa State last season. But Hoiberg said he’s hopeful that Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious, who will be available next season, can facilitate his offense.
“We’ll play a little more traditional next year. Obviously with Royce handling the ball for us the majority of the time, we’re going to have to replace that. And Korie gives us a true point who is able to handle those responsibilities,” he said.
*Texas’ Rick Barnes said his college football colleagues have a right to be jealous of the access to players that college basketball coaches will have this summer due to a recent rule change.
“I think it’s a great rule. I think it’s one of the great rules we’ve done for basketball. And with it, it gives everybody a chance to get their feet on the ground and start moving and start getting a feel for everything,” he said. “If I were a football coach, I would be envious of it. It’s a great rule.”