From the archives: September 2007
Catching up with Louisville coach Rick Pitino:
"Pitino said Clarence Holloway would have had aneurism and likely died had the Louisville staff not detected an abnormality with the 7-foot-1 freshman. Holloway had open heart surgery last weekend to repair the wall of his aorta and his aortic valve.
"The wall was very thin, and he was going to have an aneurysm if it had gone undetected," Pitino said.
Holloway won't be able to play basketball for at least six months. His activity will be limited during that time. It's way too premature to speculate on whether or not he'll play basketball again. He's going to redshirt this season.
"Pitino said Derrick Caracter, who was saying all the right things about being in shape, more mature and listening to Pitino earlier in the week, said the sophomore has gone from an undisciplined, overweight non-passionate disinterested student to someone who goes to every class, lost his weight and is more passionate about basketball.
"He's come light years," Pitino said. "I'm real proud of him."
"This is the healthiest a Pitino-coached Louisville team has been in years, and that includes David Padgett, who has been oft-injured since he transferred from Kansas. "He's pain free," Pitino said of Padgett's recurring knee problems.
"The Cards locked up Samardo Samuels (Newark, N.J.) in the class of 2008 and are trying to nail down Tyreke Evans (Aston, Penn.). What this continues to show is how strong Louisville is in the Northeast.
"It took a while to get the brand we wanted to build," Pitino said. "We've really concentrated on certain areas. We dabbled in California a lot, but we weren't as strong so we went back to our successful areas and it's paying dividends. We had spread ourselves too thin in recruiting the whole country and unless there is someone with great interest or for a particular reason, we'll concentrate east of the Mississippi."
• No school is as passionate about Midnight Madness as Kentucky. Sure, Kansas and North Carolina put on a good show (been to both) and the fans are certainly just as passionate. But the real drive to be in attendance at the first practice in Lexington rivals what Alabama produced for Nick Saban's debut in the spring football game (92,000) last April. Remember, the numbers aren't going to be comparable based on the facility size. Still, Midnight Madness tickets were scheduled to be passed out Saturday morning in Lexington at 7 a.m. Fans could begin to line up Wednesday morning at the front of Memorial Coliseum. Every ticket is free. (A year ago, all 23,000 tickets at Rupp Arena went in 35 minutes.) Tents are all up around Memorial, according to Kentucky media relations director Scott Stricklin. This used to be held in Memorial Coliseum (which at one point held 12,000 but now is at 8,700). But for the past three years, the event has been at Rupp. Of course there is great anticipation for Billy Gillispie's first season at Kentucky. Midnight Madness can now start as early as 7 p.m. local time on the Friday closest to Oct. 15, which this year is Oct. 12.
"Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said Thursday that second-round pick Taurean Green will make the squad. He said he was very high on the Florida lead guard, especially with his maturity at the position. That's good to hear since Green had a chance of being a casualty by leaving school too early, getting drafted in the second round (no guaranteed contract) and not sticking with the NBA team.
Sure, coaches do too. But when a seasoned pro like Brandon Roy (he was the NBA Rookie of the Year last season and a four-year player at Washington) speaks up about his former squad after getting in a good run with the team in Seattle on Wednesday, then we'll listen.
So Roy, who was back at the Portland Trail Blazers training camp Thursday to get ready for practice next week, had a solid analysis on his former squad.
Washington is going to be an interesting team this season. The Huskies lost leading scorer Spencer Hawes to the NBA after his first season. Washington, which finished 19-13 (8-10 in the Pac-10) got surprisingly shut out of the postseason (the Huskies weren't even invited to the NIT, which they found out as they were lacing up the sneakers to go on the practice floor while watching the NIT selection show).
The problem is that the Pac-10 is going to be a monster league with as many as eight teams getting into the field of 65.
"I think they'll make the NIT for sure, but the NCAA is going to be tough," Roy said. "The Pac-10 is one of the only conferences where you would play a USC and UCLA on the same road trip. It's going to be tough. Definitely, they'll make the NIT, but they should use [that they didn't make it last season] as a motivation."
Roy's optimism rests largely on his quick view of point guard Venoy Overton, a freshman from Seattle.
"I think he gives them something they didn't have last year, a creative guard from the perimeter," Roy said. "He was breaking down the defense, dropping down and dishing in practice. After watching the team last year, that's what they were missing."
Roy's also said lead guard Justin Dentmon is not a penetrating point guard, or at least not as savvy as Overton.
The Huskies also return Quincy Pondexter, an athletic scoring wing, as well as the most productive and hardest working big man, maybe out west, in Jon Brockman. Roy calls Brockman a tremendous teammate. Roy likes forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning, too.
Roy said he also gave Washington coach Lorenzo Romar his opinion of the team after the run. He said Romar responded by saying that Overton reminds him of Nate Robinson, but maybe not as explosive as the former Huskie guard.
Roy spent many days playing with the Huskies throughout the summer (Washington took a trip to Greece in August) and he's high on his alma mater. Still, the depth of the Pac-10 has him wondering just how much better this squad can be in the conference.
Washington will likely be projected no higher than seventh behind some sort of combination of UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford and USC, with Cal a legit chance to pass the Huskies in preseason polls.
• The CBE Classic brackets were announced and as expected, there doesn't seem to be much of a chance the four hosts won't get to Kansas City. The only realistic shot a team has to knock off one of the hosts and spoil the planned foursome is in College Park, Md., where Tulsa is in the bracket with Maryland. That's it. And even that might be a reach. Tulsa is playing Hampton, and North Florida is playing the Terps on Nov. 11. Missouri got its (presumably) free pass with Central Michigan first, with the other bracket featuring Central Missouri and Fordham. UCLA was tossed Youngstown State, with the other side featuring Cal State-San Bernardino against Weber State. Michigan State has Chicago State and then the winner of Northern Michigan versus Louisiana Monroe.
As expected, the brackets are set up for UCLA to play Maryland and Missouri against Michigan State in the semifinals, with the Gazelle Group organizers hoping for a UCLA-Michigan State final on Nov. 20 at the new Spirit Center in Kansas City.
The Gazelle Group also organizes the 2K Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer and the Legends Classic.
Once again, the Legends tournaments are set up for four hosts to get to the championship site in Newark at the new Prudential Center (new home for Seton Hall). Let's just say if Texas, New Mexico State, Tennessee and West Virginia don't make it to Newark on Nov. 23-24, then something is askew.
NMSU will host UC Davis and then LeMoyne-Owens on Nov. 14 and 18. Tennessee hosts Arkansas-Monticello and Prairie View A&M on Nov. 14 and 16. Texas is hosting UC Davis and Arkansas-Monticello on Nov. 16 and 18. West Virginia gets Arkansas-Monticello and Prairie-View A&M Nov. 16 and 18. To throw a bone at Davis and PVAM, those schools will also host. LaVerne and UC Santa Cruz will go to Davis on Nov. 11 and 18; PVAM hosts Jarvis Christian on Nov. 20.
But none of those teams has a shot to go to Newark. This is not a traditional tournament. Instead, the championship is set with Texas playing NMSU and Tennessee playing West Virginia on Nov. 23, and then the winners and losers play on Nov. 24.
The Coaches Vs. Cancer brackets have a few teams with a shot for an upset. Oklahoma hosts San Francisco, and Denver plays East Central Oklahoma on Nov. 8, with the winners and losers playing on Nov. 9. Memphis plays Tennessee-Martin, and Richmond and Maine play on Nov. 5 (Nov. 6 for the next round) in Memphis. Kentucky plays host to Central Arkansas and Gardner Webb plays Alabama A&M Nov. 6 (Nov. 7 for the next round). Connecticut hosts Morgan State, and Buffalo takes on Ohio Valley (the school, not the conference) on Nov. 7 (and on Nov. 8 for next round). The four winners-- likely Oklahoma vs. Memphis and then Kentucky vs. Connecticut -- would meet in the semifinals on Nov. 15 and then the finals and consolation are Nov. 16 in New York City.
Creating these mock tournaments, classics or whatever you want to call them is a way to get high- to mid-major teams at a neutral court by first giving them a few guarantee games at home. These kind of events are the offspring of the abolishment of the 2-in-4 rule that had limited schools to playing in just two exempt tournaments in a four-year period.
• No team may be more nomadic this season than Rice. The Owls' archaic Autry Court, where in the past you could play badminton behind a blue curtain during the Rice games, is being overhauled with new weight room, locker rooms and academic area. But that means Rice will play seven games at Reliant Arena (next to Reliant Stadium) and five games at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas, some 25 miles from Houston. The Merrell Center is slated to be the home of the Southland Conference tournament. Four of the five games at the Merrell Center, save one against East Carolina on Wed., March 5, are on a Saturday so the Rice fans have plenty of time to get to the arena. One game will be played at the Toyota Center in Houston (home of the Rockets) against Texas, but that was a condition of the Longhorns even playing the game.
"It's going to be a tough year logistically," Rice coach Willis Wilson said of games and practices that will be off campus on a number of occasions. "But this will make us a good team, and we'll appreciate it when we move back. Our guys will be making a sacrifice and it will make us better."
Rice is rebuilding a bit on the court after losing Morris Almond to the first round of the NBA draft. Wilson is holding out hope that sophomore guard Bryan Beasley can win an appeal after transferring from Texas A&M to be eligible right away. That might be a reach since his reason for the appeal is A&M's coaching change from Billy Gillispie to Mark Turgeon. Beasley redshirted with the Aggies last season. The Owls also have a transfer in Trey Stanton out of the Naval Academy. But Stanton isn't leaving after a coaching change and is expected to sit out this season and play in 2008-09 with three seasons of eligibility left.
Maturity can do that to a person.
Credit Louisville coach Rick Pitino for disciplining the highly touted Caracter during his freshman season at Louisville, for actually sending him home to New Jersey once in December. Pitino deserves the praise for not just disciplining Caracter, but also sticking with him.
Caracter's talent was too good to waste.
But he has changed, or at least he's saying the right things in the preseason.
"I've just grown up," said Caracter, who had knee surgery in June and played in just 18 games last season, averaging 8.1 points in 13.3 minutes a game. He did have a propensity for fouling, committing 52 personal fouls and fouling out of three games, two of them in less than 10 minutes.
"Just going home the whole month of May and understanding what's important in my life and get out the high school habits I had, that's why I was up and down," Caracter said.
What were these habits?
"Being on time, effort and body language," Caracter said. "Coach P saw my body language not always being positive and upbeat."
The 6-foot-8 Caracter has had weight issues the past year but doesn't seem to believe that will be an issue this season. He said he lost 10 pounds after his knee surgery. But more than the weight, he needs to be more intelligent on the court.
"That's part of maturity and understanding how to really play defense," Caracter said. "When I got in last year, I wanted to play hard for Coach Pitino [but] that I didn't get the fundamentals down. So I was aggressive on defense and fouled and make silly mistakes like reaching in. I need to play with composure and play smart and hard."
Caracter said he has been working on his quickness and foot agility drills while also guarding David Padgett during individual workouts.
If Caracter can stay on the court defensively, then the Cardinals should have quite a frontline with Padgett and possibly Earl Clark at small forward. Caracter said his dream lineup has Clark at small forward, Terrence Williams at shooting guard and Edgar Sosa at the point for the Big East title contending Cards. That would mean Juan Palacios would come off the bench to spell Padgett or Caracter.
The Cards desperately need Caracter to be productive, let alone stay on the roster, with the latest news that freshman center Clarence Holloway is out for the season with open-heart surgery to repair a wall of his aorta and valve.
The Cards should be a quicker bunch than if Caracter is lighter on his feet, too.
So, he's saying the right things and acting the appropriate way. And as practice approaches, if he can stay out of Pitino's doghouse, he has a chance to have a breakthrough season.
"I'm definitely playing a full season," Caracter said. "I've got a great relationship with Coach P."
• Caracter is from New Jersey and, even though it's a moot point for him, there is even more chatter that Caracter's state U -- Rutgers -- is pursuing a new arena in downtown New Brunswick. There have been ongoing meetings on the subject for the Scarlet Knights. The ideal size would be in the 12,500-14,000-seat range with the intimacy of the RAC. The hope is that the arena would be like a mini-MSG with the arena adjoining a train station at the corner of the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick. The RAC, which when packed can hold 8,000 fans, doesn't have the amenities (practice facilities) of the majority of its Big East rivals. The discussion of the arena is still in its infancy stages.
Earlier in the preseason, the Wolfpack lost 6-foot-5 forward/guard Johnny Thomas for the season to knee surgery.
The easy thing after hearing about Gonzalez's injury would be to start panicking.
But losing two perimeter players, even at a position that is considered the least proven on the team, does not necessarily mean high anxiety for the Wolfpack.
"We can be good, we just need to stop getting hurt," said assistant coach Monte Towe, a former playmaker for the school.
If the Wolfpack had lost Iowa State transfer guard Farnold Degand, then there would be some cause for alarm. Degand is going to be the starting point guard. He will be the most scrutinized player on a team that is supposed to be an ACC contender and a legit NCAA Tournament team.
"Farnold is fast with the ball, he can really push it," said Towe, who added that Farnold, who sat out last season, still needs to figure out when to pull it back and when to surge. Still, Farnold will be the reason the Wolfpack can run this season, much more than a year ago when they were led by steady guard Engin Atsur.
Towe said the plan is to use Tennessee transfer Marques Johnson at the point, too, once he's eligible in mid-December. Gavin Grant and Courtney Fells, according to Towe, may also take a turn handling the ball.
But clearly, this staff isn't fretting the frontcourt. The Wolfpack have some of the more unheralded returnees in the ACC. Still, Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley, let alone the aforementioned Fells and Grant, have the finesse game to score plenty facing the basket.
The addition of 6-9 freshman J.J. Hickson gives the Wolfpack a power player to complement Costner and McCauley.
"He has an impressive work ethic," Towe said of the heralded Hickson. "It's going to be hard to keep him off the glass. He's a great rebounder."
So far, in individual workouts and the limited team practices this past week (two hours a week beginning Sept. 15), the Wolfpack are showing much more competitive fire than a year ago. The reason is that they have the bodies to do so in Sidney Lowe's second season.
And the fact that there is depth means the Wolfpack aren't decimated by a few injuries, at least as long as its not to a few key players.
• Memphis coach John Calipari landed back from China Sunday and hit the road recruiting. He was off to visit with Tyreke Evans, No. 2 on the ESPN 150 list. The 6-5 Evans out of Aston, Pa., is considering Lousiville, Villanova, Memphis, Texas and Connecticut, according to Scouts Inc. Calipari is then jettisoning around the Northeast and Southeast to look at more recruits. Calipari said he'll be gone a total of nearly two weeks with his China trip and then recruiting. Calipari is still ecstatic about his trip to China and the benefits for Memphis going forward. He's hoping to put together a documentary on the experience of the one Chinese coach chosen (among 15 coming in October) to be with the Tigers throughout the season.
• Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said coaches in the league are "nervous as heck about (the new 18-game league schedule)." He said the schedule will be "harder" but more "fair" now that every school will play each other at least once (15 single games and three teams twice for 18) in the 16-team league. In the previous 16-game schedule, teams did not play two fellow conference members at all in the regular season.
"It's two more tough games," Tranghese said of the new 18-game schedule. "We don't have the perfect scheduling format unless you play a pure double-double round robin. But I think the only one [of the major conferences] left that is totally equitable is the Pac-10."
He needs to have a good season. He said he's not feeling any heat. He just knows things have been askew since he abruptly took over for his father, Eddie Sutton, who resigned after battling alcoholism near the end of the 2005-06 season.
"It's important that we bounce back, have a good season," Sutton said. "Our program is going in a positive direction. But I don't think anybody liked the way the last two seasons ended."
The past two seasons have been clear rebuilding years for OSU. But it's not a patient populous. OSU went 17-16 (6-10 in the Big 12) in 2005-06. Last season, the Cowboys improved their overall record to 22-13 but stayed the same in the league at 6-10.
Part of the problems stemmed from injuries and a lack of commitment, according to Sutton.
Quite simply there have been some bad eggs that have permeated the program.
Last season started out with plenty of issues with Jamaal Brown and Torre Johnson essentially being insubordinate. Johnson and Brown didn't make it to the start of the season. Gary Flowers had a brush with marijuana that got him jettisoned as well.
And then, just when it seemed like the Cowboys had righted themselves with an 11-0 start, Obi Muonelo suffered a broken ankle. The Cowboys didn't have the 6-5 Muonelo (10.1 ppg,) for the next 18 games and went 9-9 in his absence. They finished 2-4 when he returned in a limited fashion.
"When he got hurt, we were down to seven players," Sutton said. "We just stopped improving. Most teams improve, but we didn't. We probably regressed and didn't have competitive practices. That team didn't have good leadership."
The news got worse over the summer after junior guard JamesOn Curry surprised the coaching staff and stayed in the NBA draft despite no guarantee he would be a first- or second-round pick. Curry didn't work out for anyone and had just a brief meeting with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls took the Cowboys' second-leading scorer (17.3 ppg) at No. 51 in the second round.
This summer, there have been more issues. They may seem minor -- like Terrel Harris being charged with a fake I.D. or Muonelo getting cited with being underage in a bar -- but they were still negative hits. And then Marcus Dove was arrested for a DUI. Dove is still suspended but is expected to return to the team in time for the season, "as long as he keeps doing what he's supposed to," Sutton said.
"It hasn't been our best summer," Sutton said. "But our guys are working hard and this team has a chance to be good. There's just been some poor judgments. But all of those guys are embarrassed by it. There is a pretty big responsibility to play at a high level and do the right things."
Still, there's more.
Kenny Cooper, who was expected to be the starting center, decided last month that he didn't want to be in Stillwater anymore. He played in 35 games last season and averaged only 4.7 points, but he was expected to replace leading scorer, senior Mario Boggan (19 ppg).
Cooper and the Cowboys had discussed possibly leaving earlier in the year, but Sutton was under the impression the senior was staying. Cooper came back to campus in mid-August, only to have his mother come to Stillwater to inform the coaching staff that she and the family wanted him closer to home in Louisiana.
The staff didn't see it the same way and Sutton wouldn't release Cooper to Louisiana Tech where he transferred. Sutton said Cooper's appeal to be released was turned down by Oklahoma State last week. Louisiana Tech officials wouldn't confirm or deny that but did say that Cooper is enrolled at the Ruston, La., school. If he's not released, then he would have to pay his own scholarship for this season (although as an in-state player it wouldn't be as bad as it could be if he were out-of-state).
So, why is there so much optimism from the Sutton camp after all of this? Well, assuming Dove returns, then Sutton sees four of the five spots as solid, led by a slimmed down Byron Eaton. Eaton was a highly touted lead guard when he arrived in Stillwater, but the 5-11 guard checked in at over 220 pounds recently. Sutton said he expects Eaton will be down to 205 pounds by the time the season starts. But more importantly, Eaton will have to get his turnovers down, with a 3.6-to-2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio last season.
Still, Sutton sees the perimeter of Eaton, Terrel Harris, James Anderson and Brad Garrett as enough to give the Cowboys enough depth on the perimeter and plenty of scoring. The post will be manned by a collection of Anthony Brown and Ibrahima Thomas, both newcomers.
"Our biggest hole is the situation that Kenny put us in," Sutton said. "We don't have an experienced post player with freshmen and a junior college transfer there."
Sutton is convinced this team will play hard, value the Sutton mantra of tight defense and, of course, be a tough out in Stillwater. Still, they need to stop with the off-court mishaps and get back to having a quiet season outside of Gallagher-Iba. The only noise should be coming from inside the famed arena.
If Sutton is right that this team will be much improved, a possible NCAA Tournament team, and the recruiting is on the verge of a breakthrough with the 2008 and '09 classes, then everything should be fine.
That's his plan. And even if a few of the Tigers players -- like freshman Derrick Rose, junior Chris Douglas-Roberts or senior Joey Dorsey -- are involved in NBA draft workouts, he's sure they'll accompany the team to China and play in the games.
How certain is he?
"Trust me, they'll want to play; their agents will make them play," Calipari said Thursday morning by phone from Beijing. "LeBron James and Tracy McGrady have almost as much merchandise sold in China as the United States. There are $1.3 billion people here, 300 million watch the NBA."
Calipari called Thursday because he couldn't contain his excitement for this new venture to increase exposure about the Memphis Tigers and college basketball, as evident by Thursday morning's New York Times article on the same subject.
Calipari went to Beijing this week with Memphis provost Dr. Ralph Faudree and Kevin Kane, the CEO of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The plan is to bring in a delegation of Chinese coaches, as many as 15 of them, to watch Memphis practice in October and then one of the coaches will stay with the Tigers throughout their attempt to win the national title this season. Calipari will also conduct coaching clinics in China over the next five years.
Ultimately, Calipari wants Memphis games this season, at least a few of them, to be shown on Chinese television. He's also hoping that all of the trade in information can lead him to a player or two to return to Memphis. He said this venture had nothing to do with the Memphis Grizzlies or the NBA.
And then, after the season, he is hoping to take the Tigers to China for a May trip.
"They've never seen an NCAA game here," said Calipari.
Is he surprised that no other coach has thought to do something like this?
"It would have to be someone as crazy as me that would get on a plane for 14 hours in the middle of recruiting and then figure out who to contact in a communist government. Good luck," Calipari said. "A couple of Chinese kids have gone out the back door to prep schools, but they're not the best players."
Given the current climate of the NCAA's stance toward foreign students and the rigorous standards that the athletes have to pass through (they can't be on a team back home that has a pro on it for them to be eligible for college, let alone the paperwork piles that have to be sifted through to get a player eligible). But that's another matter and Calipari will deal with it if it becomes applicable.
"If we can get a Chinese player & oh my gosh," Calipari said. "This will be a great thing for our players in our program to be recognized in China."
So if that's the case, then Calipari has something to hold over Rose, Douglas-Roberts and Dorsey and Co., when he returns, considering he flew halfway around the globe to eventually help their jersey sales.
"Whoever comes here, maybe that coach will someday be the [Chinese] Olympic coach and help teach their young kids," Calipari said. "Our system of play is a European fit with what we're trying to do."
That style is essentially, according to Calipari, a European style with Princeton additions.
"It's a dribble, drive motion instead of five passes before you shoot," said Calipari, who adapted the system from Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg. "We'd like to get three or four dives before we shoot against a good team; one against a bad team."
Calipari and Walberg conducted a clinic in Mississippi a few weeks ago with more than an estimated 400 high school coaches. Calipari also had Larry Brown and Del Harris, who was the Chinese Olympic coach in 2004, at the clinic as well.
Meanwhile, Calipari said Rose still needs to catch up learning the system. The team had its first team practice (under NCAA rules that was allowed for two hours a week beginning last Saturday) and Rose still isn't on the same page as everyone else. But Calipari said, "He's going to be good. He's really, really fast." Calipari also said Willie Kemp's perimeter shooting and Douglas-Roberts' overall play have been the most impressive things of note so far for the possible preseason No. 1 team.
The players should be getting more sleep, too, since Calipari instituted a curfew following the arrests of Shawn Taggart and Jeff Robinson last month for a disorderly conduct and inciting a riot charge at a Memphis nightclub. The players are due in court Sept. 25.
The curfew is set for 11 p.m. weeknights and midnight on the weekend. He said one of the coaches is checking every player's room each night to ensure they're adhering to the rules, which also include no clubbing.
"They know, they don't want to be the first guy to violate that or go into a club," Calipari said.
Calipari will return from China over the weekend. He said once he's back, he has to do one more recruiting task and then it's "all basketball."
"There should be more expected out of this group than last year's," said Olson as he made his way to watch Brandon Jennings at Oak Hill Academy (Va.). Jennings has made a verbal commitment to Arizona.
Saturday was the first day teams were allowed to hold a full team practice for two hours a week. This rule was put into place to help out quarter-system schools that were already behind semester schools in individual workout times.
"The biggest problem last year was with Kirk Walters out [concussion] and Jawann McClellan limited [various ailments] to what he could do, we started two freshmen and a sophomore," Olson said. "This year will be more veteran."
Getting rid of Marcus Williams, who chose to enter the NBA draft and was eventually San Antonio's second-round pick, helps. Losing the hard-working but at times erratic Ivan Radenovic and Mustafa Shakur won't hurt that much.
The addition of highly touted guard Jerryd Bayless, a supposedly healthy McClellan, a more committed defender Chase Budinger and a potentially disruptive defensive inside presence in Jordan Hill, gives the Wildcats a lot more hope. So, too, does the return of Walters, who received a sixth-year of eligibility. There are plenty of quality role players on this roster, too, like Nic Wise, Fendi Onubun, Mohamed Tangara, Bret Brielmaier and Daniel Dillon. It certainly helps that Olson brought in assistant Kevin O'Neill to whip everyone into shape and get them to be committed to the defensive end.
"He's been working with them from a conditioning standpoint, and his presence as a disciplinarian goes a long way in conditioning," Olson said of O'Neill. "Chase is a lot stronger and better conditioned. He has worked hard in the offseason."
The Wildcats play a very tough schedule, one of the toughest in the country. But Olson is convinced this squad can handle it. The expectation is to compete for the Pac-10 title, and if you listen to the staff and noted optimist Josh Pastner, this squad should be ranked no lower than No. 15.
• Brandon Rush said Tuesday that he's starting to do some cutting and coming off screens during individual workouts. The Kansas guard is still recovering from ACL surgery last June. He said he doesn't have a timetable yet for his return. KU coach Bill Self had projected Dec. 1 as the return date, but Rush said they haven't given him one as of yet.
As for the rest of the squad, both Rush and senior guard Russell Robinson said that Darrell Arthur is just "dunking on people," and Rush added that Arthur "has that mentality that no one can stop him."
Robinson said he's using this pre-preseason time to work on his leadership skills since he knows he'll have to be more assertive while Rush is rehabbing. One sleeper player that doesn't get a lot of talk on KU's roster is Roderick Stewart. What it's worth, the fifth-year senior has been a pleasant surprise to Robinson. Stewart still may have trouble getting on the court with Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins and Rush (when he returns) ahead of him. But if Stewart is playing well early, he might get a longer look.
• Duquesne coach Ron Everhart was back at work Monday after having part of his colon removed due to a recurring problem with diverticulitis. It's a similar procedure that Self endured a few years back. "I just didn't want this to occur during the season to where I would have to miss a game," Everhart said. "That's why I took care of it now."
And, once it was clear that Steele wasn't healthy to play for another month because of his ongoing knee problems, the inevitable decision was made official.
Steele will be shut down for the season. Sure, there is talk that he could be back at some point, but the reality is that no one within the Alabama program wants to go through not knowing when, if and how much Steele can play the point again after last season's instability.
Steele played in 26 games, but there were blips of sporadic play and games in which he sat. He played 34 minutes against Xavier on Nov. 20 and then sat out the next two games. He took the court again Dec. 2, playing 35 minutes against Tennessee State and then followed that with 39 minutes against Notre Dame. But he sat out a game two days later. He returned against Southern Miss on Dec. 16 but played just four minutes.
"It was terrible," Gottfried said of the way Steele was used last season.
Late in the season, Steele mustered up just five minutes against Auburn on Feb. 24, was shelved again for two more games, returned to play 12 minutes against Kentucky in the SEC tournament and then couldn't go in the NIT loss at UMass.
Is that any way to rely on the team's best player, playmaker and unquestioned leader?
"It was nobody's fault, but it was terrible for him, for the coaches, for the players," Gottfried said.
Steele has had multiple surgeries on both knees since April 3.
"I had told Ron a number of times we're not going to do like we did last year," Gottfried said. "It's not fair to Ron nor to our team. And he agreed. He doesn't want to do that. He doesn't want to start off his senior year behind the eight ball where the team doesn't know if he can play or is going to play or not play."
Gottfried said he had an idea last April when Steele went into surgery that he might be done for this season. There was chatter throughout the summer that he might return, especially with noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews doing the procedure. But since Steele hasn't even started running yet, there was no way Gottfried said the Tide was going to count on him this season.
"He was a bona fide first-round draft pick a year ago and for him to get back into that position, he knows he has to get into great playing shape," Gottfried said. "We're not going to be very good this year. Period. We know that. This is what he needs to do and what's best for him."
Gottfried said the two point guards will need each other as they will share the position, with neither player getting a significant bump ahead of the other in playing time.
The good news for the Tide is that Steele will get to play with his brother, Andrew, a 6-3 guard from Birmingham, in the 2008-09 season. The Steeles never played together in high school because when Ronald was a senior, Andrew was an eighth grader. Andrew Steele committed to the Tide over the summer and is expected to sign in November.
• Don't expect Stuard Baldonado to ever play for Duquesne. That's the unofficial word out coming from Duquesne sources. Baldonado isn't on campus after he had to go down to Florida to deal with a domestic violence charge. This was on the heels of two brushes with the law regarding marijuana last week, involving acting as a lookout for a man accused of selling marijuana as well as criminal conspiracy involving the manufacture, delivery or possession of a controlled substance, according to the Associated Press. Baldonado was one of five Duquesne players shot Sept. 17, 2006. Baldonado recovered from the near-paralyzing gun shot wound that took out a piece of his vertebrae. He was expected to be a frontcourt contributor. But now, after his domestic violence charge emerged and his marijuana-related charges in Pittsburgh, he has become persona non grata at Duquesne. The irony is that he had filed a lawsuit against the school for failure to provide proper security at a school event last April. Baldonado didn't go with the team to Canada over Labor Day. Duquesne suspended Baldonado but no one around the program expects him to be back.
• Levance Fields' arrest after he was charged with aggravated assault, disarming a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct and public drunkennessearly Sunday in Pittsburgh is a first for Jamie Dixon. Dixon has been able to avoid the late-night/early-morning phone calls about players getting in trouble with the law during his four years as head coach. Fields is a critical member of the Panthers' backcourt this season, but he's not irreplaceable if he is suspended in some form. Pitt has depth in the perimeter with Ronald Ramon, Keith Benjamin and freshman Bradley Wanamaker. Fields is the lone pure point in the group, though, and that's why ultimately he'll need to play for the Panthers to avoid disruption this season. But this is yet another example of the frailty of teams in the preseason. All it takes is one incident to potentially derail a team. Don't expect an announced penalty from Pitt until there is more information about the legal process. Fields' court appearance is set for Sept. 24.
• Arkansas assistant coach Rob Evans said Sonny Weems, a 6-6 senior guard, should be ready to go for the first practice on Oct. 12 after sustaining a broken left (non-shooting) wrist on the first day of practice last month for the team's Labor Day trip to Cancun. Weems, who Evans said is the team's best talent, should team up nicely with returning lead guard Patrick Beverley, who has a "motor that runs all the time," according to Evans. Arkansas is a chic pick to win the SEC West under first-year coach John Pelphrey.
• Karl Hobbs' contract extension, announced Monday, until the end of the 2011-12 season is yet another sign that Hobbs is at George Washington for the long haul. He's had his chances to bolt on the Colonials after taking them to the NCAA Tournament three times during his seven seasons at GW. A huge buyout, at one point estimated at $1 million, prevented him from leaving. But Hobbs has been such a hit for GW and made the Colonials a regular contender in the Atlantic 10 that he has found a comfort zone. Staying at GW is a great sign for the Colonials as they attempt to find consistency after becoming a stepping-stone job for coaches like Mike Jarvis, and, even in the latter stages of his career, Tom Penders.