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A great day for the future of the Pac-10

Posted by Jeff Nusser on June 10, 2008

Tom Hansen, of “worst commissioner in the country” fame, is going to retire from his post at the top of the Pac-10 at the end of next year. I could not be more ecstatic that the conference can finally now move out of the early ’80s and enter the 21st century with the rest of the BCS.

Hansen takes a lot of pot shots for a lot of things — most notably the hideous television contracts for football and basketball — and almost all of that criticism is fair. But don’t tell him that. In his mind, he’s merely carrying out the wishes of the institution presidents who sign his paycheck.

For example …

“Hansen said ESPN has never really been a viable option ‘because they have never had available time slots because of their other commitments that would fit our scheduling patterns. And because they didn’t have good time slots, they never wanted to make an attractive financial offer. … They would have given us Monday nights at 9 p.m., but some of our academic heads and presidents were not the least bit interested in that.’ ”

What he neglects to mention, of course, is that there’s no room on ESPN for the Pac-10 because when ESPN started becoming a major player in both college football and basketball, Hansen, rather than seeing an opportunity and aggressively pursuing a television contract with a national cable broadcaster, sat on the sidelines while more progressive commissioners passed him by.

In the other parts of the interview with the Times’ Bob Condotta, Hansen goes on to explain why the Pac-10 plays in just one New Year’s Day bowl game: “There are already four games (that morning) so the networks are either already taken or going against three other bowls, so (the presidents) are not interested in that.” Never mind the fact that it seems to be good enough for the other BCS conferences who seem to be thriving despite the morning “competition.” He also said that the presidents love the Holiday Bowl, and the conference’s strategy is to grow its smaller bowls into bigger bowls: “We think the Emerald Bowl (in San Francisco) will grow quite a bit in stature.”

So, let me get this straight: He loves the Holiday Bowl, where our second place team — which more often than not gets shafted from the BCS bowl picture thanks to a chronic lack of exposure — takes on the fourth place team from the Big 12? Or the Sun Bowl, where our third place team takes on the fifth place Big 12 team? Or the Emerald Bowl, where we take on the SEVENTH place ACC team?

Oh, and let’s not forget that Hansen is the one who said the Pac-10 would walk away from the BCS if a plus-one bowl model were ever instituted, because that would lead to an inevitable playoff and the other bowls would either become irrelevant or disappear altogether — pretending in his delusional state that they haven’t already diminished in stature thanks to the current BCS system.

Seriously, folks, this is the guy who has been leading your conference. And I bristle at the notion that he can do little more than just carry out the whims of his presidents, although Bob Condotta seems to sympathize with Hansen.

“That last comment reiterates a point I made in my earlier post on Hansen — a lot of these things involve a lot more than him. He’s an easy one to blame for some of these things, but if the presidents don’t want to do it, it’s not going to get done. As he told me at one point today ‘I don’t speak as an individual, but I reflect the institutions’ views.’ ”

Agreed, Hansen does work for the presidents. But, through athletics, what the institutions want more than anything is to, in no specific order, 1) Make money for their university; and 2) Raise the profile of their universities, which adds to enrollments, donations and grants, resulting in … you guessed it — more money. For the presidents, and for everyone else.

I guarantee, any commissioner that does those two things well will have the support of the Pac-10 presidents. And a strong commissioner who sees himself as more than a shill for the presidents can do those things. But it takes guts. Hansen never had those guts; he viewed himself as someone with little more power than an impotent Bud Selig at the beginning of his Major League Baseball commissioner reign. He was never willing to take a risk, never willing to put his job on the line with a gutsy decision.

There’s something to be said for protecting your job, but don’t play it safe on the one hand and then say you’ve done a great job on the other hand by pointing out that the conference has won 200-plus national championships on your watch and try and take credit for it — as if your “leadership” had jack crap to do with Arizona State’s fastpitch championship. Puh-leeze.

This is designed to be a year-long search, hence the timing of the announcement. And the timing couldn’t have been better. The awful TV contracts for both sports run out at the same time in 2011-12, and while that’s still a few years away, it will give the new commissioner plenty of time to work a new deal that actually will benefit the conference. And bowl affiliations are often reworked from year to year, so there’s plenty of work that can be done there right away.

My greatest fear, though, is that the Pac-10 doesn’t see any need to deviate from what it’s been doing and will hire one of Hansen’s underlings to toe the party line. Here’s to hoping that these presidents are forward-thinking men — stop laughing! — who want to hire someone to take this conference into the future.

Hansen’s right that this is the conference of champions. The fact that it doesn’t get more money or recognition for that is a travesty for which he is directly responsible. Good riddance.

Posted in News | Tagged: , | 16 Comments »

Good weekend for Cougar basketball

Posted by Jeff Nusser on June 10, 2008

A few notes to pass along on this Tuesday, as my busy life is finally permitting me a few minutes to write. (And let me tell you, it feels goooooood to finally write again.)

CASTO APPEARS GOOD TO GO: First, as has been reported elsewhere, recruit DeAngelo Casto apparently has graduated from Ferris H.S. — the final reported hurdle in his odyssey to WSU. As a high school teacher, I can tell you that walking down the aisle doesn’t always necessarily mean everything is kosher, but the S-R’s Vince Grippi says a source tells him it looks like Casto is going to make it.

That’s great news for the Cougs. As we’ve discussed before, Casto brings an element of athleticism to this team that was sorely lacking after the departure of Ivory Clark.

If you’re curious what you’re getting, check out the video (hat tip to Stadium Way). What I want you to notice is that this guy is a work in progress, especially offensively — most of those moves (other than the dunks, which are impressive) aren’t going to have a snowball’s chance in the Pac-10. I wouldn’t expect much more than 10-15 energy, defense and rebounding minutes from him, as his offensive game is far from polished. But he’s a guy with a nose for the ball, and that’s great.

And if he develops as he looks like he could — both physically and skill-wise — the Cougs could have a massive gem on their hands.

TOP-FLIGHT PG ON THE RADAR: Xavier Thames, a 2009 three-star PG recruit (Scout.com) has narrowed his list down to WSU and Iowa State. I’m not surprised the Cougs are drawing interest from a very good point guard, since they’ll have pretty much an immediate opening at the point in 2009-10 with the graduation of Taylor Rochestie.

I’d be pretty shocked if they didn’t go after another ball-handler, as well, given how the most pressing needs for this class are simply point guard and big man thanks to the plethora of 2s and 3s secured in this current recruiting class.

Posted in Around the 'Net, News, Recruiting, Video | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Good weekend for Cougar basketball

All quiet on the Cougar front

Posted by Jeff Nusser on June 5, 2008

Things have been pretty slow around here at WSU HOOPS. I’ve contemplated writing a few things — including about Tony’s proclamation about how much he loves Pullman — but honestly, this is the busiest time of year for a teacher, and the few pieces of news have been well covered elsewhere.

I’ve thought about finally writing a 2007-08 season postmortem, but I think the time has passed for that. I’ve thought about writing look-aheads to next season, but it seems a little silly until we know for sure who’s in and out of the draft.

So I wait.

If you have any burning questions, I could do another mailbag. But honestly, unless I just start writing about how awesome the Stanley Cup Finals were, I pretty much got nothing at the moment. Give me a couple of weeks, and we’ll ramp it up a bit again.

You know, last time I wrote one of these, Thomas Abercrombie transferred …

Posted in Misc. Blog Stuff | 7 Comments »

Cougs pick up rumored guard as a walk-on

Posted by Jeff Nusser on May 26, 2008

I know most of you don’t normally come here for breaking news reporting, but it just so happens you’re getting some from this intrepid reporter on this beautiful Memorial Day.

About a week and a half ago, a rumor started circulating that the Cougs were showing an unknown guard around campus.

That unknown guard turned out to be John Allen of Mountlake Terrace High School, and it also turns out that he has decided to attend WSU as a walk-on, according to his former coach at Mountlake Terrace High School.

“John choose WSU over (Western Washington) and will be an invited walk-on for next year’s team and competing for a spot in the rotation,” MTHS head coach Nalin Sood said via e-mail. “Coug coach Ben Johnson was the main recruiter of John and has promised him one thing: The opportunity to compete.

The candor and honesty that Ben presented during this entire proceess was exceptional and proved to me that they are different and do things the right way. No false promises or guarantees; just that they like John, they think he has the skills to help them out, but he has to step up and prove it on the court.”

Allen’s route to WSU has been a crazy one. The 6-foot-1 guard started out at Shorewood High School but transferred to Mountlake Terrace for his junior year, where he was a second-team all-Wesco South selection after averaging 16 points — including a career high and school record 39 in one game. He headed into his senior season as a two-star rated guard by Scout.com.

But then the wheels came off. According to a source at the school, Allen had earlier repeated the eighth grade and in the eyes of the WIAA had exhausted his high school eligibility. Subsequent appeals were rejected, and Allen dropped off the high school basketball scene — and the recruiting map. My source said Allen didn’t get the support of the Edmonds School District athletic department. Allen continued to play AAU ball, but drew little interest from schools.

So, what kind of a player are the Cougs getting? Could he really compete for a spot in the rotation as a walk-on freshman?

My source — who’s been around the school for a long time, has watched a lot of basketball and is not normally given to hyperbole — used a lot of hyperbolic language in describing Allen, saying he’s among the best shooting guards he’s seen at the high school level and that Allen’s the best player he’s seen at Mountlake Terrace.

Now, as an alum, I can tell you that MTHS hasn’t exactly been a Division I basketball factory, but that last statement includes Seamus Boxley, who led the Hawks to a 20-0 regular season and No. 1 state ranking in 2000, went on to be a four-year starter and two-time defensive player of the year at Portland State, and is now playing professionally in Germany. High praise indeed.

Sood said Allen “can do things that one cannot teach. He is good, but he must get the cerebral part of the game down and a full understanding of the WSU system offensively and defensively. Like all their players, it will be between the ears and not the arms and legs for him to get minutes.”

And that last part resonates the most true. Everyone knows the kind of talent that is coming in with this recruiting class, but as Thomas Abercrombie proved, there is a heck of a lot more to contributing at WSU than just being physically talented. However, there is a well-documented need on this team for a back-up point guard. There is some thought that either Michael Harthun or Klay Thompson can pull it off for the few minutes a game when Taylor Rochestie is not on the floor, but neither even pretends to be a point guard.

If Allen can learn the systems quickly, proves he can play defense and shows he can take care of the basketball, he might get a few minutes spelling Rochestie.

Posted in News, Recruiting | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Get excited, Seattle fans!

Posted by Jeff Nusser on May 23, 2008

The AP is reporting the Cougs’ opponent in the Hardwood Classic at KeyArena is …

(Drumroll please …)

Montana State.

Commence collective yawn … now.

For those keeping track, here have been WSU’s opponents in Seattle:

  • 2008: Montana State
  • 2007: The Citadel
  • 2006: San Diego State
  • 2005: Utah

If you’re a Seattleite and this is your one and only shot to see the team live, I guess the sixth-place Big Sky team is better than the 324th rated team in the Pomeroy Ratings. But I have to wonder how much longer this game is going to continue if we can’t do any better than the junk teams we’ve lured so far. The reason Gonzaga has been so successful with this format is because they’ve gotten some quality opponents over the years. For whatever reason, we haven’t been able to do that.

Perhaps, teams would rather play that game on ESPN rather than that piece of crap, three-letter regional network?

Hat tip to Vince Grippi over at SportsLink.

(UPDATE: Great take on the situation over at Stadium Way.)

Posted in News | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

MAILBAG: APR, the starting five, and recruiting

Posted by Jeff Nusser on May 19, 2008

Welcome to our first edition of the mailbag, where I will attempt to answer your inquisitive questions with my awesome ability to speculate despite a total lack of access to any kind of insider information!

Mike R. wonders about the effect of Thomas Abercrombie’s departure on the team’s APR:

“Perhaps this should be a mailbag question (feel free to answer it then), but what kind of impact will this have on our APR score? Obviously, it’s not as bad when guys leave while in good academic standing, but will this still have a negative impact?”

In a word, yes, it will have a negative impact. But it will be minimal.

The important thing to remember is that while any departure from the program does hurt you a little bit, it only really hurts you a lot when the guy leaves the program academically ineligible or having not made what the NCAA deems as satisfactory progress towards a degree. (Vince Grippi does a great job explaining it here.) We have no reason to believe that was the case with Abercrombie.

And even then, that’s only if the average of the previous four years is below 925. This basketball program is going to soar well over that 925 mark next year, thanks to the abysmally low score in Dick Bennett’s first year finally leaving the four-year average. Even if Abercrombie did leave the program ineligible, chances are good there would be no penalty, anyway. It’s this progress that’s allowed Bennett to take a chance on a talented guy like DeAngelo Casto, who might be a litle bit of a question mark in the classroom. If he doesn’t pan out, no harm, no foul.

Grady over at Stadium Way wonders about the starters in 2008-09:

“Hey, I’ll bite on that mailbag request. What do you think the starting five will be for the Cougs next year?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Mailbag | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Ask and ye shall receive (unfortunately)

Posted by Jeff Nusser on May 15, 2008

Just one day after lamenting there’s been no WSU basketball news to speak of, the team announced yesterday that Thomas Abercrombie is leaving to pursue professional opportunities back in his homeland of New Zealand.

I’m disappointed, but hardly surprised. His athleticism turned him into somewhat of an urban legend around the program — for his entire redshirt year, all anyone heard was how high the coaching staff was on this long lanky kid who kept destroying people in practice and needed just a little more seasoning before taking the Pac-10 by storm — but he never came close to living up to the hype.

In an offensive and defensive system that relies heavily on precision, it was obvious to even this untrained eye that he was consistently out of position on most possessions. The athleticism was evident in the minutes he got this year, but equally evident was that he didn’t really have any clue how to play Bennett basketball. That’s a pretty huge problem.

Some guys “get” the Bennett system, some guys don’t. It takes a different kind of basketball IQ to play for a guy like Tony Bennett, and while I don’t know anything about Abercrombie personally, one can make a reasonable claim that after two years in the program — one a redshirt in which his sole job was to learn how to play in the system — he should have been a lot farther along in his development than he was. With a six-man recruiting class coming in that includes three guys who basically play his same position, the writing was on the wall.

The thing I’m most sad about, from a purely selfish perspective, is that he’s heading back to New Zealand. I would have loved to see him transfer to another school and watch what he could do in a system that really played to his strengths, one that allowed him to just lock guys down one-on-one on defense and get out and run and run and run on offense.

But it’s not about me, it’s about him, and I feel sad for Abercrombie that it turned out this way. Without that redshirt year, he would have had just two years of eligibility remaining and would have essentially endured two out of three years with no competitive basketball. I probably wouldn’t have chosen that either, not 7,000 miles from home. It’s time for him to get on with his basketball career, and in the right situation, I’m sure he can have a nice one back home.

In the end, it became a numbers game for a guy that never quite seemed to fit. Keep that in mind next time you’re going nuts over the next “can’t miss” recruit — this is just another example of the kind of wacky circumstances that can keep a kid from fulfilling his potential in a program.

Oh, and by the way: Still looking for mailbag questions. I’ve gotten a few already, and I’ll be working on it over the weekend. Continue to fire away here.

Posted in News | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

All quiet on the WSU HOOPS front

Posted by Jeff Nusser on May 13, 2008

It’s been a week since my last post, and honestly, there’s very little going on right now. I’ve still got some longer posts I’m kicking around/working on that are more big picture things, but nothing ready for publishing yet.

What I’d like to do is steal a little idea from my friend Grady over at Stadium Way, and solicit some e-mails for a mailbag post. Got a question that’s been burning you up? Shoot me an e-mail and I’ll be happy to share my thoughts with all.

Posted in Misc. Blog Stuff | 1 Comment »

Team unaffected by low NCAA APR score

Posted by Jeff Nusser on May 6, 2008

The NCAA made some waves today when it released its yearly report on Annual Progress Rates — a four-year rolling rate designed to measure both retention of athletes and their progress toward a degree. Despite having one of the lowest APRs in the WSU athletic department, the basketball team avoided the penalties that befell the football team.

I found the low figure of 903 curious, given the reputation the Bennetts have for commitment to academic excellence. As it turns out, the only reason the number stands as high as it does is because the Bennetts are so awesome: The figure in Dick Bennett’s first season was abysmally low — 813, more than 100 points below the NCAA’s accepted standard of 925 — thanks to the remnants of the Paul Graham era. In the past three years, the team has posted scores of 938, 923 and 942, and will presumably rise safely above that 925 figure next year, making any future conversation about scholarship losses moot.

The team escaped penalty this year because all of the players who left the program in 2006-07, either through transfer or exhausted eligibility, were on track to graduate.

The only basketball team in the Pac-10 to lose scholarships was USC, which the Los Angeles Times reports was due to Lodrick Stewart, Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt not attending classes after the end of last season.

Honestly, that’s where I think this NCAA program gets it right. There’s got to be some accountability for players not interested in making progress toward graduation and for institutions who don’t make sure they are interested. This relatively new system, which is only just now fully taking shape, is infinitely better than the antiquated graduation rate system, which was the epitome of how statistics can be skewed to say just about anything you want.

But this APR system also underscores the continuing gap between the haves and the have-nots in the NCAA.

Consider: Of the 53 men’s basketball programs to receive sanctions, only six are teams from BCS conferences — USC, Kansas State, Purdue, Seton Hall, Colorado and South Carolina. BCS schools make up roughly 20 percent of all Division I basketball schools, yet comprised only 11 percent of sanctions.

Is it because BCS schools have a premium on academically committed athletes? Or could it be because they generally have far more resources at their disposal, such as small armies of tutors and counselors, to “ensure” students stay on track for graduation?

Just some food for thought.

Posted in Discussion, News | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

On Bennett’s raise

Posted by Jeff Nusser on May 5, 2008

So, there seems to be quite a bit of consternation that despite Tony Bennett receiving a sizable raise from the university, the buyout clause in his contract is still “only” $500,000 or so. Even though that’s a number that’s uncharted territory for any WSU coach, it doesn’t appear to be giving people a lot of comfort right now.

I know this is part of the angst built into our Cougar DNA, but let me provide a little perspective.

The sense I get is that everyone is reading a little too much into this raise. My understanding, from everything I’ve read, is that this isn’t a total restructuring of his contract, as it was last year — it’s just a raise.

Now, a $200,000 raise naturally raises the eyebrows of you and me who need four-to-six years to make that kind of jack — the sheer number makes us think that’s a huge raise, especially when the total amount the school is handing out has now topped seven figures. But it’s not even close to the kind of raise he received last year. Think of it this way: This is the equivalent of going from $40,000 a year to $50,000 a year — a nice raise to be sure, but not earth-shattering stuff.

The thing to keep in mind is that this was a one-sided affair, coming from the school’s side. Although Tony did ask for some things at the conclusion of the season, such as raises for his assistants and charter flights for the team, Tony didn’t ask for a raise for himself. Had he asked for it, I think it’s fairly obvious they all might have entered into the kinds of negotiations that would also protect the school with a larger buyout. But that wasn’t the case. Restructuring a contract is a complicated legal process that, quite frankly, I’m pretty sure neither side had any interest in undertaking.

Dale Carnegie would tell you that one of the three fundamental techniques in handling people is to “give honest and sincere appreciation.” I think this is precisely that. This is the school saying, “We know you didn’t ask for this, but hey, you’ve done an awesome job, and we want to let you know how much we value you by rewarding you.”

In an ideal world, we’d absolutely love to have a larger buyout. But that’s going to require ripping up the current agreement and going back to the drawing board, and that wasn’t going to happen this year. So the school did what it could do to protect its investment: Try to keep its best employee happy — not because he asked for it, but because it was the best thing to do.

Posted in Discussion | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »