Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Observations from Media Day

UConn’s most pressing question was answered before Big East media day at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
The NCAA granted 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet his eligibility after his transcripts from Tanzania qualified him for the Clearinghouse.
Yes, UConn is a much different team without Thabeet, as Jim Calhoun noted.
And the Huskies are much different with him.
The center, who has played just four years of basketball, is still learning but can already change a team’s complexion as well as the flow of a game.
That is, the coaching staff believes so.
“Remember, the last game he played was at Cypress Christian Community School,” Calhoun said. “I know what he can do at practice because I see it. That’s all we know right now. Cypress. Christian. School. When the season starts, that will change. We’ll see how he adapts. I do have full faith in him that he will.”
A little bit of a cautious optimist. Granted, Thabeet has yet to play one minute in a UConn uniform. He runs well, has good hands and has developed a few post moves.
And he is 7-foot-3.
I asked Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert, who is one of the most improved big men in the country, when and how he started turning things around.
He said the summer after his freshman year. Because he wanted to.
Now, early prognostication says Thabeet may be one-and-done and off to the NBA. There are still more than 30 games to be played and Thabeet’s development is just as crucial as UConn’s. So Calhoun has reason to be a cautious optimist.
There is something personal at stake, as well as something collective.
We’ll find out beginning Nov. 1 at Gampel Pavilion.

- There are three first-year coaches in the Big East; Mick Cronin of Cincinnati, Bobby Gonzalez of Seton Hall and Rutgers’ Fred Hill. Both Gonzalez and Hill will change college basketball in Jersey within the next five years.
Give it time.
Cronin, though, has taken an interesting path.
He is only 35, while completing his undergraduate work at Cincinnati, he coached the junior varsity at Woodward High School in the city. Then he was the video coordinator for the Bearcats in 1997, an assistant for three years after that, then jumped to Murray State, where he was Ohio Valley coach of the year last season.
Quick work. He is a coach’s kid.
Enough said.
Still, he has work to do, as do all three new coaches.
Cincinnati, Rutgers, Seton Hall were picked 13, 14, and 15, respectively.

- Best shoes: Villanova coach Jay Wright.
- Best suit: Villanova coach Jay Wright.
- Worst accessorizing: Villanova coach Jay Wright. Nice to see a coach take pride in his appearance, but Wright sported an NCAA-issued watch with a suit that screamed Rolex. He also received a salary increase last season.

- This wasn’t Rick Pitino’s first rodeo. Eye contact with each interviewer. Elaborate on every thought. Complete answer. Fills up your notebook.

- Tom Crean is one of the hardest-working men in college basketball. The Marquette coach rarely blinks during interviews. Must have been a reason why he sat really close to guard Dominic James on the dais. It appears the man runs a tight ship.

- St. John's Norm Roberts was repeatedly asked how difficult it is to rebuild a program. Give him some credit, though, and a little more time. He was handed a decimated program with a declining public image that once started a handful of walk-ons a few years back after a deplorable strip-club incident. Mike Jarvis did not leave him much but you wonder if it does happen, how many times will he be asked what it took to rebuild.
It’s happening right now.
But it's a question he may not be able to shake.

Preseason UConn rankings from a few publications and a commentator and a web site:
Athlon Sports: 14
Blue Ribbon: 10
Dick Vitale: 15 16
Lindy’s: none
Sporting News: none
Street & Smith’s: none
Basketball Times: 7

Looking for a scientific method for that one.

- This is the last season Big East teams will play under the current scheduling format. Each Big East team will play every school in the conference beginning next season.
- Once again, the Big East Tournament will only invite the top 12 teams to the Garden party in March, omitting the bottom four teams in the conference. This bothered Calhoun a bit while discussing the topic at media day. “Shouldn’t every kid get a chance to play at the Garden?” He asked. “If I were a kid playing in the Big East, I would love to play there at least once. Some of these kids won’t even get the chance.”
- The Big East final is scheduled for March 10.

More observations tomorrow.


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