Monday, October 23, 2006

Other new faces

Let's start the week off with an early season look at freshman classes around the Big East.

Much has been made of UConn’s young group heading into the season. A few talented guards. A looming eligibility question. An athletic wing player who is pushing for a starting job.

But there are others to note across the Big East. Bobby Gonzalez worked his New York City connections for Seton Hall during the late signing period. Louisville continues to build under Rick Pitino. St. John’s draws a recognizable name. Georgetown, Pitt Villanova and Marquette add a few big names, at least, for one year.

Here is a look at conference freshmen along with a few small quirks. The Big East coaches will pare this list down during Wednesday’s media day, placing instant expectations on a few.

1) ADD ANOTHER EIGHT
Like UConn, West Virginia welcomes in eight freshmen, none of which are named Pittsnogle. The most notable regional connection is guard Joe Mazulla from Rhode Island. Expect the Moutaineers’ Big East opener at home against UConn to be sloppy but perhaps entertaining. Probably a good way to ease into the Big East schedule for the Huskies.

2) NEW IMAGE?
It’s still tough to watch a Cincinnati game without Bob Huggins on the sideline. When you turned on the television you knew what would happen over the next two hours; some tense moments, caustic sideline bursts, 57 headbands, a million close-ups of Huggins. That is slowly changing, but the Bearcats have added Deonta Vaughn, the only freshman on the roster. He was a two-time all-Indiana selection at a school called Harmony and played for ex-Bearcat Rodney Crawford. Also plans to major in criminal justice and enjoyed community service. Looks like the Cincinnati p.r. department is trying to bolster the program’s overall image. Much is expected of Vaughn, one of the more talented freshman guards in the class.

3) STOCKING UP
Still trying to figure out where DePaul belongs in the Big East. Once again, old images of a coach appear in Joey Meyer, who later surfaced in the NBDL. The NBDL? Still, guard play has always been noted at the school. Will Walker, a high-rated point guard in this year’s national class, will earn minutes behind or along with Jabari Currie, a name you will probably hear more than once this year.

4) J.T. III’s THREE
Nice pick-up with Vernon Macklin, a McDonald’s All-American from Hargrave Military, where he teamed with UConn freshman Jonathan Mandeldove. Macklin will probably make the list Wednesday and adds depth to the Hoyas’ already strong frontcourt. Also, Georgetown brings in perhaps Baltimore’s top schoolboy talent in DaJuan Summers, and John Thompson III throws in a nod to Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers by bringing in his kid, Jeremiah.

5) CARACTER QUESTIONS
Louisville pieced together one of the more complete freshman classes in the Big East, including Derrick Caracter, who was suspended two weeks ago. More on him in a minute. But it’s also difficult to overlook Wisconsin player of the year Jerry Smith, a versatile guard, Curtis Kelly’s teammate at Rice, Edgar Sosa, and McDonald’s All-American Earl Clark. Throw in walk-on Stuart Miller, an equine major (Smart kid. Kentucky. See him at Saratoga in a few years). But let’s get back to Caracter and his bio, written by Caracter along with some help from the school’s sports communications department. We find out that he likes to camp and has an uncle Rust and some people may not know that he likes to read, always nice to see. But we also find out that his bed is always made and his room smells nice. The bio just adds to a recipe for disaster.

6) PIVOTAL YEAR FOR FOY?
Meet Syracuse’s Paul Harris.
Talented. Had a few problems when he was younger. The incident involving his girlfriend in 2004 included a toaster, according to the police report. Telling year both talent-wise and character-wise. Leading candidate for Big East top rookie honors.

7) SLEEPER IN MILWAUKEE
Lazar Haywood will probably become the most recognizable name to come out of Marquette since Dwyane Wade. Most have similar aspirations for Haywood. Name will be on the coaches’ list.

8) TYPECASTED
Brady Quinn could fit right into this lineup. At Notre Dame, all five freshmen either look like Troy Murphy, are built like Troy Murphy or play like Troy Murphy. Probably the most nondescript roster you’ll find in the Big East, with the exception of guard Colin Falls.

9) ADDED COMBO
Never mind that Pitt may claim the Big East title or will be favored to win it Wednesday, the Panthers have solidified some success with Austin Wallace and Gilbert Brown. No, this Gilbert Brown, the South Kent Prep and McDonald’s nominee. Wallace and Brown can have influential seasons this winter, if not, definitely next.

10) BIGGEST MYSTERY
Rutgers’ freshman Hamady N’Diaye. The forward from Senegal attended Stoneridge Prep in California, one of the more-scrutinized prep schools in the country because of its suspect academic standards for basketball players. Rutgers does not even list a bio for N’Diaye.

11) QUICK WORK
When Bobby Gonzalez was hired late by Seton Hall, he knew he had to work quickly in order to piece together a decent freshman class. He did with three quality NYC-area players, including Kashif Pratt, another Rice product. Gonzalez also has Geoff Billet, the former Rutgers guard, on his staff. He could play a role on the bench like Mike Hopkins at Syracuse and his Jersey bloodlines will help the program the next few years in recruiting.

12) NO CONFUSION
The rebuilding continues at St. John’s, and hopefully Norm Roberts will keep a pretty solid freshman class intact for a few years, led by Rob Thomas. No, this Rob Thomas, another South Kent standout. By February, he may become one of the top young Big East players.

13) OUCH
South Florida still trying to build. Trying. Trying. Providence? At a loss here.

14) RELOADING
At Hofstra, Jay Wright had good hair and better shoes even when they were well-traveled. Wright continues to make a name for himself as a tireless recruiter and one of the best young coaches in America, even though it feels like he’s been around forever. Along with UConn, Pitt and Georgetown, Villanova picks up Reggie Redding and Antonio Pena, both of whom will play immediately, and Scotty Reynolds, an outside candidate for top rookie honors.

By the way, I could be wrong. Troy Murphy turned out to be a pretty decent find in South Bend.

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