College football season is nearly upon us. Campuses are putting the final touches on classroom upgrades, striping parking lots, and bookstore shelves are filling up, eager to soak up hundreds of dollars from each and every returning student. The pop of helmets and pads can be heard while strolling past stadiums around the country.
In this writer's humble opinion, this all serves as the first pangs of the coming hoops season. Football may be king in college athletics for most, but for me the king is more like a figurehead. College hoops is the stately prince and the power behind the throne in my world.
Fall is not quite here, though. The summer is a hoop junkie's lost highway due to the lack of games and the country's focus on that all-important third-string tailback spot at Florida State or USC. Nevertheless, the summer has been an eventful one, and this space will attempt to recap some of the news.
Barry Collier's bolting from Nebraska to be athletic director at Butler (his alma mater) has cranked up the coaching calliope once again. His absence led to the late hiring of UTEP head coach Doc Sadler. That, in turn, has opened up another search that will leave some team high and dry for this season.
UConn assistant coach Andre LaFleur was arrested in early August for a verbal attack on a recreational worker in Rockville, Connecticut. After being informed that he could not enroll his child in a town recreational program due to its full capacity, LaFleur went off. He has apologized to the worker and his family, and he will appear in court on August 15.
Ohio State must pay ex-coach Jim O'Brien $2.2 million for failing to follow the terms of his contract. Despite the fact that O'Brien committed NCAA violations that led to his firing, his contract contained a strict set of guidelines in the event of termination, and Ohio State did not follow them. According to the judge, the fact that O'Brien broke NCAA rules does not invalidate the terms of his contract. Ohio State will appeal the decision.
McNeese State coach Tic Price was fired at the end of July. The Cowboys hired Northwestern State assistant Dave Simmons as their head coach on August 8.
A familiar face with a familiar head of silvery-white hair will be back on the sidelines this season. No, it's not Phil Donahue. Former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins felt the need to scratch his coaching itch and will be the head man at College of Charleston.
With Monte Towe leaving New Orleans to be the top assistant at NC State, the Privateers went out and found Texas A&M assistant Brent Williams to be their head coach.
Chuck Davis will not be back at Alabama. Davis had appealed for a medical redshirt due to a torn ACL in the 13th games of last season, but his appeal was denied. The NCAA deemed that Davis had played too many games to consider it a "lost" season.
UCLA's Aaron Afflalo is on the shelf until September due to a stress fracture in his foot. He should be healed in time for the official practice season "kickoff" in mid-October.
Duke sophomore Josh McRoberts recently underwent a lumbar diskectomy to repair his bad back. He is expected to be ready for practice, but he bears watching.
In the wake of a newly passed NCAA rule (2005-54), Arizona State forward Kevin Kruger has left ASU to play for his dad Lon at UNLV this season. How is this possible, you ask? Well, 2005-54 states that if a player completes his degree in four years and has eligibility remaining (a fifth year senior), he may transfer to another school and play without sitting out a year. Detractors feel that this will lead to a type of "free agency" for fifth year seniors, allowing high profile teams to collect talented fifth-year players seeking more exposure and put lower-profile teams at a disadvantage.
Louisville and coach Rick Pitino have lost two forwards in the last couple of weeks. Highly recruited Brian Johnson has left the team. Johnson had endured three knee surgeries and was never really been healthy at UL. George Mason and George Washington seem to be his two top choices. Chad Millard, meanwhile, is heading to Creighton and will be eligible in 07-08.
Way Too Early Rankings
What good is a summer hoops article without some outlandish speculation? Without naming names, here is an unscientific summary of who is showing up near the top of pre-preseason top 25 lists.
1. Florida - All five starters return for the national champs. Can they sustain the hunger and not devolve in personal showcasing for the scouts?
2. Kansas - Brandon Rush and a lot of those youngsters were playing mighty well at the end of last season. Bradley was a tough draw as a 13-seed.
3. North Carolina - Tyler Hansbrough is a National POY candidate and Ol' Roy has a stacked class coming into Chapel Hill.
4. LSU - Big Baby is back. Tyrus Thomas is not. I am not sure I like LSU this high.
5. Ohio State - The Buckeyes have a monstrous recruiting class and two solid years to build upon.
6. Pittsburgh - Aaron Gray is a man-child, and the Panthers always play good defense.
7. Georgetown - The Hoyas are on the rise. Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green make a tough tandem down low.
Those seven look to be a cut above on paper. The second tier includes UCLA, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, Arizona, and Duke. Again, these are not my personal choices, but these teams are floating to the top of a lot of preseason lists.
It is still too early for me to make any lists. That cannot occur until the Blue Ribbon Yearbook comes to my house in early October. But there are two teams that I have earmarked early as potential sleepers to make noise in March: Akron and Hofstra. Of course, staunch supporters of the MAC and the CAA know this already, but both of these clubs are ready to roll this year. The Zips return their three top players from last season's 21-9 NIT team, while Hofstra, an NIT Quarterfinalist (26-5), returns their three-headed monster of a backcourt. Loren Stokes, Carlos Rivera, and Antoine Agudio return as the highest-scoring backcourt in America for the Pride.
The preseason publications will come hot and heavy over the next couple of months. Kickoff on the gridiron also signals the kickoff for preseason hoops polls, brackets, all-conference teams, and the like.
Enjoy the rest of the summer!