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September 14, 2007

SCS.comNot only did the NBA Draft take place this June, but the college basketball off-season proved to be an eventful one as far as off-the-court incidents, coaching changes, and other issues go. Some teams experienced positive news, while others suffered news that may set them back before the season even begins. Itís time to take a look at some of the biggest developments of the off-season and the impact they had on their respective teams.

Wake Forest suffers a tragedy

There were numerous coaching changes this off-season. But the most significant change, as well as the most disastrous, took place at Wake Forest. The death of coach Skip Prosser shocked the college basketball world, and after an event as catastrophic as that, basketball doesnít seem to be the most important issue here. And it most certainly isnít. However, Prosserís death does have basketball implications, and the Demon Deacons decided to promote assistant Dino Gaudio to head coach.

With Gaudio at the helm, Wake Forestís outstanding 2008 recruiting class, highlighted by five star prospects Al-Farouq Aminu and Ty Walker, will most likely be retained. With all the hard work Prosser did to assemble this class, itís only fair that the outstanding job he did with recruiting wonít go to waste. This may be a tumultuous and emotional season for Wake Forest, as it probably wonít be able to climb out of the bottom of the ACC standings, but help is on the way in the form of some outstanding freshmen.

Huggy Bear heads home for West Virginia

In Manhattan, Kansas, a similar situation to Wake Forest regarding recruiting took place. After Bob Huggins left Kansas State and jumped on an opportunity to coach close to home at West Virginia, the Wildcats couldnít bear the thought of ultra-prospects Bill Walker and Michael Beasley, both of whom Huggins personally recruited, leaving for other schools. Kansas State decided to give assistant coach Frank Martin the head coaching job, a move that may either pay dividends or lead to a disaster. Martin got the job to hold onto Beasley and Walker, who formed a relationship with him, but now Kansas State must rely on a first year coach to lead them in one of the Wildcatsí most highly anticipated seasons in recent memory.

At West Virginia, the returning players, used to John Beileinís methodical style of play, may have trouble adjusting to Huggins. However, with a solid core group in Joe Alexander, DaíSean Butler, Alex Ruoff, and Darris Nichols, thereís still enough for Huggins to work with.

Billy Gillispie takes over for Tubby Smith

Tubby Smithís failure to meet the programís unbelievably high expectations led to his firing, and former Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie now heads to Lexington as the head man at Kentucky. Gillispieís track record includes an NCAA tournament appearance at UTEP and a fantastic rebuilding job at Texas A&M, which transformed a dreadful Aggies program into a Big 12 power in just three years.

The job doesnít get any easier from here for Gillispie, who will be expected to take Kentucky to an elite level immediately. With a talented group of players that includes a super freshman forward in Patrick Patterson and two experienced senior guards in Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley, Gillispie probably has the makings of a borderline top 25 team this season. However, while that may be enough to please the fans this season, Gillispie will be expected to compete for Final Fours every year, or he will find himself in the same situation as Tubby Smith.

Other notable coaching changes:

With Gillispie no longer at Texas A&M, former Wichita State head coach Mark Turgeon takes over.

With Turgeon gone from the Shockers, former Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall becomes a head coach in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Former Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik and former West Virginia coach John Beilein are taking their unique styles of play to Colorado and Michigan, respectively.

Rick Majerus returns to the coaching ranks at Saint Louis University, after having been out of coaching since the 2003-2004 season.

Stan Heath is out at Arkansas, and former South Alabama coach John Pelphrey inherits a fantastic situation with a roster loaded with talent.

After the firing of Steve Alford at Iowa, former Butler coach Todd Lickliter will have an opportunity to coach a power conference team.

Tennessee gets good news from NCAA

Former Iowa forward Tyler Smith was granted eligibility by the NCAA to play at Tennessee immediately rather than having to sit out a season under normal transfer rules. After choosing Tennessee to be close to his ailing father, Smith fills a much-needed hole for the Volunteers as a versatile swingman. The 6' 7" sophomore forward enjoyed a superb freshman campaign, showing the ability to score (14.9 points per game), rebound (4.9 rebounds per game), and dish out assists (3.6 assists per game).

With the addition of Smith, Tennessee instantly becomes a Final Four contender, if it wasnít already. The Volsí guard trio of Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, and Ramar Smith may be one of the top backcourts in the nation, and if Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism, and Duke Crews can at least form a formidable frontcourt, the Volunteers should be well on their way to an SEC East title as well as a deep run in March.

Georgetown loses one star to NBA, keeps the other one

Had Jeff Green decided to stay in school, the Hoyas would be entering the 2007-2008 season as a consensus Final Four favorite. Even though Georgetown didnít have any luck keeping Green out of the NBA draft, it must have been elated to find out that Roy Hibbert has decided to return for his senior season. He may not be the most athletic player, and he is plagued by foul trouble at times. But when Hibbert is on the floor, he is a true difference-maker in the paint. With the big man staying, the return of the core group of last yearís Final Four team (minus Green), and a stellar incoming recruiting class, John Thompsonís squad is set for another fantastic campaign.

Conference USA experiences bad luck at nightclubs

Off-the-court issues were rampant this off-season, with several teams having to discipline numerous players. Within the past few weeks, players from both UAB and Memphis were involved in separate incidents at local clubs. Five Blazersí players (Keenan Ellis, Ed Berrios, Channing Toney, Robert Vaden and Walter Sharpe) were arrested on August 31 after a dispute with police outside of a Birmingham nightclub, and two Tigersí players (Shawn Taggart and Jeff Robinson) were arrested two days later in another altercation with police in Memphis. It doesnít seem anybody implicated in either event will be kicked off of their respective team, although disciplinary action is sure to follow.

A few Big 12 teams lose key players

While the problems at UAB and Memphis didnít get anyone kicked off, Missouri and Iowa State both had to dismiss critical contributors this summer. Tigersí center Kalen Grimes, the teamís leading rebounder from last season, will not be back with the team next season after an assault charge, and Cyclonesí guard and leading scorer Mike Taylorís bevy of run-ins with the police finally ended his Big 12 career for good. Missouri loses a big body in the paint in Grimes, leaving them somewhat thin on size in the frontcourt. Cyclonesí fans certainly wonít miss Taylorís alarmingly high turnover rates, but they will most definitely miss his scoring punch.

Other news:

Indiana guard A.J. Ratliff and Georgia Tech center RaíSean Dickey are both ineligible for the first semester due to bad grades, which will hold them out until the second semester commences in mid-December.

Syracuse guard Andy Rautins will miss the entire season with a torn ACL.

Ronny Thompson resigned as Ball Stateís head coach after notes containing racist comments were found in his office.

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