Catching up with the Pac
The power structure in the Pac-10 is turned upside down.
What happened to the “conference of champions?”
Expectations are tempered up and down the west coast as the college basketball season ramps up. Despite sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons, the Pac-10 has only two teams ranked in the top 25: Cal and Washington. Longtime conference stalwart UCLA is not ranked for the first time in five years.
But the new world order in the conference has left plenty up for debate with the season a few weeks away. Here’s what Pac-10 coaches were buzzing about at the conference’s media day:
Ernie Kent – Oregon
Media poll predicted finish: 6th
• Last year’s team proved trying for Kent. The youth movement forced the team to focus on development over results as the Ducks floundered to a last place finish. “I had never done so much teaching before at the start of the season,” Kent said. “I don’t think we really gave our guys a chance to have success.”
• Kent will expect more from highly touted center Michael Dunigan. The Chicago native struggled with conditioning in his sophomore year but has lost almost 40 pounds from when he checked in at 280 during his first days at Eugene. “He could barely get through a practice or get through three minutes of a game without fouling himself out of it,” Kent said. “His endurance is so much better which means his productivity is going to be better.”
Johnny Dawkins – Stanford
Media poll predicted finish: 10th
• Landry Fields will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the Cardinal, but Dawkins thinks the swingman is up to the task. “He can be one of the best players in the conference,” Dawkins said.
• Losing Mitch Johnson might have been the biggest blow to Stanford’s roster this year. Point guard remains a question for the Cardinal heading into the season. “We’ll have to do it by committee,” Dawkins said.
Craig Robinson – Oregon State
Media poll predicted finish: 5th
• Robinson was all smiles at the media gathering this year after his team outperformed first year expectations. But in his second year, Robinson doesn’t expect anything to be given to him or his team. “Last year we snuck up on a lot of people. This year we won’t be able to do that,” Robinson said. “It sounds like it’s not that hard of a mindset to change, but when you have guys who have lost for a long time, it’s a big deal.”
• The Beavers are still waiting to hear from the NCAA Clearinghouse about freshman Roberto Nelson, but Oregon State has another freshman who could contribute early. Robinson singled out Jared Cunningham for his readiness to play in the Pac-10. “He’s got the kind of athleticism that will allow him to defend in this league right away,” Robinson said.
Ken Bone – Washington State
Media poll predicted finish: 8th
• Bone quickly acknowledged what a young team he was working with and how fans would have to be patient with the Cougars. “We haven’t been able to do a whole lo in terms of putting in our system and philosophy,” Bone said. The team will lean heavily on Klay Thompson and DeAngelo casto in the early going.
• Establishing a recruiting presence in Seattle was a high priority for Bone, who said that landing Reggie Moore was a good start. “It was really important for us to find a kid who could handle the ball and score,” Bone said. “It was amazing that he was available.
Sean Miller – Arizona
Media poll predicted finish: 4th
• Miller also preached patience for a young team in transition. The new style of play might mean a slow start for the Wildcats. “It’s baby steps right now and day-by-day with this year’s team,” Miller said. “We’re clearly a lot further behind on the learning curve for many reasons.”
• As cautious as Miller was, he clearly was excited about having point guard Nic Wise back. The team’s lone senior was scheduled to come on the trip but stayed home because of a recently suffered sprained ankle. “He has arguably one of the hardest jobs of leadership,” Miller said of Wise, who will have to work with a cast of underclassmen and his fourth coach in four years.
Kevin O’Neill – USC
Media poll predicted finish: 9th
• The short-handed Trojans are already hurting before the season tip-off. A slew of injuries has hit the team, and several projected starters are ineligible for the first few games. Leonard Washington and Mike Gerrity will not be eligible until around Chrstimas, and Marcus Johnson will miss the first two games of the season. “We’re kind of patchwork here in the early part of the season,” O’Neill said.
• USC’s biggest hole is at point guard, where Daniel Hackett’s departure still leaves the team with question marks. Donte Smith is expected to start after losing more than 20 pounds in the offseason, but O’Neill wasn’t brimming with confidence about him. “There’s really no challengers, so he gets the job by default,” O’Neill said.
Mike Montgomery – Cal
Media poll predicted finish: 1st
• Montgomery was in rare form on media day, cracking jokes throughout his time at the podium. It’s easy to see why he’s so loose. Montgomery has a senior-laden team in a conference that is otherwise experiencing growing pains. But Montgomery was hesitant to boast. “We still need to get better on defense,” Montgomery said.
• The Golden Bears’ defense starts with Jorge Gutierrez, the team’s designated stopper. The sophomore guard has emerged as one of the Pac-10’s best pests on the perimeter. “He has a competitive fire about him that you don’t see with a lot of kids,” Montgomery said. “He sees the game in a way that very few people do.”
Herb Sendek – Arizona State
Media poll predicted finish: 7th
• Losing James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph leaves a big hole in the Sun Devils’ scoring, a point Sendek has clearly been thinking about since their departures. With no go-to player, Sendek said he expects to share the wealth this year. “This year the offense will have to be much more equal opportunity,” Sendek said. “We’re going to have different guys step up on different nights for us.”
• Sendek said that the team’s three seniors – Derek Glasser, Jerren Shipp and Eric Boateng – will have to step up to become leaders. He also said that he was hoping for a career year from Boateng, the former Duke transfer.
Ben Howland – UCLA
Media poll predicted finish: 3rd
• Howland was exasperated with the various injuries his team has suffered before the start of the season. Most notably, Jerime Anderson has yet to practice because of a groin injury. Howland said he hoped to have everyone healthy and ready to practice on Monday.
• Facing a transition year is an unappealing option for Howland. Despite losing Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, Alfred Aboya and Josh Shipp, expectations remain high at Pauley Pavilion. But losing underclassmen to the draft has been a frustrating phenomenon for Howland. “There’s no way of being able to project what’s going to happen,” Howland said, noting that he had not used his full allotment of 13 scholarships since he arrived in Los Angeles.
Lorenzo Romar – Washington
Media poll predicted finish: 2nd
• Romar made his respect for former Husky Jon Brockman known as he quickly pointed out what a large hole Brockman’s departure left. As a guard-oriented team, Washington will have to find a way to replace Brockman’s production on the glass. “It’s going to have to be more of a gang rebounding effort,” Romar said. “We got kind of spoiled with Jon Brockman because we would just let him get the ball and then we would take off.”
• After a stellar freshman year, Romar is looking for Isaiah Thomas to become a more complete player. “Before he got to college, [defense] wasn’t the number one thing that he thought about when he woke up in the morning,” Romar said. He also noted that the diminutive guard could become a better distributor.