KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Here are some observations after spending Thursday at Big 12 media day:
1. Texas freshman Myck Kabongo is going to be successful. How do I know without seeing him play a single college game? Just call it a hunch. Kabongo was introducing himself in such a polite and engaging manner Wednesday night and then again Thursday. He had such a presence about him, answered his questions and even avoided some about other players in the Big 12 without sounding disrespectful. He might be one of the most impressive freshmen I’ve seen at a media day in terms of the way he carried himself. Kabongo understands the importance of a first impression.
2. If Kansas wins the Big 12 yet again this season, it could go down as one of Bill Self’s most impressive coaching performances. The Jayhawks legitimately don’t have a star or a stud on this roster that you can guarantee will be a first-team all-league player or an NBA first-round pick. But Self is relishing this roster. This is a collection of players who are just like him, players who have to earn their keep and will need to win by ensuring they are one team with one agenda.
3. Kansas State’s media guide cover may go down as one of the best I’ve ever seen. You can’t watch Frank Martin on the sidelines and not be drawn to his facial expressions. So the KSU marketing department captured the many faces of Frank from the scowl, to the growl, to the shock, to the euphoria. K-State wrestled with what to do and whether or not to put a player on the cover. They ended up picking Martin and thankfully he went along with it.
4. Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie has had quite a run, from Self’s bench at Illinois to head-coaching gigs at UTEP and Texas A&M to the tumultuous time at Kentucky to some personal failings to dealing with the recent death of his mother. Gillispie can be quirky and hard to read. But he was genuinely in as good a mood Thursday as I’ve ever seen him at this point in the season. He does seem to be at peace with his position. We’ll see if that lasts. But he is embracing this latest second chance.
5. I’ve seen Missouri coach Frank Haith twice in the past week -- once in New York and again in Kansas City -- and he’s handled himself quite well dealing with the speculation of the Tigers’ conference affiliation, the Laurence Bowers ACL injury and of course the NCAA investigation into an allegation that he knew of a $10,000 payment to the family of Miami's DeQuan Jones. Haith has lost weight, but no longer sounds as stressed as he did when the story first broke. He’s locked into making this season work. He was essentially popped by the Yahoo! Sports report and was staggered by the news flow from the story. But he has settled down. The NCAA has talked to him and while he waits what could be months before the entire investigation is complete because of all the football allegations, he continues to plow ahead.
6. Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford made some late decisions with OSU's schedule, like adding a game against Pitt in New York on Dec. 10. It's because he really believes he has a sleeper team that could cause serious problems in the Big 12. He expects this team to be more up-tempo, and if freshman LeBryan Nash is as much of a stud as projected, the Cowboys could be in play for an NCAA berth in March. Ford had to replace the Sutton family and is still trying to find his footing. If he can get on a consistent streak -- and his recruiting is trending that way -- then he has a chance to have long-term success in Stillwater.
7. Texas A&M associate head coach Glynn Cyprien expects head coach Billy Kennedy to be back soon, but wouldn’t give a specific date. Cyprien said that there was no sign that Kennedy was ill before taking a leave of absence for an undisclosed medical condition. Cyprien has been in contact with Kennedy since practice started a week ago and said that “any time there’s a job change, we all go through a transition period and he had to go through it. He’s doing fine and he’ll be ready to roll.’’ Sources close to the program have said that the leave is stress-related.
8. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has the right personality to deal with multiple transfers. Usually the rule of thumb is not to go with too many high-maintenance players. I saw it first hand at Fresno State under Jerry Tarkanian. You can’t have multiple second-chance players. But Hoiberg's background is in the NBA. He has had to deal with players from a variety of backgrounds. He seems absolutely convinced that there won’t be an issue in meshing in Royce White (Minnesota), Chris Babb (Penn State), Korie Lucious and Chris Allen (Michigan State). Hoiberg absolutely loves White and thinks he’ll be a star.
9. Baylor forward Perry Jones III gave a mature, genuine answer when discussing why he chose to go to Baylor. He said that his mother had a heart condition and that Waco was an hour away from his home in Duncanville, Texas. He also pulled a major surprise by deciding to return to school despite five games to go on his NCAA suspension. But Jones talked Thursday about his love for his mother, his admiration for his father and how he got him into basketball at a young age and how much he wanted to be close to them. Sometimes players say things just to say them and see how they sound. But Jones had legitimate reasons for staying close to home and he’s not deviating from them. He’s saying the right things about being a good son and he’s acting like a devoted one so far in college.
10. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger could be coaching anywhere -- and he's certainly been around the block -- and he would sound exactly the same. The man never changes. He has been about as consistent a person as I’ve found in the coaching business. He has his way of trying to develop a defensive mentality. And he never seems to be too high or too low. He had a health scare a few years ago, but he appears to be in good shape these days. And now he’s off to a new challenge in Norman. The one thing the Sooners can bank on is that Kruger won’t put them through an emotional roller-coaster.