College Basketball Nation: Jeff Capel

DURHAM, N.C. -- When Jeff Capel contemplated his next step after being fired from Oklahoma in 2011, Dick Vitale came to mind before Mike Krzyzewski.

The former Duke point guard had been a head coach for nine seasons, including his first job at VCU from 2002 to 2006. He didn't really think returning to the sidelines as an assistant was an option.

"My plan when I was fired -- as I kind of picked myself up from that -- was to do TV," Capel said. "I was going to maybe take a year off and try to break into TV and to spend some time going to other practices to watch other people."

That is until his former coach called and presented a chance to return to Duke. Krzyzewski restructured his staff to add Capel as an assistant coach. It was the first time since Pete Gaudet was on staff in the mid-1990s that Krzyzewski has had a former head coach on his staff.

It's been almost as long since someone who didn't play for Krzyzewski was one of his three assistant coaches. Tim O'Toole was the last "outsider," serving as a restricted-earnings coach for the Blue Devils from 1995-97. (He's now an assistant coach on former Duke standout Johnny Dawkins' staff at Stanford.)

Even for those who played at Duke, it's a rare chance to land a job as an assistant. Steve Wojciechowski was on Krzyzewski's staff for 15 seasons before leaving in April to become the head coach at Marquette. Chris Collins stayed for 13 seasons before he left in 2013 to rebuild Northwestern.

"For me, a big thing was to get a chance to learn to see Duke differently from when I played," Capel said. "To learn from coach [Krzyzewski], to learn from Chris, to learn from Wojo, to see why our program here has been able to sustain success over a period of time. So Duke was the only place I would have done it."

To continue reading this story, click here.

Coaches most likely to join 900-win club

January, 1, 2013
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Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim recently became the third member of the 900-win club, joining Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as the only Division I men's coaches to reach that milestone.

So who, if anyone, might join that elite trio down the line?

Here’s a subjective look at the most likely candidates based on age and current win total.

10. Jeff Capel (37 years old) - 162 wins
Currently an assistant at Duke, Capel got his head coaching start at 27. He'd obviously need to get another head-coaching job soon, but at 162 wins, he’s got a good head start -- especially if he ends up as Coach K’s successor.

9. Steve Alford (48) - 447 wins
In his sixth season at New Mexico, Alford has been a head coach every year since he was 27. At 48, he’s almost halfway to 900.

8. Brad Stevens (36) - 149 wins
Stevens was one of the fastest ever to reach both 50 and 100 wins. Still only 36, he has many years in front of him. But Stevens won’t have the Horizon League to kick around anymore.

7. Rick Pitino (60) - 641 wins
Six seasons in the NBA have set him back, but Pitino would reach 900 wins in about 10 years if he averages 25 per season.

6. Roy Williams (61) - 685 wins
Williams didn’t become a head coach until he was 38. That’s six years older than Boeheim was. With 215 wins to go, Williams would likely need to coach until he was about 70.

5. John Calipari (53) - 513 wins
Averaging 34 wins per season at Kentucky, Calipari is making up for the four seasons he lost to the NBA. At 53, he needs fewer than 400 more wins to reach 900.

4. Thad Matta (45) - 333 wins
Matta is in his 13th season, and he’s never had fewer than 20 wins. In fact, Roy Williams is the only coach with more wins through his first 12 seasons.

3. Billy Donovan (47) - 430 wins
Only Boeheim and Krzyzewski have longer active streaks of 20-win seasons than Billy Donovan. At 47, he figures to be halfway to 900 before the end of this season.

2. Bill Self (50) - 487 wins
No one under 50 years old has more wins than Self. Since coming to Kansas, he’s averaged more than 29 wins. At that rate, he’s less than 15 seasons away from 900.

1. Bob Huggins (59) - 717 wins
Bob Huggins is already well beyond 700 wins and hasn’t turned 60. That’s well ahead of where Boeheim was at the same age. At 24 wins per year since arriving at West Virginia, he’s on track to get to 900 at a younger age than either Boeheim or Bob Knight.
1. Keith Clanton will be the most coveted men’s basketball transfer if he wants to leave Central Florida in time for the fall semester after the NCAA handed down a postseason ban for 2013. The senior power forward is a legit, highly-skilled power player who would immediately help a team make an NCAA tournament run. If Clanton were to leave, a number of sources assume (maybe wrongly) that he would stay in state. Florida sounds like a natural fit, but would Gators coach Billy Donovan take a player off his former assistant’s team and crush Donnie Jones’ chances of at least being a contender for a regular-season C-USA title? Florida State sounds good, too. But the school that would make the most sense is South Florida. The Bulls recruited Clanton hard out of Orlando Christian Prep. The Bulls made the NCAA tournament last season, beating Cal in the First Four in Dayton, then Temple before losing to upstart Ohio in the third round in Nashville. USF has one of the top guards in the Big East in Anthony Collins. Coach Stan Heath has a power player in Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and a small forward in Victor Rudd Jr. But the depth upfront is lacking and the Bulls definitely have a scholarship available. Clanton would come in and immediately bolster this unit and give it a reliable scoring pop for an offensively challenged crew. Heath has depth at guard with Shaun Noriega and Jawanza Poland along with JC transfer Javontae Hawkins. But if the Bulls could land Clanton then he would be a game changer for USF in the Big East. Oh, and the Bulls -- in anticipation of UCF joining the Big East in 2013 -- scheduled an in-season home-and-home with UCF, including the season opener Nov. 10 at the Bulls’ renovated new Sun Dome.

2. The strength of the Duke and Syracuse staffs was on display last week at ESPN’s Wide of World Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at an AAU tournament. Seeing Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara and Duke’s Jeff Capel, a former head coach at Oklahoma, was yet another reminder how the Olympic commitment for Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has no negative impact on recruiting. Both schools continued to get top commitments during their Olympic coaching experience, and when they’re gone they have recognizable faces on the road representing them and their schools.

3. Georgia State left Tuesday for South Africa as coach Ron Hunter embarked on delivering shoes to impoverished children on behalf of Samaritan’s Feet. Hunter is making his sixth trip and his first with Georgia State after five sojourns with his former school, IUPUI. A number of schools are going on foreign trips next month to play games. Georgia State isn’t picking up a basketball. The 10-day trip is all about doing what is good, pure and right. Once again, Hunter deserves praise for acting instead of reacting, actually doing rather than pontificating, and being hands on with a tangible deed in lieu of simply sending financial assistance.
A few hours ago, Oklahoma and the NCAA released the summary disposition report on the investigation into the OU men's basketball program, specifically into alleged violations committed by former assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro. If you're particularly bored at work -- or you're the kind of person that likes sifting through heavily redacted files filled with NCAA jargon and quasi-legalese -- you can read the report itself in PDF form here. But the most important takeaways can be found in the Associated Press's story here:
Oklahoma has asked the NCAA to place its men's basketball program on two more years of probation and vacate all wins from the 2009-10 season for two major rules violations by former assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro. [...] The Sooners also proposed taking away one scholarship, two official visits and 10 in-person recruiting days during the upcoming academic year as penalties for the violations committed while the program was already on probation.

In other words, Oklahoma is in full-on damage-control mode, one of the major steppingstones schools must complete to show the NCAA they mean business before appearing in front of the Committee on Infractions. And these self-penalties are serious. It's not often that you see schools actively espouse the vacation of wins.

But will the NCAA be impressed? Part of me tends to doubt it. The rest of the Sooners' self-penalties are arguably nothing more than half-measures: a scholarship here, a few visits there, some recruiting days here, a few more years of probation there. Had Oklahoma not already been on probation for violations committed under coach Jeff Capel's predecessor, Kelvin Sampson, these might get the job done.

But the probation point seems far more serious than that. The NCAA has a record of being far less lenient with programs that commit violations while already on probation. If Taliaferro indeed helped land former recruit Tiny Gallon a loan from a Florida financial adviser, that's bad enough. If he did so while OU was still on probation, the NCAA could be inclined to argue that the school didn't take its atmosphere of compliance seriously. If you're probation, you have to be squeaky clean.

Now more than ever, the NCAA is interested in sending a message to violators (and to those who criticize its enforcement as inconsistent): We take this stuff seriously. You should too. Given the circumstances, such a message seems appropriate here. Will a postseason ban be the medium?
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- The lifeline came from a familiar source.

Twelve years ago -- and just a year removed from his collegiate career -- Jeff Capel watched his weight dwindle and his dreams disappear. Eventually diagnosed with ulcer colitis, Capel was living back with his parents, depressed and convinced that he was a failure.

And then his coach, Mike Krzyzewski, called with a job offer.

“I don’t even know what the position was,’’ Capel said. “But he knew he needed to get me out of the house.’’

Fast forward to this March. Fired at the University of Oklahoma and stung by allegations that he was aware of an alleged payment to former player Tiny Gallon, Capel was somewhere between disenchanted and disillusioned about the game and the sport he had loved since childhood.

And then Krzyzewski called again, offering Capel a job as his assistant. This, though, was more than just a job and a paycheck; it was an unspoken message delivered from the game’s most powerful and respected coach to everyone else attached to the sport.

“In two of the darkest times of my life, Coach Krzyzewski has been there for me,’’ Capel said. “The past two years, with all the stuff swirling over my head, I needed a break. I loved coaching my team this last year but it was difficult to go to work every day in that environment. Now it’s like getting a new beginning in an old place.’’

And it’s a true fresh start for Capel in a lot of ways. Now sporting his Duke T-shirt at the EYBL Peach Jam, he is marking his first July as an assistant coach on the road.

It’s brought a different perspective to the recruiting road and maybe even a little new-found respect for the rigors of the job.

“You know what? It’s definitely different,’’ he said. “But I love it. Not only did Coach give me an opportunity to work but he gave me an opportunity to learn and to grow. I know, in the end, I’ll be better for this.’’
That was the word from Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, who told the Associated Press that the NCAA's investigation into Oklahoma hoops -- specifically, the path former forward Keith "Tiny" Gallon took to arrive at the Sooners' doorstep -- is nearing completion:
Castiglione said after a board of regents meeting Wednesday that there are "signs that we're moving toward resolution" and there "probably will" be developments he can comment on later this summer. [...] "We're certainly hopeful to get it to a resolution soon," Castiglione said. "It just needs to be resolved. We've gathered every piece of information we could possibly gather and responded to every request, facilitated any and all interviews. We're just waiting for the next step."

Of course, the question is not whether or when resolution will come. It's what that resolution will mean for Oklahoma.

On its face, it doesn't look good. The impetus for the investigation is allegations that Florida financial advisor Jeffrey Hausinger gave Gallon $3,000 to give to his high school so the school would release Gallon's transcripts. That was bad enough. When phone and email records tied Hausinger to former Oklahoma assistant Oronde Taliaferro -- who resigned when the investigation began -- things started to look much worse for the Sooners.

Since the Gallon fiasco emerged, Oklahoma has gone from a rising program with a young, promising coach -- Jeff Capel, who took the Blake Griffin-led Sooners to the Elite Eight merely two years ago -- to a flaming wreck of bottom-barrel talent and confusion. A disastrous 2009-10 season, in which Gallon and once-promising recruit Tommy Mason-Griffin led the Sooners to a whopping 13 wins, was followed by an even worse 2010-11, the season that got Capel fired.

And, yes, the NCAA investigation might have had something to do with that, too. The question is what it will mean for new coach Lon Kruger and OU's rebuilding efforts. Are there penalties there? Do they linger? Is OU hoops set for a protracted down period? It all depends on that resolution.

Lon Kruger has Toby Keith's support

May, 23, 2011
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Country music star Toby Keith is a big-time Oklahoma fan. He performed at a game last season in honor of the late Wayman Tisdale and is a fixture at games.

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AP Photo/Richard DrewCountry singer Toby Keith on new Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger: "The fence-sitters have already converted to Lon's side."
He's also a fan of the hiring of Lon Kruger, according to the Tulsa World.
"Looove Lon Kruger," Toby Keith told me Saturday morning. "Lon Kruger is a perfect hire. I know people have been chattering about who we should have hired and whether we should have fired Jeff Capel, the pros and cons. But the fence-sitters have already converted to Lon's side."

...

"They're the kind of guys [Kruger's recruits] that will make a difference on this team immediately," Keith said. "I don't know if we had that (under Capel) coming in immediately. One way or another, he's hit the street here in about a month and made changes that are going to make a difference.

"He's won everywhere he's been. He's no BS. They're going to play hard defense and do what they do."

Kruger, even after leaving UNLV to take the Oklahoma job, stayed on as chair of the Coaches vs. Cancer Las Vegas Golf Classic fundraiser that features numerous coaches from the Mountain West Conference. According to the Tulsa World, Keith is flying out to take part in that event.

That's great news for Kruger as he aims to fit in as the new guy in Oklahoma. It wasn't easy to pry him from UNLV, but Oklahoma persisted and awarded him a seven-year, $16.6 million contract.

Keith, who has belted out "How Do You Like Me Now?!" among other tunes over the years, is at least one superfan convinced it was the right move.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might not retire for another, oh, six years? Seven years? Longer? The 64-year-old Coach K doesn't look ready to slow down anytime soon.

In other words, any conversation about his successor is by its very nature premature. But rest assured Duke fans will only ramp up the successor conversation when Krzyzewski -- who built, maintained, and dominated the program in every manner since he arrived as a young Army coach in 1980 -- slowly but surely moves closer to calling it a career. This is only natural.

Plenty of potential successors have been named in the past, from current head coaches (Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker) to current long-time assistants (Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski). Lately, the speculation has shifted to former VCU and Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, who returned to Duke as a special assistant last week. Newport News Daily Press sportswriter David Teel asks the question many Duke fans have no doubt considered: Does Capel's return put him somewhere near the succession plan?
At Duke, where he played point guard from 1993-97, Capel replaces Nate James as an assistant coach. James assumes an administrative role within the program.

Translation: Krzyzewski restructured his staff to bring Capel home.

The question becomes, is this merely a lifeline for Capel? Or, as Comrade Fairbank suggested upon hearing the news Sunday, is Capel being groomed for the corner office?

Yes, the question is there. The answer is still years away. Much will depend on what happens with the NCAA's ongoing investigation at Oklahoma: If Capel's reputation is sullied in the process, it would difficult to see him taking over at a program like Duke, which prides itself not only on winning but on doing so without incurring anything resembling NCAA violations.

Or maybe Capel isn't a candidate in the first place. Maybe we're all reading way, way too much into this. Maybe Duke's successor will come from outside Coach K's somewhat sparse coaching tree. We'll see. But unless Coach K calls it quits earlier than anyone expects, it'll be a while until we do.

UNLV names four head coaching finalists

April, 5, 2011
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Naturally, the Wynn placed odds on who would become the next UNLV coach after Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma. Coaches from Bruce Pearl to Shaka Smart to Jerry Tarkanian were listed as possibilities, with Tark's return at 25,000 to 1.

The Wynn will now have to readjust those odds after UNLV named its four finalists, announcing that St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap, former Oregon coach Ernie Kent, BYU associate head coach Dave Rice and Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus will continue on in the interview process.

"The list has been narrowed down to four outstanding candidates and I am looking forward to continuing the interview process," UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood said in a statement. "We were looking forward to naming our new head coach very soon."

Rice and Theus appear to be the top candidates. Rice played at UNLV, coached for 11 seasons as an assistant there, and has found success at BYU. Theus also played for the Rebels and has coached the Kings and at New Mexico State.

The Wynn had listed Theus as the favorite at 2-1 and Rice right behind him at 3-1. It also had Pearl at 10-1, Kent at 60 to 1, former Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel at 75-1, Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski at 100 to 1 and Dunlap at 125 to 1.

OU's Cade Davis earns his tough card

September, 23, 2010
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I won't lie: That headline originally read "man card." Because that is a traditional, slightly sexist way of saying someone did something tough. Then I thought about it, and I remembered that being tough is not at all a trait reserved for men. Then I remembered that plenty of females would probably be able to beat me up, because I am weak. So, "tough card" it is. Deal? Deal.

Anyway, the point is that Oklahoma guard Cade Davis deserves some sort of toughness award. Why? Because he broke his face, and he's going to keep playing basketball anyway. From the AP:
Guard Cade Davis will be held out of contact drills during practice but should not miss any games for Oklahoma after he suffered a facial fracture.

Sooners basketball coach Jeff Capel said Wednesday that Davis would not need surgery and has been cleared for conditioning and shooting drills. He was injured during a team workout last Friday.

Sure, it's still the offseason, and it's not exactly like Davis is putting his face on the line immediately, but come on -- that's pretty impressive.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go ice down my carpal tunnel. I'm playing through injury, too!
College hoops coaches don't come cheap. Even if you're the type of program that can't (or won't, but usually can't) afford $3 million per year in salary for your head coach, most big-time programs still have to shell out for their head guy. It's funny -- a coaching salary of $700,000 at a power conference program is looked on as chump change, but when you really think about it, it's hard to consider any salary with that many zeros behind it a "bargain."

Still, relative to their peers, some coaches do more with with slightly less. Big 12 Hoops ran the numbers on the Big 12's coaches in 2009-10 and divided each coach's salary by the number of wins its team notched last season. The result? Scott Drew and Frank Martin were capital-b Bargains.

Martin made $760,000 last season. His team won 29 games. In effect, Kansas State paid $26,206 for each Wildcats win, the lowest figure in the conference. Drew was the second-cheapest; at a yearly salary of $900,000, Drew's 28 wins cost Baylor $32,142 each.

The expensive coaches in the Big 12 last season include a few names you might assume. Bill Self's $3 million salary means that no matter how many games he wins, he'll finish near the top of this list. At $90,909 per win, Self finished second. Rick Barnes came in at third with $83,333 per win. The most expensive coach award goes to Oklahoma's Jeff Capel, whose combination of salary ($1.5 million) and dreadful post-Blake Griffin season (13-18) means OU paid $115,384 for each of its infrequent victories.

All of which is to say: No win is cheap in college basketball. Some wins cost you a teacher's salary. Some wins cost you an investment banker's income. All of them cost something. Fortunately, the capitalist college basketball market values those wins highly enough to make the investment worthwhile. Otherwise, all this would seem even more ridiculous than it already is.
Despite the many invaluable recruiting services available to the average college hoops fan, it's hard to get a good idea for which freshmen are really going to impact the college hoops scene in each coming year. Which is why it's probably worth paying attention to the newly minted 2010 USA under-18 squad.

The group culled from a group of 2010 and 2011 recruits by coaches like Bruce Weber, Jim Boeheim, Brad Stevens and Jeff Capel and, per the usual, it's a collection of famous and not-so-famous incoming prospects, a list that might, by the time the summer's out, change the long-held recruiting consensus.

The list is as follows (with helpful context provided by Ballin' Is A Habit):

G - Vander Blue (rising freshman at Marquette)
G - Trevor Cooney (class of '11 verbal to Syracuse)
G - Abdul Gaddy (rising sophomore at Washington)
F - Josh Hairston (rising freshman at Duke)
G - Kyrie Irving (rising freshman at Duke)
F - Quincy Miller (undeclared class of '11)
F - Tony Mitchell (rising freshman at Missouri)
F - LeBryan Nash (undeclared class of '11)
F - Jereme Richmond (rising freshman at Illinois)
G - Austin Rivers (undeclared class of '11)
C - Amir Williams (undeclared class of '11)
F- Patric Young (rising freshman at Florida)

Gaddy is the only current collegian in the team, but it won't be long before we get to players like Hairston, Irving, and Richmond, all heralded recruits from the class of 2010 who will be playing significant minutes for their programs of choice in about five months. But why wait that long? Illinois fans are already head over heels for Jereme Richmond; this summer, he already has a chance to prove why.
Jeff Capel's current problems at Oklahoma have been well-documented. He lost two star freshmen -- forward Tiny Gallon and point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin -- to very questionable draft decisions. Guard Willie Warren is leaving too, having failed in his second year to deliver on the promise of his first. And Oklahoma has opened an internal investigation into a wire transfer Gallon allegedly received from a financier in Florida, which if true would constitute an NCAA infraction. Compared with the brilliance of the Sooners' Blake Griffin-led campaign in 2008-09, it has not been a good year for Capel.

[+] Enlarge Jeff Capel
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma coach Jeff Capel has added eight players in the past four days.
There is, however, some good news. Oklahoma will, in fact, be able to field a team in 2010-11. Huzzah!

Capel has quietly reloaded his roster recently, signing four players in the last eight days. Along with three junior college transfers, the haul gives Capel -- count 'em -- eight future Sooners in the class of 2010. None are quite as good as Gallon or Warren or Mason-Griffin, to be sure; all three were former McDonald's All-Americans who came to Oklahoma with huge hype. Instead, Capel's class has just two ESPNU top 100 players: No. 6-ranked small forward Cameron Clark and No. 16-ranked point guard T.J. Taylor. The rest of the class, none of which rank near the top 100, is mediocre by Capel's standards.

No matter. The good news here is not that Capel is reloading with top talent. It's that he's reloading at all. The Sooners will be young and inexperienced and will probably have to rely heavily on junior college transfers Nick Thompson and C.J. Washington to anchor the interior. But given where Capel was just a few weeks ago -- watching his franchise players leave for the NBA, watching his program come under fire for one of those players' alleged improprieties -- that's a positive development all the same. For now, Capel's Sooners will be about weathering the storm. They may be makeshift, but at least he has some materials with which to build a shelter. (Storm metaphor? Anyone? No? OK, then. Let's end here.)
This offseason has already seen a bevy of unprepared players decide to test the NBA waters, but few schools can boast two such casualties. Oklahoma is one of them.

First, it was freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin, who had a nice first year for the Sooners but at 5-foot-11, with more raw ability than refined polish, doesn't look anything like an NBA-ready point guard. Whatever, Mason-Griffin decided to declare for the NBA draft anyway.

For what it's worth, Mason-Griffin seems like a sincere guy. He recently gave a totally unnecessary, but still nice, apology to OU fans for leaving early. "I want to apologize if they felt I let them down by leaving early or leaving this soon I would say,” Mason-Griffin told a Houston TV station. "This past season, I know we didn’t have the best season, but I gave it my all. My teammates gave it their all even though the end of the season didn’t come out like it was supposed to, but we played hard and we fought."

It's hard to argue with that, just as it is difficult to begrudge a guy for deciding he's done waiting to live out his childhood dream. But there's no question Mason-Griffin, who doesn't even rank among ESPN Insider Chad Ford's Top 100 prospects Insider, is making a questionable decision.

Just as questionable is his teammate's decision. Fellow freshman Keith "Tiny" Gallon, announced his decision to enter the NBA draft late Tuesday night. Gallon's draft status is a little bit better than Mason-Griffin's, but it's still not great; Ford ranks Gallon in that dreaded "second round to undrafted" range. Gallon is a strong interior player and a promising rebounder, but that's about it right now, and it's hard to imagine him having immediate success in the NBA if he's even drafted in the first place.

It's possible this decision was accelerated by Oklahoma's investigation into $3,000 Gallon allegedly accepted via wire transfer from a Florida financial adviser, according to a TMZ report. For now, Gallon hasn't revealed whether he will be hiring an agent.

Oh, and don't forget Sooners star Willie Warren, who had a stellar freshman season in the Blake Griffin Destroys All Comers Era but fell off in his sophomore season. After feuding with Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel for much of the season, Warren will also enter the NBA draft, and say this much for him: At least Warren looks like a first-round pick.

It can't good to be Capel right now. The Mason-Griffin/Gallon recruiting class was a major coup, but it's gone after a year, and all Capel has to show for it is a 13-18 season, the worst at OU in 29 years. Reserves Orlando Allen and Ray Willis are leaving the program (presumably as transfers), leaving Capel with four returning scholarship players for 2010-11. The good news is that Capel has a solid recruiting class arriving this fall Insider, including the No. 6-ranked small forward in the class in Cameron Clark Insider. The bad news is that none of Capel's three recruits is a plausible replacement for Gallon in the frontcourt; Oklahoma will be playing awfully small next season.

As bad as that sounds, roster concerns might be the least of Capel's current worries. OU assistant coach and lead recruiter Oronde Taliaferro resigned last month amid rumors that he could be tied to a recruiting scandal and NCAA investigation. Anything the NCAA or any interested news organization -- like The Oklahoman, which has already been rebuffed on an open records request by Oklahoma in its pursuit of Taliaferro documents -- finds would be double-plus bad, considering Oklahoma is already on NCAA probation.

In short, in the past month or so Capel has seen his roster dwindle to four, lost his best three players, witnessed the opening of an investigation into the finances of one Tiny Gallon, and lost an assistant coach over potentially damaging concerns of recruiting impropriety. Like I said: It can't be good to be Capel right now.

Miraculously, Capel went almost a month without addressing the media on any of this stuff. Last Friday was, finally, his first public appearance, where he answered questions and gave inspiring quotes and generally seemed to be in positive spirits, despite the morass surrounding him. A sampling:

  • "There is hope. There absolutely is hope. I'm excited about where we're going forward to. Sometimes, in order to get better, you have to cleanse. Sometimes you have to lose some things. Sometimes things have to fall apart in order for them to fall back together."
  • "For a lot of people, it may look doom and gloom. But for me, it's exciting. It's certainly a challenge, but it's something I think we're all up for."
  • "If I wasn't happy here, I wouldn't be here. That's the first thing. I've never done anything just for money. That's just not how I am. That's not how I'm made up. If I didn't want to be here I wouldn't be here. That doesn't necessarily mean I'd take another job. I may get out of coaching. I just wouldn't be here if I wasn't happy. I wouldn't do that to my family."
  • "We want guys that have two feet in. We don't want a guy that still has one bag packed and is still looking to get out."
  • On Oklahoma's independent investigation: "Because a review is in process, it's not appropriate for me to respond with anything that's ongoing with the review right now. I do look forward to a point in time when I can talk to you and talk to you in detail about the review. Right now is not that time."

Clearly, Capel is approaching Oklahoma's situation with a sunny disposition. That's good. He's going to need it.
I'm not a huge fan of second-guessing the decisions of 18- or 19-year-old kids. Why? Because I was 18 and 19 not too long ago, and though I considered myself a pretty mature, responsible guy, very few of my life decisions were made with anything resembling certainty. I could be talked into a lot. I get it.

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Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesTommy Mason-Griffin averaged 14.1 ppg for the Sooners this season.
Still, it's hard not to think that Oklahoma's Tommy Mason-Griffin is making a big mistake in deciding to go pro after his freshman season. Mason-Griffin was the Sooners' lone bright spot during his freshman season in Oklahoma; he scored 14.1 points and averaged five assists per game in a season in which the Sooners drastically underperformed. Coach Jeff Capel's other star guard, future lottery pick Willie Warren, spent the entirety of the season either injured or in Capel's doghouse, and Mason-Griffin performed admirably in his stead.

That's all well and good, but the simple facts remain. Is Mason-Griffin a good player? Yes. Is he a future pro? Maybe. Is he at all ready to enter the NBA? No.

NBA scouting types seem to agree. Chad Ford doesn't have Mason-Griffin in his top 100 Insider, let alone in the top two rounds of the draft. Draft Express draws a similar conclusion. Heck, Draft Express's last update on Tommy came when his high school recruitment ended. He hasn't even been on their radar. It's never all that much fun to tell a college athlete that his chances of success at the next level are limited, but right now, if Mason-Griffin doesn't improve his draft status in a hurry, he's going to be that guy.

A lot of college hoops fans like to insinuate that it's inherently bad for players to leave before they've completed their degree. They pine for the days of four-year All-Americans, before the days of the high school draft and one-and-dones. The less romantic reality is that it's very difficult to tell a likely lottery pick -- say John Wall, or even someone like Xavier Henry, who is currently weighing his pro future -- that he should stay in school when NBA millions await. The cost of injury is too high. But it's far less difficult to question that decision when it looks like it leads to a dead end. And Mason-Griffin, unfortunately, looks like he's heading toward a dead end.

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