When you go on a college campus, there's excitement galore over the upcoming season! Let me tell you, here are five guys who are even more thrilled with the start of the 2003-04 campaign. Due to injuries and other off-court problems, they missed most or all of last season.
I call this group my All-Comeback team -- five guys who will step forward and have solid years barring some unforeseen dilemma (listed in alphabetical order):
Ilian Evtimov | forward | N.C. State
Down at N.C. State, coach Herb Sendek suffered a major loss during the team's first exhibition game last year when 6-foot-7 Ilian Evtimov went down with a season-ending torn ACL. The versatile Evtimov is a tough inside player who had a solid freshman season.
A versatile performer, Evtimov knows how to play and isn't afraid to step outside to shoot his jumper. He hit 56 percent from 3-point range in helping the Wolfpack to the ACC tournament final two years ago. Evtimov also played well in the NCAA Tournament as a diaper dandy. Sendek is happy to have him back in the lineup this season. Hopefully the knee won't be a problem in 2003-04.
Chris Hernandez | point guard | Stanford
Point-guard play is vital in Stanford coach Mike Montgomery's system. Unfortunately, last season Chris Hernandez was healthy enough to play just two games after being bothered by a broken bone in his foot. Stanford needs a healthy year from Hernandez, who could be a catalyst from the perimeter in his sophomore season.
Sean May | forward/center | North Carolina
North Carolina wasn't the same team after its low-post presence, Sean May, suffered a stress fracture in his foot last Dec. 27 vs. Iona at Madison Square Garden. Things were going so well early for the Tar Heels with then-diaper dandies Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton and May leading the way.
New UNC coach Roy Williams has May back, and the sophomore has slimmed down from his playing weight of 270 pounds last season (to about 260). He's a big-time inside presence with great hands, tremendous passing and scoring ability making him so special.
Todor Pandov | forward | Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky suffered a major loss in its season opener against Arizona last year when 6-foot-9 Todor Pandov went down with a season-ending knee injury. Coach Dennis Felton, who has now moved on to the Georgia coaching job, had a tough time with injuries last season. Center Chris Marcus also was sidelined for most of last season (his senior campaign).
Pandov had 12 points and five rebounds vs. the Wildcats in just 23 minutes before suffering the injury. He already redshirted in 2001, so he's now a senior in terms of eligibility. You know this kid is tough -- his dad was an Olympic medalist in boxing for Bulgaria! New coach Darrin Horn, coaching at his alma mater, welcomes Pandov back with open arms. He will be a factor on the baseline.
Pierre Pierce | guard | Iowa
Coach Steve Alford has had his struggles at Iowa. He welcomes back scoring guard Pierre Pierce, who was redshirted after an off-court incident. Pierce has been reinstated, and the sophomore played brilliantly in a preseason trip to Australia in which the Hawkeyes went 4-1. I can't wait to see how Pierce fares in an early-season test Nov. 29 vs. Louisville in the Wooden Tradition event in Indianapolis.
I hope the season works out in a positive way for these student-athletes and the schools they represent.