I can't wait for the season to tip off at Madison Square Garden with the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic this Thursday and Friday (Nov. 13-14). I recently spoke to several coaches whose teams are participating in the event. Here are some of their thoughts...
Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (matchups, TV times)
Thursday | Nov. 13
7 p.m. ET | ESPN2
9:30 p.m. ET | ESPN2
Friday | Nov. 14
7 p.m. ET | ESPN2
9:30 p.m. ET | ESPN2
Mike Jarvis | St. John's
St. John's coach Mike Jarvis is excited about the potential of his new club as he prepares to take on Marquette. It's a big-time opener at the Garden, and the Red Storm hope to build on the momentum of winning nine of their last 10 en route to the NIT championship last season. The lone loss in that stretch came against Boston College in the Big East tournament. St. John's had a big win over Duke during the streak.
Jarvis isn't thinking NIT this season -- he's thinking NCAA Tournament. One reason for optimism is the arrival of Darryl Hill, a guard who is a legend on the Rucker playground. According to Jarvis, Hill has shown a real ability to blend in a structured environment.
A backcourt of Hill and sophomore Elijah Ingram -- who showed signs of improvement as last season moved on -- can create problems for opponents. Jarvis will also count of the experience of Willie Shaw to be a factor. Perimeter play will be key for St. John's.
Skip Prosser | Wake Forest
At Wake Forest, coach Skip Prosser is ecstatic over the arrival of diaper dandy Chris Paul. A point guard, Paul is an outstanding student-athlete who has a tragic story regarding the death of his grandfather at the early age of 61. Last Nov. 15, Nathaniel Jones, Paul's grandfather, was found murdered in his carport in Winston-Salem.
Paul didn't know if he should play in his next game. He was told that was what his grandfather would want, so he performed at a high level.
Five days later, the day Jones was buried, Paul paid special tribute to his grandfather in his West Forsyth High School season-opening game. Late in the game, he intentionally missed a free throw to keep his point total at 61 -- his grandfather's age.
He's the kind of kid you'd love to have on your team. Paul joins an experienced backcourt of Taron Downey and Justin Gray, who was one of the premier 3-point shooters coming off the bench last season. Those three can create a lot of excitement. Paul will get a lot of minutes and have an immediate impact. Wake Forest is also strong up front with Vytas Danelius and Eric Williams (who lost 10 pounds during the offseason).
One of the trademarks of Prosser teams has been good rebounding, and the Demon Deacons led the nation in rebounding margin last season. Rebounding will be a vital part of this year's squad.
Jamie Dixon | Pittsburgh
I spoke to Pittsburgh's new coach, Jamie Dixon, and he can't wait to have a healthy Julius Page take the floor. Page has been battling an ankle injury, but he should be ready for the Alabama game at the Garden. Carl Krauser should be improved at the point-guard slot, where the Panthers lost (to graduation) a true winner with a special mentality in Brandin Knight .
One key for Pittsburgh will be the development of their young players. Chris Taft, a 6-10 diaper dandy, will get some quality minutes up front. The Panthers also have several experienced players returning, including Jaron Brown, who will be more than a role player this season. He should pick up his scoring productivity this season.
Dixon himself is a diaper dandy, getting a shot as a head coach after Ben Howland left for UCLA.
Mark Gottfried | Alabama
At Alabama, Mark Gottfried lost his share of talent. Point guard Maurice Williams left early for a shot at the NBA, where he's getting limited playing time for the Jazz instead of being a star on the collegiate level. Williams could have worked on improving his stock and becoming a first-round pick.
The Tide also will miss forward Erwin Dudley, the 2002 SEC player of the Year, and Kenny Walker. But Alabama will have some experience in the backcourt with Antoine Pettway and Earnest Shelton, who has to be consistent with his jumper. Gottfried is hoping for big things from a couple of diaper dandies: 6-10 Jemareo Davidson of Atlanta and 6-9 Akini Adkins.
John Calipari | Memphis
Memphis coach John Calipari remembers Coaches vs. Cancer last year, when his Tigers shocked eventual national champion Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony. This year his club will be quicker and will really try to knock down the trifecta.
Calipari has experienced players like Antonio Burks, Anthony Rice and Rodney Carney. The arrival of Sean Banks will be a plus. A diaper dandy from New Jersey, Banks had some problems off the court. But, according to Calipari, he has been a model student-athlete since arriving on the Memphis campus.
Carney is one of the quickest athletes around. His mom was a world-class sprinter; she could probably outrun half the Memphis team. The Tigers will be dangerous as they employ the system Calipari used at UMass, looking to sprint for layups and to get good shots in the halfcourt set. You can tell by listening to his voice that Calipari is excited about this club.
Memphis has something to prove after losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Ike Diogu and Arizona State.
Phil Martelli | St. Joseph's
I also spoke to St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, who is happy after recently signing a seven-year contract extension. Martelli eats, drinks and sleeps the game of basketball -- and he has a real ability to motivate and teach.
The St. Joseph's-Gonzaga game should be a classic. Their past two meetings have been Maalox Mashers; let's hope this year's game lives up to its billing.
Martelli has one of the nation's premier players: point guard Jameer Nelson. I believe these two teams have potential to make a serious run for a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio. Last March, St. Joseph's lost a heartbreaker to Auburn in the NCAA Tournament.
Delonte West is a special player who was bothered by a stress fracture last year. Pat Carroll, the brother of former Notre Dame star Matt Carroll, gives the Hawks a 3-point threat.
There is also optimism up front with Dwayne Jones getting more minutes. There is a battle at the four-slot, with Dave Mallon returning to compete against Arvydas Lidzius and Robert Ferguson.
I can't wait for it all to start, baby!
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