Category archive: Illinois State Redbirds

Tim Jankovich agonized over his decision to become Larry Brown's coach-in-waiting at SMU.

It took so long that it could have put Illinois State's 2012-13 season, which could end with an NCAA tournament bid, in jeopardy.

But the Redbirds saved face by finding an alumnus who was ready to become a head coach in Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller.

Muller's first head coaching job, at his alma mater no less, has eased plenty of angst.

But his May 8 start date has been a challenge.

Here are five key issues he has had to deal with:

How did Muller handle losing his starting point guard to SMU?

Nic Moore, who averaged 28.5 minutes a game as a freshman, left with Jankovich. Muller granted Moore his release and was as cooperative as possible.

"Three weeks later, we signed a point guard,'' said Muller of Canadian Kaza Keane. "He was one of the only ones left available.''

Muller said the Redbirds don't have much depth at the position, even with Keane. He said he'll use Anthony Cousin at the 2, even though he was much more of a combo guard last season.

"He's not a true point, but he's a good player,'' Muller said of Cousin.

How did Muller handle his relationship with assistant Rob Judson after he lost out to him for the head coaching job?

He hired him.

"I tried to talk to Rob and told him what I was looking for,'' said Muller. "I told him what was important to me and that we had to be on the same page. We've developed a relationship. I wanted to make sure Rob understood what I wanted and after he understood that I was fine with that.''

Jankovich's late move meant his coaching staff could have been unemployed for next season. Brown already had his staff intact at SMU. So Muller saved Judson's job with the hire. He also had to consider the other two assistants, Anthony Beane and Paris Parham. But both men landed on their feet. Beane is now at Southern Illinois and Parham got a gig at Illinois.

"I felt bad for those guys and talked to both of them, but it all worked out for everybody,'' Muller said. "It was tough since it was so late in the game, but they ended up getting good spots in the same state.''

What were Muller's thoughts on taking over a veteran team in May?

Other than Moore, the Redbirds return their core -- Tyler Brown, Cousin, Jon Ekey and Jackie Carmichael.

But Muller had to ensure that they bought into him -- and his system -- before the summer hit. He didn't have much time. He got the job during final exam week, so everybody on the team was gone within three or four days of his hiring.

"So I got on the road and traveled and saw every player who was not on campus and their families,'' Muller said. "It took me a week and a half. I was also trying to get a point guard. I went and saw everybody. I tried to develop a level of trust. I thought that was really important.''

The workouts, now allowed with current players for two hours a week if they're in summer school, has been a huge plus. "They get a chance to see me on the court,'' Muller said. "That part has been invaluable. We're pretty far along on the trust factor.''

How did Muller finish the nonconference schedule?

He had four games to add, and the Redbirds needed an upgrade. "I had to beef up the schedule,'' he said. "They hadn't played a tough schedule in the past, and there weren't any [high-profile] road games.''

Muller said he scheduled four: "At Louisville for a buy game, scheduled a home-and-home with Dayton, starting at Dayton, scheduled Austin Peay at home and the last game isn't finalized yet but it will be with a home-and-home with Drexel, starting at Drexel.''

That's pretty good for a team that has visions of the NCAA tournament.

Illinois State's problems in the past have included a weak nonconference slate. Last season, the Redbirds fell to Creighton in overtime in the Missouri Valley Conference title game. They played two more overtime games, wining at Ole Miss and losing at Stanford, both in the NIT, to finish 21-14 overall.

Illinois State will also play in the South Padre Island tournament, along with UAB, TCU and Northwestern.

This means the Redbirds will now play a Big East favorite (Louisville), a CAA favorite (Drexel) and at least two postseason teams in Dayton and Northwestern.

They also get Wyoming at home in the MWC-MVC Challenge and will play on the road in the BracketBuster event in February.

As a first-time head coach, how did Muller organize everything?

He leaned heavily on his experience working for Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt.

"I was lucky that I was familiar here and that I didn't have to sign 12 kids or kick any bad kids off the team,'' said Muller. "I came into a good situation and I was taught how to run a program by Coach Stallings. I hired guys who were familiar with the Valley [Dana Ford was at Wichita State last season and Judson]. Now I'm just adding my own twist, recruiting and developing relationships. That's it.''

Assuming his grades are reported as expected, UTEP will add enigmatic center Derrick Caracter to its lineup Sunday against New Mexico State. (Update: As announced Saturday, Caracter will indeed make his debut with the Miners this weekend.)

UTEP coach Tony Barbee doesn't expect a hitch in getting Caracter into the Miners' rotation. He backloaded their nonconference schedule knowing the team would be without Caracter early in the season.

The Miners, a trendy pick to push Tulsa and Memphis and win Conference USA, are 5-0 with a glut of nonconference games remaining against Ole Miss in Southaven, Miss. (Dec. 16), Oklahoma in Oklahoma City (Dec. 21), at Texas Tech (Jan. 3) and against BYU (Jan. 9). Their C-USA schedule begins SMU on Jan. 6.

"I tried to play the fewest amount of games I could prior to Dec. 13," Barbee said. "If I could have played two games, I would have, but there weren't enough dates after it. I had to play some home games."

According to Barbee, Caracter has been a model citizen since his arrival in El Paso after transferring from Louisville because of differences with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino about weight and work. Barbee said Caracter, who was hyped as the "next great thing" since he was 14 years old and attending school in New Jersey, has been a loyal foot soldier on the scout team.

But don't for a second think that Caracter is the only reason UTEP should be watched throughout the season.

The Miners, who lost to Oregon State in a decisive third game of the College Basketball Invitational in April, have one of the better-balanced scoring rosters.

UTEP has five players averaging double figures -- guards Randy Culpepper, Julyan Stone and Christian Polk and forwards Arnett Moultrie and Jeremy Williams.

"I told Derrick that he wasn't coming here to be the savior or that this would be a one-man show," Barbee said. "This is a team that we've built here. This is our fourth year, and we're where we want to be. We talked about being balanced, and we are. Derrick will make us better, but he doesn't become our team."

The Miners relied heavily on Stefon Jackson early in Barbee's tenure. But although Culpepper and Stone don't have similar star power, they're much more of a complementary pair. Moultrie is a developing talent who will thrive even more with Caracter next to him. The Miners should have the best shot-blocking tandem in the league with this pair, even more so than true center Jerome Jordan of Tulsa, who wouldn't have as meaty a mate next to him as Moultrie will with Caracter.

Barbee talked about how high this team can go once he has everyone eligible. Still, the Miners may not have as much room for error in Conference USA, which should be extremely competitive. Building a résumé with wins now will only help, and unlike a lot of other potential NCAA teams, the Miners have purposely gotten off to a quiet start. Once Caracter is eligible, the higher-profile games will start rolling in, and we'll have a more accurate picture of the possibility of UTEP being a true team to watch for the next three months.

• Florida's loss meant there were 15 remaining unbeaten teams this season. It's still so early and it doesn't mean that much -- yet.

But still, which is the most surprising unblemished team?

Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders' overtime win over Washington is still one of the more surprising results this season.

New Mexico probably would finish second in this group. The Lobos play Texas A&M on Saturday in Houston.

Which of the one-loss teams has been one of the most overlooked?

Saint Mary's.

If the Gaels had beaten Vanderbilt instead of losing by a deuce, they might've been one of the more-talked-about teams. Omar Samhan has been stellar so far, and so has the guard play. The Gaels got overshadowed by Gonzaga and Portland in November, but check who is atop the West Coast Conference standings in overall record in mid-December.

Of schools outside the power six leagues, which one-loss teams should you keep tabs on? Northern Colorado at 8-1 is now a favorite to win the Big Sky, and a battle is brewing in the Missouri Valley among undefeated Missouri State (8-0), Illinois State (7-0), Wichita State (8-1) and preseason favorite Northern Iowa (6-1).
Renardo Sidney's eligibility status for this season is at a stalemate.

The NCAA has requested specific documentation for the Mississippi State signee -- the income tax returns from Sidney's family to explain how it paid for housing while the Jackson, Miss., native was playing at Fairfax High in Los Angeles. But Sidney's Birmingham-based attorney, Donald Jackson, says he has provided plenty of information already and will not hand over that final piece.

The result is that no one at Mississippi State knows if the heralded 6-10, 260-pound forward will be able to play this season. Sidney can practice and has been with the Bulldogs, but whether he can play or not is mired in a standoff that seems like a smaller-scale health care debate. As is the case in Washington, neither side seems willing to budge.

Bracky Brett, MSU's director of compliance, said the NCAA Eligibility Center has determined that Sidney is not certified due to a nonresponse as it awaits the rest of the documents to be delivered by the Sidney family or its legal counsel. The Eligibility Center can either certify Sidney, not certify him or certify him with conditions, which could mean he would have to sit out games or a season, much like a foreign player who has amateurism issues.

Meanwhile, Jackson said he has contacted the Congressional Black Caucus, specifically representatives John Lewis, D-Ga., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., over what he said is "a disturbing pattern in investigations against African-American student-athletes."

Jackson said he has follow-up meetings with the congressional members on the issue.

In an e-mail to ESPN.com, Jackson listed the specific items he has sent to the NCAA. The following list is in his words:

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Renardo Sidney Jr.
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesIf everyone is eligible, Renardo Sidney would be part of a loaded Mississippi State frontcourt.

1. Consultant Agreement between Renardo Sidney, Sr. and Reebok

2. Statement from Reebok official relative to Sidney contract

3. W2 forms provided by Reebok to Renardo, Sr. (2006-2008)

4. Affidavits from "boarders" that resided with Sidney family.

5. Cancelled checks payable from family of "boarders" to Sidney family. These payments were to cover rent and living expenses for the "boarders."

6. Affidavits from grandparents and step-grandfather of Renardo Sidney, Sr. attesting to their financial support of Sidney family.

7. Voluntarily produced income tax returns for multiple years documenting his financial condition and ability to assist in supporting Sidney family. The grandfather is a retired autoworker that made a mid six figure income during his employment in the auto industry. The step-grandfather is a retired National Guardsman who has served three tours in Iraq. He is currently employed as a Deputy Sheriff.

8. Loan documents and entire loan file from FDIC regulated financial institution documenting loan to assist family with "living expenses" during their final year in California.

9. Financial reports, bank statements and annual reports for L.A. Dream Team Foundation, non-profit corporation that supported Renardo, Sr.'s summer league basketball team. This includes public filings both in the State of California and with the Internal Revenue Service.

10. Article of Incorporation and Minutes of Board meetings of L.A. Dream Team Foundation.

11. Titles, copies of liability insurance policies and financing documents for all Sidney family vehicles.

12. Lease agreements on all family residences and/or statements from landlords relative to amounts and methods of payment for monthly lease payments.

13. Bank statements from all accounts maintained by the L.A. Dream Team Foundation

14. Copies of travel records from family's Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Program.

15. Copies of hotel, travel and expense receipts from all unofficial visits taken by student athlete and family.

16. Documentation of income earned by Patricia Sidney from 2006 through the present.

17. Cellular phone records for over two years for all members of the family including siblings that are entirely unconnected to this investigation.

18. Several hundred pages of actual coursework completed by Renardo Sidney, Jr. as a high school student. The student athlete was threatened with "non-certification" if he failed to produce the actual coursework.

According to Jackson, "the aforementioned documentation consists of three binders of documents, several faxed supplements and the academic information that was submitted to MSU (and ultimately the NCAA) in early July, 2009. The academic information was supplemented several times via facsimile."

But according to the NCAA, Jackson hasn't answered the specific request.

"Mr. Jackson continues to try to purposely confuse the matter at hand," Stacey Osburn, the NCAA's associate director for public and media relations, said in an e-mail. "The real issue is his failure to provide the requested documentation to the NCAA Eligibility Center on behalf of his client."

Osburn added that the Eligibility Center determines what records are necessary to determine initial eligibility.

"There is case precedent for requests of specific information, and the Eligibility Center's requests for information from Mr. Jackson's client is consistent with the established, standard process and previous requests for other prospective student-athletes," Osburn said.

Jackson said he has been working cooperatively with Mississippi State's outside legal counsel, Michael Glazier.

"We both want to see him on the floor but our obligations are different," Jackson said.

Brett agreed, saying Mississippi State has to protect the integrity of the university. He said the documentation requests by the NCAA Eligibility Center go to the Sidney family and Jackson, not to Mississippi State.

"We hope to have some resolution before the season starts but it could carry into the season and beyond," Brett said. "If he doesn't compete then it's like a redshirt year, but his five-year eligibility clock starts once he enrolls."

Sidney has been participating in individual workouts with the team and can take part in practice when it starts officially on Oct. 16, even if he's not cleared to play. Teams can conduct full team workouts for two hours a week at this point in the preseason, but Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury has been reluctant because of Sidney's situation.

"Does this keep you from doing some team stuff? Yes, because no one knows for sure if he's going to play," said Stansbury on Tuesday while he was on the road recruiting. "It does make it difficult that they are prolonging the decision."

Stansbury said he can't control this situation so he's not spending too much time on the minutiae of the case. But he does have to think about playing the season without Sidney. If he does play, the Bulldogs will be a stronger team up front as Sidney would provide a buffer for shot-blocking senior center Jarvis Varnado.

"You know the impact Renardo could have, but there is a learning curve," Stansbury said. "We will be tough to play against with him. He can overcome the learning curve with his abilities."

There is no guarantee the Eligibility Center would certify Sidney, even if Jackson provided the NCAA with the requested financial documents. But if he doesn't, it does appear the Eligibility Center will simply hold its ground, which means this will likely drag deep into the season.

• Army will bring St. John's assistant coach Fred Quartlebaum on campus Wednesday in regard to the school's suddenly vacant head-coaching position. Quartlebaum was one of a half-dozen candidates interviewed for the position. Army athletic director Kevin Anderson also talked to Tulsa assistant David Cason, St. Mary's associate head coach Kyle Smith, Wake Forest director of basketball operations Walt Corbean, Arizona State assistant coach Dedrique Taylor and Cornell assistant coach Zach Spiker. Cason and Corbean are no longer part of the search. It's unclear how many of the other candidates will also visit the West Point campus. Anderson fired Jim Crews last week. Anderson said it was for multiple reasons, but there have been multiple reports that one of the issues was a confrontation with a player.

• Illinois State junior forward Bobby Hill suffered a torn ACL for the second straight season. Last year it was in his right knee and this time in his left. Hill was a JC All-American when he transferred to Illinois State and was expected to be a key contributor for coach Tim Jankovich. In a statement, Jankovich called Hill's injury "the toughest news I can remember ever receiving. It is difficult for me to put in words how devastated I am for him."