Stabbing brings awareness to Santa Clara
Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating has his talking point, his example from the one guy he never wanted to use in this light.
As senior center John Bryant recovers from being stabbed last week, Keating had to remind his team about athletic visibility, regardless of who is at fault for an incident.
"It's part of being an athlete," Keating said. "You may have to make more sacrifices than other students, like being out and being more social.
"You need to know where you are at that time of the day, what time is it, who is with you and have more of a heightened sense," he said. "You have to pay more attention than you ever did before. It's an unfortunate deal. It could have happened to anyone. It didn't happen to a regular student but the best basketball player on campus."
Keating said Sunday that the stitches are out of Bryant's back where the stab wounds occurred at an off-campus incident early Saturday. Keating was told that Bryant will be ready for the start of practice on Oct. 17. Commenting on the actual incident is still off-limits because of a Santa Clara police investigation.
Bryant led the West Coast Conference in rebounding (9.6) and blocked shots (2.45) last season. His scoring average of 18 points per game was second in the league. In the offseason, Bryant made a conscious decision to change his diet, work out more efficiently and get in better shape. He was listed at 6-foot-10, 305 pounds as a junior. Keating says he's down to 275 with a real chance "to make some money" after the season as a professional basketball player.
It wouldn't have mattered whether the player was a star or a scrub. The off-campus stabbing was a shock to everyone. Still, it was hard for Keating not to be disappointed that it had happened to Bryant after his commitment this past summer. There was of course an initial fear that Bryant would be facing a longer recovery, and that his hard work wouldn't have paid off as quickly this fall.
The Broncos are in a very competitive WCC that has potential NCAA tournament teams in Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and San Diego. Santa Clara, which finished fourth to this lot last season, doesn't have its seniors, Bryant or guard Calvin Johnson, in the weeks leading up to the start of practice. Johnson partially tore his hamstring and is still rehabbing.
Not having either senior to work with the younger players leaves the Broncos a bit leaderless during workouts. Keating said that the program he's building is about playing for the seniors. When they're not healthy, it makes it harder to sell. The incident with Bryant makes it even more critical to hammer home the point about being careful.
"We can't stop everything from happening," Keating said. "We tell our guys to be on time, to be aware of the place they're in. This just puts it more in the forefront of how important that is."
• ESPN colleague Doug Gottlieb beat me to this point in his Friday blog: Don't pencil in hosts Southern Illinois and Michigan to meet Duke and UCLA in New York at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic just yet. Rick Giles, who owns the Gazelle Group that runs a number of these early-season tournaments, switched his events so that set teams make the neutral-site finals. The four teams that will play in the College Basketball Experience Classic in Kansas City and will host mini-four-team events before the Thanksgiving-week games in K.C. are locked into making the trip. Syracuse, Washington, Florida and Kansas will be in Kansas City. But the CVC hasn't switched to this format yet. That's how Gardner-Webb shocked the establishment a year ago and appeared in New York after upsetting Kentucky in Lexington.
Northeastern is the trendy pick in the Colonial Athletic Association to win the league with returning guards Matt Janning and Chaisson Allen. Northeastern plays IUPUI in the first round on Nov. 11 while Michigan plays Michigan Tech.
UMass returns guards Ricky Harris and Chris Lowe. The Minutemen play Arkansas-Monticello in the first round. Southern Illinois plays California (Pa.), and that matchup essentially locks in a SIU-UMass contest on Nov. 12. UMass originally was in Michigan's group but was moved to SIU's. In return, it will host a regional for the 2009 Legends Classic, which feeds into a four-team event with locked-in teams in Newark, N.J. Gazelle also runs the Legends.
Organizers won't say it, but UMass would be a better draw at Madison Square Garden than Southern Illinois. Michigan draws well with its national alumni, so that wouldn't be the case if it were to lose to Northeastern, even with the Huskies' proximity to New York City. (The Huskies have never drawn significant crowds.)
"We've got a chance," first-year UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of reaching the New York competition.
UMass over SIU wouldn't come close to Gardner-Webb over Kentucky. UMass should be good throughout the year because the returns of Lowe and Harris should anchor the team. Kellogg said he's still trying to figure out how he wants the team to play this season. He will play a version of his John Calipari-style dribble-drive motion offense. Travis Ford, who left in the spring to coach Oklahoma State, had implemented an up-tempo offense, so the transition shouldn't be that difficult.
"I like our team, but I don't know how good we're going to be and what level we can be at," said Kellogg, who played at UMass under Calipari and was an assistant during Calipari's tenure in Memphis.
Kellogg has had no issues with Lowe's and Harris' leadership in workouts and already is signaling out a sleeper contributor in redshirt senior Tony Gaffney. Gaffney was essentially just a UMass-described "energy player" last season. But this year, the 6-8 redshirt senior is expected to contribute more offensively.
"We're going to play a lot like Memphis, but we'll tweak it for the personnel," Kellogg said.
Kellogg will have his hands full with a schedule that includes at Southern Illinois, two potential games in New York, at Memphis, Boston College at home, Kansas in Kansas City, at Houston, Vanderbilt and other contests in the usually balanced A-10.
"We're always going to play a national schedule," Kellogg said. "We've got an older, more experienced backcourt that has been battle-tested."