Media Days: Notes from the road

The Big East, Big 12 and SEC held their respective media day events this week -- and we were at all three. Andy Katz, Dana O'Neil and Pat Forde offer up news and notes from each conference:

Big 12

Posted by Dana O'Neil

KANSAS CITY -- The first couple of weeks Sherron Collins was on the Kansas campus as a freshman, he hit the weight room with the rest of his teammates.

Two weeks later, he had tacked on seven pounds of muscle mass.

Preseason Coaches Poll

  • 1. Kansas
  • 2. Texas
  • 3. Oklahoma

  • 4. Kansas State
  • 5. Texas A&M

  • 6. Oklahoma State
  • 7. Missouri

  • 8. Iowa State
  • 9. Texas Tech

  • 10. Baylor
  • 11. Nebraska

  • 12. Colorado

"I just said, 'OK, whoa, that's enough of that," said KU coach Bill Self, stunned at Collins' bionic growth.

Ever since, the 5-foot-11 guard has received a weightlifting dispensation, exchanging heavy lifting for an extra cardio workout.

Blessed with the body of Mighty Mouse, the neck of Popeye and a set of six-pack abs that David Beckham would envy, Collins is something of a genetic freak.

Despite the weightlifting hiatus, Collins remains ridiculously strong, continuously shocking -- and annoying -- to his teammates with his Paul Bunyan efforts.

"I walked in from doing my cardio one day when they were lifting and I asked what was the most a guard had bench-pressed that day," Collins said. "They said 265. I told them to put 270 on. I sat down and did it."

Self said on a recent pass through in the weight room, Collins spied his teammates doing chin-ups with 40-pound weights strapped to their ankles.

"So he starts giving them crap and someone says, 'OK, let's see you do it, Sherron,'" Self said. "I think they were doing like five. What's he do? He goes over, does 10, gives them a look and keeps going."

He could have the single greatest name in post player history: Tiny Gallon.

But as the Oklahoma freshman gets ready for his college career, he's heading toward quart-sized.

In his final season at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, Gallon could have earned a second look from Bob Stoops instead of Jeff Capel, checking in at a mammoth 6-9, 360 pounds.

Now more Tiny than Gallon, the Texas native -- rated the 11th-best in his class in the ESPNU 100 -- has slimmed down to a manageable 290 pounds. He's blessed with quick feet and a nice shooting touch for a man so big, but Capel said Gallon's next challenge is to become a little more familiar with his basketball identity.

Gallon can make outside jumpers. Doesn't mean he should.

"He is a versatile guy and he can shoot the basketball, but it's something we have to remind him: Don't fall in love with being on the perimeter," Capel said. "You are 6-9 with a 7-4 wingspan and you weigh 290 pounds. Use that. I haven't seen too many 6-9, 290-pound shooting guards. LeBron is close. But he's not LeBron. There's only one of those guys on the planet."

They don't even preface it with a greeting anymore.

When people see Craig Brackins out and about -- when reporters stand in front of him -- they don't pause. They jump right in with the burning question on everyone's mind: Why did you come back?

"Whoa, I've probably been asked that more than people have said hi to me," Brackins said. "Everyone wants to know."

It's a legit question. As a sophomore, Brackins averaged 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, shot 47 percent from the field and was projected as a mid-first-rounder in the NBA draft.

And yet when he sat down in June to explain his future, Brackins stunned the hoops world by announcing he would return.

To Iowa State.

"I know it surprised a lot of people; it kind of surprised me," he laughed. "It came down to the final day and I still didn't know for sure what I wanted to do."

By the time Baylor plays its first exhibition game on Nov. 5, it will be 611 days since Ekpe Udoh last played basketball.

Not that he's counting or anything.

The Bears' big man last dressed in maize and blue, starting 24 games for Michigan in the 2007-08 season. But after two seasons and a coaching change, Udoh decided to transfer.

He suffered through the required year of sitting out, stewing and itching to get back in the game.

"It was really hard," he said, "especially once the season started. I saw Michigan playing and I could have been there. I could have just been playing, but I knew I did the right thing"

Oklahoma-born to Nigerian parents, Udoh averaged six points and five rebounds per game for the Wolverines in his two seasons there, recording 92 blocked shots and earning All-Big Ten defensive honors.

For the high-flying Bears, that's good news. Baylor ranked 42nd in the nation in offense (72 ppg) last season, but also allowed 76 ppg, third-worst in the league.

Udoh not only is skilled defensively, but he comes to the Big 12 after banging in the brutal Big Ten, where post play looks more like Saturday afternoons on the offensive line.

"They just beat you up in the Big Ten," Udoh laughed.

"That definitely prepared me physically. I'm ready."

Before Jai Lucas asked questions, he answered them.

The Texas guard, who transferred to Austin from Florida, spent the early part of media day as a member of the media and the second as a member of the Longhorns.

Lucas filmed interviews for Rick Barnes' TV show and the university's Web site, using his name cachet to attract all sorts of people to the microphone.

Lucas, who will get busy with basketball when he becomes eligible in December, plans to keep filming throughout the season.

"Hey, he's a communications major," said Scott McConnell, Texas' assistant athletic director for media relations. "He thinks he might want to do this someday, so we're putting him to work."

To which Lucas, who will not receive a scholarship this season since Texas is over the limit, retorted, "Yeah, but I'm not even getting paid."

Welcome to journalism, bub.

He said it more than once.

Sitting on the podium, Pat Knight repeated over and over again that the reason his Texas Tech team has struggled is he simply didn't have good enough players.

Not good enough to win games, not good enough to hold competitive practices, not good enough to hold its own in the Big 12, not good enough to defend.

"To be honest, there's no secret to coaching," said Knight, who retains all of his pop's brutal honesty without the simmering anger. "You've got to have the personnel. I just didn't think we had it last year."

He might want to take up that issue at the next family dinner. Usually when the cupboard goes bare, the blame falls with the preceding coaching staff.

He said it: "Cole has a chance, in my opinion, to be the best true big man Kansas has had since Wilt." That's Kansas coach Bill Self's take on Cole Aldrich. Self did go on to clarify that neither Danny Manning nor Raef LaFrentz was a textbook big man.

Big East

Posted by Andy Katz

NEW YORK -- Wesley Johnson was a solid Big 12 contributor, making the honorable mention team as a sophomore, averaging a dozen points per game for Iowa State before bolting on the Cyclones.

Preseason Coaches Poll

  • 1. Villanova
  • 2. West Virginia
  • 3. Connecticut

  • 4. Louisville
  • 5. Georgetown

  • 6. Syracuse
  • 7. Cincinnati

  • 8. Notre Dame
  • 9. Pittsburgh

  • 10. Seton Hall
  • 11. St. John's

  • 12. Marquette
  • 13. Providence

  • 14. South Florida
  • 15. Rutgers

  • 16. DePaul

Throughout the offseason, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim hasn't relented in his effusive praise for Johnson and his ultimate impact on the Orange. Of all the newcomers in the Big East this season, he is expected to be the one with the most impact.

But he couldn't crack the preseason all-Big East first or second team, or even grab an honorable mention.

"They haven't seen him play," Boeheim said. "That's the only thing I can figure -- the writers or the coaches. You've got to know he can play when he averaged 12 and eight [7.9 rebounds] as a freshman [at Iowa State]. He'll make the lists at the end of the year."

Boeheim backs his players more than maybe any other coach in the country. But he doesn't push players who aren't worthy. He's too smart to set himself up to fail. He was right on Carmelo Anthony and Jonny Flynn and conversely knew that Paul Harris wasn't a star, thus he didn't try to unnecessarily hype him up.

Johnson isn't expected to put up monster numbers for the Orange, but he should be involved in most possessions. Through practice so far, Johnson has been doing all he has asked and isn't trying to exceed his limitations. He's not a high-volume shooter, but will be around the ball.

Meanwhile, Boeheim said he expects senior guard Andy Rautins, also a no-show on the preseason teams, to be on some sort of postseason honor roll. Boeheim also said don't be surprised to see freshman point guard Brandon Triche in play for rookie of the year. Triche isn't locked in as the starter, but he probably will be once the Orange get to New York in late November for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

Duke is probably going to have to play some zone this season with one of its taller and least athletic rosters under Mike Krzyzewski. Where did Coach K improve his zone teaching knowledge? Well, by hanging out with Boeheim during the Olympic summer in Las Vegas and the Far East in 2008. "They know it, they'll probably play plenty of zone with those big guys," Boeheim said. "We've gone over the zone a lot. They know how to teach it. They've seen me do it."

Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez wasn't too thrilled to be picked 10th in the Big East. This is easily the best team he's had in his tenure and he is convinced the Pirates can get to the NCAA tournament. "We feel we should be higher up, with Cincinnati and Syracuse," Gonzalez said. SU was projected to finish sixth and Cincinnati seventh behind Villanova, West Virginia, UConn, Louisville and Georgetown.

Why is Gonzalez so giddy about his team? Well, the Pirates can board, something they couldn't do a season ago. The addition of New Mexico State transfer Herb Pope has changed the depth inside as Pope can rebound with the return of John Garcia. Big man -- and we do mean big -- Melvyn Oliver will add plenty of beef inside. He's a mere 6-11, 340 pounds. And when Memphis transfer Jeff Robinson is eligible in mid-December, Gonzalez said he'll have another rebounder whom he didn't possess a year ago.

As for how well the transfers like Pope, Robinson and Missouri's Keon Lawrence would mesh with the returnees? Gonzalez said that has been a nonissue so far.

Pittsburgh is incredibly fortunate that Centenary decided to drop down to Division III. Senior guard Chase Adams has been a huge addition to the Panthers in the preseason, considering Jermaine Dixon is recovering from a broken foot and Gilbert Brown is ineligible for the fall semester.

Adams was named the Summit League defensive player of the year after leading the conference with 83 steals last season. He was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA since Centenary announced it was dropping down. Adams will be a huge addition defensively, and once Brown and Dixon return, Pitt will have the needed depth to be a potential NCAA team. The Panthers were, like Seton Hall, a bit peeved by their projection in the Big East. Pitt was predicted to finish ninth. And, like the Pirates, the Panthers will use that as motivation early in the season.

How will Louisville replace Earl Clark, Terrence Williams and Andre McGee?

"Well they are your three best defensive players, your three best passers, your two best rebounders, so I don't think you can replace them," UL coach Rick Pitino said. "You have to fill the void and hope the other parts are much better. Samardo [Samuels] has to be much better, [Edgar] Sosa and [Jerry] Smith have to be much better and Preston Knowles has to be much better."


Posted by Pat Forde

HOOVER, Ala. -- Kentucky returns five of its top six scorers from last season, but that's no guarantee of playing time in the new John Calipari regime. Calipari said at SEC media day Thursday that he could start three freshmen -- guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe and center DeMarcus Cousins.

Preseason Coaches Poll

  • EAST
  • 1. Kentucky
  • 2. Tennessee

  • 3. Vanderbilt
  • 4. South Carolina

  • 5. Florida
  • 6. Georgia

  • WEST
  • 1. Mississippi State

  • 2. Ole Miss
  • 3. Alabama

  • 4. LSU
  • 5. Arkansas

  • 6. Auburn

The other two starters would be junior Patrick Patterson and sophomore Darius Miller at the forwards.

"We may be the youngest team in the country," Calipari said, sounding unconcerned about that possibility because of the talent level of his youngsters.

If Kentucky wins at the expected rate with three freshmen starters, at least one SEC coach will be impressed.

"We started three freshmen a year ago," said Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, whose team dipped from seasons of 22 and 26 victories to 19 with that inexperienced lineup. "If he can win the league with three freshmen, then he's as good a coach as I think he is and those freshmen are as good as advertised."

Calipari said he has no doubt that Wall and Bledsoe -- both high school point guards -- could play together defensively. The question is how they divide duties on the offensive end -- but it's a question Calipari doesn't consider too problematic.

"They may start together," he said. "They will play a lot together."

As for the 6-11, 260-pound Cousins?

"Cousins has been ridiculous, how good he's played," Calipari said. "He's got a lot of growing up to do. He's immature at times. He gets mad when he's not playing point guard."

Cousins' presence on the low block should free the 6-8 Patterson to step farther away from the basket this season -- which in turn should help his NBA marketability.

Patterson's appraisal of the freshmen: "They're superstars. They live up to the hype."

Eleven of the 12 male players who attended SEC media day were dressed in ties and either slacks or suits. The 12th was Patterson, who arrived in gray Kentucky sweats.

Patterson at first said his luggage was lost on the flight -- which nobody bought, since the Wildcats arrived via private plane. He then laughed and admitted that none of his dress clothes currently fit after reshaping his body in the offseason. A slimmer waist left him without a pair of slacks that would stay up.

"I should have bought clothes a while ago," Patterson said.

Patterson said he tried on some of teammate Perry Stevenson's clothes, but the famous string bean is listed at 28 pounds lighter than Patterson, so that was a no-go.

Patterson said he told UK media relations staffers DeWayne Peevy and John Hayden that he intended to wear sweats. They responded by asking if they needed to rustle him up some dress clothes.

"No," Patterson told him, "I'm going to wear a sweat suit."

They apparently didn't believe him until he walked out of Wildcat Lodge in his sweats this morning.

Though Patterson was the most casually dressed player, he might have been the most erudite in attendance. He is on schedule to get his communications degree in just three seasons.

Mark Fox is the new coach at Georgia, and he is a dramatic upgrade over his predecessor, Dennis Felton, in terms of quotability. He might also be a dramatic upgrade in terms of discipline.

Georgia had been plagued by off-court issues in recent years and Fox made it clear that a new sheriff was in town early in his tenure.

Fox said that after a couple of minor transgressions, he took the entire team on a tour of Sanford Stadium, Georgia's 92,746-seat football palace. The Bulldogs toured it one step at a time, running up and down the entire edifice.

"That was not a pre-emptive strike," Fox said. "It was an all-out assault after a couple of minor offenses. We're not going to tolerate a lack of discipline. I'm not going to spend all my energy potty-training 20-year-old men.

"I don't know how many steps there are [in the stadium], but we touched 'em all."

Fox has compiled an intriguing staff at Georgia, including assistant Kwanza Johnson and staffer Mark Pope. Johnson has a law degree from Tulsa, and Pope, after eight years in the NBA, was in medical school when he felt the call to get into coaching.

"I've got a lawyer and a doctor," Fox cracked. "Every night I pray I don't need either of them."

The league has added to its Nevada flavor with the hire of Fox from the Wolf Pack, where previously he was an assistant to current LSU coach Trent Johnson.

How close are the two?

"Real close," Johnson said. "I don't have a lot of friends in this profession, probably don't have a lot of friends, period."

But Fox is one. Fox said that before he left for Birmingham his wife was shoving pictures of their children in his luggage to pass along to Johnson.

"Trent Johnson is not a friend," Fox said. "He's family to me."

The family feud between Georgia and LSU is the regular-season closer, March 6 in Baton Rouge.

Mississippi State won the SEC tournament last year by essentially playing four guards around deluxe shot-blocker Jarvis Varnado. Rick Stansbury still has the option to do that, since all five starters return, but he also has the luxury of a massive influx of size.

At least on paper.

If 6-foot-10 Renardo Sidney ever gains his eligibility and when 7-foot-1 John Riek is eligible after sitting out an NCAA-mandated nine games, the Bulldogs could be huge. Especially when you consider that Varnado is the longest 6-9 in the country with his vast wingspan.

"We'd have immediate size at the 4 spot," Stansbury said. "The thing we have is some versatility with guys we can move around."

Stansbury said Riek's biggest impediment to playing is the language barrier. He's a native of the Sudan and has struggled to pick up American basketball terminology.

"Once he understands it, he's full speed," Stansbury said.

Varnado described his interior teammates thusly: "John's going to work hard, and Sidney's talented. Real talented. We've got to be patient with John; he's listening, and we try to help him. He just works hard. He's a workhorse."