Pac-10 College Basketball Media Day Brings Out The March Madness Optimism

October 28, 2010

Los Angeles, California -- Ah yes, the college basketball preseason, when every team feels that they are bound for the NCAA Tournament, and hope for improvement springs eternal.

For the coaches of the Pac-10 Conference, such optimism may be more than just lip service, especially coming off one of the worst collective years for the league in recent memory.

Last season, the Pac-10 generated only one at-large Tourney bid and two March Madness teams overall - a shockingly low number for this premiere league. The reason for such a decline? Credit the NBA Draft.

In the '08 and '09 drafts, the Pac-10 produced 13 first-round draft choices and 8 lottery selections, not to mention several second-rounders as well. In that two year period, no other conference - not the Big East, not the ACC, not the SEC - could equal the Pacific 10 in terms of developing first round caliber talent. Worse yet, most of those players were underclassmen.

So with the early exodus of such future NBA stars as Russell Westbrook and Brook Lopez, the conference cupboard inevitably was left bare last season. As such, much of Thursday's Pac-10 Media Day focused on the incoming recruiting classes of the respective teams, as well as the changes and improvements that those teams have implemented.

Here are some excerpts from the press conference at LA's Nokia Theater:

UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland

Ben Howland touched on a variety of subjects, first describing how the 6'10" Wear twins had been "upping the competition level in practice" while they sit out their transfer year.

Howland then credited top frosh recruit and projected starting center Josh Smith for working out "three times a day" in the offseason to improve his conditioning. He also noted Smith's high level of offensive skills and that he was "extremely coachable."

Howland mentioned that juco transfer Lazeric Jones would upgrade the team's point guard play from last year with his solid defense. Howland stated the Bruins overall ability to defend the perimeter would improve due in part to the on-ball defense of freshman swingman Tyler Lamb and junior guard Malcolm Lee.

As for second-year man Tyler Honeycutt, Howland pointed out that he has become a "much better shooter" and has "developed a lot of confidence." He projected a more offensive role for the sophomore, stating that his "first nature is to be a passer," but that "we need to him score more."

USC Coach Kevin O'Neill and Forward Nikola Vucevic

O'Neill reminded the media that the Trojans had lost "10 starters in about a year and a half," but then commented on how his two key bigs had improved over the offseason.

On Alex Stephenson, O'Neill said that Stephenson "never really got in shape last year," but that he had been doing yoga, strength work, and conditioning, and was now in "the best shape of his life."

On Nikola Vucevic, O'Neill said he has "seen a big time jump both conditioning-wise and strength-wise."

Finally, O'Neill talked about incoming transfer guard and former Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, Jio Fontan, stating that Fontan's weight is down from 201 pounds to "174," and that he has "great leadership abilities."

Meanwhile, Vucevic spoke of the benefits of playing with his National Team over the summer, noting that he "worked on my jump shot" and "got in better shape."

Oregon State Coach Craig Robinson and Guard Calvin Haynes

Senior guard Haynes stated that he has seen the talent at Oregon State improve "dramatically" under Robinson's watch, noting that this season they will have "centers that can stretch the floor."

In particular, Haynes commented on frosh point guard Ahmad Starks, stating that he "is small, crafty, and fast, and he can get his shot off and create space."

Robinson described the difference in Starks' game from that of former Oregon star Tajuan Porter, stating that Porter "was a scorer more than a point guard. Ahmad is more of a point guard who can score. He's got very good range for his three-point shot. He is an expert dribbler."

He also said he expects sophomore Angus Brandt to play some "point center," and that the Beavers would be "much more athletic" this year.

Arizona Coach Sean Miller

Miller pointed out that the 'Cats have had "four coaches in four years," and that because of those circumstances, it was "difficult to establish a system" in his first year.

Miller said his coaching staff has focused on two areas that the Wildcats will need to improve next season: "Two point field goal percentage" and "offensive rebounding."

Miller said Arizona was as "bad an offensive rebounding team as there was in the country" last year, and that it will be a point of emphasis throughout the year.

Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar and Point Guard Isaiah Thomas

Romar discussed the progress of sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy, a former McDonald's All-American who had a somewhat disappointing freshman campaign. Romar said Gaddy "really worked on his shooting" and his conditioning, saying that "he's quicker, he's faster."

Isaiah Thomas stated that he spent the summer working out with Dallas Mavericks star guard Jason Terry, improving his "jump shot" and "decision-making."

Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek

Sendek noted that the Sun Devils "have a disproportionate number of new players. I am not sure what our rotation will precisely be."

Sendek also described the abilities of incoming freshmen guards Keala King and Cory Hawkins. He stated Hawkins is an "outstanding young shooter." Of King, Sendek said, "Keala is a very versatile player. He's probably as close to being truly ambidextrous as any player that I've coached."

News & Notes

1. The Washington Huskies were picked to finish first by 33 of 35 media members. UCLA and Arizona picked up the other first place votes. Arizona finished as the overall runner-up, followed by UCLA, Arizona State, Washington State, USC, California, Oregon State, Stanford, and Oregon.

2. The final 2 rounds of the Men's and Women's conference tournaments will be played at Staples Center this year.

3. Commissioner Larry Scott announced the conference coach of the year award will be renamed the John Wooden Coach of the Year Award in honor of the late legend.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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