Monday, June 29, 2009

Here's an article we wrote for a Nevada fan site

Our friend operates a Nevada Wolf Pack site and no, he isn't the enemy, except twice a basketball season. So we led with a Nevada perspective.

Throw in the repeated prayers and lit candles of the Wolf Pack fans with the hopeful chatter about the chances of Nevada landing the newly available Derrick Williams and it's forget about it in Reno if Obama is succeeding in reviving the economy. No, the foremost question in The Biggest Little City in the World and it surroundings is will Coach David Carter land the 6-foot-7 frontcourter from La Mirada High (southern California)? (NOTE: He just selected Arizona)

Now we're on record as seeing the chance for success in this matter as slight. But the fulcrum of our naysaying is based on the answer to this question: why did Williams initially align himself with the Trojan basketball program?

Generally, players have done so for the prestige that comes with being a PAC-10 athlete and also the prominent flattery that occurs via the enhanced local and national USC media coverage. Are there any past and present Trojan roster inhabitants whose decisions were based on any 'warm' embrace of Tim Floyd and his staff or the available educational opportunities.

Very few youngsters or their families are strong enough to look past the conspicuous lures.

So can the Williamses do so?

Plus can they locate a preferable alternative?

Also, will David Carter be able to convince them that a Nevada address in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) will provide the overall 'environment' they are seeking?

Time will tell.

This scenario got us thinking about the recruiting that takes place with each team in the WAC. So let's take a look, armed with some specifics and definitely some generalities, at the history of each team.


Luck is the residue of design and hard work. With that in mind, maybe Nick Fazekas didn't fit the physical mold of a Big 12 Colorado Buffalo prospect but we're not sure why Colorado State of the Mountain West -- or other schools -- didn't fullcourt press him? As for Ramon Sessions, he had an academic issue placing him in limbo until very late in the recruiting process, thereby putting off some major conference members who have the talent pool available to look and land elsewhere. JaVale McGee very surprisingly didn't draw the interest of high majors. So yes, maybe the Wolf Pack got lucky with this trio but spotting the troika in the first place, staying involved and then most importantly closing the deal is not to be underestimated or uncredited.

Then there is Luke Babbitt. Mark Fox obviously played this one right, letting interest be known and then offering acceptance of the Galena High star's decision to go with Ohio State. Any sort of hard sell or expressed disappointment more than likely would have burned any bridge to Babbitt. That played out perfectly when Babbitt ultimately reneged on his verbal to attend Ohio State and cast his lot with the Wolf Pack.

Nevada has definitely reached for a number of seemingly high than traditional WAC-level talents -- more so than any other WAC team -- but such a strategy has obviously paid tremendous dividends.

The unanswered question is can Carter equal these accomplishments in his next few years? The early expectation is yes simply because he was a pivotal factor in the signing of the abovenamed players.

Utah State

Every coach has a 'system' but Stew Morrill's is more prominent than any other in the WAC. He and his staff have managed to bring in primarily (though not exclusively) fairly unheralded prospects who buy into the style of play, develop as players and all involved thereby prosper. Such success tends to get taken for granted after a while as fans then expect the next step to be taken -- doing some damage in the Big Dance. The latter may happen at one time or another but will never be a pattern simply based on who in the talent pool is willing to consider becoming an Aggie/WAC basketballer. But that's not a knock at Utah State -- such applies to every squad in the Western Athletic Conference.

But we also see the need for a caveat. It seems of late though that the Aggie coaching staff is bringing in a number of guards and wings who end up departing over lack of playing time and/or difficulty in adjusting to an assigned role. Utah State has managed to remain successful regardless but continuity is a key to accomplishment at this level, especially with a style of play such as Stew Morrill's.

New Mexico State

Way back when, Dustin Hoffman was advised to enter the business of plastics in "The Graduate' and our unsolicited advice to Coach Marvin Menzies is don't stock your roster with an overabundance of players whose schools have the word 'academy' or 'prep' in their titles or descriptions.

Now it's true that Jarmar Young (Laurinberg Prep) will be in competition for the WAC Player of the Year although he had an early blip with the law. Jonathan Gibson (Calvary Christian Prep) is a solid talent but his missing of practices last season usurped any chance of his providing leadership to the team. While a wondrous talent and still with an opportunity to turn things around, Troy Gillenwater (Stoneridge Prep) proved to be a handful for Menzies in 2008-2009. Terrance Joyner (Genesis One Christian) committed collegiate basketball suicide with his antics at the El Paso Airport last season. Herb Pope considered transferring from his Pennsylvania high school to various prep schools prior to his junior and senior seasons -- once it went so far as being announced -- and was at a prep school as a freshman. Granted, not all of these players were Menzies signings but are indicative of some of the difficulties in recruiting to Las Cruces.

Menzies is in a tough spot. The Land of Enchantment doesn't produce D-1 calibre players with any regularity. Therefore, he has to bring in kids from outside the state. He also followed Reggie Theus' successful run which calibrated the pressure to succeed even higher than that which generally faces a new head coach.

As for this season's signings, Justin Standley and Da'Shawn Gomez are from traditional high schools and all indications are this pair are solid young men.

Now we have to be careful with this -- that being B.J. West, the third Menzies signing -- out of God's Academy although he attended a regular high school prior to that. We know nothing about him personally although it's interesting that the NCAA ruled in 2007 that courses and grades from God's Academy would not be accepted for the purposes of eligibility determination. But academic improvements have apparently been made since then and there's no qualms about God's Academy being loaded with talented players.

With rumblings about Wendell McKines' apparent academic struggles and the possibility he may be sidelined for part of the upcoming season, it's important to note that continuity is the lifeblood of success in most any endeavor. But this isn't news to Menzies or any other coach. He is faced with putting out a successful product on the floor but also of maintaining a group of 13 young men who produce in the classroom and in their public/private lives. It's often a delicate balance. We see the program from Las Cruces as one that has the potential to win the WAC but also possibly to implode. It will take time but such a highwire act has to end and the only way of doing so is by landing good talent that produces off the court and with the necessary grade point average as well.

Boise State

Find 'em elsewhere, sign' em, plug 'em in, succeed. Repeat. Certainly of late, Boise State has been successful with very little or no fanfare emanating from Coach Greg Graham's recruiting classes. Was Kurt Cunningham considered a catch? How about Mark Sanchez? Anthony Thomas came from Texas, a state where there are D-1 basketball programs numbering in the double figures. Matt Bauscher was initially a walk-on while Matt Nelson transferred in from Eastern Washington. Reggie Larry was considered too 'under-sized' as a recruit to garner much attention from many programs. Boise State -- at least in the past few seasons -- has definitely been a program where the sum exceeds the individual parts, a credit to Graham's coaching ability. This is something actually remarkable for a program that has to recruit out of state.

Graham's recruiting classes generate minimal interest but he and his staff find high IQ basketball players who perform 'up' in his system of play. But like with Utah State, some BSU fans want more -- a transformation into the success of the Bronco football program -- but that isn't going to happen regardless of who is coaching the team. The gridiron squad is an anomaly although obviously one to be enjoyed and cherished. Plus of late, Bronco football is inching downward since the big time Fiesta Bowl defeat of Oklahoma although it rules the roost in the WAC and should continue doing so in the forseeable future.


Coach Don Verlin's tenure at Idaho has been too brief to date for any sort of historical determination. What can be ascertained so far is that he has so far brought in better talent with his initial recruiting classes than his predecessors did.

Louisiana Tech

Other than Kyle Gibson (who was inherited), Coach Kerry Rupp has enjoyed an affinity for transfers -- some have worked well, some haven't. Jamel White came over from Nebraska and never played a game before his departure while Kenneth Cooper made it a little more than halfway through the WAC schedule before he was dismissed. We are unsure regarding any previous concerns about Cooper but White definitely had a string of troubles while in Lincoln.

On the contrary, Magnum Rolle slid over from LSU and has performed admirably.

Rupp inherited about the strangest situation any coach can find himself. Coming to Ruston, he found a depleted and a not particularly talented roster. It seemed reasonable and actually a necessity to take some chances. He did and it primarily backfired.

It seems LT would really benefit from a couple of high school recruits who then blossom during their four-year program tenure as we again return to the term continuity. But they don't appear to be currently on the squad. Plus, Gibson, Rolle and Jamel Guyton will depart after the 2009-2010 season and who on the Ruston roster is ready to step up and fill those shoes? We see Olu Ashaolu as a possibility but that's about it from our perspective. However, D.J. Wright is still scheduled to check in after another season at Salt Lake Community College and he is a difference maker.

We see the foundation still to be set in Ruston.

San Jose State

The Spartan program had a long term and well-earned reputation as JC U due to recruiting classes being predominantly, if not exclusively, laden with transfers from two-year institutions. That and being on the borderline of APR penalties. But such has now thankfully receded in the rear view mirror. The latest George Nessman batch of recruits included four high schoolers and one junior college transfer plus the team APR is now healthy.

An obvious foundation has been laid and the top three talents -- Adrian Oliver, C.J. Webster and Justin Graham -- will be entering their junior seasons. So it is now time for them to produce a top level WAC win-loss record. Also watch for the so-called next generation of players positioning themselves for eventually assuming the roles of the aforementioned trio. The Spartan recruiting class of 2008-2009 was the best of Coach Nessman's tenure -- let's see how they evolve.


With the Rainbow Warriors, it's difficult to ascertain trends since Bob Nash has been there as the head coach for such a short time. He has previously reached out to foreign players, community college transfers and some high schoolers. Nash is tasked right now with becoming competitive in the WAC and his latest recruiting indicates such. He has brought in a Providence College and a junior college transfer to transform his backcourt and a 7-footer from the Iowa community college ranks -- Dwain Williams, Jeremy Lay and Douglas Kurtz respectively. Nash's roster will lose a ton of talent after 2009-2010 -- six seniors -- and it will be interesting how he then divvies up his scholarships. That will more than likely be determined by how his Big Three signees turn out.

Fresno State

Coach Steve Cleveland has endured APR Hell during his short tenure in Fresno but the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is finally not an oncoming train. In 2008-2009, he has landed a true point in community college transfer Steven Shepp, three skilled high schoolers in Greg Smith, Jerry Brown and Garrett Johnson, plus Shawn Willis, a transfer from New Mexico.

In comparison, too many of last season's signees were often borderline desperation measures as the backing out of signee Reggie Moore caused some havoc at filling a need to play the point.

Cleveland has always enjoyed a preference for landing skill-based talent, especially shooters (see freshman Paul George and junior transfer Sylvester Seay) over raw potential or tough as nails types. Frosh Mychal Ladd, who also had an admirable freshman season, seems to fit more into the middle category but his primary reason for being a Bulldog is probably connected to Cleveland originally landing Moore (Ladd and Moore attended the same high school in Seattle).

The other Bulldog signees from last year were hopeful 'gappers' -- meaning the prayer was that they would or could rise to the occasion and fill a hole even if it was for one season.

So Cleveland returned to his roots with this season's recruiting and look for that even more so from here on out as he seemingly now has a roster that offers stable production and far less need to 'reach' on prospects.

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