By Jon Rothstein
» More Columns
– Kevin Ollie is one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s genuine, considerate, and extremely capable — but he doesn’t have an easy situation in front of him. Since he was only given a one-year deal as head coach at UCONN, it’s going to be really difficult for Ollie to recruit at a high level. Prospects want to make sure a coach they commit to play for is going to be with a school for a long time and the UCONN administration has done anything but assure that. Also, with no Big East or NCAA Tournament to play for, Ollie is going to have find unique ways to keep his players motivated — something that could become more and more difficult if the Huskies don’t have the type of success they hope to.
– Oregon State made a smart move by extending Craig Robinson’s contract through the 2016-17 season. The Beavers won 21 games last year and their star player Jared Cunningham was selected 24th overall in the NBA Draft. Robinson also has received tremendous exposure during the Democratic National Convention due to the fact that his brother-in-law is President Obama. The Oregon State brand is growing and so is Robinson’s — now the Beavers just need another solid season on the basketball court. Oregon State won’t have the star power they had last year with Cunningham but they bring back just about everyone else. Power forward Devon Collier should be one of the better players in the PAC-12 and Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson provide a capable back court. The X-Factor for this team will be Angus Brandt, a talented forward who could be on the verge of a breakout season.
– Indiana coach Tom Crean can’t believe more people aren’t mentioning Wisconsin when they discuss the nation’s elite teams. “To me, they’re not just one of the best teams in the Big Ten, they’re one of the best teams in the country,” Crean said of the Badgers. “They’ve got a bunch of guys that return from last year and a freshman (Sam Dekker) that’s really talented. They won’t have Jordan Taylor like they did last year but they’ll still have different guys who can initiate things.” Dekker is expected to be one of the better freshman Bo Ryan has had since he’s been in Madison and the rest of Wisconsin’s supporting cast that reached the Sweet 16 — Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, Josh Gasser, and Ben Brust all return. A major key for the Badgers will be red shirt guard George Marshall, who is expected to inherit the bulk of the minutes at point guard left behind by Taylor’s graduation.
– Looking for a sleeper in the Atlantic 10? Try Richmond. The Spiders return their top four scorers in Cedrick Lindsay, Kendall Anthony, Darien Brothers, and Derrick Williams and add a potential impact player in red shirt freshman Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. “He’s got a chance to be a really good player,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said of the 6-9 Nelson-Ododa. “He can really run the floor and is a very good athlete. He’s going to be play major minutes.” Expect Nelson-Ododa to start up front for the Spiders next to Williams.
– Tony Mitchell is making quite the impression on first-year North Texas head coach Tony Benford. “He’s by far the most athletic person I’ve ever been around in basketball,” Benford said of the 6-8 Mitchell, who will likely be picked as the Sun Belt’s Preseason Player of the Year. “He’s does things that just make you shake your head and say wow.” Mitchell, who averaged 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game last season is the main cog for the Mean Green but don’t discount two sophomore guards, Chris Jones and Jordan Williams that both averaged in double figures last season. “They’re top 100 caliber players coming out of high school,” Benford said of Jones and Williams. Benford also said he is waiting to hear from the NCAA on whether or not former Marquette commit T.J. Taylor will be eligible for the Mean Green during the upcoming season. The 6-4 guard originally committed to the Golden Eagles when Benford was an assistant under Buzz Williams before he became the head coach at North Texas.
– Charlotte freshman power forward Willie Clayton hasn’t surprised 49ers coach Alan Major with his inspired play so far in the preseason — but that’s a good thing. “He is what we thought he’d be,” Major said of Clayton. “He’s a pure warrior. He never stops competing.” The 6-7 Clayton should push for major time up front for Charlotte next to both Chris Braswell and Virginia Tech transfer JT Thompson. DeMario Mayfield also returns for Major’s team, who is starting to look like a squad that can accomplish some things in their last Atlantic 10 season before departing for Conference-USA.
– Iona will have a bevy of newcomers during the upcoming season and may have a sleeper in freshman guard A.J. English. English, a 6-2 guard has impressed in early season workouts with his ability to shoot the ball and should see time behind veterans Momo Jones, Sean Armand, and Curtis Dennis. Tim Cluess doesn’t have a Scott Machado type lead guard like he did last year but the Gaels may have more overall firepower than they did last season when they reached the NCAA Tournament. It will be real interesting to see this team if both David Laury and Norvel Pelle are on the floor in late December.
– Villanova sophomore forward Jayvaughn Pinkston is now down to 248 pounds — the lightest he’s been since he’s arrived at the Philadelphia school. After averaging 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds last year as a freshman, the 6-7 Pinkston seems primed to breakout as a sophomore. Pinkston’s well versed offensive skill set should be magnified if Jay Wright and the Wildcats opt to go with a smaller lineup. We’re hearing Wright will use 6-6 junior James Bell will regularly as an undersized power forward with Pinkston at the “3”. The Wildcats’ staff has raved about Bell’s play in the preseason and compared him to Dwayne Anderson, Villanova’s glue guy from their Final Four team in 2009.
– The Springfield Armor will hold open tryouts on Friday September 21st and Saturday 22nd for the 2012-13 NBA Developmental League season. Cost is $150. The practice on the 22nd is at the Brooklyn Nets practice facility in East Rutherford. Registration is at 8 AM.
– Howard Garfinkel’s annual clinic will be Saturday October 6th at Iona College. Clinicians include Fran Dunphy, Geno Auriemma, John Beilein, and Bob Knight. For more information, call 212-246-3063.
Will Ollie be around for a second year at the helm of the Huskies? Be heard in the comments below…