Offseason news and notes from the Pac-10.
Arizona coach Lute Olson, along with his entirely new assistant coaching staff, showed this summer he still has some recruiting muscle.
It didn't figure to be easy considering Olson, who will be 74 during next season, was coming off a season-long leave of absence for unspecified health reasons. More uncertainty was the loss of whiz-kid recruiter Josh Pastner.
New coaches Mike Dunlap, Russ Pennell and Reggie Geary all come with fine resumes, but it was unknown how they would do in elite recruiting circles, especially given the defections of two signed recruits -- power forward Emmanuel Negedu and, more famously, point guard Brandon Jennings, who opted for Europe.
Most notably, Arizona was still a strong candidate for one of the top points guards for 2009 -- Abdul Gaddy, who de-committed from UA amid all the coaching changes so he could re-assess the situation.
All in all, the Wildcats still seem to have pull on the recruiting trail, giving hope that Olson can keep the beat going as the program goes for its 25th consecutive NCAA appearance.
That should happen, given the team has two potential 2009 lottery picks -- junior forward Chase Budinger and junior post Jordan Hill. Those two, plus junior point guard Nic Wise, will be the leaders of the team, which will need contributions from newcomers and young players in much bigger roles -- such as sophomore forward Jamelle Horne.
The Sun Devils will be the darlings of preseason prognosticators after coming so close to the NCAA Tournament last season.
ASU has the most experienced team in the Pac-10, returning 94.6 percent of its scoring, 94.0 percent of its rebounding, 95.1 percent of its assists, 94.3 percent of its 3-point shooting and 100 percent of its blocked shots.
And coach Herb Sendek, in his third season in Tempe, has star power galore in sophomore guard James Harden, who only increased his stock in summer camps. So tough and strong, Harden is nearly impossible to keep out of the lane, and he should improve on his freshman averages of 17.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Arizona State was 21-13 overall and 9-9 in the Pac-10 last season, tied for fifth. Many thought that was a good enough resume for the NCAAs, although a poor strength of schedule was the Sun Devils' undoing.
With much of the rest of the Pac-10 taking a step back, ASU should rise near the top, completing a remarkable ahead-of-schedule rebuilding effort for Sendek.
The Bears won one and lost one in the offseason, gaining former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, a proven winner in the Pac-10. Too bad he won't get to coach forward Ryan Anderson, who opted for the NBA Draft.
Anderson, who ended up going No. 21 in the first round, would have made Cal one of the better teams in the Pac-10 this season. His departure, along with that of senior center DeVon Hardin, means the Bears will be going small in 2008-09.
Cal, which figures to be battling in the thick middle of the league, is also trying to shed an underachiever label. The Bears were 17-16 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-10 last season.
Montgomery, who is 547-244 in 26 years as a college coach, will rely on a perimeter game in his first season with the Bears. Look for junior guard Patrick Christopher to have a huge season.
He doesn't have much of a national name, but he was one of the most improved players in the Pac-10 last season and he'll get more notice this season because of Montgomery. Christopher, who has made big improvements in the weight room in the past couple of years, averaged 15.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season.
This season for Oregon will be all about the freshmen.
The Ducks lost a trio of senior stalwarts -- guard Malik Hairston, guard Bryce Taylor and forward Maarty Leunen. They combined to average more than 44 points and nearly 18 rebounds per game.
They were part of a superb recruiting class that coach Ernie Kent hopes he has duplicated with the incoming group that includes McDonald's All-American center Michael Dunigan. He is one of three new recruits from Chicago, the others being a pair of high school teammates -- post Josh Crittle and guard Matthew Humphrey.
Kent has no choice but to lean heavily on the newcomers as the Ducks return just 41.6 percent of their scoring -- the lowest figure in the league.
Junior point guard Tajuan Porter is back, and he's proven to be a scoring threat, averaging 13.9 points last season. But in his first two seasons in Eugene, he's always had Hairston, Taylor and, before that, Aaron Brooks, to take focus away from defenders.
Now, Porter will be in the crosshairs as Oregon begins a new era with modest expectations.
The Beavers are guaranteed of national mention because new coach Craig Robinson is the brother-in-law of Barack Obama, but that won't mean anything on the court, where there is much work to do.
Robinson inherits a team that was the first in Pac-10 history to go 0-18 in conference play and was rarely competitive. The new coach, who was 30-28 in two seasons at Brown, wants to change the mindset of the program and, more practically, wants to change the offense, too.
He'll run what most people would call a Princeton-style motion offense, although he's not using that label.
"It's not going to be like the Princeton offense. It's better than that. It's going to rely on freedom and discipline, the ability to make shots and the ability to out-cut your man. But most of all it will be based on teamwork. If I can have every single one of these guys average 10 points a game, we're going to win a lot of games," Robinson said.
The strength of the team will be the backcourt, where the Tarver brothers (point guard Josh and off guard Seth, both juniors) return. Shooting guard Lathen Wallace played well late last season, and Rickey Claitt also picked up starts at point guard.
After 11 years as an assistant to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Johnny Dawkins decided to branch out as a head coach. Just in time to try to rebuild the Stanford frontcourt.
Twin posts Brook and Robin Lopez are off to the NBA as first-round picks, and this Cardinal team won't have much resembling 7-foot height. Dawkins, even with three returning starters, won't have much chance to duplicate last season's 28-win season and Sweet 16 appearance.
In fact, just finishing in the middle of the Pac-10 could be an achievement.
The emphasis switches to the perimeter, including the return of steady senior guards Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods. Johnson averaged 5.3 assists per game last season; Goods scored 10.0 points per game.
The team's best player could be 6-8 wing Lawrence Hill, whose all-around game had to take a backseat to the Lopez twins last season. All-Pac-10 as a sophomore, Hill slipped to 8.6 points and 4.8 rebounds last season.
Landry Fields, Drew Shiller and Kenny Brown are more perimeter options, and the best incoming freshmen are also guards -- Jeremy Green and Jarrett Mann.
Not many teams could sustain the loss of two top-five picks in the NBA Draft, a second-round pick and a useful senior big man. UCLA, largely, can.
The Bruins won't be the same without guard Russell Westbrook (the No. 4 pick), big man Kevin Love (the No. 5 pick), forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (the second-rounder) and center Lorenzo Mata-Real.
But that doesn't mean UCLA will be much worse as it goes for its fourth consecutive Final Final. That will be beyond preseason expectations, although the Bruins remain the class of the Pac-10, in part because of the return of speedy point guard Darren Collison and a superb recruiting class heavy on guards.
"We're going to miss Kevin, Russell and Luc big time next year, there's no question," coach Ben Howland said.
"But what it does, and what always happens, is it opens up opportunities for others. I expect the others in our program to step up and seize the opportunity and take advantage."
Collison should vie for All-America honors, probably playing next to Jrue Holiday with veteran Josh Shipp moving back to small forward. But Howland will have to sort all this out early in the season.
Incoming freshmen Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee are also looking for playing time, and shooter Michael Roll returns from an injury-shortened 2007-08 season.
USC's outlook improved considerably when touted freshman DeMar DeRozan received a qualifying test score in July.
DeRozan might be the answer to "who picks up O.J. Mayo's scoring?" DeRozan, a 6-foot-6 wing, has the talent and the opportunity to be the most productive freshman in the Pac-10, and one of the top newcomers in the nation.
With his dunking ability, he'll show up in plenty of highlights.
So, yes, there is still star power in Los Angeles. But coach Tim Floyd has much more.
He has three returning starters -- junior guard Daniel Hackett, who could be a more aggressive scorer this season after averaging 8.6 points; junior guard Dwight Lewis (10.8 ppg); and junior forward Taj Gibson (10.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg).
Backcourt depth took a hit in August when speedy sophomore Angelo Johnson decided to transfer.
Gibson had help at forward last season in Davon Jefferson, who, like Mayo, turned pro after one season.
The Trojans, who were 21-12 last season and tied for third in the Pac-10 at 11-7, should again be one of the top three or four teams in the conference. If DeRozan comes through as expected, and health holds up in the post, USC could stay past the first round of the NCAA Tournament this season.
It has taken a couple of years -- including last season's 16-17 record, but the Huskies figure a rebuilding phase is over.
Led by senior forward Jon Brockman, who averaged a double-double last season -- 17.8 points and 11.6 rebounds -- Washington has an experienced team that returns all but two players. Gone are shooter Ryan Appleby (11.2 ppg) and guard Tim Morris (7.2 ppg).
"We're excited about the season," said coach Lorenzo Romar.
"It will be the first time in three years that we will have more of a veteran team. We've had a couple of older players, but even when you look at our team, we haven't had a group of guys that played together for three or four years. We have more of those guys coming up."
The backcourt, which returns senior Justin Dentmon and sophomore Venoy Overton, will be immediately replenished with three freshman, including 5-9 Isaiah Thomas, who could step right into the starting lineup. The others are Scott Suggs and Elston Turner.
Up front, enigmatic forward Quincy Pondexter returns for his junior season. He finished well last season, so perhaps there is hope for a breakthrough.
This will be the season that really tests the acumen of coach Tony Bennett.
He could have landed jobs elsewhere -- like one in Bloomington, Ind. -- after posting a 52-17 record in the past two seasons, but is committed to further success in Pullman. He'll have to do it without a trio of stalwarts -- guard Derrick Low, guard Kyle Weaver and forward Robbie Cowgill.
The Cougars have been able to have success in recent seasons because of its experience and team play, which largely was fueled by these three players.
Good thing Bennett has what seems to be, on paper, one of the program's best recruiting classes. The new players should increase the overall athleticism of the team -- always a concern.
The freshmen will mesh with beefy center Aron Baynes (10.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and guard Taylor Rochestie (10.4 ppg), among others.