Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:52 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 3:06 pm

Trippin': Fairfield's Johnson's 1st-look at Stags

By Jeff Goodman

Sydney Johnson took over a team that returns its top two scorers and adds a potential Player of the Year candidate in Boston College transfer Rakim Sanders.

Johnson had several conversations with the coach that put this team together, Providence coach Ed Cooley, after taking the job.

"I think about all the talks," he said. "And 99.9 percent of what he told me is the case."

Cooley raved - as he has been doing to anyone and everyone who will listen - about his point guard Derek Needham. He spoke highly of the development of senior big man Ryan Olander, who averaged 10.4 points and 6.8 boards last season - and talked about the talent and potential of Sanders.

Johnson saw it for himself recently after taking the Stags to Italy - where they went 4-0.

In one game, Sanders lit it up for 35 points.

What Johnson learned on the trip: "These guys have the ability to learn quickly. We're going to keep some of the things that Ed (Cooley) did and we're certainly going to bring some of the things that have worked for us. They really soaked it up."

Who stood out: Rakim Sanders is as good as people described him to be - especially from a talent standpoint. At this point in the school year, he's walked the walk. He played well on the trip, he's smart and talented. The other thing that stood out for me is Derek Needham's leadership. He was talking all the time, taking charges and taking big shots."

What concerns Johnson: Iona, Rider, Manhattan, Siena. .. I look at our league and there are some really good teams."

- Freshman big man Vincent Van Nes made the trip, but did not play due to a foot injury. "He wasn't cleared, but we think he'll be back working out today."

- Johnson played Needham with fellow point guard Desmond Wade on the court together at times - and also had Wade as Needham's back-up. "We'll see how it plays out," Johnson said. "Des already has good chemistry with the guys since he was here all of last year. He's a guy who looks to get his teammates shots - and who wouldn't want to play with a guy like that?"

- On freshman forward Adam Jones: "He's very poised and has an old-man's game. He's a good fit for us and how we like to do things. He can pass, shoot and score - and he can play all over the court."
Posted on: September 16, 2011 10:45 am
Edited on: September 16, 2011 10:51 am

Trippin': Elon's extravagant European getaway

In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin’ related stories.

By Matt Norlander

I can’t deny: Elon is the only team whose summer trip I’m downright jealous of. The school went all out, opting to take in some of the most beautiful sights Europe has to offer. I talked with Phoenix head coach Matt Matheny about it. He was still glowing from it all. Austria, Germany, Italy. Water taxis and luxury boats. High in the mountains and low on the gorgeous lakes.

He said the most vivid, lasting memory from the trip came on the team’s final day, when they took a bus trip up to the Alps, to Lake Como.

“It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said. The group docked on a boat in Bellagio. They cruised past George Clooney’s house. Yes, Clooney has a house on Lake Como, of course. The two-hour boat ride ended with a trip to Milan. The team went into the center of the city and took a view of Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting at the Santa Maria delle Grazie. After that, the players wanted to see a soccer game, so they saw AC Milan vs. Juventus.

“Matt, it was breathtaking, and what a way to wrap up our trip,” Matheny, 41, said. How much do you hate him right now, by the way?

As for hoops, the team played two games in the greater Munich area, then traveled to Austria and Venice, as well as Milan, as mentioned above. The team, which was 14-17 last year, went 2-2.

What Matheny learned: “We’re really young, we knew that, and one of the things we need more than anything is leadership. We got great leadership not only from Drew Spradlin, our only senior, but our junior class was very good. The basketball part of our trip was good, I wouldn’t say it was extraordinary, but it was good. We’re ahead of where we would be [without a trip].”

Who impressed him: Spradlin, and for reasons beyond said leadership. Matheny said Spradlin had never played as consistently well in games before like he showed on the trip. That’s gotta mean something, since Spradlin’s the team’s leading scorer.   

“He defended as well as he’s defended in his career, and he got our players in the right spots,” Matheny said.

Sebastian Koch, originally from Munich, was the other standout. That was nice for the team to see, since the two games in Munich were a bit of a homecoming for him.

What concerned him: “We have to be better defensively as a team, and I knew that from our previous two seasons. It’s clear we got a head start with the trip.” The two losses the team had were close, and Matheny said the youthfulness and inexperience reared its head. There were late turnovers. “The trip was good in that it put us in those situations, but it’s a bit concerning as a coach that we didn’t succeed in those situations.”

-- This team is completely health, Matheny said, and everyone got to take the trip. No left-behinds due to academic issues or anything.

-- I laid out Matheny’s team’s weaknesses from last year to him. They were miserable defensively, allowing teams to make 3s and field goals in general at dangerously potent rates. He didn’t run from it. I asked if he was truly confident, right now, that his team could shed that bad defensive habits. Great quote here:

“I’m not confident," he said, flatly. "That is a major concern or the improvement of our program. We have to defend, in general, better. Our mission as a team and as a program is to elevate Elon. That’s what we talk about whether we’re in the weight room, individual workouts. In order for us to elevate Elon, we’ve got to defend better.”

-- A lot of that defense and rebounding will fall on the shoulders of sophomore Lucas Troutman. He’s the biggest player on the team, at 6-10. Troutman's going to need to have a big year, it seems.

-- A reason to believe Elon can get above .500 this season: More than 50 percent of the team’s minutes last year were freshmen minutes. “We were gangly, weakly young players,” Matheny said.

-- If he had to put a starting five on the floor tonight: Spradlin, sophomore Jack Isenbarger at the 2, 6-7 sophomore Ryley Beaumont at the 3, Troutman and Koch in the paint. Starting five could very well look different by the time the season starts, though.

“One of the best things about our program now is we are much more competitive about playing time,” Matheny said.

Photo via Elon athletics
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: September 14, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: September 14, 2011 4:15 pm

Trippin': Fight might've been good for Hoyas

By Gary Parrish

John Thompson III would've rather the fight in China been avoided. That's obvious, right? But the fight did happen -- you've read about it and seen it many times already, I'm sure -- and there's nothing anybody can do about it now. So Thompson has decided to use the incident as a positive, and he really thinks it might be exactly that.

"In a roundabout and undesired kind of way, the whole incident, the fight, really brought this group closer together quickly," Thompson said. "So big picture, it's not a bad thing at all."

Georgetown returned home from China last month.

Thompson reflected on the trip with CBSSports.com on Wednesday.

What Thompson learned: "This group has a willingness to compete and a willingness to win. And it's a versatile team -- much more versatile than we've been the past couple of years."

Who or what impressed Thompson: "I think the key part of the trip was just the introduction and acclimation and initiation of our freshmen. We have five freshman and we're going to need significant contributions from all of them, to tell you the truth. I was very pleased with how they competed, how they responded and how they learned. They all played really well. Collectively, their basketball IQ and competitive spirt is high."

What concerned Thompson: "Our inexperience. As much as I like this group, we're still an inexperienced team."

----- NOTES -----
  • Like most coaches, Thompson is mostly spending this "contact" period on the road watching and meeting with prospects. But when I caught him on the phone Wednesday, he was actually walking into his office ... for a moment. "I'm going to be in here two hours," Thompson said. "Then it's back on the road."
  • Georgetown, as Thompson pointed out, will rely heavily on a freshman class of Otto Porter, Greg Whittington, Tyler Adams, Mikael Hopkins and Jabril Trawick. Thompson said all of them -- except Adams, who was injured at the time but is now fine -- showed encouraging signs in China, and he didn't single anybody out. But when I asked about Porter specifically, here's what Thompson said: "Otto is outstanding. He's just a basketball player. He does everything on the court. He can score. He defends. He rebounds. He works hard."
  • The country got to hear John Thompson Jr. -- Thompson III's legendary father -- tell his 9/11 story earlier this week, and most of us were blown away by it, by how close the former Georgetown coach came to dying in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Among those not blown away was Thompson III. He heard that story 10 years ago. "I remember him trying to decide whether to travel that day," said Thompson III. "I'm just glad he wasn't stubborn about getting on that plane."
Photo: Reuters
Posted on: September 14, 2011 2:46 pm
Edited on: September 14, 2011 2:52 pm

Trippin': Texas-San Antonio finds the Barrier

In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin’ related stories.

By Matt Norlander

Of all the coaches I’ve talked to during my required allotment of the Trippin’ series, Texas-San Antonio’s Brooks Thompson was the most pragmatic. His team went 3-2, but he wasn’t too high or low. He examined, took note of what he saw, but ultimately viewed his team’s trip to Australia as an important life experience far beyond any implications having to do with basketball.

This is a team that made the NCAA tournament last year and won during the first-round festivities in Dayton, overcoming Alabama State before falling to Ohio State. Thompson is confident about his team, but sometimes a trip’s just a trip.

The team chose to go to Australia because Thompson has two Aussies—stud sophomore Jeremy Hill and fellow second-year player Igor Nujic—and fully plans on creating a pipeline there, much like what Randy Bennett’s done at Saint Mary’s, to name one of a few schools already implementing the strategy.

Thompson, a sixth-year coach, said his best memory from the mid-August excursion was taking a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef, where they saw, snorkeled and swam for a few hours.

“Usually young guys don’t understand how fortunate they are to be in a place like that, but our guys soaked it in and really enjoyed being out there,” Thompson said. “As a head coach, that was the best thing to see. … The water changes color four times when you’re out there.  When we talked docked it was amazing to see. It was just like … wow.”

What Thompson learned: “That we’re not tough enough, and I say that in a joking way. I watched them learned and bond and grow together. It was a little too casual from a coach’s perspective, because we were out there and weren’t playing real hard. It wasn’t like coaching in the conference tournament or anything.”

What impressed him: “One of our newcomers, Kannon Burrage, just because he hadn’t been in a part of our program until now. He did a great job over there and we got a chance to evaluate him. On the other side of that, Stephen Franklin, who is a senior and came into his leadership role.”

What concerned him: “We didn’t guard the way that I wanted to. And that’s what I’m talking about with the casualness. But nothing bothered me, to be honest with you. ... I think we can really score the ball and have a lot of options offensively. Defensively, we have some weaknesses that we have to correct."

-- Thompson likes his team’s experience. This is a group with five seniors that only struggled in two areas last year: offensive rebounding and blocking shots. It’s a bigger team this season. “I think we have great experience, but we’re obviously going to miss Devin Gibson (point guard).” Gibson had a higher offensive rating (107.8) than anyone on the team. Michael Hale III, a junior, is the new point guard.

-- Liked this quote from Thompson: “All coaches can say what they want, from a paper standpoint I think we’re going to be stronger, and our league will be good.”

-- If he had to put a starting five on the floor tonight, Hale III, Melvin Johnson III, Sei Paye, Franklin and Jeremie Hill would get the start. Hill is a 6-8 sophomore.

-- Had returning starter Larry Wilkins not injured himself recently, he’d get the go. Thompson didn’t go on the record with Wilson’s injury, nor say when he expects him to be back.

Photo via UTSA athletics

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: September 13, 2011 9:12 am
Edited on: September 13, 2011 9:36 am

Trippin': Illini thrive in Italy, rout West Va.

In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin’ related stories.

By Jeff Goodman

Bruce Weber wouldn't come right out and say it, but it's fairly obvious from his tone that he likes this year's Illinois team.

Gone are veterans Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Jereme Richmond also made the mistake of leaving after just one season in Champaign.

But let's face it: Those guys underachieved, whether it was due to a soft mental approach or, for some, a soft physical one.

Whatever the case, Weber is ready to turn the page and was optimistic following his team's recent trip to Italy:

What Weber learned: "We have a lot of depth and these guys play their butts off. We pressed the entire time and rotated guys and when guys didn't play hard, they came out."

Who stood out: "Brandon Paul was our best player, but at the same time, he can still play better. He still has lapses, but he's made progress each year. He should be one of the better players in our league if he is consistent."

What is the biggest concern: "Taking care of the ball. Turnovers. Rebounding is also a concern. We lost Mike Davis, our best rebounder, and Jereme (Richmond) was also one of our better rebounders."

- McCamey is playing in Turkey, Tisdale has returned home from Germany and Davis is in the Ukraine.

- Weber said that the Illini played well in the NCAA-sanctioned scrimmage against West Virginia on the Aviano Air Base. Illinois jumped out to an early lead and finished with a 47-26 rout. "It was one of those games where our guys were ready to play and we make shots." Weber said it was an unbelievable experience, playing against the troops, holding a clinic for kids and also holding an exhibition against Bob Huggins' team.

- Weber raved about one-year Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco, who is eligible immediately and will likely start at the point guard spot. Weber saw plenty of Maniscalco prior to college, when he played on the same summer team (Illinois Wolves) with McCamey. "He's a Godsend," Weber said. "He's a tough little guy who knows how to play and gives us stability and leadership." Maniscalco, who averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 assists last season for Jim Les, played on the trip at less than 100 percent. "He's not totally healthy," Weber said. "He's still recovering from an ankle injury."

- Sophomore big man Meyers Leonard didn't dominate on the trip (6.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg) by any means, but Weber said a combination of fatigue and a sprained MCL were both factors. "He was gone 23 days for the US Under-19 team, then came back and we started practicing. Then he got hurt. I think it was mental and he was afraid of getting hurt again."

- Weber said that Tyler Griffey, who was stuck behind Davis and Richmond last year, was the surprise of the trip. Griffey was second on the team in scoring (12.6) and also averaged 5.7 rebounds per game. "We have to play him," Weber said. "He can shoot and be a pick and pop four-man."

- Freshman Nnanna Egwu averaged 7.4 points and 3.2 boards on the trip. "He plays so hard. He's only played for four years, so he still needs to learn. But he's 6-10 and is going to end up being a good player for us."

- Look for freshman Tracy Abrams to backup Maniscalco at the point guard spot. "He's a rock 'em, sock 'em type of point guard. It's not always pretty, but he's tough and gets the job done. He gives us toughness and defense. He played better in the games than in practice." Crandall Head, Luther's younger brother, and Paul could also see time at the point.

- Freshman Devin Langford suffered a deep thigh bruise in the first practice and didn't play on the trip, but he'll be ready for the start of practice. "I'm not sure what position he is," Weber said. "But he's 6-7 or 6-8 and can handle and pass it. He just needs to get a motor."

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: September 12, 2011 3:41 pm

Trippin': Texas-Arlington turns over new strategy

In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin’ related stories.

By Matt Norlander

Thirty-six-year-old Texas-Arlington coach Scott Cross had never done one of these summer trips with a team. He had such a good time, his biggest hope is the NCAA continues to allow them to happen and even at a more-frequent rate. A lot of his players hadn’t ever been on a plane before -- never mind the fact they’d never left the country, or even Texas in some cases.

UTA took a flight up to Vancouver in August; his team went 5-0.

“I believe I became closer with each of the guys that went on the trip,” Cross said.

The team went undefeated in five games, outscoring opponents an average of 112-62. Cross was especially happy his group shot 47 percent from 3-point line, with 49 3s, adding, “I don’t know if we could have done that in shoot-around” last year.

When it wasn’t playing, there were the typical-yet-fun excursions for the group. The zip-lining, walking along the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which was a challenge, as Cross is just a bit afraid of heights. They also went up Grouse Mountain, Vancouver's highest point, via gondola.

What Cross learned: The 24-second shot clock is a swift kick, and his guys did adjust and adapt to its nature very quickly. His team learned how to really run, which they weren’t elite with last season.

What impressed him: Sophomore Shaq White-Miller, who split time at the point and excelled in the team’s practices. Last year White-Miller turned the ball over too frequently, way too frequently in fact (41 percent of his possessions). That factored in to UTA turning the ball over 25.3 percent of the time, the fifth-worst rate in the nation.

On the trip, White-Miller had 35 assists and eight turnovers. “He’s the guy who’s going to pick up the opposing team’s point guard immediately. If you want a description of what UTA defense looks like, you like at Shaq.”  

Cross said Cameron Catelett played the 1 and the 3, and he shot 7 of 12 from 3-point range. He’ll be diverse. The team will grow to embrace this interchanging in its backcourt and should be better for it.

What concerned him: “The defensive rotations would be the main thing, although the effort was there. It’s almost like you don’t want it to be too good.”

-- Injuries: Kevin Butler, a transfer from TCU, tweaked his hamstring in the third game, but he’s fine and practicing.

-- If Cross had to put a starting five on the floor tonight, it’d be Whiter-Miller at the 1, LaMarcus Reed III at the 2, Butler at the 3, Bo Ingram at the 4 and Jordan Reves at the 5.

-- The team had the second-youngest team in the country last season and finished 13-16. Cross is downright determined to turn it around and is confident there will be an uptick in the win column.

“We were right there in all of our games,” Cross said. “We didn’t get blown out in any.”

-- That turnover number needs to come down to at least 20 percent if it wants a chance at winning the league.

-- Conversely, when asked about this team’s strength, Cross said the team’s speed and shooting are the group’s biggest strengths.

-- Who didn’t go on the trip? Two foreign players who’ve not been cleared through the NCAA. Bojan Mihajlovic Karol Gruszecki. It’s an amateurism issue right now; the NCAA has taken awhile to determine if either player received too much money while playing overseas before coming to UTA. Cross said he’s been waiting a “long, long time” for a response. The two have been in summer classes, and “any day now” they’ll know one direction or another, so they can move forward.

Photo via UTA athletics
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: September 12, 2011 10:22 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 10:54 am

Trippin': Healthy Stony Brook goes to Europe

In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click
here for all Trippin’ related stories.

By Jeff Borzello

It was the last day of Stony Brook’s three-city Europe trip, and the team was standing outside the Louvre in Paris.

Looking to get one last memory overseas, the Seawolves saw a ride that essentially shot you into the air until you were almost out of sight to the people on the ground. At first, everyone on the team wanted to do it.

Sophomores Dave Coley and Anthony Mayo were the first to go (video below).

“The guys wanted to show how tough they were,” head coach Steve Pikiell said. “So two guys step up first, they get sprung up in the air. This thing bounces you a million feet in the air, players were going, ‘Oh my God.’ None of our players wanted to get on the ride after that.”

Overall, the trip to Dublin, London and Paris was a success, both on and off the court.

“It was as good a trip as you can have,” Pikiell said.

What Pikiell learned: “You learn about your newcomers. We have two newcomers, and one, Ron Bracey, led us in scoring and was second in rebounds. You learn how your players improve from one year to the next. It got Tommy Brenton back into playing real games because he hadn’t played one in a year. I think that was a real positive for us. There was some things we needed to work on, but now we’re ahead of the game a bit.”

What impressed him: Depth – “Our depth. We have a lot of guys, and I always look at it as a pro. Our guys are going to fight for minutes, and I think that’s a positive. In the past, we had about seven guys. Our guys know they have to work. I played everyone, and it was still hard to get minutes.”

What concerned him: Health – “My biggest concern is injuries. Chris Martin was one of my best guards, and he missed 19 games last year. Tommy Brenton was my best player; he missed the entire season. Marcus Rouse, missed seven games with a knee injury. Dave Coley missed six games. Coming off that trip, I’m very concerned about injuries.”

- Pikiell said he is leaning on seniors Dallas Joyner and Bryan Dougher as leaders for the upcoming season. “You see who’s leading your team when you go into a museum or something,” he said. “We had pretty good leadership, and that’s something I didn’t talk about before the trip.”

- While Ron Bracey led the newcomers, 6-foot-9 freshman forward Scott King was no slouch. “He can really shoot the ball,” Pikiell said.

- Brenton, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, was back to his old self after shaking off the rust. He led the team in rebounding, steals, assists, field-goal percentage and also took the most charges. “He does a lot of things for us,” Pikiell said. “He’s very valuable to us.”

- In the five games over there – in which Stony Brook went 4-1 – the Seawolves had five different leading scorers. Marcus Rouse went 10-for-10 one game and scored 21 points; Lenny Hayes, Bracey and Dougher also paced the Seawolves in scoring for a game. On the defensive side, Pikiell highlighted Dave Coley as one a player who stood out.

- Senior forwards Danny Carter and Dallas Joyner look ready to take a step forward this season. Joyner was an effective scorer, while Carter shot 56 percent from 3-point range.

CBSSports.com’s list of teams taking preseason trips

Photo: Stony Brook Athletics

Posted on: September 12, 2011 9:10 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 9:25 am

Trippin': Oregon goes to Italy with 8 new faces

In our Trippin’ series, we’re talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin’ related stories.

By Jeff Goodman

Some have begun to throw Dana Altman's Oregon Ducks in the equation for the upper-echelon for the Pac-12, along with the likes of UCLA, Arizona and Cal.

Altman has eight new faces - including a trio of fairly well-known transfers - and after talking to him following the team's recent trip to Italy, it's clear he isn't quite ready to bestow those expectations on his squad.

"We've got a long ways to go," Altman said.

What Altman learned: "I don't know if there was one major thing, but the overall sense is that we've got to improve our passing and catching. Our skill level has to get better. Our guys have got to get familiar with our scheme and what we want to do. Basically, we found out that we've got a lot of work to do."

Who stood out: Jabari (Brown) scored the ball well for us and was the leading scorer on the trip. He also averaged about five rebounds a game. The first three games he scored fairly easy and then the scouting report got passed around and he forced a few shots the last two games. But for a freshman, it was a decent start. E.J. (Singler) was solid and freshman Brett Kingman came off the bench and made shots. He was 11-of-24 from 3 and really shot it well."

What is the biggest concern: "Just trying to get everyone on the same page, blending in the new guys."

On the expectations some have placed on his team: "I didn't know they were there with all the new guys we have. Cal is going to be good with all the guys they have back, Stanford has a lot back, UCLA lost a couple of good players, but they have a lot back - look how Arizona finished last year. We've got a lot of new players. If Devoe (Joseph) and Olu can make a quick transition and Tony Woods can get the rust off and get back into shape. ..."

- Only five players return from last year's team: starters E.J. Singler and Garrett Sim, part-time starters Tyrone Nared and Johnathan Loyd and Jeremy Jacob - who only played 17 games due to a knee injury.

- Altman sounded concerned with who will pick up the leadership role following the graduation of seniors Joevan Catron and Jay-R Strowbridge. "They got everyone else to play," Altman said. "Everyone knew Joevan was all about team - and that's why they followed him."

- Altman admitted that he has upgraded both the depth and athleticism. Remember, there were plenty of defections after he replaced Dana Altman - guys like Michael Dunigan (overseas), Matt Humphrey (BC) and Josh Crittle (Central Florida) left and Altman had nine scholarship guys a year ago.

- Altman said that one-year transfer Olu Ashaolu is as adept a 6-foot-6 rebounder as he's been around, but that the ex-Louisiana Tech forward will need to be patient and work on developing his perimeter game.

- Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph didn't play on the trip because he isn't eligible until after the first six games. The only other player who didn't play was freshman Bruce Barron, who suffered a knee injury in a pickup game this summer. "He'll be fine for the start of practice," Altman said.

- Altman said that Woods, the Wake Forest transfer who was kicked out of school following an incident with his girlfriend, needs to develop a go-to move in the post. "He was easy to work with on the trip and has tremendous upside," Altman said. "He's a talented young man."

- Altman said he doesn't want to get into the habit of taking "quick fixes" such as Joseph and Ashaolu. "Would you like to do that on a regular basis? No. But we were in a situation where we wanted to compete and we had already taken four freshmen. Sometimes adding six or seven freshmen isn't good, either."

- Altman's team went 2-3 on the trip, but he spoke highly of the competition. The Ducks played pro teams in Italy - many of them boasting former NBA players.

- Jeremy Jacob, who was injured much of last season, is healthy - according to Altman. "He's in really good shape and should help us this season. He can score on the block and plays physical."

Photo: AP
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com