Tag:Matt Norlander
Posted on: July 26, 2011 1:04 pm
Edited on: July 26, 2011 1:07 pm

Vegas recruiting: a necessary evil, for now

By Matt Norlander

LAS VEGAS -- I spent most of the past two weeks on the road, riding the July recruiting sled and experiencing the July recruiting slog.

I'm ready to be home.

I was first at the Peach Jam, in North Augusta, S.C., which was a blast. (This post in particular got the folks who run the event in what the kids call a tizzy.) So many good teams there, so many great coaches in attendance, and overall just a fantastically run event, even if it can't corral the seedy fringe contingent from infiltrating the premises. No matter -- everyone knows that one's the best. Over the weekend, Las Vegas served as the second leg of the CBSSports.com recruiting tour. What a difference it was, of course.

Unlike the Peach Jam, which has games in a centralized location -- a gym that has four courts and plenty of viewing room -- Las Vegas is a potpourri of games and gyms, each spread 15 to 35 minutes from each other. And everything outside of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas looks the same. Just square after square of flat road and houses that match the sand. Everything's so beige and rusty. For many, days start at 8 a.m. and end close to midnight. Forget games blending into each other -- teams and days and meals and evaluations can, too.

The smart coaches stay in hotels near Interstate exits. That is to say: away from the lights and noise and distractions of the Strip. Others take in the full experience. I'm not sure that ultimately matters when it comes to getting closer to nabbing a verbal commitment or two. Only a few such commitments happen at this point of the recruiting season, anyway.

I talked to a lot of coaches over the weekend, and the whole "Vegas, baby!" arrangement is a real hassle for them. Actually, that's being nice. It's more like hell, what with the 100-degree-plus heat and the constant limbo of not knowing which kids you can get. Most don't like Vegas; they'd cut it out of the summer itinerary if they could. In fact, I didn't get to talk to a lot of coaches because those coaches weren't there for conversation. More and more, programs are OK with skipping the Super 64 (run by Adidas) and the Fab 48 (run by Nike) because the money and time spent heading out to those events isn't worth it.

There's still a healthy majority that make it out for a few days, but there wasn't nearly as many programs represented this past weekend as what I saw at the Peach Jam. And most of the big-boy programs that made it out were only there because there's a top-10 guy who needs coddling. Think I'm wrong? Sunday afternoon, a garbage tournament game pitted New England Playaz' Kaleb Tarczewski against a scrub-like team. It was a miserable matchup, and few actually cared. This was a game to advance tournament play and nothing else. There were maybe 15 coaches in the bleachers at this point. Three of them: Sean Miller, Bill Self, Roy Williams. The three programs left with a chance to get Tarczewski's services.

And though elite guys still play in the Super 64 and Fab 48, in terms of team buzz and anticipation, Vegas isn't what it once was. It's gone down in cache, and that's due in part to the fact that Phoenix and Orlando have become better and bigger events in the past five years. But it's still Vegas, and it's attracting so many teams, coaches are forced to make the trip out and take two, three or four days to zip across the desert and hope to be seen chasing after not really the to-be seniors, but more so the fledgling 15- and 16-year-olds who are playing in echoey gyms. Chasing the young guys is really why so many schools spend time in Nevada.

From a recruiting aspect, Vegas is a pain. There's the distraction the town brings with it -- and plenty of coaches are more than willing to enable that distraction; it's more of a reason for going than recruiting for most, as you'd no doubt conclude -- and the feeling that so many of these kids have reached a point where seeing coaches in the gyms just doesn't matter. A few coaches told me he doesn't believe the kids give a rip by this point who is or isn't there. Others disagreed. In talking to a few players, I got stock answers of, "It's good to know the coaches are here" and other things similar.

Whether or not coaches really care to see the players or players really care to have the coaches there, what's undeniable is the imperfect setup of Vegas. While hundreds and hundreds of kids are playing all across the landscape, coaches lose time. Nearly half a coach's day is spent in a car, and that time is killed by making phone calls to home or calling other coaches on staff who may have gotten to another gym. Over the weekend I saw a few programs put two or three coaches in the same gym. To that I say, Why? No one is recruiting off just one AAU team. Utilize your staff and spread them out as much as possible to cover as much ground as you can.

But for all the inconvenience that comes with it, Vegas is still necessary. With Adidas and Nike putting all these players in all these gyms, there's too much potential to nab a player that it's ultimately not worth ditching out on completely. Will it slowly erode? I can see Vegas becoming less and less important in the next decade. But I'm new to the recruiting scene; these are just my impressions off one weekend and about 10 conversations with coaches.

It's still Vegas, but it isn't the same Vegas. I wonder how a change in recruiting model will impact these events going forward. The tournaments are still going to go on, but it seems more viable options with less distractions and less driving (the driving is all the coaches want to complain about) are what many coaches will drift to.

At this point, Vegas will never die, but it could become a second option. That's a scenario most didn't think would happen as recently as a few years ago.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: July 26, 2011 12:25 pm
Edited on: July 26, 2011 12:43 pm
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Posted on: July 24, 2011 6:14 pm
Edited on: July 24, 2011 8:21 pm

UConn AD Hathaway probably on his way out

By Matt Norlander

UPDATE: Late Sunday night, Susan Herbst put out a thinly veiled, broad press release which doesn't name Hathaway specifically.

The New London Day reported Saturday that new UConn president Susan Herbst is catalyzing a removal of Jeff Hathaway as athletic director.

Hathaway (above, left) has been at Connecticut for eight years, witnessing two men's and four women's national championships in basketball during his tenure. Of course, he was also in the house when the NCAA slapped the men's program with a tag of failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. Hathaway is also the chair of the NCAA men's basketball selection committee for the 2012 NCAA tournament. Stories of his impending departure from the university are only the latest in the series of sagas in Storrs, Conn., the past few years. The latest here, this news, is not surprising. Some would say it's been a long time coming.

There's a clear power struggle and crisscross of communication in the athletic offices at the school. And it seems the new president is siding on behalf of those who'd like to see a new leader in charge. From the Day's report:
Hathaway, who operates under a six-year rollover contract (through 2017) with a base salary of $351,717, will receive a buyout. Once the parties reach an agreeable monetary figure, the sources said, Hathaway will leave the job he's had for the last eight years.

The process could take at least "a few weeks" and likely longer, according to one of the sources, who said it is doubtful Hathaway will be the athletic director by the time classes begin in September. The sources had no knowledge of potential candidates for Hathaway's successor.
Hathaway begins his duties as chairman of the Selection Committee in September.

Rumors of Hathaway's departure -- for instance, replacing Debbie Yow at his alma mater, Maryland -- have existed for some time; well more than a year. There's been an increasing amount of frustration in Hathaway's inability to run a tight ship and bring in public money for the school. And the stink from the men's basketball violations -- violations that would get most coaches fired -- is still something that inhibits Hathaway more for than any other person.

Perhaps rightfully so; he is the athletic director. Still, this is quite a big change. Hathaway was also the associate athletic director at the school form 1990 to 2001. He's been along for nearly as much of the UConn empire-building as Jim Calhoun. More perspective from the Day:
Hathaway's most serious deficiencies, the sources said, centered primarily on fundraising revenues in consistent decline and a lack of attention paid to NCAA compliance. In both cases, the sources said, Hathaway failed to hire experienced replacements for former athletic fundraiser Paul Pendergast and former compliance director Bill Shults.

The sources said that Herbst is taking NCAA compliance with the utmost seriousness, given the recent transgressions of the men's basketball program. UConn's compliance staff now has four full-time staffers (it previously had two). By comparison, Ohio State has eight (six full-time members and two interns) and Tennessee has five full-time employees.
There is not only a probable change in athletic director coming, but a change in culture, too, as Calhoun creeps ever closer to retiring. The Hartford Courant's Jeff Jacobs had an outstanding column this weekend, a column that really nailed just what a mess this whole situation is. Before the summer's out (read: once this becomes official) I can and will get into the effect this change will have on UConn. For now, please read Jacobs' editorial for a sense of how reputations and legacies (within the state, at least) could be established based upon the effect and fallout from Hathaway's departure.

But for now, I present this: Has Calhoun not publicly said he's coming back yet because Hathaway is still there? There is no love loss between the two. Is this a power play by Calhoun? Get rid of Hathaway, and then you'll have my vow for a return for next season.

It wouldn't shock me if that's the case. Calhoun's been active on the recruiting trail and looks vibrant and ready to start again. But he's keeping his lips sealed -- for now -- as we wait to see when this buyout happens.

To sum it up: UConn just won a national title three months ago. Its athletic director is on his way to being forced out. Its head coach still hasn't publicly made his decision. This is more problematic, short-term and long-term, than most realize.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: July 23, 2011 8:51 pm
Edited on: July 23, 2011 9:08 pm

Shooter Buddy Hield becoming a hot prospect

By Matt Norlander

LAS VEGAS — If Buddy Hield keeps shooting the way he has this month, he’ll no longer just be a secret Big 12 schools know about.

Some perspective on Hield’s past five weeks. Until recently, he was targeted by Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Utah, Clemson, Boston College and Wichita State. Good, right? A lot of it was fringe interest, from what I gather.

Some schools had more interest than others, but that was before the ever-crucial July period began. Since then (read: since he had a surprisingly strong showing with the Kansas Pray and Play Players in Indianapolis earlier this month), Memphis, Baylor, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Oregon State have dropped in.

Others are sure to follow for the 2012, 6-4 shooting guard out of Bel Aire, Ks. Hield’s not only got a very reliable shot from nearly anywhere 21 feet and in, he also carries a 3.8 GPA.  Although the Players have gone 0-3 so far in Vegas, you couldn’t blame Hield in the slightest. He’s been an improving force and presence on a team that also features four-star power forward Perry Ellis.

With more visibility in this massive Super 64 Adidas event on the north side of Las Vegas, Hield’s name has started to spread. Happens every July for a cluster of kids. But it’s the first time for him — and he’s ready for it. Hield is a pretty reserved 17-year-old. He knows more attention is coming and said he’ll trim his list to a top five in mid-September, no matter how many teams offer him a scholarship.

He said he was concentrated on “doing everything I’m supposed to do—on the court and off the court. Just to stay consistent with everything.”

I asked him to give a quick scouting report on his best and worst attributes as a player. His diagnosis: strengths are pure shooting and using his pump-fake on the drive; he’s weak with on-the-ball defense and his ball-handling abilities.

“I want to get my ball handling to the point where I can be a real point guard,” he said. “I need to be well-crafted so I can create more shots.”

As for the outstanding GPA, Hield has family in mind. He’s from the Bahamas, and most of his family is still there. With them tracking from afar, he said he balances his game with outstanding grades because it’s practically a self-driven mandate. One motivation feeds into the other. Good on the court, better in the classroom. Equal time is distributed to both.

“You have to make it somewhere so you can be motivated — it’s about your mind and being driven,”  Hield said, adding, “I’ve thought about [academic] reputation with schools. I want to help my family eventually and be a pro. Earn a job.”

Could mean basketball, could mean something else. He’s got the tools and mindset to decide that eventually. For now, he’ll continue to rise up rankings board and see his options spread.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: July 22, 2011 9:39 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 10:14 pm

Tony Woods lands at Oregon

By Matt Norlander

Tony Woods has agreed to suit up for the Ducks.

The former Wake Forest big man, who ended up transferring after a legal situation went publicly awry in 2010, will not only play for Oregon but will be eligible once the 2011-12 season starts, a source close to the situation confirmed Friday night.

His former AAU coach, Norman Parker, told our Jeff Borzello last week that a decision was coming to a head.

Schools like Louisville (which Woods initially committed to in October, 2010), Texas and Kentucky were all in the mix for Woods this past year, but Oregon's quirky academic calendar -- it does not run on traditional semesters -- allows Woods to complete necessary academic requirements in order to play at the start of the season for Dana Altman's team.

We blogged about Woods in May, on the heels of a revealing human-interest Yahoo! Sports story. In the story, Woods spoke of being on a road to redemption and how his reputation was unfairly mangled amid his fallout from Wake.

At Oregon, he now has his chance -- and an unlikely one at that. Few considered Oregon to be the next destination for the former five-star recruit out of Rome, Ga.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: July 22, 2011 7:58 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 8:21 pm

Tennessee gives itself 2 years' probation

By Matt Norlander

Tennessee has given its response to the NCAA, and that response is two years of probation for its football and basketball programs.

The Knoxville News-Sentintel broke the news Friday afternoon.

The school had 90 days to respond to the NCAA after the two met in Indianapolis, when the Committee on Infractions essentially scolded the university for its outside-the-rules behavior in the past couple of years. The question becomes, is this going to be enough? The NCAA still has to deliver its final ruling sometime later this summer/in the fall, and that could come with more punishments.

With nearly everyone associated with the Bruce Pearl and Lane Kiffin eras no longer affiliated with Tennessee, we'll see if that actually happens, though. There has been a cleansing, so how much do those in the current positions now deserve to be hit for the sins of previous castle-dwellers?

"Sadly, this became a case of a head coach and his assistants following a somewhat correctable secondary violation with a series of bad decisions," the school's response to the NCAA states, per the News-Sentinel. "Those decisions put a proud and reputable program in substantial jeopardy and eventually led to the termination of employment of the four coaches, each of whom had a promising future at the University."

Aside from the tame, patented self-probation tag, Tennessee basketball's only other stipulation for the upcoming year? The coaches can't provide "off-campus meals during the 2011-12 academic year," per the report. Hardly a hurdle to overcome. Not that it's good or bad -- just what it is.

And when you see how the NCAA really let Ohio State off Friday afternoon for what happened under Jim Tressel, the trend points toward Tennessee not receiving any additional blows later this year.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: July 22, 2011 3:31 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 4:38 pm

In front of the biggest coaches, Shabazz steps up

By Matt Norlander

LAS VEGAS -- I just spent the past 90 minutes at the Rancho High School gym watching CBSSports.com's No. 1 overall 2012 recruit Shabazz Muhammad.

It was a dee-light.

You can hear about a player, or see said player on shaky YouTube videos ad naseum, but nothing matches being a few feet away and seeing his skill set in person for the first time.

Muhammad, a lefty, can deftly go each way. He was throwing down dunks with ease over players that have much more body mass and height than him. (Muhammad's a sturdy 6 feet, 5 inches.) He also crossed up a few guys from about 22 feet and swished 3s as Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Josh Pastner, Ben Howland and other drooling coaches in the hunt for his services looked on from the light-gray bleachers.

It was incredibly impressive, most of all, because his team came behind to beat the Atlanta Celtics, a team that's one of the more stacked groups in the country. Muhammad had 38 points, continuing his trend of filling up scorebooks this month. His 38 comes in an economical way, if that makes sense. He's certainly not a ballhog.

Afterward, a small swarm of reporters -- myself included -- got about two minutes with the future NBA lottery pick (only an unforseen injury or life on the lam will prevent that from happening) before his coach got him out of the gym as quickly as possible.

"I'm taking it slow," he said of not only the recruiting process, but the pressure that's supposed to exist on his 17-year-old shoulders. "I'm going to focus on [teams recruiting me] in August, after the AAU season."

Muhammad listed off, in order, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, Memphis and UNLV as schools he'll focus on. The A&M choice, I believe, is a relatively new one. From what I gather, there's an assistant at the school who's close with Muhammad's father.
Muhammad also said his shooting is now the top priority for him. Said he's taken the criticism of his jump shot seriously and will continue to work to improve it diligently. He really couldn't have been more impressive. And best of all, he's a good kid. Everyone says that about him. Grounded, intelligent, tempered and talented.

It's not only easy, it's blindingly obvious why this kid is so coveted.

Photo via Larry Lawson
Posted on: July 20, 2011 6:51 pm
Edited on: July 20, 2011 7:14 pm

Former 'Zona player talks Salinas and recruiting

By Matt Norlander

The faucet continues to drip.

Former five-star Arizona guard Jawann McClellan went on the record with the Arizona Republic, telling the newspaper he was "pretty sure" David Salinas was involved with college hoops coaches for more than just financial investments. 

McClellan is tied into this not just because he played basketball in the Houston area, but also because he was recruited by, and played for, Lute Olson at Arizona. Olson was reported to have lost $1.17 million dollars with Salinas, per a Sports Illustrated story that came out Tuesday.

McClellan did not say he was ever swayed -- nor attempted to be -- to play at Arizona by Salinas, though. It's just his feeling, his speculation that, despite Salinas appearing to be a pretty stand-up guy, he wouldn't put it past coaches to use the type of advantages Salinas could offer in an effort to get another prospect or two.

McClellan shocked some back in 2004 when he opted to leave the state and choose to play for the Wildcats out west.

"Coach Olson was probably one of his biggest clients and (committing to UA) caught a lot of people off guard," McClellan said Tuesday by phone from Houston. "A lot of people thought I was going to Texas, but I was confident in my decision."

McClellan said he chose the Wildcats primarily because of Olson and then-Arizona assistant coach Josh Pastner, though he also considered Kentucky before committing to UA in the summer of 2002.

We still truly haven't seen a smoking gun -- yet. Maybe we won't. But now we've got a few men on the record who have spoken about the dangerous, less than transparent behavior from Salinas. The Daily's Dan Wolken got a pretty significant quote out of former Houston coach Tom Penders, who basically said he didn't feel comfortable dealing with Salinas due to the man's ties with AAU basketball.

Everyone's standing in the room, shifting their eyes and jingling change in their pockets. Who will talk first? Is there something big out there still in hiding?

When pressed about Salinas' involvement in choosing Arizona, McClellan said this to the Arizona Republic:

McClellan said Salinas was only involved in his decision to attend UA because he was a friend of former UA assistant and former Rice head coach Scott Thompson, who saw McClellan play travel-ball events for Salinas' Houston Select team.

Whether anyone else managed to curry favor with Salinas, McClellan declined to say.

"I'm pretty sure Coach did run one of top two programs in the city, and I'm pretty sure he had players loaded up so you'd think coaches tried to get a relationship with him," McClellan said. "But whether Salinas went for that is neither here nor there."

Plenty of reporters are now on the hunt for former coaches and players who dealt with Salinas. The leaky plumbing probably isn't going to be patched up any time soon. On the heels of our initial report Sunday night, we've now seen three straight days of new, informative reporting on the subject. This slow-boil of a story could take weeks before we can see the breadth of its reach and those who were or were not in the wrong.

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