USC Head Coach talked to the media on Friday during the annual SEC Summer Coaches Teleconference. Here are a few things he had to say about Carolina Basketball, NCAA academic reform and conference re-alignment.
“We are like most of the teams in the SEC because we lost a pretty healthy dose of last year’s squad. We had four seniors and those guys were integral parts of our team. Our only advantage is that three of those players were plagued by injury last year – I think between those 4 seniors we lost about 31-32 games – so we did have a chance to adjust a little bit and play some of the younger players.
From a returning stand point this season Rolando Howell is the most experienced and the most likely marquee player. Rolando did not have a great year last year, he was injured as well and I look for him to have a really good senior year. Another returnee is, Carlos Powell. He had a great non-conference season but did not have a great conference season. I think he will be much more consistent this year and able to handle the regard of the SEC season. Michael Boynton, Jared Gerald and Kerbrell Brown: all these were players that got some time last year but not what you would call primetime players. They certainly will be given an opportunity to show what they can do this year and hopefully move up in to a playing rotation of our team.
The major hope of our team right now is the mixture of the veterans coming back, the Howells, Powell’s, and Chappell’s. Then the incoming new group, four freshmen: Tre Kelly, Renaldo Balkman, Brandon Wallace and Paulius Joneliunas, and one junior college player, Josh Gonner. I think that it is a solid class. It is our best class I think since we’ve been here and I hope to be able to build a solid team with the combination of some returning veterans and a really solid incoming class.
Q: All the academic reform issues that have been proposed/passed – do any of them really concern you?
A: I don’t think they are unrealistic and I do think that we have got to remember that we represent higher education and that college is not for everybody. You certainly want to give everyone the opportunity to go to college, those who want to and those who worked hard enough to qualify should be given the opportunity and we are trying to start to make that possible. But I think we have reached a point with the university presidents. It’s clearly stated that we are not to sacrifice our education solely for athletics. And they have given a very clear guideline to go by and the new standards that have passed look to be a whole lot different then the set of rules we have been operating under. We have been given enough notice and I think our compliance people and our academic people have been given enough notice. Now I think it is up to us to recruit players that not only can excel on the basketball court but can also excel in the classroom. Our University has been very good about supplying academic help and most of them, which will continue to do that. At the same time we have to get players in here that are serious about education and want to stay on track for graduation. We hope they stay in college for four years and actually get a diploma. The one thing I would say is that it is very hard for basketball and not that it isn’t hard for other sports, but we cut across two semesters and all the vacations (Thanksgiving, Christmas, fall break, spring break). It really does wear on our basketball players. We have got to make sure that we take advantage of all the opportunities academically, like summer school. We have had all our kids here all summer long and that is a hard grueling two-three months. They won’t be freshmen come winter because they have been here all summer. That is the only way I know to keep them on track for graduation.
Q: These changes are going to make college basketball a twelve month a year deal for these kids now isn’t it?
A. I think it is. If we are serious about getting them graduated that is it true. I have made the reference to some of the other sports. Football for instance, they will bring in 25 players. Sometimes 21-22 of them, they are going to redshirt that first year. So that will at least give them 4 years and in most cases 5 years to graduate. Most really good basketball players in the SEC level as freshman, they good enough to play – they want to play. They say “Play me, do not redshirt me, I want to get out of here in four years and I want to get on with the business to bring in money. I want to play basketball at the end of my four years and sometimes two-three years.” So it is a totally different mind set. We do have the problem of trying to keep our kids on track for graduation and in fact have them graduate in four years – this is a national problem not just one in the SEC or other major conferences.
Q: You coached the course of the ACC for a longtime; everybody has talked about the impact on football. What about the impact on basketball – of adding teams?
A: I think basketball is strong enough in that league that it will handle its own. I think we all realize that that was a football decision. People look at it, Miami, Virginia Tech, as being football schools and the football programs are clearly top 10 in the country. In Miami’s case they have been No. 1 in football. I do think that going into the ACC, their basketball programs may not be quiet at the level as the ACC is accustomed to. But when you factor in the ACC as a part of Virginia Tech basketball or as a part of Miami basketball, I think that you will find that their recruiting will pick up and just their stats will pick up, so in the end I don’t see it hurting the basketball in that league. It may on the early side but I think that you’ll find the Virginia Tech and Miami basketball teams will build their programs. So, I don’t think it will hurt them, I think it will be ok. The bigger questions are: What do you do with the conference tournament?; How do you divide the teams up divisionally equally, football and basketball?. You don’t want it to be top heavy in either one. I think those are bigger questions
Q: With the number of kids that are going professional out of high school or one year of college, do you go on the road and find yourself in a paradox situation, of saying we are not going to recruit that guy because he is too good?
A: Our program is not in that shape right now and we are just not that good to be in that situation. We are not able to recruit a kid that is that good. We have been through two weeks of recruiting. I think if you ask all the coaches in the conference this morning and they can probably name 5-6 high school players that could develop and I know you hear all kinds of rumors about this guy will never play a day of college basketball. There is certainly no more than six out there, there might be really only two or three that should consider going to the NBA next year. Our program is not in the position yet where we are recruiting a kid that would even consider going into the NBA right from high school. Hopefully one day there will be a player in our area that is that good but I don’t think there is right this minute but there are some very good college prospects but I don’t know if there are any immediate NBA prospects in our area. I really do not go to camps and showcases and all-star events with that in mind and I don’t think that many coaches do. I think that most college coaches look at every player as a viable recruit and say we can make him better, he should come to my school. Le’Bron James has really been an exception to that rule.
Q: Kentucky went so easily through the league last year, they seemed to kind of distance themselves from everybody. What is going to take to in the coming year to close the gap on them?
A: We all have to get better clearly. I think a big mistake would be to look at Kentucky and say they lost this player and that player, etc. And they are not going to be as good. I think that that would be a huge mistake on anybody’s part. I think a better way to look at it is Kentucky is always going to be Kentucky. They are always going to have really good players; they are going to have really good coaching, really good fan support, and the rest of us better get our butts in gear. We need to take our programs to that level and we can’t wait for them to take theirs back to ours. They did go through the league in an unusually easy manner. I don’t think that anybody would expect that to happen again. You can expect them to be very good and not only in our league but on a national scale. It makes the rest of us get busy and get the right players in here to challenge them and do a good job of coaching. I think everything starts with recruiting and then it fortifies itself with good coaching and great fan support.