Even during the offseason, there is always plenty to discuss in the world of college basketball. Coaching changes, transfers, injuries, recruiting, off-court issues, schedules, John Calipari’s hip.
All of it calls for an offseason edition of King’s Court, albeit in an abbreviated version. Nearly each Wednesday until the start of the 2014-15 campaign, I’ll fill you in on the latest happenings in the college hoops world. I may also sprinkle in a few unrelated topics that you may or may not care about. Most of them probably involve travel or food—and no one has ever complained about that in the past.
Let’s get started.
1. I see that Roy Williams’ name has surfaced as a potential candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers opening. Most people are laughing it off. Not me. Williams loves California. He flirted with the UCLA job during the winter of 2003 but ended up leaving Kansas for North Carolina instead. The Lakers expressed interest in Williams in 2004, but there was no way he was leaving the Tar Heels after just one season.
This time, things could be different.
The 2013-14 season wore on Williams. The image hits he and his program took because of the P.J. Hairston situation and the academic allegations bothered him deeply and left him somewhat disgruntled. Or at least that’s what I sensed when I visited with Williams for 30 minutes in his office about a week before Christmas. Williams’ son, Scott, even told me he and his mother had urged their father to retire.
I’m guessing North Carolina’s late season run—the Tar Heels won their final 12 regular-season games— rejuvenated Williams. And he’s no doubt excited about a 2014-15 squad that should enter this season ranked in the Top 10.
Los Angeles general manager Mitch Kupchak, a North Carolina grad, is a big fan of Williams, but it hardly sounds as if Williams, 63, is the Lakers' No. 1 candidate. Even if he was, I don’t think he'd leave. But I’m also not dismissing the possibility. Not yet, at least. A lot of folks—fans, media and administrators, too—chuckled at the suggestion that Williams would leave Kansas back in 2003 and they ended up looking foolish.
2. I’m still not sure what to think of Missouri’s decision to hire a Division II coach (Central Missouri’s Kim Anderson) to replace Frank Haith. But I’ll give Tigers athletic director Mike Alden credit for one thing. Before settling on Anderson, he made a strong push to hire Gregg Marshall. And by strong, I mean Alden was prepared to shell out the money that would’ve been necessary to lure the nation’s hottest coach away from Wichita State.
Two sources close to search told me this week that Marshall turned down an offer worth approximately $3 million annually, which goes against the media narrative that money was the main issue that separated the two sides. The reasons for Marshall’s decision to stay at Wichita State were simple. He’s got a great team returning led by Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet; his son, Kellen, is a high school junior; he didn’t want to take over a program with a depleted roster and, finally, he realizes better opportunities may arise in the next year or two. Marshall simply wasn't feeling it with Missouri. And that's not a knock on the Tigers program.
3. Don't make any plans for Dec. 20. It was officially announced Wednesday that a marquee doubleheader featuring North Carolina vs. Ohio State and UCLA vs. Kentucky will take place that afternoon at Chicago's United Center in the first annual CBS Sports Classic. The event (featuring the same four schools) will be held in at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn in 2015 and in Las Vegas in 2016.
4. A King’s Court salute goes out to Adreian Payne for receiving his diploma from Michigan State last weekend. Payne, who was diagnosed with a learning disability in elementary school, was in special education classes and barely knew how to read in the ninth grade. But administrators and teachers at Jefferson High School in Dayton, Ohio took Payne under their wing and provided him with the tutoring and extra attention he needed to qualify for a Division I scholarship.
Payne went on to receive Michigan State’s Scholar Athlete Award and also gained national notoriety for his friendship with 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth, who lost her battle with cancer last month. Lacey’s parents and three brothers attended Payne’s graduation ceremony. Payne, a 6’10” center, is projected as a first-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft.
5. What’s going on at Maryland? Guard Seth Allen, forward Nick Faust, center Shaq Cleare and guard Roddy Peters have all left the team since the end of a 17-15 season in which the Terrapins failed to make the NCAA tournament and even the NIT.
“I’m a little bit of everything—surprised, angry disappointed,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon told reporters this week. “All those emotions come into it. But what am I going to do? Am I going to sit here and cry about it? No. I’m going to recruit players and get to 13 (scholarships) and ... we’ll hopefully be a tighter group because of it.”
Maybe so, but another mediocre-to-dismal season seems inevitable. And if that happens, you have to wonder whether Turgeon’s job will be in jeopardy. The former Texas A&M coach has yet to make the NCAA tournament after arriving from Texas A&M in the summer of 2011.
6. The timing of Oregon State’s decision to fire Craig Robinson was a bit odd, but I understand the move—especially if the Beavers end up hiring Ben Howland. It baffles me that Howland has yet to land a head coaching job since being fired from UCLA after a season in which he beat Arizona three times and won the Pac-12 regular-season title.
I know Howland can be a bit prickly at times and, yes, there was the Sports Illustrated article that shed a negative light on the culture surrounding his Bruins program. But I believe the problems in Westwood had as much to do with few bad seeds (i.e. Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith) than Howland himself. I’m sure Howland learned from any mistakes he may have made.
This is still a man who went to three straight Final Fours at UCLA after winning back-to-back Big East titles at Pittsburgh, which is no easy feat. The man can flat-out coach. Oregon State may not have been the place Howland, 57, was hoping to resurface. But with Marquette, Missouri and Tennessee all showing little interest, he may not have another choice.
7. All of this talk about Oregon State and Missouri got me thinking ... there are going to be some really bad teams next year. The Beavers lost their top five scorers and Missouri standouts Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown both entered the NBA draft. New Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall is inheriting a depleted roster and, at Oregon, Dana Altman will only have two returning players following a rape investigation that will likely cost Daymean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin their careers as Ducks. At Texas Tech, the loss of Jordan Tolbert and Dusty Hannahs (both transfers) means that Tubby Smith must replace four of his top five starters from last season.
8. I’m a little surprised Wisconsin isn't getting more love in the various preseason Top 25 polls that have surfaced during the past month. Yes, yes, yes ... I realize the Badgers are in everyone’s top five. But to me they’re a shoo-in for No. 2, right behind Kentucky. Most people to seem to have Arizona ahead of the Badgers. Yet Wisconsin beat Arizona in the Elite Eight—and Arizona lost its two best players (Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon) to the NBA draft.
Other than Ben Brust, Wisconsin returns every key piece from a squad that was a Traevon Jackson jump shot away from playing in the NCAA title game against Connecticut (and I strongly believe the Badgers would’ve beat the Huskies).
As good as Frank Kaminsky was in the postseason, I expect him to be even better as a senior in 2014-15. And freshman forward Nigel Hayes should make huge strides as well.
9. Speaking of the top 25 poll ... here's how I'd rank the Top 10 heading into next season:
- Wichita State
- North Carolina
10. I suppose now is the time to start begging my boss to send me to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas this fall. Have you seen the field? Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, UCLA, Georgetown, Oklahoma, Butler and UAB will all spend Thanksgiving weekend duking it out for the championship of the nation’s best non-conference tournament.
That’s almost as good as the 2012 tournament that ended with Duke beating Louisville in the title game.
I attended that event and, let me tell you, it was one of the more enjoyable weekends I’ve ever spent covering a tournament. Held at the Atlantis Resort and Casino, blackjack and craps tables are a three-minute walk from the arena. There’s a great nightclub there, too, but the beach and swimming pools and water slides are obviously the biggest draw. The atmosphere at the games is also unique. I must say, I’d never thought I’d see a live seal do tricks on a basketball court at halftime. I was also impressed that tournament organizers flew in the eight beauty queens representing the state of each team to take pictures with fans before cheering their squad on during its game.
No, it wasn’t distracting at all to see Miss Virginia sitting behind the VCU bench (#sarcasm).
11. They’re not receiving much buzz, but there are still four high-quality transfers looking for a home: Tashawn Thomas and Danuel House, formerly of Houston; ex-Boston College star Ryan Anderson; and former USC leading scorer Byron Wesley.
House and Thomas are in a odd situation, as Houston granted them a release that restricts them from signing with any school on the Cougars’ 2014-15 schedule (understandable), any school in their conference (totally fair) and any school in the state of Texas (flat-out ridiculous).
They’ve appealed that restriction, an indication they’d prefer to stay close to home. As of now, though, Thomas has visited Miami and Oklahoma while House is scheduled to visit UCLA and South Carolina.
Sources tell me Wesley has narrowed his list to Gonzaga, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State, likely in that order. Anderson is considering Indiana, Arizona and Iowa State.
12. A faction of Kansas fans rejoiced when starting point guard Naadir Tharpe announced last week that he was transferring. Tharpe struggled toward the end of the year, and it didn’t help his image when a lewd picture of Tharpe and a 38-year-old married woman surfaced on the internet a few weeks after the Jayhawks lost to Stanford in the Round of 32.
Still, I’m not so sure Kansas is better without Tharpe, who averaged 8.5 points and 5.0 assists. Tharpe had 23 and 21 points in victories over Iowa State (on the road) and Oklahoma State, which were two of the Jayhawks’ biggest victories of the year. He scored 22 in a tough road win at Baylor and had 12 assists in a home win over Iowa State. In short, the Jayhawks wouldn’t have won a 10th-straight Big 12 title without Tharpe.
I know he wasn’t nearly as good as past Kansas point guard such as Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor. And, yes, I realize there’s a ton of excitement over incoming freshman Devonte Graham (who, curiously, committed to Kansas the day after Tharpe’s departure was announced).
Still, Graham is a freshman. Tharpe is a battle-tested senior. There’s a big difference. Tharpe would’ve helped Kansas next year, whether it was as a starter or coming off the bench. It’s a shame he won’t get the chance to work through his problems, rebuild his image and obtain his degree from a place where he had a considerable amount of success.
*There are only two “major cities” that I haven’t visited: Seattle and Boston. I’ll knock one of those out next month when I join some buddies for a “guy’s weekend” in Seattle. I need food recommendations, folks. Seriously, send them to email@example.com. I’m already considering Crab Pot, Slim’s Last Chance and The Wing Dome. Is this good or bad?
*I’m making it my offseason mission to watch every episode of Breaking Bad. I’m two episodes deep. Good stuff so far. Thanks to all who recommended it.
*I’ve played golf twice in my life. The first time was last summer in Las Vegas, where a seasoned golfer told me I was the best first-timer he’d ever seen. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well this week. I went to a driving range near my home and, on four of my first six swings, I hit the ball over the netting that’s supposed to protect moving cars from amateurs such as myself. Unlike Judge Smails, it appears I have a bit of a slice. (Maybe I should've put some stick 'em on the grips). Anyway, It wasn’t long before I noticed an elderly man whispering into a walkie-talkie, apparently summoning the facility’s “security” guard. I was asked to either leave the driving range or to relocate to a box that was as far away from the nearby street as possible. I wasn’t upset. Actually, I was sorta proud.
*A website called “The Daily Meal” just released it’s list of “America’s Top 35 Ribs.” Four of the top 10 restaurants on the list were from my hometown of Kansas City.Some of the things I agreed with, such as putting Oklahoma Joe’s at No. 1. But other parts of the list were asinine.
Arthur Bryant’s has the second-best ribs in America? C’mon now. They’re not even in most people’s top three in Kansas City (at least when it comes to ribs). I also thought the Salt Lick (Austin) was way too high at No. 10 and that No. 22 Archibald’s (Alabama) and No. 23 Pappy’s Smokehouse (St. Louis) were way too low.
*Here’s how I’d rank Kansas City-area ribs:
1. Oklahoma Joe’s.
2. Jack’s Stack
4. K&M (Spring Hill, Kan.)
5. Bigg’s (Lawrence, Kan.)
6. Bates City
8. Arthur Bryant’s.
-I haven’t been to Woodyard and I haven’t tried ribs at L.C.’s. For what it’s worth, Guy and Mae’s in Williamsburg, Kan. serves the best ribs I’ve ever had other than Oklahoma Joe’s.
*I’ll save the in-depth restaurant reviews for the regular season, but here are a few places I’ve visited recently that impressed me:
Golden Harvest in East Lansing, Michigan has vaulted to No. 1 on my list for breakfast restaurants. Nothing like listening to the Beastie Boys and Lil Jon while eating waffle cakes lined with bacon and chocolate as a punk-rocker with blue hair refills your coffee ... I’m convinced that Henderson’s Fried Chicken in Dallas is second only to Babe’s in the war for fried chicken supremacy in that great city. Seriously, $11 for 10 huge pieces of bird? That’s a deal ... What’s with the meatball craze in New York? I need to get back up there and hit a few spots ... The last meal I had before starting my month-long crash diet was from Whataburger. Double meat, bacon, cheese, grilled jalapenos, grilled onions with the bun toasted on both sides. I definitely went down swinging.
Until next week ...
Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.