When college basketball season ends in March, it doesn’t really end. It merely morphs into the multiple events of spring, many of which are pivotal to a team’s prospects the next season.
So Tuesday, we had a whirl of news on the Pac-12 front. A few takes:
* Cal hires Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin.
It’s a move that has a search firm’s fingerprints all over it, and indeed, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour indicated earlier the school was retaining DHR International in the search. That’s not to say finding Martin was a bad move; indeed, it’s got some splash, inasmuch as he just took a team to the Sweet 16. It’s just that I doubt Barbour would have unearthed Martin on her own. Search firms have a way of ferreting out possible candidates who may have run their course at another school, and Martin had developed a legion of doubters in Knoxville before the Vols’ late run.
I found it interesting that Barbour apparently elected not to reveal the tentative terms of Martin’s salary. Why not? Would it have created some blowback if it was perceived as too much (with some of Cal’s well-chronicled stadium-renovation debt in the face of campus austerity) or too little (calling into question the school’s commitment to basketball)?
In any case, this is a big one for Barbour, who has been under fire for a variety of missteps. In the bigger picture, it may bring clarity to the question of just how good the Cal basketball job is. There’s been some debate about that, since the school doesn’t have a dedicated practice facility, among other issues. The Bears haven’t been to the Sweet 16 in 17 years, and it took Mike Montgomery coming out of his self-imposed coaching hiatus to get the Bears to their first conference regular-season title in half a century.
* Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson are off to the NBA, but front-liners Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski are sticking around.
Can’t quibble with any of that. Yes, Gordon is somewhat unrefined, but you know the NBA and its custom of drafting upside. I talked recently to a pro scout who says he’s convinced Gordon can be a better shooter than he showed, and indeed, he dropped a couple of threes in the NCAA tournament. If he can do that, he can certainly improve his faulty free-throw shooting. And he plays uncommonly hard.
As for Johnson, other than proving he can shoot better (he hit a respectable .367 on threes this year) and perhaps display improved ball-handling (he had 64 turnovers), I’m not sure he stood to make the kind of improvement that would advance him from probable second-round status to the coveted first round. As it was, he had a terrific junior season, winning league player-of-the-year honors. He’s a fine athlete, but at 6-3 (generously), he isn’t likely to get any bigger in a year.
Hollis-Jefferson clearly needs another year, and so does Tarczewski, who didn’t really distinguish himself against Gonzaga’s like-sized Przemek Karnowski in Arizona’s round-of-32 blowout. The return of those two, coupled with Brandon Ashley coming back from his foot injury and high school All-American Stanley Johnson as a freshman, will give Arizona one of the nation’s most dynamic front-courts in 2014-15.
* WSU announces two holdovers outbound and one signee released from his letter.
It’s apparent that the important item for the Cougars this spring is trying to retain Garfield signee Tramaine Isabell. In last week’s live chat here at the Times, new coach Ernie Kent invoked the names of former Oregon stars Luke Ridnour and Aaron Brooks in reference to what Isabell could mean for the Cougars. Meanwhile, Kent has released a November JC signee, Jermaine Morgan, from his letter.
The two players exiting are guard Royce Woolridge and big man James Hunter, both of whom, in their own ways, reflected recruiting problems of the Ken Bone regime.
Woolridge was forced to play a lot of point guard the past two seasons, because of disciplinary actions that resulted in a shortfall at the position (and those, as much as anything, derailed the Bone regime). And as for the Australian Hunter, well, his contribution amounted to 17 minutes this year and 29 a year ago.
Not a lot of bang for your scholarship buck, in other words. Too bad, because Hunter might have been a good story. His bio says his father Todd is a member of the Aussie rock band Dragon, and his mom, Johanna Pigott, was a member of the XL Capris, another rock group in their homeland.