Reaching into the Bilas mailbag

Originally Published: December 30, 2003
By Jay Bilas | Special to ESPN.com

ESPN's Jay Bilas answers a few questions each week from ESPN.com users.

"Being a die-hard Duke fan myself, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on your alma mater in regards to two entirely different topics. First, what if any, violations do you believe will be found within former Duke player/assistant coach Quin Snyder's team and will the NCAA punish the Tigers? Secondly, after taking a good look at this year's Duke squad, how deep in the tournament do you see them advancing, as I believe the lack of depth of an inside game could potentially catch up with them. Thanks in advance Jay and keep up the good work!"

Jarrett Farrell,
Flemington, N.J.

Jarrett,
I think that Mike Krzyzewski's team will prove to be among the three or four best teams in the country this year. The slow start the team got off to offensively may prove to be a blessing, because the team committed to becoming a better defensive team, and understood that they couldn't rely upon "out-scoring" opponents. I really like Duke's inside game, with Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph. Williams is the most physically imposing big man in the ACC, and is blocking shots, rebounding and finishing around the basket. Randolph is much stronger, and more assertive. This will be a very good team by mid-January.

With regard to Quin Snyder, I believe that too many people, commentators and fans alike, have been drawing conclusions about his program without knowing the facts. First, I played in college with Quin, and count him among my close friends. I know him to be a great person, and a fine young coach. I believe that this investigation will merit nothing but minor, secondary violations, the like of which occur at most programs around the country.

Here is what I object to: There are many around the country who are now quick to discuss "rumors" about Missouri, which are all unsubstantiated. To me, that is irresponsible, and does not differ from the rumors that were discussed recently regarding Florida. When Billy Donovan's practices were publicly questioned by Mike Montgomery, many came to Donovan's defense saying that rumors should not be publicly discussed unless there is evidence to back them up. The same thing should apply with Missouri. I can tell you that there are a lot of rumors out there in the industry about a lot of coaches and programs. Should we begin discussing those rumors as if they are facts, damaging the reputations of those coaches and programs? The answer is no, and should be in this matter as well. But media members are loathe to say "I don't know" so they discuss rumors or innuendo. My advice would be, let the investigation conclude, and make your judgments then.

Lastly, understand that Missouri cannot respond publicly to the allegations that have been made by Ricky Clemons. However, if the NCAA or the University of Missouri believed that these allegations were credible and could be substantiated, there is no way that Missouri would suit up and play the players that have been implicated. The NCAA has a guilty until proven innocent system, and the players would be held out of competition until the matter was resolved. That is not happening in this case. I think that limited conclusions can be drawn from that.

Quin Snyder is a good person, and a fine coach. I don't think he deserves this, and I don't believe that the treatment of him in this matter has been fair and balanced, in totality. As always, you should make your own judgments and not substitute the judgment of others you may think know more than you do. Often times, they do not.

"How is it that Stanford, showcasing an 8-0 record, enviable depth at every position (which became obvious with the temporary loss of standout Josh Childress), and a undeniably challenging schedule, cannot even crack the top five in polls? This is their best team, easily, in years. Quite a bit of east coast bias, if you ask me.
Zach Martin,
Santa Clara, Calif.

Zach,
Good call on Stanford. I don't know if this is Mike Montgomery's best team, but this team has come together faster than anyone, even Mike, expected. To win at such a high level without Josh Childress says a lot about the Stanford program ... and that is what Mike has built at Stanford, a PROGRAM. I grew up in Los Angeles, and was recruited by Stanford in the early 1980's (and actually made an official visit to Stanford), and I never thought the Cardinal would or even could be a national power in basketball. What Mike has done there is amazing. Stanford plays you straight -- no tricks on defense, just solid man-to-man, making you take challenged shots, then limiting you to one shot. On the offensive end, Stanford runs a variety of set plays with multiple options, and the players have been taught to make reads and exploit the defense. That takes teaching, and Mike Montgomery is one of the finest teachers of the game in the nation.

Why is Stanford overlooked? In large part because they have a regional television package, and because the games are usually on late at night on the east coast. It's not so much an east coast bias as it is an issue of REM sleep. But, I can assure you that basketball people know and respect the job that Mike and his players are doing. If you fall asleep on Stanford, it will cause you a nightmare.

"I love your insight and knowledge of the game, plus your an alum of the greatest program ever. My question concerns the Utes of Utah. Is there program headin' down the tube? Seems as if BYU is rapidly passing them, their recruits are tough, Mike Hall the JUCO transfer is tough. I know we have Bogut, but he is not impressing me like I thought he would. Majerus seems to run more kids off than he brings in. I'm worried about my Utes, what are your thoughts on their program and the MWC? Thanks Jay, look forward to hearing from you."

Brady Blackett,
Salt Lake City, Utah

Brady,
Utah is not heading down the tubes, the Utes are just having a rebuilding season in which a lot of younger players are being relied upon, and Tim Frost has been injured and unable to contribute. The Utes beat Colorado this week, and showed that they are still a dangerous team that can and will develop as the season progresses. Utah has consistently had older players, many of which have gone on Mormon missions and return as men. That is not the case this year, and there are a lot of first- and second-year players on the roster. I still think that Andrew Bogut is one of the five best freshmen in the country, and has great hands and instincts. But, he is still a freshman, a long way from home, and he will have some ups and downs. Utah is still among the best teams in the Mountain West Conference, and will battle for the league with BYU, UNLV and San Diego State for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

"I maintain that assistant coaches are the most consistently overlooked factor in the success of a team, as teams with high assistant turnover generally are inconsistent or get off to slow starts the following season. So, who are some of the best assistants in college, in your opinion?"

Wayne Smith,
Acton, Mass.

Wayne,
I agree with you that assistants are really important in the success of any team, and any head coach. Assistants are great contributors with regard to recruiting, player development, scouting and rapport with the players. Usually, assistant have a great insight into the pulse of the team, and good ones are invaluable to a program's success.

Some of the best out there are former head coaches who provide another head coach on the bench, guys like Jim Rosborough of Arizona, George Blaney of Connecticut, Steve Robinson or North Carolina, Larry Hunter of NC State, and David Hobbs of Kentucky. Those guys are invaluable.

Some of the top assistants that I believe are ready to become head coaches are guys like Norm Roberts of Kansas, Rodney Tention of Arizona, Mike Hopkins of Syracuse, Sean Miller of Xavier, Johnny Dawkins of Duke, Tom Moore of Connecticut, Dave Dickerson, Pat Knight of Texas Tech, Doug Wojcik of Michigan State, Jimmy Patsos of Maryland, Vince Taylor of Louisville, Billy Grier of Gonzaga, and Orlando Early of Alabama, just to name a few.

I can tell you this -- the smartest head coaches are the ones who hire the best assistants, and move them along into head coaching positions. A head coach should never be worried about hiring ambitious and talented young coaches, and the prospect of losing them. That is a good thing ... it means that your program has been successful, and others want to emulate and reproduce that. Good call on your part, Wayne.

"I admire your abilities as an assessor of talent and expertise in college basketball. Many people in these parts talk so much about Missouri's talent level and seem to overplay the talent level of Illinois. The Braggin Rights game came and went and U of I won with what was considered an inferior talent level to Missouri (even with Deron out). I invite your thoughts on Illinois' talent level compared to Missouri. Is ours actually superior to Missouri? Or did Bruce Weber just outcoach Quin Snyder? Or did our players just play with more grit determination?"

Greg Towler,
Noblesville, Ind.

Greg,
Missouri does have very good talent, but has more talented athletes than basketball players, and there is a difference. While Missouri has lost games against Illinois, Gonzaga and Memphis -- all of those losses were in close games, and all were away from home. I hardly think that Mizzou is in dire straits as some seem to believe. As the Tigers solidify the point position, and become more of a power offensive team that plays off its inside players first, the Tigers will win and become one of the 10 best teams in America.

As for Illinois, Bruce Weber has very good talent as well, and some very good athletes. The Illini were hardly overmatched from a personnel standpoint against Missouri, or almost anyone else in the nation for that matter. Dee Brown and Deron Williams are among the best backcourts in the country, James Augustine is a fine inside player who has the chance to be special, and the Illini have terrific wing players in Roger Powell and Luther Head. Weber also has some very good young players in Richard McBride, Aaron Spears and Jack Ingram. I wouldn't say that Illinois' talent is superior to Missouri's, but it is just as good in many areas.

As for the "outcoach" and "more grit" question, I don't think that Bruce outcoached Quin in a one point game, nor do I feel that Bruce was outcoached in the loss to Providence. I don't think that term is applicable with regard to simply the result. If you could point to particular adjustments made or items in the gameplan, that would be one thing, but to draw that type of conclusion from a tight game would be over-reaching, in my opinion. Thanks for the question.

"Do you think that the time has finally come where Michigan is going to start getting back some of the in-state recruits? Considering Mr.Basketball Dion Harris is at Michigan now, and Malik Hairston and Joe Crawford might be coming next year. Is the tide turing back from state to UM. Also are they dancing in March?"

Steve H.,
San Bruno, Calif.

Steve,
I think that Michigan has a great chance to be among the 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament, and have handled the non-conference season very well. The Big Ten is not as powerful this year as hit has been in years past, and I think that Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan are the best teams in the league this year. Past that, there are teams that can beat you, but there are also some teams that can be had. A lot will depend upon how much teams improve over the next month. I still think that Ohio State can be dangerous, if the Buckeyes' guards make defense a priority, and Minnesota can do some damage in the league as well.

As for recruiting, Tommy Amaker is one of the best recruiters in the country, and has proven that at every place he's been. Even though Michigan State has dominated the rivalry over the past five or six years, it is now more of a fair fight. However, don't read too much into some of the losses that MSU has suffered. The Spartan program is not going anywhere, and while Michigan is going to be able to compete with the Spartans head-to-head under Amaker, it will still be a nip-and-tuck rivalry as long as Izzo and Amaker are there. Those two, and the history between the two schools, will keep the rivalry one of the sport's very best.

"I was wondering if you could tell me if there has ever been a coach who has defeated UNC in each of his first five tries, as Wake's Skip Prosser has. Also, do you think that Prosser is way underrated as a coach? It seems like everywhere I look, I read about Roy Williams, Coach K, Tubby Smith, and the like, but rarely hear mention of Skip Prosser. He came into Wake two years ago not really expected to do much, but since his arrival, we've been one of the top teams in America."

Locke Glenn,
Winston-Salem, N.C.

Locke,
You are correct, sir. Skip Prosser does not get the kind of credit that he deserves as a coach, and with regard to the job he has done at Wake Forest. Skip is one of the best coaches in America, but does not get the acclaim in large part because he is not a self-promoter, and does not put himself ahead of his players. As a coach and a person, I think the world of Skip, and really got to watch him up close in his first few years at Xavier. In fact, several years ago, I wrote an article for ESPN.com entitled "Coaches You Need to Know" and profiled Skip, John Beilein (now at West Virginia), Mike Brey (now at Notre Dame). It was easy to spot that Prosser was a star. He is genuine, knows the game, understands kids, and competes with passion while at the same time keeping it all in perspective. He should get more press, but doesn't seek it out, which I admire greatly. To me, Prosser is like Chuck Noll, and just does his job and lets others jump in front of the camera. Great call, Locke. Thanks.

"Jay, love your columns and insight into college hoops, I respect your opinion very much. Who do you think needs the Big Monday premiere game more -- Providence or Texas? It seems like Providence is a legit contender this year and Texas needs a marquee win after two lopsided defeats on national television. Do you think either squad can make a run in March? Thanks and keep up the good work Jay!"

Chris Calogero,
Clifton Park, N.Y.

Chris,
They both need it. Texas will get all the marquee wins it needs in the Big 12 to get into the NCAA Tournament and get a good seed. The same is true of Providence, and the Friars got a big résumé-building win against Illinois at the Garden. Any time you can beat a quality opponent on a national stage, you need it. The good news for these teams is neither squad absolutely has to have it, but it would be a great win. Texas needs to run better halfcourt offense, and will face a Providence zone that will test the Longhorns' halfcourt ability. I will be doing that game with Bill Raftery and Sean McDonough, and I think it can be a great one. Hope to see you there.

"What is your take on the Saint Joseph's Hawks? Those in the area are excited, even non alums. The Big 5 is pulling for them, so what will it take for them to receive some national recognition?"

Mike Kelly,
Philadelphia

Mike,
I love Saint Joseph's, and I think the Hawks have the chops to get to a Sweet 16 and beyond. While the Hawks can spread you out and score pretty well, what makes them special is their defense. Jameer Nelson, Delonte West and Tyrone Barley are averaging almost eight steals combined, and Dwayne Jones is a long and athletic shotblocker that gives you something to think about if you get beyond the initial line of defense. Phil Martelli has a team that will win the Atlantic 10, and can play with anyone in the nation. Nelson is the best point guard in the country, and lacks only a consistent outside shot to be a complete player. He will be a good pro, and is a stellar college player that knows how to win and to make others better. Saint Joseph's does not have a drop-dead low post scorer, nor do they have an athletic swing player who can guard multiple positions. But SJU has an incredibly tough defensive mindset that helps make up for anything they may lack. The Hawks are for real.

"Carlos Boozer was a good, not great, center for two years at Duke and was drafted in the second round by Cleveland in 2002. As a starting power forward for the Cavaliers, he has become a ferocious rebounder and is shooting 50-plus percent. Can you explain how a journeyman college player can blossom so unexpectedly in the NBA?"

Andrew Ash,
La Jolla, Calif.

Andrew,
Carlos is doing well because he was not a journeyman college player, but a college star that played on a perimeter oriented team that rarely used him as the primary option. Don't forget, Boozer played on a college team that included National Player of the Year Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Dahntay Jones. For his career, Boozer averaged 15 points, 7.2 rebounds and shot over 63 percent from the field and 74 percent from the line in 101 games. In his junior and final college season, Boozer averaged 18 points and 8.7 rebounds and shot over 65 percent from the field. He did not perform particularly well in some of his workouts for NBA clubs, and was a second-round pick. As such, he was a steal. The NBA draft process is an inexact science, and mistakes are made annually. People get scared off of certain players based upon how they perform in workouts, rather than looking at an entire body of work. The truth is, NBA people were not sure about Boozer. But, in hindsight, Boozer probably should have been selected ahead of guys like Ryan Humphrey, Bostjan Nachbar, Curtis Borchardt, or Melvin Ely. Only time will tell on this, as you cannot always evaluate things based only upon two years. But what is clear now ... Boozer can play, and will be productive in the league for a long time. He may not be an NBA star, but he is a very good player.

"Since you are a Tobacco Road alumnus, could you please help Herb Sendek and the N.C. State Wolfpack to understand that basketball is a team concept. With the help of a collegue of yours (one Dickie V.), it appears that all roads begin and end with Julius Hodge, whom acts as if he has a go-it-alone mentality at the end of the game. Which makes it very easy to defend. When we look at the other teams in the ACC, they are getting contributions from all players. NCSU seems to be waiting to see what Julius does and then let everyone else try to make a play. Is Julius a Cancer or a Cure?"

Ron Cee,
Charlotte, N.C.

Ron,
The answer is that Julius Hodge is neither. First, I am a believer in Herb Sendek. I think he is a very good coach, and he gets a bad rap in having to deal with a referendum on his job every time State takes the floor. No team in the ACC has had to deal with as many injuries as the Wolfpack over the past few years, and that has certainly hampered his team's development. Also, one cannot blame Sendek for the boneheaded decision of a star player that was just coming into his own as a terrific college player, Josh Powell. With Powell, State would have another weapon to go along with Hodge, Marcus Melvin and Ilian Evtimov.

I may not be a true believer in the Princeton system, but it is all about team play, and does not feature one player at the expense of the group. I think that Engin Atsur will become a very good player for State in time, and Scooter Sherrill is undervalued. When Sherrill is aggressive, he is a very good guard. Give State some time to develop this year ... I think this will be an NCAA Tournament team in perhaps the best league in the country.

Jay Bilas is a college basketball analyst at ESPN and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst

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