'Replacements' asked to fill voids
Look at any preview of the 2002-03 college basketball season. Look as hard as you want, but you won't find the following words:
Returning All-American ...
Either through graduation or early departures to the NBA, each of last year's 15 Associated Press first-, second- or third-team All-Americans is gone. Even the honorable mention list was gutted with only 11 of those 40 players back for 2003-04.
Now, some of last season's "honorable mention" players are already household names entering the 2003-04 season. And it wouldn't be a stretch to expect Emeka Okafor (Connecticut), Jameer Nelson (Saint Joseph's), Ike Diogu (Arizona State), Chris Thomas (Notre Dame) and Blake Stepp (Gonzaga) to wind up as first- or second-team All-Americans by season's end. And if you follow the sport close enough, the other "honorable mention" names such as Taylor Coppenrath (Vermont), Luis Flores (Manhattan), Ricky Minard (Morehead State) and Mike Helms (Oakland) should also be familiar enough.
What losing every All-American really means is there are plenty of voids for schools to fill. And that's where "The Replacements" come into play. And, while nobody said replacing a departed All-American will be easy, the opportunities to emerge as a "name" in 2003-04 are available.
The problem, however, is whether or not these replacements can adapt to becoming a star. How will players used to being the second or third options handle being suddenly thrusted into starring roles? Sometimes players are better off being the supporting player, the one who isn't the focus of the offense.
The assumption out West is that Luke Jackson will likely slide into Luke Ridnour's role of being the go-to player for Oregon. But Jackson was the perfect second option because of Ridnour's take-charge attitude. And, it's still uncertain whether freshman point Aaron Brooks can command the kind of attention Ridnour received.
The same thing is occurring at Louisville where Francisco Garcia is the expected heir apparent to Reece Gaines. But that's only if Taquan Dean delivers Garcia the ball at the right times and creates enough interest himself from the defense so that teams don't double Garcia.
Gerald Fitch has to be Kentucky's leader after Keith Bogans' departure. Dee Brown has to do the same thing at Illinois, where Brian Cook was the unofficial foreman last season. Can Auburn's Marco Killingsworth swap roles with the departed Marquis Daniels? Killingsworth was a second option to Daniels last season but can he be the first?
Will Lawrence Roberts step in for Mario Austin at Mississippi State and suddenly be the Bulldogs' go-to player, their leader and their first look in the post?
Can Chris Paul, a freshman point guard, hold Wake Forest together the way Josh Howard did for the Demon Deacons last season? They're two different players, but Howard led Wake to the ACC regular season title. It's unfair to expect Paul to be pressed into a similar role this season.
At Wisconsin, Kirk Penney is gone but the Badgers have the preseason player of the year in the Big Ten in Devin Harris. Can Harris duplicate Penney's presence and leadership?
Speaking of the freshmen, many will be asked to duplicate what so many of last year's class did -- produce right away.
While nobody is expecting another Carmelo Anthony to emerge, Mustafa Shakur is being asked to step in and replace four-year starter Jason Gardner at Arizona. While Shakur is probably more of a true point guard, he's not the same shooter or scorer as Gardner. It goes without saying Shakur lacks Gardner's experience, which will mean plenty of growing pains for the Wildcats early this season.
And up the Left Coast at Cal, will Leon Powe be able to replace Joe Shipp's scoring and command similar attention? Most likely.
Even Duke is depending on Luol Deng to be an impact player, if not the spirit of the Blue Devils now that Dahntay Jones is gone.
|“||Everyone is always looking for the next guy. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to play the best that I can. I'm not going to worry about Carmelo Anthony. ”|
|— Hakim Warrick,
Syracuse junior forward
But, the toughest replacements to project could occur at Pittsburgh, Marquette, Syracuse and Texas. Brandin Knight was the heart of Pittsburgh during the Ben Howland era. Now new coach Jamie Dixon has to lean heavily on his backup, Carl Krauser. The problem is that Krauser doesn't have a capable replacement.
"We'll have a harder time replacing Carl (during games)," Dixon said. "We had two good point guards. That's the biggest void. We had so much experience, knowledge and leadership at that position."
Krauser played significant minutes last season. He has a shot to match Knight's production of a dozen points a game, but he'll need to double both his points and assists to equal his predessor's production. But the Panthers don't have a natural backup. The candidates could include Antonio Graves or Charles Small but there is no natural.
Trying to replace T.J. Ford at Texas is unthinkable. But it can be done, albeit in a different way. The Longhorns will lean on senior Royal Ivey for the brunt of the minutes, with Edgar Moreno and Kenton Paulino getting a look, too.
"This team isn't a one-man team," Texas senior guard Brandon Mouton said of Ford's departure. Ford, last year's Wooden Award winner, averaged 15 points, 7.7 assists and controlled the tempo of the game better than any other guard. "T.J. was a great player here, but Royal can play the point. He did as a freshman. But the difference is now he wants to be a point guard and is working on his game to stay under control."
Ivey understands his status as the point guard is the biggest question mark concerning the Longhorns. He expects to be grilled after every game by the media and singled out if things don't go well.
"But in this locker room, the guys don't question it," Ivey said. "I've got their confidence. I just have to cut down on turnovers. I can be a bigger guard, shooting over guards, posting them up and playing to my strengths."
Ford dictated the Longhorns' attack on the offensive end. Anthony was even more of a presence at Syracuse because of his ability to dominate the basket and the boards. Expecting Hakim Warrick, a slender shot-blocker with limited offensive skills, to replace Anthony is simply not fair to Warrick. Yet Warrick, not newcomer Terrence Roberts, is the one being dubbed Anthony's replacement.
"He shouldn't have to do what 'Melo did," Syracuse sophomore guard Billy Edelin said.
"Carmelo was a phenom," Syracuse junior guard Josh Pace said. "Hakim will be one of the guys filling those shoes."
Syracuse sophomore guard Gerry McNamara said it isn't up to Warrick to replace Anthony. But the onus is rather on the entire team to pick up the slack. McNamara said it's their responsibility to put Warrick in situations to succeed.
"You've got to have the right guys around you," Warrick said. "That's why Carmelo excelled the way he did. We trusted him. Everyone is always looking for the next guy. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to play the best that I can. I'm not going to worry about Carmelo Anthony."
It's the same approach being taken at Marquette by those left behind by Dwyane Wade. It's called reality. Just like Syracuse knows Warrick won't be another Anthony, Marquette is saying it shouldn't be expected to find another Wade so soon.
The "replacement" for Wade will be a collection of Golden Eagles, from Travis Diener to Demeon Mason.
"It's a tough question, because he was a top-five pick and could be one of the best rookies in the NBA," Diener said. "But you're not going to replace 20 points and eight-plus rebounds. He was also very unselfish. He could really pass and his leadership was great. It's not being realistic to ask one guy to replace his 20 points."
Wade was more than just a big-time scorer. He was also the leader of this team, helping Tom Crean transform Marquette back into a national program with a Final Four appearance. Just as critical will be finding someone to board like Robert Jackson, who is also gone.
"We'll miss Dwyane's scoring and ability to break someone down," Crean said. "We'll miss the way he moved the ball. But like Dwyane, Travis is someone I enjoy coaching. He's intense and competitive. He makes his teammates better."
Asking Diener to be Wade's replacement isn't fair. But that's the problem with being a "replacement." The expectations are exceedingly hard to reach.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- NCAA president: Pay-for-play isn't coming
- NCAA may work with power 5 conferences
- Wells sparks Maryland past Boston College
- Former Hoya Whittington intends to transfer