- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- Coaches complaining about driving all over Las Vegas to cover three different tournaments had nothing on new St. John's coach Norm Roberts.
Sure, the tournaments were at nearly every area high school -- from the mountains in the north to the suburb of Henderson 35 miles away -- the average number of miles put on rental cars was around 300, and the temperature always hovered over 100 degrees.
But Roberts was walking through the D terminal at 11 p.m. Saturday, clad in a St. John's baseball cap and red sweatshirt (it's cool on the planes) after his second trip to Las Vegas in three days.
We can't document if Roberts was the only one who made two cross-country trips to Las Vegas, but he must be among a handful of coaches to be so dedicated.
Roberts was arriving from Orlando where he was recruiting at the national AAU tournament. He had been in Las Vegas for a midnight event late Wednesday night, or early Thursday morning, depending on how you want to define the day. The midnight event, organized by Dinos Trigonis of Los Angeles, was actually the fourth event in Las Vegas, but it was a one-time event and didn't carry over into the rest of the weekend like the Nike, Adidas and Reebok tournaments.
Roberts planned on being in Las Vegas through Sunday before heading to Los Angeles this week to continue recruiting players from Reebok and Adidas-sponsored teams.
Roberts looked tired, like anyone would at this time, and said he was plowing ahead in his quest to get his top picks committed. The Red Storm have good vibes under Roberts' leadership, but they are still waiting to lure their top choices. Roberts, who was an assistant at Kansas before getting the St. John's job in the spring, has always been known as a tireless worker. But he was determined to be as vigilant as possible this month.
Evaluating talent in Las Vegas was a chore for most coaches who had to be selective and willing to miss a half of a game as they tried to cover the entire city and three different tournaments. But most agreed this format was still better than trying to fly to multiple locations to see various players. Most coaches were still going to Orlando for the AAU tournament, but none that we could find actually were going back and forth to Las Vegas. The Nike tournament ended Sunday. Adidas and Reebok ended Monday.
Having literally thousands of players and hundreds of coaches in one city in one weekend provided plenty of chatter among the coaches and any NBA personnel doing scouting.
Here is a small sampling:
Coaches were sympathetic to La Salle's Billy Hahn, knowing that dealing with a player who was accused of sexual assault is never an easy task for a head coach. But the majority agreed holding a meeting with the women's player (who was the alleged victim) was the wrong idea. And having the meeting in April of 2003, without telling a superior, made no sense and was not worth gambling a career. But most coaches had no clue about the federal law, the Clery Act, that protects sexual assault victims on college campuses. University employees are required to forward criminal complaints, even if they don't want them to, once they are told of an alleged sexual assault.
The class of 2005 is weak for the next NBA draft. The classes of 2006 and '07 are once again stocked with potential lottery picks. Greg Oden ('06), from Indianapolis, and O.J. Mayo ('07), from Cincinnati, are saying the right things -- now -- by claiming they want to go to college and wish coaches would continue to recruit them. Neither can receive anything other than mail. Juniors can receive phone calls, but Oden is going to be a junior -- in the fall. Mayo is only going to be a sophomore. But both have a chance to be at the top, or at least high lottery picks, in their respective draft classes. Sonny Vaccaro, the godfather of grassroots basketball who now works for Reebok, made a solid point Saturday when he said college coaches would be foolish not to recruit both players since the NBA could still put in an age limit over the next two years. It's unlikely, but the chance still exists with the collective bargaining agreement being negotiated over the next year.
Meanwhile, anyone who doesn't think the NBA will still pick through a weakened class of 2005 just doesn't get the draft anymore. There will be a few high school seniors. Guaranteed. So far, the early candidates to consider testing the draft process are 6-foot-11 Andray Blatche (South Kent, Conn.), 6-3 Monta Ellis (Lanier Senior HS/Jackson, Miss.), 6-10 Josh McRoberts (Carmel HS, Ind.), 6-6 Brandon Rush (Mt. Zion Christian Academy, N.C.) and 6-7 Tasmin Mitchell (Denham Springs HS, La.). They are all on the NBA radar and will continue to be monitored throughout the season.
Syracuse doesn't expect Blatche to be in college, even though he has said the Orange would be his top choice. Ellis is committed to Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs are used to going through the early-entry process with high school seniors (see: Jonathan Bender and Travis Outlaw). Arkansas, Louisville and Oklahoma will likely be waiting to see what Rush does with his decision. McRoberts committed to Duke, meaning the Blue Devils will likely sweat out another early-entry process. Mitchell has LSU and Kentucky pursuing him the hardest.
Cincinnati assistant coach Andy Kennedy was visible throughout the weekend, trying to ensure that the Bearcats are seen as much as they're being read about this summer. But Kennedy hadn't spoken to interim coach Oscar Robertson as of Saturday. The bizarre summer got even more odd when Robertson was chosen to take over the program last week once Dan Peters left as associate head coach for the same position at Ohio State. Robertson has a hold on the position until Bob Huggins gets back on Aug. 27 from his school-ordered DUI suspension. Kennedy said the majority of the team is on campus attending summer school, so Robertson would have access to the players. Robertson met with the players for the first time Monday. Kennedy wasn't told to report to Robertson his evaluations on the recruiting road. Kennedy will follow through on recruiting, as will assistant Keith LeGree, and then wait for Huggins to return to make phone calls to recruits in September. Meawhile, none of the coaches are holding out hope that forward Robert Whaley will return next season. Whaley is academically ineligible, but could still make it back by passing at least one more class. But that seems unlikely as each day passes.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon is taking the Panthers to Toronto over Labor Day weekend. Kansas is going to Vancouver the same weekend in September. Kansas coach Bill Self will start his team practicing when school begins during the week of Aug. 19, alternating days to get in the 10 allowable practices before a trip. Dixon will have only five practice days since school starts the week before Labor Day. Maryland is going to Italy in August, but not during school. So, unlike Pittsburgh and Kansas, Maryland won't be allowed to take its newcomers. Since Pittsburgh and Kansas are going on the trip during school, they can take newcomers. The NCAA passed a rule in the spring that got rid of foreign trips during October to prevent teams from getting a head start on practice, 10 days before everyone else. The rule forbids trips 30 days from the start of practice. Labor Day, which is Sept. 6, falls outside of the period (practice starts Oct. 16). Teams can't take these trips when school is in session, and coaches use Labor Day weekend as a chance for a three- or possibly four-day weekend. But the problem for both coaches is playing anyone whom they would consider redshirting. These games are considered exhibitions, but that still means someone who is redshirting cannot play in the game. And that's why Dixon said he probably wouldn't play his three freshmen in the games since he hasn't decided if they'll redshirt.
The Mountain West Conference still could be playing Big Monday games. The league is negotiating a television contract with ESPN, and the original plan was for the league to switch to a Thursday-Saturday schedule. But coaches in Las Vegas were hearing that they could be back to a Saturday-Monday slate for another season. No one seemed to be pleased with that proposal, especially BYU coach Steve Cleveland. The Cougars don't practice on Sundays, putting them at a disadvantage whenever they were on a Big Monday game.
Utah coach Ray Giacoletti is thrilled that Andrew Bogut will be playing for the Australian Olympic team. That should give Bogut necessary minutes and confidence before what should be a breakout sophomore season. The Utes are also anticipating contributions from senior guard Marc Jackson. But since Jackson wasn't a student last season after he quit the sport and school, the coaches can't have contact with him until he is back on campus as a student in the fall.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings is on the verge of signing a multiple-year extension. The offer was on the table before he went for an interview at Ohio State. Stallings should sign it before the season starts. Staying with the Commodores should give the athletic department much-needed stability.
Apparently, we were sleeping on a few teams in our top 50 last week. The biggest complaint from coaches was that we had Duke too high at No. 10. Fair point. An omission, apparently, was Princeton. Former Tigers coach John Thompson III, now at Georgetown, and current Princeton coach Joe Scott, said the Tigers could be a top 50 team. They look at this edition as one of the best recently with everyone back and the addition of newcomers Noah Savage and Kyle Koncz, who will be the shooters that Princeton lacked last season. Both coaches think this could be a Princeton team that not only wins the Ivy League, but also could be serious trouble in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Add Massachusetts to the list of teams that we apparently forgot to mention. UMass coach Steve Lappas isn't promoting the Minutemen for the top 50, but he is saying that they will be better than anyone is predicting. He also reminding everyone to keep a watch on forward Rashaun Freeman, the A-10 newcomer of the year last season. The 6-9 Freeman, who was second in the league in rebounding at 8.5 a game to go with 15.4 points, could be an even more dominant player next season. The Minutemen do have to get better, though, with Lappas entering a critical season for his job survival after a 4-12 league and 10-19 overall finish.
The Temple non-conference schedule is just plain silly. The Owls just added Princeton to fill its schedule. The Owls play road games at Maryland, Duke, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgetown and get Wake Forest, Arizona State, Villanova, Penn, Princeton and Auburn in Philadelphia. Temple used to be able to play this kind of insane schedule and then clean up in the A-10. That's not the case. The Owls could go into the league limping with only a few wins, if that, and will struggle to be an NCAA team if they can't finish in first place in the A-10.
Maybe the most refreshing face seen during the weekend in Las Vegas was Montana's Larry Krystkowiak . The former Grizzly star was visible throughout the weekend, showing up at games for players from the Midwest to the West. Krystkowiak should make Montana matter again in the Big Sky after a few seasons of muddled finishes under Montana outsider Pat Kennedy, now the head coach at Towson. Krystkowiak has a comforting and engaging personality that should work well on the recruiting trail. He's a former player, a successful post player, too, that should work well in recruiting big men. This was one of the best hires of the offseason, and given time he should make Montana a factor again. Remember, this was a coaching factory in the Northwest with Jud Heathcote, Mike Montgomery, Stew Morrill and Blaine Taylor all making their mark in Montana.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Of the hundreds of coaches in Las Vegas, none got around as much as new St. John's coach Norm Roberts.