Alford gets back to basics at Iowa

A disappointing season followed by an offseason full of problems has Iowa's Steve Alford going back to the basics.

Updated: October 4, 2002, 4:09 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Let's not kid ourselves, Iowa's offseason from a basketball perspective got even worse this week when sophomore point guard Pierre Pierce was suspended indefinitely following the outcome of a third-degree sexual assault charge.

This has been the worst offseason in Steve Alford's 11 year coaching career, possibly his entire basketball career. The arrests, academic ineligibility, transfers and overall attrition that didn't take away stars (prior to Pierce) did deplete his roster beyond a comfortable limit.

Steve Alford
Steve Alford plans on getting back to coaching Iowa -- his way.
But Alford isn't about to panic because he's not going to change -- at least not again. Alford is sticking to what he believes in, to what he was taught by mentor Bob Knight -- reinforced this summer over a weekend trip to Lubbock -- and he's not going to deviate one iota.

Alford isn't going to take any flak from a player anymore. You don't want to adhere to his rules? Then, see ya. You don't want to run the motion offense? Start packing. You don't want to play your role, like say Reggie Evans as a garbage man offensive rebounder in the post (not a face-up shooter), then take your act to the bench or catch a ride out of town.

This is it for Alford. He'll still go to a few coaching clinics but not necessarily to sponge up other people's doctrine. The only one he needs to heed is Knight. Former Indiana assistant Kohn Smith told him as much when he was starting out at Manchester College (Ind.). Alford said Smith was surprised when Alford mentioned that he was heading to another clinic after visiting with Knight and his staff in Bloomington. Smith's response was, "there's no other clinic then the one with coach.''

Alford did go to a clinic run by Larry Brown and John Calipari in Memphis two weeks ago, so he's not shutting himself out to everyone.

"But there's a lot of truth in what Kohn Smith said,'' Alford said. "I have to get back to what I really know. Everything I hear at these things sounds great but if I can't do it within my own philosophy then I'm tricking myself. The three days I spent in Lubbock refreshed me and gave me a better outlook. I have to get back to what I know how to teach.''

Alford has said this all summer that he's not going to cut corners anymore, no more special favors and promises to players about roles. Earn what you get and don't fight the system because he's not going to budge.

But the reality is the litany of incidents have taken a toll. Some are more meaningful than others but they still hurt because of the overall numbers. Considering that he left a Big Ten program for a Mid-Continent Conference team, Cortney Scott's departure at mid-semester of last season to Oakland University (Mich.) wasn't a major hit.

Not having shooting center Erek Hansen for the season didn't help. He could have given the Hawkeyes a matchup problem for opponents because of his shooting touch from 17-feet into the basket. But Hansen didn't keep his grades up and was ineligible. He's at Kirkwood CC in Cedar Rapids and Alford said he's confident that Hansen, who redshirted last season, will be in an Iowa uniform in 2003-04. Incoming recruit Doug Thomas didn't make the academic cut, either, and will be at Southeastern Community College in Burlington, Iowa and has a legit chance to be at Iowa in a season, as well.

Alford couldn't do much about freshman Josh Rhodes quitting the program because he also dropped the sport and went back home to California. And, then, similar to a Shantay Legans-like move when he went from Cal to Fresno State to be with a former mentor in Ray Lopes, redshirt freshman Marcellus Sommerville is off to Bradley to be with his high school coach's son. Sommerville allegedly called Alford four days before school started in August and wanted to play 30 minutes, a promise Alford wasn't going to make to Sommerville. So, he's off to a JC before Bradley.

The offcourt incidents involving junior guard Brody Boyd (underage possession of alcohol) and junior center Sean Sonderleiter (possession of marijuana) are simply college-related acts that occur at most programs at one time or another in a coach's career. The problem is that it happened the same offseason that everything else did to make it seem even worse.

Alford said he's still waiting to see what happens with the legal situation with Pierce. If Pierce is convicted he's done, if he's cleared then there's a chance he could be back this season. From a basketball perspective, losing Pierce (second leading returning scorer at 7.1 ppg) leaves the Hawkeyes without an experienced point guard. Without Pierce, they'll have to use freshman Jeff Horner more at the point as well as Chauncey Leslie, who is more of a combo guard. Boyd will also be pressed into more time handling the basketball.

The inexperience continues with Kansas State senior transfer Josh Kimm expected to play major minutes as will freshmen forward Greg Brunner and returning center Jared Reiner and Sonderleiter. The onus to be a star player will be squarely on junior forward Glen Worley (7.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg). He's the top returning scorer off a team that underachieved finishing 19-16 after a 12-3 start. But a transition season was expected in 2002-03 because the Hawkeyes were losing Evans and Luke Recker off of last season's team. The problem is no one expected them to miss the NCAAs last season. The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten tournament two seasons ago and were a Big Ten favorite last season before selfishness got the best of them.

Reaching the NIT will be a positive step for this program as Alford tries to turn the corner.

"It's not even close for the worst offseason,'' Alford said. "I've had 11 years of smooth water. This is testing us and we'll see how our staff grows from this. We've got to get better, not bitter or angry. We can't quit. We've got to get stronger through this.''

Alford will get back to his basics. He will teach motion, cutting and screening and use the spacing philosophy on offense that he was taught by Knight. He will stick with his man-to-man principles on defense. He will teach defending the post and perimeter the way Knight taught him. And he will demand role playing.

"We had 15 guys on the roster and 13 of them wanted major minutes,'' Alford said of last season's team including walk-ons. "We did too much changing.''

Alford already has two commitments for the class of 2003 with Mike Henderson from Waterloo, Iowa, and small forward Ben Rand from Rochelle, Ill., two prospects that fill needs and apparently fit his system for next season. They better or they're not going to last under Alford's new rules.

"I've had so many positives in my career that I'm not going to change who I am,'' Alford said. "I'm stronger and better from this and confident we can do things the way we want. Everyone goes through a tough stretch but it's how you handle it that's the challenge.''

Riley resting comfortably

Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said he can't remember a thing about Las Vegas, or at least he chooses not to remind himself of the excruciating headaches he experienced before he was rushed into surgery three weeks ago for two subdural hematomas. Wallace has to chill for the next month or so and is still going into the office only part-time. He said his muscles are still weak after laying in a hospital bed for eight days. He's got another physical Tuesday but is expecting to coach this season.

"I won't yell for a while,'' Wallace said. "I'll have to assign my yellers.''

Wallace can't strain himself exercising, especially with the 20 stitches across the top of his head still sore and tender. He doesn't have to board another plane until the Warriors play at San Diego State Dec. 14, giving him plenty of time to get back to full strength.

Wallace has done a good job reading his own body by going into the hospital with his headaches before it was too late. "It felt like my head was about to blow open,'' Wallace said. He also made the right move four years ago when chest pains forced him to check his heart where he found out he had an artery 99 percent blocked, leading to a stent being placed in the artery and just in enough time before he would have possibly suffered a heart attack.

He said the blood thinners he was prescribed for the heart condition, contributed to his latest problem after he bumped his head.

Meanwhile, Wallace said 6-10 junior Haim Shimonovich had his best offseason by working on his quickness and post moves. Wallace said Shimonovich (7.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg) will become the primary frontcourt option with Carl English the first perimeter threat for the Warriors.

Magic still mad about Michigan State

So what did Magic Johnson do for three days the week he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame? Play pickup with the 2002-03 Spartans.

"One game he took an intramural guy, two of our players and a walk-on and won about five games against the rest of our guys,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "That either tells you something about our team or that he's still pretty good.''

Izzo couldn't watch the games but it wasn't a necessity to discover his players got a lesson he's not able to teach them. His present players got schooled by Magic on how to play the game the right way instead of worrying too much about highlights. Magic spoke often during his induction weekend about the erosion of fundamentals in today's American players. He was, like everyone else, not pleased with the play by the U.S. at the World Championships in Indianapolis. And he tried to impress that upon the Spartans.

"Every kid that played with him said how unselfish he was and how much he made everyone better,'' Izzo said. "He's so unselfish. It really left an impression on our guys that he would spend the week of his induction by playing pickup with them. It shows his loyalty to the school and that helps us build the tradition we want here.''

Magic will play with former Spartans Mike Chappell and David Thomas but against the present Spartans Nov. 1 in an exhibition game.

Meanwhile, the Spartans aren't going to push newcomer Erazem Lorbeck too much too soon but they do see him helping them this season Lorbeck is a sharp shooter who could have gone into the draft but chose to go to Michigan State to help his game where it needed it most -- toughness.

"He's so skilled but he needed to add toughness and that's why he came here,'' Michigan State associate head coach Brian Gregory said. "He saw that's where we could help him.''

Guard Kelvin Torbert, who struggled at times last season as a freshman, had a good offseason by working extensively on his perimeter shot and getting it off quicker. But forward Adam Wolfe, who suffered a severe hamstring injury that required surgery, is still not cleared to go full speed. Izzo said it's tough to say if he'll be able to help the Spartans before Christmas.

Brown's influence still strong with Calipari

Memphis coach John Calipari was front and center Friday night in Springfield to witness the induction of Larry Brown into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Calipari wasn't going to miss this moment, not when Brown threw him a life preserver after Calipari was pushed out by the Nets. Brown hired him as an assistant with the Sixers before Calipari got the Memphis gig over two years ago. Calipari and Brown got tight when Calipari was an assistant under him at Kansas.

The pair are so close that they're relationship is helping others in the biz get better as coaches. For the second time in two seasons, Brown got Calipari to organize a coaches workshop in Memphis with both working their rolodex to get high-profile attendees.

The roster was a who's who in the business with names such as Brown, Calipari, Jerry West (Grizzlies), Alvin Gentry (Clippers), Jeff Van Gundy, John Lucas (Cavs), Tim Floyd, Sidney Lowe (Grizzlies), Steve Alford (Iowa), Bruiser Flint (Drexel), Tom Crean (Marquette), John Robic (Youngstown State), Buzz Peterson (Tennessee), Mark Turgeon (Wichita State), Randy Ayers (Sixers assistant), John Kuester, Michael Holton (Portland) and Sean Miller (Xavier assistant) in Memphis for the weekend a few weeks ago.

"It was fabulous,'' Calipari said. "You learn so many things about this game, so many ideas that you didn't know. Most guys are afraid to share but we wouldn't invite anyone who wouldn't share.''

Calipari said he didn't even hesitate inviting Conference USA rival Crean or in-state competitor Peterson.

"Both are friends,'' Calipari said.

"John has been great to me,'' Crean said. "That was a major thing for me to go to something like that. There's no question that Larry Brown is an incredible coach and we all got a lot out of it.''

Calipari said he has his quickest team and is putting together a Umass type team that is based on quickness and toughness. But it isn't a good shooting team, meaning he needed ideas for a more wide-open offense, quicker shots in the early offense and how to score in a variety of ways against a zone. He said he would leave the building at lunchtime and the NBA coaches would watch his team play pickup and critique them for him -- all invaluable comments for him to coach the Tigers this season.

Flint said it was probably the best coaching clinic he has been to in his career.

"The best thing was that it was interactive,'' Holton said. "We got out on the court and went through things. We're always recruiting and doing so many things as coaches that we don't get chance to do enough things like this. It was the best retreat I've been to.''

Weekly chatter

  • LSU is on the verge of the best recruiting class since the days of Shaq and the formerly named Chris Jackson. The Tigers have already locked up top three PG Taurean Minor of Houston, top 10 SF Regis Koundjia of North Carolina, and apparent sleeper PF Darnell Lazare of Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, LSU is one of the favorites to land top five PF Brandon Bass of Baton Rouge. If the Tigers can keep Bass home, they may end up back as an SEC title contender in two seasons. But the Tigers are hardly about 'wait until next year.' This team is a serious threat to get back to the Dance with the addition of redshirt Shawnson Johnson and JC transfer Jaime Lloreda (Memphis transfer guard Courtney Trask is also available). Add these two newcomers with actual experience in fifth-year seniors Brad Bridgewater and Collis Temple III and fourth-year seniors Torris Bright and unheralded but legit SEC MVP candidate Ronald Dupree and the Tigers are a potential bracket buster come March. "We finally don't have scholarship limitations and we've got experience back for the first time,'' LSU's John Brady said of the agonizing Lester Earl sanctions that limited scholarships throughout his first five years. "Getting Jaime and Shawnson gives us something around the goal, someone who can blocks shots which is something we haven't had since Stromile Swift left,'' Brady said. "We can go into the post without getting exposed.'' LSU has circled Dec. 21 as a watershed game because that's when the Tigers get a chance for national respect by hosting Arizona.

  • There is a growing myth about Saint Joseph's junior point guard Jameer Nelson. The fable goes like this: he's not that good anymore. How did this happen? It didn't. Nelson is actually better but his team wasn't last season and he took the brunt of the blame. Nelson should still be in any discussion about the best point guards in the nation this season but for some reason he gets overlooked. The only aspect of his game that suffered a sophomore slump was defensively where he slacked a bit with his on-the-ball defense (from 55 steals as a freshman to 40 as a sophomore). His scoring average went up two points on the same average number of shots (14 ppg in 2001-02) and he went from second-team all-Atlantic 10 to a first-team member. He led the A-10 in assists in consecutive seasons and shot 43 percent in A-10 games after shooting 26 percent on 3s in non-league games. The problem was the Hawks were 11-4 in their first 15 games, 8-8 in their final 16 and went from NCAA second-round darlings to the NIT. "It's a good study on how vital the position of point guard is viewed in college basketball,'' Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "He's not viewed in the same way when we don't win.'' No offense to St. Bonaventure's Marques Green but Nelson is the best point guard in the league. "The exciting thing for him now is that he has to be a leader in every way,'' Martelli said of Nelson losing backcourt mate Marvin O'Connor. The Hawks will go with Delonte West next to Nelson and with Pat Carroll as the third guard. The good news for the Hawks is center Alex Sazonov is playing pain free in individual workouts and pickup games, so far. Sazonov could barely run, let alone walk, in games last season after suffering through nagging leg injuries. But the other three Hawk centers -- Dwayne Jones, Dave Mallon and Chris Cologer -- need more muscle before the season starts. "We need to lock them in the café because they're all so skinny,'' Martelli said.

  • Brian Morrison's about face and return to UCLA a week after saying he didn't want to walk-on and was homesick is similar to his decision making at North Carolina -- erratic. Morrison needs to spend the 2002-03 season focusing on his assist-to-turnover ratio and learning how to be a pure point guard or strictly a shooting guard because he struggled trying to be a combo with the Tar Heels. Morrison will be a walk-on this season without a scholarship but one has been promised for 2003-04. UCLA coach Steve Lavin decided to take Morrison back after he made the request and got into school in time for Thursday's classes.

  • So much for Nigel "Theme Park" Dixon being a bridge between centers Chris Marcus and Michael Doe at Western Kentucky. Coach Dennis Felton's plan was for the transfer from Florida State to aid in the development of Doe during Dixon's fourth-year redshirt season, play as a fifth-year senior and hopefully once Dixon leaves then Doe would be ready to take over as a junior. But the 7-2 Doe didn't want to play basketball, telling Felton that he never really liked the game and only played it because of his height. So he left the team and school. Felton said he knew Doe was a project and never had a love for the game but he still hated to see him leave without giving it a shot. But don't cry for the Hilltoppers with the commitment of 7-foot Josh Higgins from Dayton and 6-8 Damion Staple of SE Ilinois JC for the fall of 2003. Meanwhile, Felton is still mum on Marcus' timetable for return from his surgery to repair a stress fracture. He said Marcus isn't doing any work on the court and that means don't expect him at practice next weekend. The Hilltoppers open the season at Arizona Nov. 23.

  • Oklahoma is starting to get worried that Johnnie Gilbert could be out for an extended period of time after suffering a torn stomach muscle in a freak jet-ski accident over Labor Day weekend. The 6-8 redshirt sophomore was expected to compete for minutes up front with newcomer Kevin Bookout. But Gilbert hasn't done much in a month and is likely out of competition for another four weeks, which will put him further behind Bookout.

  • Kansas isn't as worried about JC forward Jeff Graves' conditioning as the Jayhawks are about ensuring he's healthy after a car accident left him with a concussion. Graves has been taking it slow in workouts and won't be pushed to return too soon.

  • Expect David Hawkins to play the point after Temple coach John Chaney decided to keep Brian Polk out for the first semester because of academic troubles. Apparently, Polk could be eligible but the Owls' staff views this as the last chance for Polk and if he doesn't get his academic act in order then he could be gone for good. Guard Greg Jefferson was suspended for the first semester for breaking team rules (one was playing in an unsanctioned summer league). The Owls can't afford to be too undermanned with a brutal non-conference schedule yet again. Temple has one stretch where it plays at Wake Forest on a Sunday and at South Carolina on a Monday, Dec. 1-2.

  • Wichita State's chances of catching Southern Illinois, Creighton and Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley took a hit when the Shockers potential starting center went back to Europe. Coach Mark Turgeon says 6-10 Sasha Mijajlovic out of Hutchinson (Kan.) CC got a better offer overseas. The native Yugoslavian was expected to give the Shockers the necessary size to bang with the favorites. Turgeon will likely lean more on his guards and go with a quicker and smaller lineup.

  • Memphis coach John Calipari is in such good graces with his former employer at Massachusetts and its present coach Steve Lappas that no one had a problem with him checking out individual workouts last weekend. Calipari was in the area for Larry Brown's induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame and took in the workouts, notably watching former redshirt Jackie Rogers. Calipari and Lappas went out to eat afterwards and spent quality time discussing the program he built. It's rare that a former coach who left, even on his own terms, can be received so well at his former place of employment in these competitive times. Lappas obviously is in good with the administration after getting another year put on his contract to take him through the 2006-07 season, a year after he arrived. The Minutemen should be the team to beat in the A-10 East.

  • Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson got a major commitment from 6-10 Major Wingate of South Carolina and then got a two-year extension to take him through the 2007-08 season. Peterson is creating a stir in Knoxville where the Vols are a legit sleeper in the SEC East and should be a consistent contender in the coming years in what is easily, yes easily, the toughest division within a conference (Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt).

  • Georgia State had donors calling in to help Panthers freshman Herman Favors with his scholarship money after he was featured in last week's ESPN The Magazine. Favors can't get a scholarship this season because the Panthers don't have one available under the NCAA's 5/8 rule, restricting five newcomers in a given class, no more than eight in two. The Panthers signed five in the class of 2001, including Andre Tooks, who died tragically in a car accident. But the NCAA won't allow them to fill Tooks' scholarship, leaving Favors out of luck for this season. The Panthers staff is taking the donors' names and hoping to get them to donate to the school instead of just one player, which isn't allowed.

  • Sonny Vaccaro decided to stay with adidas instead of going to Reebok. He has been with adidas since 1992 and that means all the adidas events like the ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J., the Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas and the Roundball Classic in Chicago will remain with adidas. Also, this means that all the players and coaches who have ties to adidas through Vaccaro shouldn't be nervous.

    Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Fridays throughout the year.

    Andy Katz | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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