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Preseason Q&A with The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy


While relevant college basketball games don't tip off for another month, the sport will open for business this Friday! To celebrate, err... observe this exciting day, we thought it would be shrewd of us to bring in some real college basketball writers on here to shower us with words that carry much more weight than a couple of twentysomething bloggers.

To continue this Thursday, Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News is here. While Mike seemed to question a few of my questions - it in-turn resulted in some great, telling responses ranging from John Calipari's legacy to what a coach "on the hot seat" really is and why it's even something we debate over.

1.          Where could we find you this summer? On the beach, at the racetrack -- or in a gym filled with DI prospects?  My wife and I spent a week in August in Santa Monica - but only two of those days were beach days. In July, I was in Cincinnati, Akron, Cleveland and Las Vegas watching prospects for a total of about 10 days, along with another three days in Colorado Springs for the USA Basketball trials. So I suppose the correct answer would be "both A and C." But it's pretty obvious work takes precedence over all else.

2.          What would you like to see the NCAA implement/change/get rid of, to better the overall product of college basketball?  My first vote would be for an immediate reversal of the ridiculous rule the NCAA just passed regarding the draft, which limits underclassmen to a period of two weeks to decide whether to remain on the early entry list. I'll call it the "Tee-Time Rule." Coaches were having to deal with phone calls to NBA teams and agents and all those sorts of people during May and early June instead of playing golf, so they pushed for a rule change and nobody in the legislative process really paid attention to what they were signing. It's a dumb rule that will lead to more players making poor decisions about when to turn pro. How is that a good thing for anybody except the country clubs?

The most important move, though, would be to allow coaches to work with their players during summer school. It's a joke that John Calipari is making more than $4 million a year and yet NCAA rules essentially force him not to do his job in the summer. His job is to make the players in his program better, but he's not allowed to help. It's ridiculous. I thought earning a Ph.D meant you were reasonably smart. So how could so many people with advanced degrees allow such an absurd rule to remain in place?

3.          OK focusing on 2009-2010, what will we remember it for after the nets are cut down in Indy? Calipari's move to Kentucky had a landscape-shifting impact on college basketball. I believe UK will be among the leading contenders for the national championship, and that's going to catch a lot of people's attention. It starts with Calipari, who so many in the media love to vilify. Then there's Kentucky's stature, which figures to be immediately restored. And John Wall should put on a few spectacular shows.

Kansas is our pick to win the national championship, but obviously they'll have some things to work through to get there. Kentucky is best positioned to grab the championship if KU does not.      

4.          On paper, this season appears to offer a handful of solid transfers expected to make significant contributions for their new teams. Which transfers do you like the most and are we overlooking anyone? Transfers at the big-time level generally wind up being complementary players more so than stars. When's the last time we had somebody who was a transfer become a legit All-America candidate? Tyler Smith at Tennessee, maybe, but his circumstance obviously was different than most, including the fact he did not have to wait a year to play. I'm not saying it's bad to have transfers in your program; on the contrary, I think they're great assets because the transfer has little choice but to do everything his coach says. If he doesn't, the next stop is Division II.

I think we'll see Jordan Crawford help Xavier a lot and Wesley Johnson be an important contributor at Syracuse. Ben Hansbrough and Scott Martin will help Notre Dame a lot. Tom Crean loves Jeremiah Rivers at Indiana. Players who step down in class are the ones who have a chance to emerge as stars, and Tony Freeman could make that happen in moving from Iowa to Southern Illinois.

5.          What are your thoughts on Kentucky? What are the rabid fans saying down there and are they expecting a national title in Calipari's first season? When he leaves, will the program be intact or fractured much like what happened at UMASS and Memphis?  I wouldn't agree at all with the suggestion that Memphis's program is fractured. The roster was in rough shape, but that's because he was scheduled to lose some key veterans and many of the players he recruited to replace them, including Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins, chose to go elsewhere after Calipari left. But Josh Pastner already has recruited two top-15 prospects for the 2010 class. As much as I believe in Josh, there's no way Memphis would be landing those kinds of players if Calipari hadn't shown what was possible there. Memphis is a major program that was dwindling toward insignificance at the time Calipari arrived. He remade the place.

UMass wasn't really fractured, either, when Calipari left for the NBA. After he left, Bruiser Flint made the NCAAs in his first two years and was above .500 in league play in all five of his seasons. It was UMass that made the foolish decision to run him out after his team went 11-5 in the Atlantic 10. Calipari's departure didn't fracture that program - it was sloppy administrating that did that.

6.           Speaking of programs that need to win now, what coaches are on the hot seat this season...I've never been a huge fan of these, and I'll explain why. I'm a believer that if you think you should fire your coach, you probably should fire your coach. A winning season shouldn't change that. If you've gotten the idea that your coach needs to be replaced, it certainly shouldn't be based just upon his win-loss record. It should be based on success in recruiting, whether his players perform as a unit, whether they handle themselves off the court, whether the coach connects properly with the public. That's one thing Kentucky got right in the whole Billy Gillispie deal. Too many of those areas were deficient, and instead of waiting around to see if he got the team to the 2010 tournament the school decided it needed to make a change. I think UK totally botched the hiring process in 2007, but they took a pretty reasonable mulligan in 2009.

There are factors that go into on-court success that are outside the coach's control: primarily, injuries. If an AD fires a coach who's partway through a rebuilding process because his point guard blew an ACL -- then the AD probably should be fired, as well.

7.           Your premature surprise team of the season...I guess it depends on how big a surprise we're talking. I've got West Virginia winning the Big East. I think I'm the only one on the planet - the only one outside Morgantown, anyway - who's got the Mountaineers winning the league and ranked ahead of Villanova. I'm surprised so many people are walking right past the losses of Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark and Dante Cunningham to pick the Wildcats. I think Villanova is strong enough in the backcourt to be a top-10 team, but the frontcourt is very young. Maybe I'll be wrong about this. If so, I'll be surprised.

8.          Your premature Final Four picks...I've got Kentucky and Kansas, as mentioned, along with Michigan State and North Carolina. UNC will have the toughest time of the four getting there because of its questions at point guard. I've got West Virginia rated fifth and Texas sixth. I might have underrated Texas a bit, at No. 6, but I wasn't sure how the point guard thing would turn out for them. Jai Lucas went there to be a point guard, but I'm not totally convinced he's a true point. Avery Bradley could play anywhere on the perimeter, but is that his best position?     

9.           Because of the name of our blog, we ask all journalists on here to name their favorite forgotten college basketball player. What college players were you a fan of while they were in college, and then were never really heard from again?  I'd say Sam Clancy. Yeah, I guess because he had a son named Sam Clancy that some people remember him a bit, but not many understand what an amazing player he was. Clancy was about 6-6 but played center for Pitt in the late '70s/early 80s and outplayed so many guys bigger than him. He had great games against Jeff Ruland and Mike Gminski. Sam couldn't shoot but was incredibly athletic and one of the most physically powerful basketball players I've ever seen. I wish more people remembered him as a player.

10.        Finish this sentence: I like using twitter because... I can share links to my stories and because I come across links to other people's work that I might otherwise miss. That's what I use it for, mostly. I've even gotten comfortable saying "tweeted." I never imagined that would happen.