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June 29, 2011

This week my boss is off from work, so I am covering her stuff. Logged a 15 hour day, but the promise of sleeping in a bit today was a good carrot. This morning the wife gets me up because her car had a flat. If anyone needs me I’ll be under the table clutching some Scotch.

I’ll get to some second-hand Greentree summer league stuff a bit later. From what I’m reading, the kids look good. But at the same time, this is far different from what they’ll be doing come the fall, and the talent level is much more varied. Encouraging, but it has to be treated a lot like spring practices in football.

Not that it is that relevant, but the USA Basketball U-19 team is off to a poor start. In exhibition games against the Lithuanians U-20 and U-19 teams, the team has lost by 29 and 33 points, and allowed more than 100 points in both games. Exhibition games, yes. Disturbing nonetheless. Some might argue it’s the talent disparity. That this squad lacks the good U-19 talent, because those players didn’t play. At the same time they said similar things about the 2009 squad. Remember the head scratching over Ashton Gibbs being on the squad?

The biggest difference seems to be the coaching.

The 2009 coaching staff had Jamie Dixon assisted by Matt Painter (Purdue) and Chris Lowery (Southern Illinois). Not just good coaches, but coaches that know how to get a defensive effort from their players. This 2011 squad is led by Paul Hewitt (formerly Georgia Tech, now George Mason), Randy Bennett (St. Mary’s) and Cliff Warren (Jacksonville Univ.).

At the very least, it sure looks like they could use Cameron Wright out there to play defense.

Speaking of coaching, this story is almost a month old, but I kept forgetting to mention it. In major college basketball, there aren’t many coaches that find themselves as head coaches without being a head coach at the lower rungs first.

As you can tell from the brevity of the list, that’s an unusual career path. This group comprises just 18 percent of major-conference head coaches. Conversely 76 percent of today’s head coaches in the six “power” conferences were hired into their first such job when they were the head coach at a mid-major.

In other words athletic directors overwhelmingly prefer hiring a head coach over hiring an assistant coach. That’s to be expected, of course. It’s good to hire someone who’s currently doing the job you want them to do for you. But a preference this one-sided (76 percent to 18 percent), along with the fact that the pool of D-I assistant coaches will always be much larger than that of head coaches, suggests that assistants are being undervalued — maybe even severely so — as potential candidates in head-coaching searches.

To say that assistants are being undervalued as candidates doesn’t mean the best candidate will often be an assistant. After all, if you can hire a current head coach like Brad Stevens, then by all means hire Brad Stevens. The point, however, is that very often you can’t hire Brad Stevens. And by the time we see candidates who were removed from their previous head coaching positions being recycled into new positions, I think it’s fair to raise the hey wait a minute point. Head-coaching experience is a good thing to have, surely, but athletic directors may be making a fetish of it.

There are 13 coaches that comprise this list. Of that list, only 7 were hired/elevated in the last 10 years.

In three cases you could argue it wasn’t really the plan. Jamie Dixon was hired after Pitt whiffed on Skip Prosser, failed to interview anyone else and waited so long to decide they had to just pull the trigger. It worked out, but it was ugly when it happened.

Frank Martin was hired by K-State to keep the preserve the recruiting class he and Huggins put together. Plus it was K-State at the time, they weren’t going to get anyone big for that job.

Tom Crean (also on the list) bolted late for Indiana. It caught Marquette flat-footed and since it was late in the coaching carousel, they decided the best option (and in hopes of preserving their recruiting class — which didn’t work so well).

I think there are two factors in play here. First, unlike college football, there is a bigger pool of mid-major head coaches to search.1-A football has only 50+ non-BCS programs. That significantly shrinks the pool of available head coaches who could be lured to another BCS program. College basketball, has some 280 D-1 basketball programs outside of the BCS conferences.No, not all of them are at places that will get to move right up to the 1-A ranks, but it’s a much deeper pool to search and for assistants to get a head coaching gig on their resume.

The second point, though, is more important. Risk aversion. It’s a safer choice for ADs and the schools to hire a guy with head coaching experience. It’s easier to to sell to the fans and media. If a guy with head coaching experience fails, there is less blame heaped on the AD — and thus less chance that the fallout could cost the AD his job. The guy had a track record. He won elsewhere.

The NBA Draft surprised no Pitt fan with no player selected. Gil Brown seemed to be the one with the best chance to be drafted as his athleticism and size still tantalize. Boston, especially seems to have been enamored with him (hattip to Eric).

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge confirmed the team has interest in undrafted Gilbert Brown. The Pittsburgh shooting guard is actually in Waltham Monday and, while the Celtics cannot officially offer him a contract before Friday’s impending lockout, the team could always work on a handshake agreement.

“As a matter of fact, Gilbert Brown’s coming in today as well, so we’ll have Gilbert — we’ll be doing the same thing with Gilbert Brown,” said Ainge. “He’ll meet with our strength coaches and go through some things with our coaches.”

Much like draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, Brown could be given an offseason program to follow with eyes towards potentially inking him when the lockout ends.

What I do like is that Brown appears to have a very smart agent. Or at least one that has let him know about the realities of making the NBA and being the next Wesley Matthews — which it seems is what Danny Ainge (and probably most NBA GMs) are trying to sell Brown on becoming — by working on a Euro contract as well.

Boston is not the only team interested in bringing Brown to training camp. Phoenix and a few others have reached out, but Brown is leaning toward the Celtics because of the 30-minute conversation he had with Ainge early Friday morning.

“He really encouraged me,” Brown said. “He told me I could be the Wesley Matthews of this draft. Of all the teams I worked out for, Danny was the most excited to have me in. He really feels like I can make their team and contribute the first year. He was really confident in my ability. He felt like I stood out in my workout.”

Matthews played at Marquette and went undrafted in ’09 but became a starter for the Utah Jazz by midseason of his rookie year. Last year, he signed a five-year, $34 million contract to play for the Portland Trailblazers. He averaged 15.9 points per game for the Trailblazers last season.

Matthews is the best-case scenario for any rookie free agent.

Brad Wanamaker has had his own workouts with the Spurs and Hawks this week. The coming NBA lockout makes things a lot more confusing and difficult for rookies. At the same time, I think it simplifies things for the undrafted free agents (UFA) like Wanamaker and Brown. There’s no being strung along by NBA teams. No debating about whether to go overseas or go to a training camp and then the NBDL. The NBA lockout looks to be a bad one, and so most UFAs will be heading to Europe or Asia to earn a living and play basketball.

link to

Love the first line

Comment by wbb 06.29.11 @ 12:54 pm

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