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Pac-10 Unknowns

December 10, 2003 Columns No Comments



The Unknowns of the Pac-10

by Joaquin Mesa

As Arizona was playing Texas last night, I recalled how in an earlier article I pretended not to be a Pac-10 fanatic. I spoke of how the Pac-10 was not as strong as previous years. I based this assumption on the fact that Cal and USC had lost some early games. Now, with Arizona and Stanford winning some big game, the Pac-10 is 32-14 overall. This isn’t half bad when you mention it along side big wins over Kansas and Texas. Even UCLA challenged Kentucky, and UCLA wasn’t supposed to challenge anyone in its first year under Coach Ben Howland.

Thus, I must reassess my earlier statement. The Pac-10 isn’t as bad as I might have thought, but they are still not the ACC.

How is the Pac-10 better then one might have hoped? Well, the conference is doing so with the play of some relative unknowns. Who would have thought that Brian Morrison would be the second leading scorer on UCLA? Who would have thought that Amit Tamir would be second in the leadership voting on Cal behind freshman Leon Powe? Who would have thought that Steve Moore would be challenging Ike Diogu for the team lead in scoring, not to mention grabbing almost five boards a game? Take a look at these not-so-nameless performers, and look for them in the coming weeks

G – Brian Morrison, UCLA

Morrison transferred from North Carolina, has two years of eligibility left, and is picking up the three-point slack left over after Jason Kapono left for LeBron-town. As a sophomore at North Carolina, he drained threes against UCLA, but now, he is giving the Bruins a valuable outside threat, a team that lacked just that. Against UC Riverside, he dropped 28 points, six from behind the arc. He personally took over midway through the second half, and the Bruins never looked back. Can we say ‘go-to-guy’? Already, Morrison is making new friends in Pauley Pavilion with his work-horse play and tenacity. After a steal against Kentucky, he drove the length of the floor, got the basket and the foul, as well as an enormous roar from the crowd. With Michael Fey growing into a legitimate inside threat, Morrison might become the outside aspect of the inside-outside game that Ben Howland could be bringing back to UCLA.

F – Leon Powe, California

California had a host of promising freshman this year, adding to a very young roster, one that saw seven freshmen coming in last year. With the loss of Joe Shipp and Brian Wethers, the Bears feared a lack of leadership and were thought to rely heavily on Amit Tamir, the talented Israeli soldier who at 24 years of age had the maturity and talent to lead this team. Instead, Tamir has struggled as has the talented sophomore Richard Midgley, both shooting less the 37% from the field. With all the missed shots, there seems to be a wealth of rebounds available for Leon Powe, who has taken the opportunity to grab 9.8 rebounds a game. The fellow is also leading the team in scoring (15.7 points per game). He could be the Ike Diogu reincarnate if Ike was not still running up his numbers in Phoenix.

G – Steve Moore, Arizona State

When Moore hit the big jumper against Temple with 32 seconds left in the game to put the Sun Devils ahead for the first time, nobody believed in him more then his coach, Rob Evans:

“Steve Moore is a tough kid. He made some turnovers and made some mistakes early in the ball game. It was bothering him a little and I pulled him aside during the timeout and said, ‘You’re going to do something to win this ballgame for us,’ and sure enough, he did.”

Having a coach behind you makes it easier for a first year player to step up and fill the void left by Curtis Millage. Moore is a JuCo transfer, but he wasn’t in the top ten, he was number seventeen (as rated by the Basketball Times). He is averaging just over 18 points per game and just under five rebounds per game. He is a solid three-point threat as well, and having him makes it all that much easier for Diogu to score in double figures, extending his streak to 37, or every single college game he has played in.

F – Jeff McMillan, USC

McMillan is another JuCo transfer making waves. He is a solid rebounder that had never stepped up to be a big time scorer in his two years at Fordham. He sat out last year as a transfer, but seems eager to prove himself. So far, so good. On this outside shooting USC team, he is being given the opportunity to add the weight underneath the basket that is so desperately needed. Despite having seven-footer Rory O’Neil, USC has been missing POY Sam Clancy for two years now. O’Neil is too lanky, something I can personally attest to after seeing him on campus late in the season last year. He weighs 240 this season, but so does LeBron, who is only 6 foot 8 inches. McMillan is leading the team in rebounding, and getting the bulk of the minutes over Junior Nick Curtis. Contradicting previous years, Coach Henry Bibby is spreading the minutes out to many players, which has helped McMillan. It also doesn’t hurt that Gregg Geunther Jr., a big part of the Trojans run in the conference tournament last year, is starting at tight end for the Trojan football team because of three injuries at the position.

PG – Chris Hernandez, Stanford

Though Chris Hernandez was supposed to become a good player at Stanford, and he was a wonderful recruit that came from the No. 3 team in the state of California, the state which never finds the dance floors empty, his career took a wrong turn when he broke his foot twice last season. He now finds himself as the team leader with Josh Childress out with a bum left foot himself. Childress, who helped lead the USA team to victory in the Dominican Republic this summer, is on everyone’s pre-season list. However, he might want to take a few lessons home with him from Hernandez who once played a game in high school with eight stitches in his hand. As a freshman, Hernandez won the Roy Young Toughness Award. Hernandez is shooting 56% from the arc and 52% from the field. As soon as Childress comes back to provide some more playmaking ability, Hernandez will see more open looks, and score more. Scary isn’t it?

G – Brandon Roy, Washington

Doug Wrenn was a big loss for the Huskies, but he left behind a host of players who are eager to prove themselves. Brandon Roy is one of them, and so far he isn’t disappointing. After sitting out half of last season because of recruiting violations that plagued the Washington program (I guess assistant Cameron Dollar was taking after the man that recruited him, Jim Harrick), Roy is stepping up as the Huskies main scoring option. Head Coach Lorenzo Romar on Roy:

“Brandon has a chance to be as good an offensive player as there is in this league. He was averaging about 14 points a game down the stretch. You just knew from day one that he had such a great feel for the game. He is a really good rebounder. What people don’t understand it that he is kind of bottom heavy, he can move people around down there. He has great anticipation for where that ball is going, rebounders have that. He has a great feel for the game.”

Roy is averaging 4.4 rebounds a game, and 14.2 points a game. He also is only going to get better with more time. It also helps that he has four high school teammates on the squad with him.

The others:

There are a few other players that are making strides for their teams: J.S. Nash, Chris Stephens and David Lucas at Oregon State, Bobbie Jones at Washington, and Mustafa Shakur at Arizona. Look for all of these player come conference play to establish themselves against each other.

     

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