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February 3, 2004 Columns No Comments

Answering the Mailbag

by Phil Kasiecki

Normally, I respond individually to those who send e-mails to me from Hoopville, but this time around there’s been a lot to catch up on and it warrants talking about them right here. If the mail keeps coming, this will become a regular feature.

With that said, let’s not waste time and take a look at the subject of some of what I’ve received in the last couple of months.

Siena Signs McClinton

Two readers were nice enough to inform me that Jack McClinton, one of the better performers at the War on the Shore Tournament in November, actually did sign early after I had said otherwise. McClinton, a 6’1″ Baltimore native now prepping at South Kent (CT) School, signed with Siena.

With McClinton, as well as Philadelphia (PA) Cardinal Dougherty wing Bilal Benn in the fold, Siena continues to put together good talent. The Saints are struggling this year despite high expectations, but McClinton will help fill a key void at the point (the Saints have more turnovers than assists) and the Saints will be an experienced group next year.

McClinton had his big coming-out party at War on the Shore; we’ll get another look at him at the National Prep School Invitational next weekend.

Two More Solid Fall Recruiting Classes

Two readers saw my column on new head coaches putting together good classes in the fall signing period and found two mid-majors that were left out on my part.

Paul Biancardi is the new head coach at Wright State this season, and in the fall he put together a good five-man class, with three coming from Ohio. They signed Everett Spencer (6’6″ SG-SF, Columbus (OH) Brookhaven HS), Branden Ivery (6’6″ SF-PF, Columbus (OH) Walnut Ridge HS), Jordan Pleiman (6’8″ PF, Ft. Laramie (OH) High), Lorenzo Shine (6’2″ SG, Detroit (MI) Rogers HS) and LaMorris Wallace (6’10” C, Triton Community College (IL)). Spencer played with current Oklahoma freshmen Drew Lavender and Brandon Foust last season, and is considered a major sleeper among Ohio high school players.

Also doing well in the fall is Western Illinois, which has struggled in recent years and hired Derek Thomas in the offseason. But Thomas is wasting little time upgrading the talent base, which will be the starting point. Their class features Navonta Kentle (6’8″ SF, Pine bluff (AR) High), David Jackson (6’5″ SG, Memphis (TN) Westside HS), Kyle Lasek (6’9″ C, Moline (IL) High) and junior college transfer Fred Oguns (6’7″ SF-PF, Sheridan Community College (WY)). Kentle may be the cornerstone of the class.

Mount Vernon High School

A reader with family in New York contacted me around the time of the Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament and wanted me to keep an eye on Mt. Vernon (NY) High. Certainly, they were hard to miss, as they validated their national ranking (No. 12 in USA Today before the tournament) by going 2-0 and looking very strong in both games.

The team is stacked, from seniors Keith Benjamin (Pittsburgh signee) and Dexter Gray (unsigned) to super sophomore forward Jonathan Mitchell, and 5’11” freshman point guard Michael Coburn will be one to keep an eye on as well. We’ll certainly hear more about them the rest of this year, as well as after that.

Holy Cross In the Ivy League?

One reader wrote me asking if Holy Cross was invited to join the Ivy League at one time, perhaps in the last ten years or so. Holy Cross has long been known as a top-notch academic institution for many years, so it might seem plausible.

The answer to the question is that they never were. The school was invited to be a charter member of the Big East at its inception in 1979, but they turned it down and remained an independent until they joined the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 1983. They would remain there until joining the Patriot League as a charter member in 1991.

What’s the Story on Jerell Parker?

Hartford senior guard Jerell Parker missed some games early in the season due to strained muscles in his right knee – the same knee he tore the quadriceps tendon in last summer, before having surgery in July. Then on January 2, he tore that same quadriceps tendon, requiring surgery and ending his season.

The Hawks are planning to petition for a sixth year of eligibility. Hopefully, the NCAA will grant him that; he played in just six games this season and is a good young man.

The NCAA and Two Big East Freshmen

One reader wanted to know what the issue was with the NCAA taking a long time to determine the status of two Big East freshmen, Connecticut forward Charlie Villanueva and Syracuse guard Louie McCroskey. Both were held out by their respective schools while the NCAA looked into concerns about their eligibility – in Villanueva’s case, his trips to work out for the NBA last spring, and in McCroskey’s case, a transcript issue. Both are now playing for their respective schools.

In both cases, as well as similar ones, I suspect that the NCAA actually knew something, and simply waited until the team had held the player out for a sufficient amount of time – hence the NCAA indirectly punished the player. In cases like this, as well as last year when the NCAA was reviewing the transcript of former Mississippi State star Mario Austin, the team involved will hold the player out rather than risk having to forfeit wins later on and perhaps face more sanctions from the NCAA for using an ineligible player. It’s a sensible move, so the NCAA, realizing they’re firmly in control, just takes their time issuing a decision.

Needless to say, I wish, as I’m sure many others do, that they could handle this better. In the case of Austin, why they were looking over his high school transcript during his junior year was just plain absurd. Did they somehow miss something over two years prior?

Not Happy With the Evaluation of One High School Player

While the readers who mentioned Jack McClinton signing with Siena were happy with that, one reader was not particularly happy with something I had to say about Centereach (NY) Our Savior New American senior wing Gary Konate.

The reader writes (with slight capitalization edits on my part): “How do you judge a player on one game as they just won a tournament in Nashville, Tenn. and flew to Baltimore and drove from Baltimore to Delaware 2.5 hrs to play a game on Sunday. Basically you shouldn’t be negative when you never saw a player play before. And if you do not have anything good to say don’t say anything at all.”

Whew! Obviously, this person wasn’t too pleased with what I said. Maybe we should examine what he is apparently miffed about. In my recap of the War on the Shore, I didn’t say much about Konate, focusing on teammate Juan Diego Palacios and his 31-point, 11-rebound effort against Wolfeboro (NH) Brewster Academy. What I did say was this, alluding first to the late Kevin Mormin: “Mormin will get plenty of recruiting attention, while Konate doesn’t shoot the ball well but could be a nice pickup for someone.”

Negative? Perhaps. But if anyone has seen this team play, as I have, they can see that what I said is true – Konate’s weakness is shooting the ball and he came in with that reputation, according to colleagues who had seen him more than I have. He’s very athletic and has the ball skills to be a nice mid-major wing for someone. I will stand by what I said and don’t find it to be “negative”.

Right now, of course, the most important thing is that Konate has a speedy and healthy recovery from a broken left leg sustained in the van accident on New Year’s Eve while the team was traveling to the Dell Curry Shootout, which tragically claimed the life of center Kevin Mormin.

The Firing of Mike Jarvis

Another had some questions about St. John’s decision to fire Mike Jarvis, which I didn’t find very surprising since he had been on the hot seat for a while. His firing did leave questions, nonetheless, and the questions I received here are natural ones to ask.

Was it right? The Red Storm may have won the NIT last season, but that gave Jarvis a reprieve. St. John’s has struggled in recruiting in recent years, and that has shown on the court with the team’s results. The Red Storm used to be a consistent Big East contender and NCAA Tournament team; Jarvis took the team to the Elite Eight in his first season, won the Big East Tournament in his second season, then slid downhill from there. The timing of it (one week before Christmas, and right in the middle of the season) may seem questionable, and I can’t argue that. In that respect, one can rightfully question the decision.

Was it done to help recruiting? Without a doubt, that was part of the decision, though that surely was not the only one. Just this year, the best New York players are signing elsewhere, as I mentioned before. One of the reasons Jarvis was constantly hammered in the New York media was that he alienated many of the high school coaches. This, in turn, led to players wanting to sign elsewhere. Jarvis has won without a ton of talent; the 2000 Big East champions didn’t have tremendous talent, but won because they were well-coached, played solid defense and smart basketball. But a team needs some talent to compete in the first place, and the Red Storm has not been getting that. The next St. John’s head coach will have to be a New York guy, someone who can connect with the coaches at area high school powerhouses like St. Raymond’s, Lincoln, Rice, Archbishop Molloy, and others.

He mentioned that Jarvis comes across as a good guy. This is true, and is a large reason he is well-respected in the profession besides his overall success as a head coach. Remember, he never had a losing season as a head coach until he got to St. John’s. But unfortunately, he didn’t get the job done at St. John’s to keep the program at the level it is expected to be at. That being said, Jarvis will surely resurface as a head coach somewhere next season, as he has said he intends to coach again soon.

Does the NBA Beckon?

One Northeastern fan asked me if I think Husky senior forward Sylbrin Robinson will make it to the NBA.

With all due respect to the young man, I would bet the house on Robinson never playing a minute of NBA basketball. Robinson is a nice college player, but he doesn’t have a position at the next level. For small forward, he’s not athletic enough and his ball skills aren’t good enough; he’s too small to play power forward, so we can rule that out. He might be able to play overseas.

Having answered the question, I’ll expand on this just a bit. The best NBA prospect in America East is Binghamton junior center Nick Billings, who is being watched by NBA scouts. However, Billings has a long way to go; he needs to get stronger, his post moves on offense still need a good deal of work, and he has to improve when mixing it up inside. He has improved fairly consistently since he first arrived on campus, but don’t look for his name to be called on draft night in 2005 unless he makes a tremendous improvement between now and the end of his college career.

One thing I can’t express well enough is how difficult it is to make it to the NBA. Over the 17 years that I have watched college basketball, I can think of countless players who had nice college careers and never played a minute in the NBA, and some who were college stars and busts in the NBA. The reality is, the NBA is a different game from college, as well as high school. This is a subject we’ll look at in some more detail after the season, when the interest shifts to which players decide to leave school early or bypass college to enter the NBA Draft.

Overlooked Eagle

A high school fan in Louisiana wrote me about Reserve (LA) Christian Academy, which had a big showing at the Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament in getting to the championship game. He mainly wanted to mention a player who tends to get overlooked on the loaded Eagle team, 6’3″ junior guard Marlon Brumfield.

Brumfield is a fine talent in his own right, as he’s very quick and a terrific leaper. He’s a role player on this team, but does that well, giving the team one more good player alongside stud sophomore Demond Carter and the other young talents, as well as senior gunner George Brozos. He didn’t play great basketball at the tournament, but he will surely get some good Division I looks and show what he can do at the next level.


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