A bunch of Pitt fans/alumni writing and ranting about the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and anything sports and entertainment related. Other than being alumni, the writers of this blog have no affiliation or official connection with the University of Pittsburgh, the Pitt Panthers, and related entities. The views expressed on this blog are solely our own. You can e-mail us: PittSportsBlather-at-sbcglobal.net.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Other Side 

Briefly, the new Big East officially begins shortly. That also means BC is leaving. Here's a rather long but interesting article on the BC view of things. And yes they had been planning a long time to run to the ACC with Miami

Dave Hart Jr., Florida State's AD and the group's outgoing president, took advantage of the setting for a casual but business-oriented talk with Dave Braine, the AD at Georgia Tech. Along with former Clemson AD Bobby Robinson, Hart and Braine were the leaders in the slow but steady evolution of the Atlantic Coast Conference from a basketball-dominated league that also played football to a conference that wanted to be regarded among the elite in both sports.

So now, on this early summer evening, the talk was again of the ACC's future and which schools could be added for it to go from a nine-team league to 12, which would mean a conference title game in football, and additional revenue.

Hart and Braine began to consider an expanded ACC with potential new members. Also among the group was Paul Dee, AD at the University of Miami, who had been studying the conference landscape for several years to see if the highly regarded Hurricane football program could move from the Big East for a bigger financial payoff. And there was Gene DeFilippo, the energetic AD at Boston College. DeFilippo's agenda was more informational than anything else. He was also a close friend of Hart's. The two bounced ideas off each other all the time.

This time, it was different.

BC, DeFilippo was told, was very much a player in what the ACC hoped would be a true super conference.

It was June 2000.

[Emphasis added.]

More Local Reaction To Taft 

Not exactly the best piece, but a blast at the whole "upside" issue in the draft using the Big East as an example:
Hakim Warrick, the Big East player of the year and a first team All-American, went 19th. Charlie Villanueva, the UConn sophomore who was more of a tease in his first two years than anything else, went seventh. Chris Taft, the Pitt sophomore who was a much more effective player than Villanueva was in the Big East for the last two years doesn't go in the first round. And Gomes, one of the elite college players in the country the last two years, the leading scorer in the history of Providence College, doesn't either.
I would not have stressed Gomes too hard since he was often checked by players like Taft or Warrick, but it's nice to have someone else finally notice the bizarreness of where Villanueva went as compared to Warrick and Taft.

Meanwhile, Chris Taft is defending his choice and planning to show everyone:

But Taft, who bypassed his final two college seasons and originally was being considered by some as a lottery pick, told reporters in Oakland, Calif., that he isn't about to feel sorry for himself after failing to go in the first round.

"I am so motivated, it's unbelievable," said Taft, who flew to Oakland on Wednesday. "It's still a dream come true to be drafted."
"People haven't gotten a glimpse of the real Chris Taft. I am ready to show everybody what I can do. I am very athletic," Taft said. "I see myself fitting in well (with Golden State), especially with a point guard like Baron Davis. I can be one of the guys finishing plays for him."

He's got to work on talking about himself in the 3rd person more. Like all the real pros do. He let too many "I's" slip.

It may be a while before he gets to finish plays for Baron Davis, though.

His first opportunity to impress is in the NBA summer league, which runs from July 8-15. It will be easier to determine after the five-game summer league schedule if Taft is a legitimate candidate to make the Warriors roster next season.

It is more than likely that Taft, who is 20, will spend one year or more in the NBDL refining his skills.

He dropped like a rock in the draft because he was badly outplayed by his peers in several workouts leading up to the draft, including Arizona State's Ike Diogu, the Warriors' first-round selection (9th overall), in a workout before Golden State scouts a few weeks ago.

With the changes to the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, Taft can find himself on loan to the NBDL to get more playing time.

Ron Cook sees a glimmer of hope for Taft.

Golden State will give Taft every opportunity to make the team. It's easy to think Warriors coach Mike Montgomery will be able to find the key to Taft's enormous potential. Montgomery was successful at Stanford before moving to the NBA and knows how to coach young players.

It's easier to think the draft snub will motivate Taft. No one doubts his marvelous athleticism. That's why there was lottery-pick talk in the first place. And Taft does have the one thing that every coach covets -- a long body. Not even Phil Jackson can teach a guy to be 6 feet 10.

No, the questions about Taft going back to last season are about his heart. You have to work to be a star. The NBA people didn't see that from Taft. Word quickly spread that he has some dog in him.

But you know what they say about even the laziest dog:

Kick him long enough, and he'll eventually bite back.

So it might be for Taft.

Of course, making Mark Blount comparisons may be nice for thoughts of eventually getting the fat contract, but not much for leaving a legacy in the NBA.

Joe Starkey's column is ostensibly to blast Taft's agent for selling him a bill of goods and Taft for overestimating his worth.

In other words, that guaranteed multimillion-dollar contract he was counting on suddenly seems as far away as the Cathedral of Learning is from the Golden Gate Bridge. Taft's scholarship is toast. He burned it, bolting from Pitt after an apathetic sophomore year, figuring he would become a rich man June 28.

What a gross miscalculation. Taft instead became the draft's biggest loser.

Who's to blame?

Two people top the list: Taft and his agent, Billy Ceisler, who told me on June 5 that he'd be surprised if Taft wasn't a lottery pick (among the top 14) and that Taft recently had "dominated" Final Four MVP May "in every facet of the game" during a workout for the L.A. Clippers.

Yeah, that's believable.

You'd think Ceisler, who also represents Villanueva and Ben Gordon, among others, would be connected enough to have long ago provided Taft with a shot of reality (and perhaps preserved Taft's college eligibility).

On the other hand, Ceisler hadn't yet seen Taft audition for NBA teams, and, contrary to what the agent later reported, it now seems clear that those auditions were received about as well as Vin Diesel in "The Chronicles of Riddick."

In observing Taft, people must have wondered if they were seeing the reincarnation of Chris Washburn.

My quibble with the column is the opening where he acts like he always knew Taft was going to plummet in the draft.

Well, at least we're not crazy.

I mean those of us who shook our heads in disbelief every time we saw a mock draft projecting Chris Taft ahead of the likes of Sean May, Hakim Warrick, Channing Frye and Charlie Villanueva.

Wasn't anybody watching the games?

And apparently biting his tongue for the last 2 months. A guy who in April said Taft was a "potential lottery pick." I like Starkey, but this is a bit of revisionism.

No one, I repeat, no one thought Taft would fall this far in the draft. Just look at this blog for the month of June. I did a pretty decent job of tracking the mock drafts of where Taft was pegged. The worst he was placed was just outside the 1st round. By draft day he was at the end of the 1st round. This isn't just based on "expert" predictions, this was from reporters talking to sources on teams getting a feel for various draft boards.

Recruits and Props 

Brace yourselves, folks, there may not be any verbal commitments today. We may go through the weekend, even. At least it will give us a chance to catch our collective breath and sit back for a day or two.

Greg Webster was the latest. Not surprisingly, he cited his comfort with the coaching staff as a big reason for choosing Pitt. Will Webster be doing a little recruiting of his own back at his high school?

Woodland Hills also has a handful of other highly rated Division I prospects in the senior class, including cornerback Darrin Walls and receiver Wes Lyons. Webster was asked if he would start recruiting his teammates.

"I might give them a little whisper in their ear," Webster said. "I don't know if they'll listen or not, but, hopefully, I can play a part in their decision."

Impressive to learn that since 1987 Woodland Hills has 64 Division 1 football recruits.

This past week's recruiting success has gotten the attention of Bruce Feldman on his ESPN.com College Football blog (Insider Subs.).

A new guy takes over a former elite program that seems to have lost its way. He comes back to college from the NFL and he returns home with a bunch of championship rings. In my mind, I'm thinking great hire, and I'm surprised more in the media haven't gotten on the bandwagon. Of course, I'm talking about Dave Wannstedt. The former Dolphins coach is having another good week for Pittsburgh.

The Panthers landed a trio of big-name verbals in WR Dorin Dickerson, DT Jason Pinkston and LB Greg Webster, whose teammate by the way is blue-chip CB Darrin Walls, also high on Wannstedt's list. "Dickerson could be special," says one rival college coach. "We thought he's such a stud athlete that he could make it as a tailback, a wide out, as a safety and outside backer. He might even be able to play some corner. He's a stud."

An amusing and clueless counterpoint comes from a Florida paper that lists 5 new coaching hires that will fail:
4. Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh: Why is it that colleges are so enamored with guys who couldn't win in the NFL? Hard to imagine Wannstedt being able to recruit, much less have a productive offense.
Nothing like following an impulsive dislike up by completely ignoring reality.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

More Taft Draft Recap 

Come on, you knew I'd be coming back to this well. I'm going to start with some of the draft grades handed out to Golden State. Generally speaking, the Warriors earned a "B." From Chad Ford at ESPN.com (Insider Subs.)
We've been tough on Taft most of the year, but in the second round he's a steal. If he plays with a chip on his shoulder, he could end up being the best pick the Warriors made on Tuesday.
No one had been this hard on Taft, the worst written was that he might fall to the start of the 2nd round, not the middle. Chad Ford saved most of his abuse for Taft's agent:
It's a good thing Taft's agent, Billy Ceisler, barred me from the gym before I got a longer look at Taft. At the start of the season, most had him as a top five pick. After seeing his lackluster workout, I was going to drop him only a few spots, into the mid- to-late first round. Now he's swimming in the second round with Von Wafer and Travis Diener. This is a fantastic pick for Golden State in the second round. Taft has the potential to be a great player. He has great size and athleticism. He just doesn't have much of a motor and conditioning is a big issue.
Taft's agent was an idiot. Right now Ceisler is just breathing a sigh of relief that Villanueva (another of his clients) got a lottery draft.

Marty Burns at SI.com:
They got three athletic specimens in Ike Diogu, Monta Ellis and Chris Taft. Unfortunately, Ellis is a high school kid who's going to need a lot of time to develop, and Taft is known for a poor work ethic and a lack of conditioning. But if Diogu lives up to billing and turns out to be even a poor man's Elton Brand, and one of the other two pans out, team president Chris Mullin will be happy. Other than maybe going the international route in the second round with an Andriuskevicius or Mile Ilic, it's hard to argue with these picks.
So, he wasn't wild about them but they are reasonable decisions. Does this even reach a tepid endorsement?

From FoxSports/DIME Magazine:
Golden State was clearly looking for front line rebounding help and they got it in Ike Diogu. Diogu is a monster in the paint, attacking the glass like his life depends on it. Couple that with his improving offensive game and the Warriors have themselves a solid post player to go to work with Troy Murphy under the hoop. High schooler Monta Ellis is an intriguing talent and could be molded into an NBA point guard in time. Golden State's third pick, Chris Taft at No. 42, is well worth the gamble. If he ever figures it out, he could be a steal.
The NY Post has comments from Taft's high school coach.
During his sophomore year at Pitt, there was talk that Chris Taft could be a lottery pick or even a top-five selection in the NBA Draft.

But as the actual draft grew closer, concerns mounted that the former Xaverian star had made a mistake by leaving school and hiring an agent.

Those concerns became a reality last night when the 6-10 forward fell all the way to the middle of the second round and the Warriors with the 42nd overall pick.

"It's disappointing," said Xaverian head coach Jack Alesi. "Anybody who cares about Chris hoped he would stay another year. I'm convinced he has the ability to be a good player, but I think teams had questions about his heart."

Alesi, however, does not.

"His emotional ability might need some work, but I think he can be a good player," Alesi said. "I just wish he was going to develop in school. Somebody just sold him a bill of goods."

The person who rescued Taft from falling further was another Xaverian grad, Golden State's Chris Mullin.

"I'm glad someone like Chris took him," Alesi said. "He'll look after him. Hopefully he proves himself. I still believe in the kid."

Selling kids a bill of goods is another theme after the draft.

The guilty should be exposed. They are fathers and agents, summer coaches and leaches, handlers and enablers. They are anyone and everyone responsible for what happened Tuesday night -- the most humiliating NBA Draft in history.

Every year, a player or two is stunned to slip on NBA Draft night. Rashard Lewis thought he was a first-rounder in 1998. Marcus Taylor thought he would be drafted by someone -- anyone -- in 2002. It's sad, but it happens. It's routine.

What happened Tuesday night was not routine. This was obscene. Multiple players with promise -- some collegians, some high school seniors -- were shocked not to be drafted in the first round. Or any round.

Players made these decisions, but the people around them deserve scrutiny, too.
Today is humiliating for all of those players ... and for draft rejects like Alabama junior Kennedy Winston and Kentucky freshman Randolph Morris ... and for second-round surprises like high school senior Andray Blatche and Pittsburgh sophomore Chris Taft.

The players should be humiliated. They did this to themselves.

But let's not fool ourselves. They had help.
The sub-theme is that if you thought the SEC was down in basketball last year, this coming season will be even worse with the talent lost but not drafted.

Tuesday night, a looming lose-lose proposition came home to roost on the Southeastern Conference. And in the end, it was worse than even the most devout pessimists could have envisioned.

On the whole, it was a validating night for the stay-in-school activists. Eleven seniors were picked in the first round, and 14 of the first 38 picks were throwback players who actually embraced the quaint notion of a four-year, expenses-paid education and on-the-job basketball training. Eighteen of the 30 first-rounders were college seniors or juniors, continuing a trend that says three years of college is a sensible minimum for all but the most gifted players.

It was significantly less validating for guys like Chris Taft, who left Pittsburgh early and was exposed as under-skilled and under-motivated in NBA workouts, subsequently plummeting to No. 42. It definitely wasn't good for the six high school players who slipped into the second round -- a development none of the sweet-talkers who counseled them on making the jump ever mentioned.

And it was a night that left nobody from the gutted SEC happy.

No league had more underclassmen declare. When the NBA scouts yawned in their direction, when the mock drafts ignored them, when the analysts predicted draft-night humiliation -- most of them stubbornly stayed in anyway. And then Tuesday night was a disaster for the deluded.

Exactly one SEC player was drafted in the first round -- a senior at that. Florida's David Lee was the 30th and last pick in the guaranteed-money zone. After that came LSU sophomore Brandon Bass at No. 33, Mississippi State signee Monta Ellis at No. 40, Georgia signee Louis Williams at No. 45 and Mississippi State senior Lawrence Roberts at No. 55.

The SEC had 6 underclassmen declare and not get drafted.

A couple other notable undrafted players, John Gilchrist of Maryland and Chris Thomas of ND. Both are point guards considered better prospects than Carl Krauser. In the Chicago predraft camp, Thomas started ahead of Krauser on the workout squads and Gilchrist dominated him in a game. Krauser better be thinking long and hard about where he wants to play basketball this year.

On a much more amusing note, the Bill Simmons Draft Diary. Oh, what the heck, one more gratuitous shot at Villanueva:

8:14 :– Remember my running joke about Charlie Villanueva looking like the lead singer of Midnight Oil? Well, Charlie has a new claim to fame -- he just became one of the top-five worst picks in the history of the NBA draft. Toronto took him seventh. Seventh! Seventh! Rob Babcock just drafted Rafael Araujo and Charlie Villanueva with back-to-back top-10 picks when he already had Chris Bosh! And he just left Green and Danny Granger on the board! Throw in the Carter trade and are we absolutely sure that Babcock isn't Scott Layden using a fake Canadian passport? You're lucky I didn't start out as the Toronto Sports Guy, I would have been capable of 25 to 30 straight Babcock columns this summer.

8:16 : After listening to Bilas and the crew killing his selection for 90 seconds, a shell-shocked Charlie gets interviewed by Stu, who wraps up his interview by singing, "It's Brooklyn in -- it's Brooklyn in -- it's Brooklyn in da house!" Who else is waiting for Charlie to jump up brandishing a pistol and screaming, "All right, who's the bust now? Huh? Huh?"

I'm not sure, but Taft vs. Villanueva on the stat sheet could be a running post on this blog starting in the fall.

BlogPoll Questions, Round 2 

I missed Round 1. You can find links to all the blogpollers responses at Every Day Should Be Saturday. If you are curious as to the blogpoll, go here.

1. What's THE critical game of the season on the national scene? We're looking for the one that will influence the most outcomes in a single span of sixty minutes. Please try to diversify your answers and think of something other than Ohio State-Texas, for example.

Okay, I really don't think the OSU-Texas game would be it. The way I interpret this, it would mean a game later in the season that really will effect the possibility of making a BCS bowl or winning the conference, or some other factors.

Once upon a time, you could invariably say Miami-FSU and be right 90% of the time. Both teams usually in national contention, the game was middle to late in the season, and the loser was essentially out unless a lot of other things happened. No more. The ACC, in its pursuit of maximizing BCS possibilities makes this an opening weekend game. It no longer takes on the importance. It loses the national appeal. It may still matter in Florida, and those trying to choose their bandwagon, but it is otherwise meaningless.

The Iowa at Ohio State game on September 24 could be huge. Both teams, along with Michigan, are expected to be in some order at the top rungs of the Big 11. The problem is the game is too early. It might be looked back upon as having greater importance come November, but that week it will just be a really good match-up.

Runner-up: Georgia at Tennessee on October 8. I think that could be the game to decide who wins the SEC East. Problem is, that is all it decides. It's the trade-off of those championship games.

Winner: Texas vs. Oklahoma. It's got a lot of the elements of the other games mentioned, plus it has the added element of whether Texas and Mack Brown finally break through. That just looms larger every year. Texas keeps getting all the talent (not that Oklahoma is really pulling dregs), but they are still second fiddle to Oklahoma and Bob Stoops.

2. What's the most critical matchup for your team? Again, we know we'll hear OSU-Michigan from you Wolverines, but we ask you to think in terms of multiple scenarios here.

Okay, the obvious and optimistic answer is Pitt at Louisville on November 3. Everyone is predicting Pitt and Louisville will battle then and there for the Big East and its BCS bid. My thought is that the games still have to be played to get there.

For Pitt, the biggest game will be its first. September 3, hosting Notre Dame. Both teams with new coaches -- alumni -- that are shaking things up. Coach Dave Wannstedt has provided huge energy to the Pitt fans. The recruiting scores of the last week have us sky high with hope and anticipation. Last year, Pitt won a barn burner in South Bend. This game is nationally televised at night. Pitt hasn't beaten ND in Heinz Field yet. The last win at home was in 1999 to close out old Pitt Stadium. This game will tell us right at the start, whether Pitt deserves the hype this year, or whether expectations need to be tempered.

3. What's your wingnut upset prediction of year? No hedging here; we know everyone has a paint-chip eating, lunatic pick lurking somewhere in their brain. Go ahead and tell us what it is.

Wyoming over Florida in the Swamp on September 3. Why not? If there is a time for Florida to struggle in game conditions with a totally new system, it's in the beginning of the season. Wyoming is as close to up as it gets, so this one almost makes sense.

Bonus additions: Upsets that don't reach wingnut proportions.

September 3, Bowling Green over Wisconsin in Madison. Early in the season is the best chance for this sort of thing, and BGSU is pretty good while the Badgers will be down.

October 20, Maryland, at home, over Virginia Tech. High expectations for VT, along with the time of the year where VT has hit their swoon makes this one look like a sure bet.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the questions in the comments.

Other Things 

Pitt's second game of the season, at Ohio U, has been moved to Friday night at 8 pm on September 9. This will piss off the area high schools, but it serves the TV interests of ESPN2.

So much for the road trip down to Athens.

This means that all of Pitt's road games will be nationally televised.

The Pitt Athletic Department has a video hype of the football team available (Windows Media). It's about 6 minutes long mixing clips from scrimmage and highlights from last year, along with a clip from the introductory Wannstedt press conference, and interspersed with commentary from Coach Wannstedt about the program and fan support.

I can't judge it fairly because the last week has been nothing but good news for Pitt on recruiting that I was already feeling enthusiastic. Let me at least say that it did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.

Recruiting Round-Up 

And it already feels dated. Things happening fast.

A couple more commits yesterday and probably one more today.

Seneca Valley quarterback Kevan Smith and offensive lineman Eric Rodemoyer, a Sharon native who attends Kennedy Catholic, made pledges to attend Pitt.
The decisions by Smith and Rodemoyer raised Pitt's class of 2006 commitment list to 10, with seven players from WPIAL schools and five prospects deciding since Sunday.

The stranglehold on local prospects is expected to continue today, as Woodland Hills linebacker Greg Webster is believed to have settled on the Panthers and has a news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. at Woodland Hills High School.

Greg Webster is a top-20 player in Pennsylvania. Rivals.com lists him at #18 for the state, and PantherLair puts him at #16.

The recruiting profiles for Kevan Smith are limited because of his injury last year. Still Rivals.com and PantherLair have him in their top-50 for Pennsylvania, at #46 and #45 respectively.

Eric Rodemoyer is having, by today's recruiting and evaluating standards, a late surge.
The latest commitment is from 6'2", 305 offensive lineman Eric Rodemoyer from Kennedy Christian High School in Sharon, PA. Rodemoyer, who combines great technique with great feet, is looked at as either an offensive guard or a center. He camped at West Virginia last week, and according to BlueGoldNews.com, Rodemoyer "perhaps had the best camp of all the offensive linemen."
Basically for both these kids, Pitt was the first BCS school to offer and they decided not to wait as Pitt has now (in all likelihood) hit around the 50%-full level for verbally accepted scholarships. Pressure starts to mount on how long you want to wait for what might be a better one and risk losing the offer on the table. This, of course, does not apply to the blue-chip recruits.

Kevin Gorman makes this sort of point with respect to Kevan Smith
Smith addresses a primary need for the Panthers, who are expected to take two quarterbacks in this class. They also are recruiting Downingtown East's Pat Devlin, Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt's Jeremy Ricker and Dexter Davidson of North Broward Prep in Coconut Creek, Fla.
If that's the case (though I doubt Pitt would pull their offer to Devlin even if Davidson or Ricker accepted tomorrow), then Smith's acceptance put some more pressure on those guys to not wait as long. More dominoes.

Pitt is now focusing its attention on landing Gateway receiver Aaron Smith and Woodland Hills cornerback Darrin Walls to complete its WPIAL recruiting.

Walls counts Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida, Pitt and Penn State among his top five, but also is receiving strong interest from Oklahoma and Southern Cal. Smith is considering Pitt, Penn State and Maryland.

Aaron Smith is also taking a trip to UVA this week. As for Walls, has it been mentioned in the last 5 minutes that Greg Webster is his teammate?

We can hope.

Early Draft Reviews 

Obviously there isn't going to be a lot of pixels wasted on a 2nd round pick a few hours after the draft. Still there are some things.

Apparently Knicks fans at the Garden were screaming for Taft when the Knicks picked at #30. So, I'm guessing, was Taft's agent.

The weird things about Taft being drafted by Golden State. The GM and him shared the same high school. Add in the fact that the Warriors took Ike Diogu at #9. Diogu was part of the reason for Taft's tumble -- dominating him during a private workout for teams.

Right now, some see Taft providing Golden State with a little extra defensive help.

Here's a recap of some of the comments Jay Bilas made about Taft when he was finally picked.

Frank Burlison has an excellent draft recap of the bad night for many draft hopefuls.
Kennedy Winston (Alabama) and Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh (both of Florida), three of the SEC’s 10 best players last season, and Randolph Morris (Kentucky), one of the conference’s most promising post players, were all blanked Tuesday night.

And each left NCAA eligibility on the table, the first three a year apiece and Morris three seasons' worth.

They learned a very painful lesson and one that, unfortunately, too few players -- and whoever happens to be advising them -- are going to heed in the future:

If you're not going to exhaust your college eligibility -- and the free education and room and board that come along with it -- you'd better have as much of a guarantee that someone is going to pick you as is possible in a business in which promises can sometimes be taken with a whole box of salt.

Do you think each of those four would like to be back on campus in the fall, helping their teams compete for an SEC title and deep runs into the NCAA tournament and the opportunity to enhance their stock for what should be a very thin -- thanks to the ban on high school players -- 2006 draft, talent wise?

That's not a difficult question.
Add Chris Taft to the list -- very near the top of the list -- of college guys' who made decisions to depart school that were proven to be ill-advised. Many Internet sites hyped the Pittsburgh sophomore as a sure-fire lottery selection -- and possible No. 1 overall selection -- for much of the season, even when it became apparent that he was a long way, effort- and skill-wise, from being the kind of prospect anyone was going to invest a early- or mid-first round selection on. Tuesday night, he lasted until 12 picks deep into the second round before Golden State stopped his freefall.
And he too was shocked over the Villanueva pick by Toronto.

Still, for Golden State, it was seen as a good...
In the second round, the Warriors went for low-risk, high-reward picks in Mississippi prep guard Monta Ellis and Pittsburgh big man Chris Taft. Both were considered first-rounders by many; now that their egos were checked, we'll see whether they have the fortitude to respond. This is the franchise that once took a flier on Gilbert Arenas, and might have similar success with at least one of these guys.
to potentially great pick.
But what might end up being the coup of the draft was Golden State snaring Chris Taft at #42. The same Chris Taft was projected to be a top 5 pick before the season. Taft already has a prototype body for playing power forward as well as excellent strength and athleticism. He still is very raw in the skill department, but has the potential to become an absolute force on both ends of the court. Unfortunately, he also is widely reported to have no motivation at all (which is what sunk him to #42). I can only hope that falling so far in the draft will serve as a wake up call for Taft. Of course, his precipitous plummet could also be the final nail in his NBA-coffin if he takes it the wrong way.
Maybe a little too optimistic there.

As for Pitt's history of players in the draft, well it's a little thin, though Coach Jamie Dixon still feels positive.

Taft, the former Pitt center, would have become the Panthers' seventh NBA/ABA first-round pick and the first Pitt player taken in the draft since guard Vonteego Cummings was chosen in 1999 by the Indiana Pacers, before being traded to the Warriors later in the same draft.

Pitt has had 25 players drafted in school history.

"We're excited for Chris, and we're excited for our program," Dixon said. "This is the first draft pick we've had (in six years)."

Relentlessly upbeat.

"I don't think anyone can make a decision for anyone else," Dixon said. "That just isn't fair. Everybody has their own situation to think about, and only that person knows what the right decision is. We're proud of Chris; we'd obviously have liked all of our guys to go as high as possible, but only he knows what his situation is and what is best for him and his family.

"I don't know how anyone who isn't in another person's shoes can decide what is best for him."

One silver lining for Taft was that he at least will find a familiar face in Golden State. The Warriors' vice president of basketball operations is Chris Mullin, who, like Taft, attended Xaverian High School in Brooklyn. Dixon said that should not be overlooked.

"I think it is great that he is going somewhere where he already knows somebody who can help him continue to develop as a player," Dixon said. "That's a great thing for Chris, and I am happy for him."

I'm guessing Carl Krauser might be breathing a sigh of relief that he didn't keep his name in the draft.

New Big East On Friday 

July1. That is the official joining date. Not to mention the official day, BC bails.

Both Marquette and Louisville have countdown clocks. As does the Marquette blog, which also notes that the new/old/whatever logo will be announced today (by the way guys, congrats on Diener going #38 to Orlando)

DePaul previews what its teams will be facing in all sports.

The Bulls of South Florida football team are already "proud members" of the BE.

Cinci is going all out with Big East day. Lots of free hats being given away. Of slightly lesser value, free football tickets. The festivities will go on all day with concerts, fireworks, Mike Tranghese, but -- and this really casts a pall over things -- no alcohol.

Finally, and a new addition to the blogroll, the Big East Basketball Blog. Someone else to help track things in the New BE.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

More Draft Stuff 

I actually joined in the ESPN crew's shock at Toronto selecting Charlie Villanueva with the #7 pick. They were bothered by the reach and the fact that Chris Bosh, selected last year, already is doing a solid job at the position.

I was stunned because it was the Toronto Raptor's GM, Rob Babcock, who was the first name to really come out and question Chris Taft's heart and desire. Then to go and take Villanueva -- who has been questioned about the same sort of things -- and at least Taft showed something in at least his first year.

Was it just me, or from pick about #13 through the rest of the 1st round, was there at least one guy on the ESPN crew expressing surprise that a non-international player would have gone higher? I mean, last I checked there were only 15 slots in the first 15 picks.

Jason Maxiell of Cinci, an undersized power forward was selected by Detroit with the 26th pick. As discussed by the analysts, he is tough, plays with his back to the hoop and a rebounder. Sounds a lot like Chevon Troutman. You know the difference? Maxiell went to the Portsmouth Invitational for Seniors in April. He competed and dominated, and earned an invite to the Chicago camp and kept performing well. Troutman withdrew at the last minute saying he wanted to focus on getting the Chicago invite and look into some possibilities in the NFL. That didn't work out too well. He never got the Chicago invite.

Well, with Taft gone, the Center position falls to Aaron Gray, who gets a nice piece from a paper from his hometown region.
But Taft was not a natural center, while Gray is. And this winter, Gray, the only true center Pitt has on the roster, will finally get his chance to prove that he can hold his own as a starter in the rugged Big East.

''He is going to go from playing 11 minutes to 25-27 minutes,'' said Greg Hotchkiss, Pittsburgh's associate director of athletics, who's in charge of men's basketball. ''It's going to be a little bit of a transition. I think he is ready.

''He just didn't have the chance with Taft here. I think he is going to have a good year. I think he is going to surprise people.''

Gray says he's ready. He has bulked up and is more confident.

''My attitude has definitely changed,'' Gray said from Ocean City, Md., Monday where he was vacationing with friends. ''Even when we are playing pick-up now, I make myself more involved. I always passed a lot. I'm starting to be more selfish because our team is going to need a lot more point production from me next season being that we lost a lot of our main guys.''
No question Pitt will need a lot from Gray. Especially staying out of foul trouble.

A Hard Fall 

Amazing plummet for Chris Taft. Wow. To go #42 to Golden State. That just sucks. Jay Bilas ripped on Taft's game hard. Said he was unskilled, not good hands, bad footwork, poor shooter. Oof. Of course, he then wondered aloud who these draft experts were that had Taft in the first round. Answer: lots and lots of people.

It also sucks to end up with the Warriors. Not exactly the team you wish to have on the old resume. At best, they are the kind of team you hope to escape eventually.

One More Run At the Mocks 

Yeah, I know, everyone wants to talk recruiting and football. Yet I keep coming back to Taft in the draft. Here's why.

1) It absolutely fascinates me.

Usually there is a range where you can expect a player to be drafted. Even for Taft that has been true. It's just that the range has been dropping steadily. I like keeping track to see how the various prognostications finally look compared to reality.

2) Then there's the reason for Taft's fall. Everyone is suddenly questioning his work ethic, like it was a revelation, while still conceding his huge potential. Yet at the same time, Charlie Villanueva is consistently listed in the teens, while having the similar work ethic and effort questions -- and upside. One mock draft even used the term "airhead" to describe him. Now if you have a choice between similar players with questionable work habits and potential, wouldn't you slightly favor the one who wasn't also being questioned for where his head is?

3) Finally, there is the practical aspect. Pitt will have its first player drafted since Vonteego Cummings. Not simply drafted in the 1st round. Drafted, period. And before that? Mark Blount. Kind of spotty, and not exactly names of legend in the NBA.

Pitt needs more exposure of its players making the NBA if it wants to get the talent. That's part of the selling point for the major programs. "Come here, we produce NBA players. We think you can be that good and can help you get there."

Here's the closest thing, I've read to something approaching positive towards Taft.
Falling fast are Pittsburgh's Chris Taft and Alabama's Kennedy Winston. Taft, a 6-foot-11 talent, was a likely lottery pick last season and didn't improve. He brings to mind Cliff Robinson freefalling from the lottery to the 36th pick n the 1989 draft. And Robinson just finished his 15th very productive season in the NBA -- the first eight in Portland -- where he was a steal.
I guess there are worse comparisons. Taft, though, isn't worried. Onto the remaining Mock Drafts. None have Taft falling out of the 1st round.

Another, Taft falls to the Heat at #29.

The Spurs pick with #28, but this is the first time I've seen them mentioned as a possible destination. That doesn't seem to be a great fit there.

The Rockets at #24 make some more sense, and I think he would fit and thrive with their game and coaching.

Strangely, the idea of Taft going to Sacramento with the 23rd pick seems to be making a resurgence. Even Chad Ford at ESPN.com is back to that (Insider Subs.).

Just a few hours left.

The Recruiting Euphoria 

I know, by now many of you have read almost all of the articles I'm about to link. Sorry.

My DSL connection went kablooie this morning and spent an hour plus with a stereotypical India-based outsourced tech support person who kept having me do the same damn thing on my script and maintaining that I was somehow doing it wrong. Then to get me off the phone she lied about there being servers down in my area. I called back a while later, and somehow got connected with someone from real tech support who corrected the problem (mostly). There are some other things, but they are minor compared to not being able to use the net. But I digress, and likely no one really cares.

As to yesterday's press conference by Jason Pinkston and Justin Hargrove, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Sports Report e-mail (no link, but here's their archive page if they put it up there later):
Donning Baldwin's sharp new game-day jerseys, teammates Jason Pinkston and Justin Hargrove stood in front of a packed South Hills Country Club last night and announced to a room full of Baldwin alumni and supporters that they plan to play college football at the University of Pittsburgh. The teammates then pulled off their game jerseys to reveal t-shirts featuring their new team's not-so-new "Pitt" logo.

Pinkston, a 6'4-½", 280-pound defensive tackle, and the 6'4", 240-pound Hargrove, a linebacker/defensive end, are Pitt's eighth and ninth commitments to the class of 2006.

"It's just the best fit," said Pinkston, rated as the fourth best player in the state by Keystone Recruiting. "I've been to the campuses at Penn State, South Bend, West Virginia and Akron, and Pitt is the best place for me." Pinkston was also offered scholarships by Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Louisville, Iowa, and Wisconsin, in addition the aforementioned programs.
Have I mentioned the domino-thing yet today? Sure seems that way.
Woodland Hills linebacker Greg Webster is expected to give the Panthers a verbal commitment today, and Gateway receiver Aaron Smith and Seneca Valley quarterback Kevan Smith might not be far behind.

"It was real important because when Pitt gets good athletes like (West Allegheny receiver) Dorin Dickerson, Justin and myself, it's going to make other good players want to come with us," Pinkston said. "We need to keep Pittsburgh kids in Pittsburgh."

Then there was the quieter announcement of Tyler Tkach:

Tyler Tkach made sure his dad didn't have just another birthday on Sunday.

After Jim Tkach, his wife Sandi and their three kids, Tyler, Bo and Tristin, went bowling, the family headed to Ice Cream World in Walnutport per Jim's request.

While Jim and Tyler were standing in line, Tyler, who'll be a senior defensive end at Northern Lehigh, turned to his father and nonchalantly spouted out the biggest news of his young life.

''He turned to me and said, 'So am I supposed to call these other coaches and tell them I'm going to Pitt?''' Jim recalled. ''I said, 'So you're going to Pitt?' He said, 'Yes,' and I just started laughing because that's Tyler. He doesn't like to make a big deal out of things.''

Tyler's commitment to the University of Pittsburgh, coached by Dave Wannstedt, an ex-NFL player and head coach, is only oral. However, Tyler said he definitely won't change his mind, even though he only visited two other schools (North Carolina State and Penn State).

''I just knew that was the place I wanted to be,'' Tyler said. ''I felt comfortable and my dad (Northern Lehigh's football coach) said, 'Why go to these other places if you know that's where you want to be? You may end up getting more confused.'''

The other full scholarship offers made to Tyler came from North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina and Rutgers. He also had conversations with coaches from Penn State, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Stanford.
Tkach was really impressed when Wannstedt visited his school in May, and it made a difference.
"The first thing coach Wannstedt said to me was he really wanted to recruit Pennsylvania hard, both Eastern and Western Pennsylvania," Tkach said. "When the head coach comes to your school, that really says something."
And Mike Prisuta is going with the domino effect.

"The reason it's gone better than what I think anybody would have imagined is it's an easy sell for me," said Wannstedt, prevented by NCAA regulations from discussing verbal commitments in particular but limited only by his boundless enthusiasm when discussing recruiting in general.

"I couldn't do this at any other school," he continued. "How could I sit there and talk to a set of parents or a top prospect and really convince them this is the place he needs to be when I might not believe it in my heart?

"There's a difference between selling something when you believe it in your heart and when you're trying to sell something because it's your job. I think that's coming through. I think people see that and I think people want to be a part of that."

Wannstedt's first recruiting class was respectable, given the limitations of his late start.

His second, already highlighted by the verbals from Dickerson and Pinkston, the equivalent of landing a Tyler Palko and a Steve Breaston in the same class, has a chance to be resplendent.

Particularly if Wannstedt convinces Darrin Walls of Woodland Hills to join the Pitt Parade.

"It doesn't make any difference if it's Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State or who it is," Wannstedt said. "If we're going to be a Top 10 program, we have to make sure we control Western Pennsylvania."

Wannstedt's sincere belief in Pitt and the energy that generates is already winning friends and influencing people. But he's also ahead of schedule in recruiting because of where he's coming from most recently, as opposed to where he's coming from while recounting his vision of what Pitt was and can be again.

Perhaps a bit early on hyperbole of comparing the new recruits to some of the best college players. Seems unfair to both.

Still, heady and exciting. Even more so when it is only the end of June.

The Kabuki Dance 

That is Chris Taft's draft status.

But Taft's status heading into tonight's draft at Madison Square Garden has been one of the best-kept secrets around the NBA.

The 6-10, 260-pound Taft has worked out for a total of 15 NBA teams -- the most recent being Seattle and Houston -- and the reviews have been mixed. It's anybody's guess as to who will pick him, and it's equally confounding to determine in which round he'll be taken.

Most likely, given Taft's potential, someone will spend a first-round pick on him. But any continued talk of the lottery is on life-support.

There are quotes from players like Hakim Warrick and Sean May about Taft's ability, and that he shouldn't be worried about where he is drafted (easy for them to say since they are likely to be drafted ahead of him).

Unless someone is doing a mock draft board, people are just admitting they have no frickin' clue where Taft will be drafted:

Chris Taft, 6-10, Sophomore, Pittsburgh

Pros: On paper, Taft has all the requisite tools of an NBA power forward. He's big, he's strong, he's athletic, and he played college ball in the conference that -- at least in 2005 -- boasted the nation's best frontcourts. Defensively, Taft does an excellent job of blocking and altering shots. Without question, his body is NBA-ready. There's still a lot of upside.

Cons: Taft's play was largely lackadaisical, on both sides of the floor, throughout his sophomore season. Many detractors insist he was counting his NBA riches long before the year started.

Summary: The Warriors (No. 9) need a big man, and could make Taft their man. But don't be surprised if teams are deterred by his questionable attitude and slips deep into the second round.
This still bugs me, how does Taft's attitude kill him while Villanueva's is ignored. Correct me if I'm wrong, but has anyone ever used "overachieving" or even "living up to potential" when describing Villanueva?

Rumors of Taft to the Suns appear mostly dead, but could be revived if the Kurt Thomas-Quentin Richardson trade with the Knicks fails to happen.

Houston with the 24th pick is another rumored spot.

As for the Mock Draft boards:

One has him going to Houston. Well more than one. "...the Acie Earl of 2005?" Ouch.

Sean Deveney at The Sporting News, likes Taft going to the Heat.

29. Miami -- Chris Taft, PF/C, Pitt. Taft is one of the big droppers in mock-draft history. Not long ago, we were counting him as a sure lottery pick -- now, he is looking at the second round. Perhaps Miami will save him, though. Taft has an NBA body and could develop into a solid big man -- if he develops a work ethic. Work ethic is a big question with Taft, but when you play alongside Shaquille O'Neal and under Stan Van Gundy, you learn to work pretty quickly. Miami could also go for an experienced player like Luther Head, Lee or Walsh.
This theory seems to be getting more traction.
29. Miami — Chris Taft, 6-8 1/2 , 261, So., Pittsburgh: Big and athletic, but disappointing season was followed by disappointing workouts. Too tempting to pass here for Pat Riley, who excels at motivating players.
How about going to Denver?
22. Denver, Chris Taft, Pittsburgh F Could break into Denver’s top nine as a rookie.
Maybe Seattle at #25. Also liked here.

The ever popular destination of Sacramento.

23. Sacramento: Chris Taft, 6-10, F, Pittsburgh: He is the most talented frontline guy left, though you would not know it by his inconsistent play.

26. Detroit, Chris Taft, PF, Pittsburgh, 6-10, 260 No guarantees with up-and-down big man.
A real optimist in Louisiana has him going #15 to the Nets.

Then there is the last pick of the 1st round belonging to the Knicks.
30. New York Chris Taft PF Pittsburgh Comment: He is falling, but the Knicks might help him up.
I guess it would still be a guaranteed contract.
30. New York Knicks. Chris Taft, Pittsburgh, 6-9 1/2, 261. A preseason top 10 who plummeted in scouts' eyes. Could he be that bad? They need size and worth a look. Perhaps Kansas' Wayne Simien, although they have too long a history of undersized forwards.
And of course those that see him just missing/making the cut.

The Taft Vigil begins around 7:30 pm.

Connectivity Issues 

Stupid @#$%@$* SBC.

I'm later.

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Couple Football Things 

While not yet up on any MSM outlets, it would appear that Jason Pinkston and Justin Hargrove have officially announced their verbal commits to Pitt. These aren't just two of the top recruits in the WPIAL, they are among the best in all of Pennsylvania.

Pitt's early recruiting success has caught a lot of attention. From the Rivals100.com site:
The Panthers have seven verbal commitments so far for the class of 2006, all from the Keystone State. The current crop is highlighted by Rivals100 selection Dorin Dickerson and standout defensive tackle Jason Pinkston.

"I think they are doing a great job overall and doing what (former Pitt and current Stanford coach) Walt Harris was able to do early in his tenure, but at a higher level," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. " Pittsburgh has been, at times, an area where huge programs could spot recruits and steal kids away because there wasn't a strong enough presence at Pitt to keep them at home.

"Clearly now there is that strong presence in Wannstedt based on the commitments of players like Pinkston and Dickerson."
And it looks like there could be another by tomorrow:
The staff has other targets throughout the Keystone State who the Panthers are involved with. Monroville Gateway athlete Aaron Smith and Harmony quarterback Kevan Smith both are being heavily courted by Pittsburgh. Junko and Cavanaugh are co-recruiting Kevan Smith while Bray is on Aaron Smith.

Junko also is the recruiting coach for Pittsburgh Woodland Hills linebacker Greg Webster. It was reported by Pittsburgh-area television stations that Webster will commit to the Panthers during the next 24 hours, giving Pitt five commits in five days. Webster is an important recruit for the Panthers. His teammate, five-star Darrin Walls is rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 cornerback prospect in the country and the No. 2 overall prospect in the state of Pennsylvania.

Walls has Pittsburgh in his top four, along with Florida, Notre Dame and Michigan. It is an understatement to say that Walls would be the crown jewel in this recruiting class should he choose to stay home and play for the Panthers.
Dominoes. Pitt has the attention of many other interested parties at this point. Some are worried, even as they rationalize it away.

As for the players actually on the Pitt roster for the 2005 season, there is this:
University of Pittsburgh junior linebacker H.B. Blades and junior quarterback Tyler Palko have been named preseason candidates for some of the nation's most prestigious college football honors.

Blades (Plantation, Fla./Plantation) has been named to the "watch lists" for the 2005 Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award. Both awards are presented to the nation's top defensive player at season's end.

Palko (Imperial, Pa./West Allegheny) is on the watch list for the 2005 Maxwell Award, annually presented to the nation’s most outstanding overall player.
It always spices things up when someone is watching.

Random Taft 

You may as well throw a dart at the teams selecting in the lower half of the 1st round. No one knows where Taft is going (Insider Sub.).
We don't have a clue where McCants, Andray Blatche and Chris Taft are going. All are likely first-round selections, but no one seems to know where. McCants has been rumored to be going as high as No. 10 and as low as No. 23. Blatche has gotten interest from the Bobcats, Celtics and Knicks. Taft apparently has garnered interest from the Kings at No. 23.
That #23 spot or shortly after seems to be where he can start expecting his name called.
Chris Taft will NOT be available when we cycle back to the Hawks at 31. Every single team, from the Kings at twenty-three until the Knicks at thirty can use a 6-10, 250 pound monster, who was positioned to be in the lottery for the last eleven months.
Not that people aren't still piling on him.
As the draft nears, few vacancies remain on the Taft-bashing bandwagon. How much of the negativity is justified remains to be seen, but it has been open season on the Panthers' big man after a few poorly reviewed workouts. One NBA scout said he would have too many concerns to take Taft with a first-round pick, but there are still a number of teams considering him in the late teens and 20s. Taft's biggest flaw was that he had the basketball world expecting such great things -- what with his chiseled, 6-10 frame and sporadic flashes of eye-opening talent -- and never delivered during his sophomore campaign at Pitt. He relies too heavily on one post move (a jump-hook) and played lethargically in '04-05; perhaps a slight on draft night will be the grudge he needs to blossom as an aggressive player. For now, though, he hasn't shown enough. To take him before any of a slew of quality (albeit smaller) forwards on the board -- Channing Frye, Joey Graham, Hakim Warrick, Ike Diogu and Sean May -- would be a mistake.
Considering that the Suns are in a holding pattern for acquiring Kurt Thomas from the Knicks, I still keep being surprised to see yet another draft prediction with the Suns pulling the trigger on Taft.

21. Suns (from Bulls)

Chris Taft (6-10 power forward, Pittsburgh): Won't have to bulk up to play at the next level.

I suppose it would be possible to help the Phoenix bench which was horribly exposed by the Spurs.

This actually might make sense as far as fit, if he lasts.

29. Heat: Chris Taft, 6-10, F, Pittsburgh

Had sub-par workouts, causing his plummet; Pat Riley could tap high school point guard Monta Ellis instead.

Assuming Mourning comes back for another year, I could see Taft getting a chance to develop and being forced to get tougher and better. Of course, with South Beach, he could just party out of the league.

Comments From the Lemieux Invitational 

Some Pitt comments regarding basketball and football were made at the golf tournament.

First, from former Pitt QB John Congemi:

"The perception is the excitement is back," said Congemi, a broadcaster for ESPN who will work several Big East football games this fall. "This is coming from a guy who is excited that Pitt people are back at Pitt. It's good for the Big East because it draws attention to the league."

Wannstedt isn't Congemi's only reason for optimism.

"Matt Cavanaugh, the quarterback on Pitt's 1976 national championship team, is back as offensive coordinator," he said. "What he says, [quarterback] Tyler Palko can take it to the bank. He wouldn't have to hesitate believing it because Cavanaugh has done it in college and the NFL."
Congemi is looking for Wannstedt to take the Panthers to levels that Walt Harris couldn't.

"In my opinion, Pitt underachieved under Harris. They stayed status quo. I think Pitt has to be Top 25 this year, something like 8-3 or 9-2."

Reasonable expectations.

Then there is the ever reasonable Digger Phelps on the Big East and Pitt.

"It will be the best conference in the country," he said. "The new teams will bring in three NCAA bids to go with the five the league normally gets to give the Big East a lock on eight. They could get as many as 10."

The downside to a 16-team conference is that four teams won't be invited to the Big East tournament. "You'll get more coaches fired that way," he said. "It's going to be tough on the coaches to keep winning to satisfy their fans in a league like the Big East."

Who will be the best team in the Big East?

"With a healthy Curtis Sumpter, Villanova," he said. "They're the team to beat in the Big East, maybe in the country."

What about Pitt?

"[Carl] Krauser could get them an NCAA bid. Without him, who knows?" Phelps said of the senior guard who recently pulled his name out of the NBA draft and is eligible to return to the Panthers. "He should come back to play at Pitt. Period. He needs more consistency in his game. He's got to dominate. Pitt needs a leader on the floor. Krauser puts everything else in place."

And just a final thing with Krauser, back at the Chicago NBA camp he had a bad day going against John Gilchrist, late of Maryland. The reports had said that Gilchrist put pressure on him on every possession. This article on Gilchrist gives just a touch more detail:

According to several scouts who attended the Chicago camp, what impressed them most was Gilchrist's defense and competitiveness. During one game, Gilchrist hounded Carl Krauser so ferociously that the Pittsburgh guard couldn't get his team into its halfcourt offense on three straight possessions.
Yeah, that would be having a bad game.

Love-Hate, Recruiting Sites, ESPN 

Did you ever see a movie called "The Paper"? Not a great movie, but one of the last sightings of Michael Keaton in a real movie. Anyways, there's this confrontation scene between a columnist played by Randy Quaid and a NYC official (played by Jason Alexander) who Quaid has been ripping in his column for a couple weeks. Alexander's character plaintively asks why Quaid was going after him like this. Quaid answers:
"You work for the City. It was your turn."
I often think about that quote with regards to ESPN. To me it explains what they do after a team wins a national championship in college football. They start looking closer at the school and the program for something. It's what they did a year or so after Tennessee won it all, then Ohio State. If I were a USC fan, I'd be getting kind of nervous.

They do it in other things as well.

ESPN has always played a slippery game with issues of ethics, journalism, entertainment, and the bottom line. They do employ real journalists and do real reporting and news. They often hold themselves out as a real news gathering organization, yet when it is convenient they will fall back on the claim that they are "merely" an entertainment company. They will use their flagship "news show," SportsCenter to cross promote their own entertainment programs (or Disney's) when convenient -- think "stories" about the making of "Playmakers," "Tilt,"whatever that Dale Earnhardt movie was called, "The Rookie," and "The Longest Yard" to name just a few that popped into my head. It's a waste of time, but people know the score with what they are doing.

Then there is the way they sanction those who dare criticize any of their companies. Remember this?

He made the mistake of criticizing Disney and Miramax over the level of violence in "Kill Bill," in one of his rambling columns. And actually had harsher criticisms in a separate piece he wrote for The New Republic. No explanation from ESPN was ever given. Gegg Easterbrook was simply pulled and fired without explanation.

That is, actually, the only hard and fast rule: Thou shalt not criticize Disney companies or employees.

Once the connection is over, though, anything is fair game. Hence, the BCS is going to start coming for a roasting by next year when Fox has the rights.

That of course brings things to Tom Lemming. Lemming is one of the, uh, pioneers of covering college recruiting. ESPN.com, for years used him to supply recruiting news content. No longer. ESPN.com is going exclusively with Scouts, Inc. for recruiting content.

Now in the latest ESPN The Magazine, Bruce Feldman -- who is a real journalist and does a solid blog for ESPN.com on college football -- writes about the recruiting sites pursuit of top blue-chip cornerback Myron Rolle. (No permalink, but it is the July 4 issue with Derek Lee on the cover, pp 67-72.)
Tom Lemming, one of the pioneers of the recruiting beat, has been in the business since 1979, when he had one subscriber by mail. Last year he racked up 45,000 miles crisscrossing the country to scout for his magazine, Prep Football Report. Lemming denies accusations from coaches that he sells information-and influence-to the very schools whose signees and recruiting classes he is ranking. One coach says Lemming coerced prospects to attend a photo shoot this spring by telling them he otherwise wouldn't consider them for the roster he helps put together for the U.S. Army All-American game. The shoot was held on Notre Dame's campus. "Tom Lemming is a huge Notre Dame guy," Myron says. "He kept saying to me, 'You know they have a great coaching staff. You know Charlie Weis is Mr. NFL. You're an academic guy. That place is for you.' Then he killed Florida State. He said, You're stupid if you go there.' Um, okay. Thanks."

Lemming is used to being slammed. "I've had people bad-mouth me for years," he says. "I try to be honest. I rarely talk to kids. The Internet people talk to them all the time. If there's anyone influencing anyone, it has to be them."
The problem for Lemming, is Rolle actually has credibility. The kid is an honor student and a strong family. The ND Blog, Blue-Gray Sky properly condemns Lemming.
Personally, I hope he stops mentioning Notre Dame to all recruits, lest we be included when the NCAA finally decides to do something about him. But until the NCAA cracks down on him and other unethical recruiting types -- something I think is coming in the next 5 years -- then ND fans may just have to hope that Weis tells Lemming to cram the ND sales pitch and keeps him at arms length from the program, lest the NCAA deem him a booster and he gets everyone in trouble.

In the meantime, there isn't much that can be done other than refusing to assist in anything that supports him financially. And believe me, most ND fans wish Lemming would go away. Reporting on recruiting news and ranking recruits based on his own "talent evaluation skills" [sic] is one thing, but the way he inserts himself into the process is bad for the sport, bad for the schools, and definitely not in the best interest of the high school kids making one of the biggest decisions of their lives.
The article is more than about Lemming, that just seems to be one of the juicier bits. It is relevant, though, to point out how many years The World Wide Leader in Sports conveniently ignored all of this. Nary a criticism or comment was made at ESPN, as they had his content on ESPN.com, and put him on TV for talking recruiting.

Most of the article concerns the recruiting sites that operate under Rivals.com or Scout.com banners.

For Pitt fans, the only good news out of the article is that Pitt is not in the running for Rolle's services, so PantherLair and PantherReport, don't get embarrassed. The Michigan Rivals.com site gets particularly hit, and by extension Michigan fans.
When McKinley, who fields most of Myron's interview requests, failed to return the call of a guy from Rivals' Michigan site, he received an e-mail that read as if it were written by an ex: "I just feel hurt. I thought we were friends. I feel like this was a slap in the face to me."
It would be funnier if it also wasn't so disturbing. Leaving an apparent e-mail trail, no less.

Part of the piece discusses the possibility of the NCAA coming down on these sites by coming down on the schools.
No surprise then that in May, the hot topic at the Big Ten coaches meetings was the meddling recruiting gurus and their Internet sites. There was a lot of frustration, but few solutions. One suggestion was to prohibit coaches from attending the many recruiting combines sponsored by the websites across the country. If college coaches don't show up, the theory goes, fewer kids on the prowl for scholarships will attend. Eventually, the analysts would have fewer kids to analyze and the street agents wouldn't have their fish in a barrel.
The coaches are all for shutting these sites down. It makes sense, they don't have control.

My one quibble with the piece is the tone of "shock, abject shock," that the people writing and covering the teams on these recruiting sites might, you know, actually be fans of the teams.
This is the life of a blue-chip football player in the online age. Teens jump from anonymous recruit to folk hero in the click of a mouse. And in cyberworld, a realm outside the long arm of the NCAA, recruiting sites throw journalistic ethics aside to snag the morsels of information and rumor that will feed their insatiable fans-and earn the websites millions of dollars. The constant swirl has coaches and prospects like Myron scrambling for cover.

Unlike gambling or drugs or grade-fixing, recruiting's twisted web presence impacts every scholarship player on every team. And there is little the coaches can do. "It is the worst problem to hit college football in my lifetime," says one ACC coach. "You're talking about an epidemic that started about five years ago. Every year it gets worse."
Some reporters don't even pretend to keep their allegiances hidden. The Scout USC guy, appearing on a signing-day TV show, was crestfallen to see blue-chip WR DeSean Jackson pick Cal. "I really thought we were gonna get him," he said on air. A recent job posting on Scout's Iowa State site asked: "Would you like to make a living covering your favorite college sports team?"
It is information. People want it and are willing to pay for it.

Look, I don't get the obsession about every potential recruit. I obsess over plenty of things but I can't bring myself to follow the utterances of every high school kid who may be a blue-chipper. But, I'm not about to piss on those who do want to follow that stuff. And I say kudos to those who are managing to make a living doing it.

A real paranoid thought. No evidence, proof or even particularly well thought out. Just kind of tossing it out. If I were Rivals or Scout, I'd be watching ESPN very closely right now. This could be an opening shot. My guess is they would love to get into the same area if there is sufficient money to be made from a subscriber base. TWWLS has not only the cross-marketing advantage, but also the ability to weaken the eventual competition with articles like this. They could then swoop in and claim the moral high road with their recruiting-team site, and with their 800-pound gorilla status in sports dominate in the field.

Slipping Another Commit Under The Radar 

Tyler Tkach, last mentioned on this blog when Coach Wannstedt was on the trail in Eastern Pennsylvania, has made a verbal to Pitt. Tkach had drawn offers from a lot of ACC schools, including NC State and Virginia. Rivals.com has him as #41 in Pennsylvania and PantherLair puts him at #25. Tkach plays both TE and DE.

What makes the signing important to Pitt, in a broader sense is that Tkach is from the Eastern part of the state. An area Pitt had seemingly abandoned. A very, very good sign.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Draft Stories 

The Taft Saga continues.

I have to admit, I'll be watching the draft at 7:30 on Tuesday to see what happens. I pretty much swore off the draft once there was no Charles Barkley and the TNT crew to liven it up. Still, can't ESPN at least bring in Hubie Brown for an "upside" shout out, and maybe give all of us what we really want -- a steel cage death match between Stuart Scott and Steven A. Smith? I'm just asking, because we all know Bill Simmons isn't allowed to.

I'm now convinced, that Chris Taft really made a mistake in who he hired as his agent.

[Billy] Ceisler reiterated the fact that the most important thing for Taft or any player isn't what number he is picked at, but ,rather, which team picks him.

"It is all about finding the right fit," Ceisler said. "I've talked to Chris about this, and he completely understands and agrees. I asked him 'would you rather be [Pistons forward] Darko Milicic or [Mavericks forward] Josh Howard?" One guy was the second pick in the [2003] draft and has played like one game in two years. The other guy was the last pick in the first round, but he's played a lot, become a budding star and is poised to sign a huge second contract after next season [first-round picks get a guaranteed three-year contract for their first deal].

"That's the goal, get in the first round to a team that gives you a chance to play right away in a system that you can thrive in."

Yeah, winning is secondary. It's all about getting that next big contract.

You know, this Ceisler guy is also Charlie Villanueva's agent. Wouldn't you like to watch him squirm by asking him which guy should be drafted higher, since they play the same position?

I'm trying to picture Taft as a member of the Phoenix Suns as this draft prediction goes. I mean, picturing Taft trying to go up and down the court at the Suns' pace just doesn't seem to fit. Still...
The Suns also took a hard look at Chris Taft, a 6-10 forward who was once projected as a lottery pick. But questions about Taft’s work ethic seem to have caused him to slide.

"The projections have been wrong a lot in the past," Taft said. "If I slip, I’m fine with it."

[David] Griffin[, the Suns' Director of Player Personnel,] said Taft stood out as the best of the big men the Suns have brought in to work out.
The Suns draft at #21.

Self-Serving All Around 

Nearly missed it, but a Bob Smizik column, with which I actually agree.

If Krauser does not return, Pitt will be a significantly less talented team. It will be without the point guard who dominated play the past two seasons and without the player who was its clear leader.

That doesn't have to be a negative.

As much as he offers, Pitt could be better off without Krauser -- if not in the short term, definitely in the long term.

Without Krauser, other players will get a chance to develop -- as point guards, as leaders, as players willing to take the tough shot.

Without Krauser, it's possible freshman point guard Levance Fields will get an earlier opportunity to play and could be an immediate answer at that position. Without Krauser's imposing presence, Pitt's stable of wing players -- Antonio Graves, Keith Benjamin, Ronald Ramon, John DeGroat and freshman Trevor Ferguson -- probably will see the ball more and shoot more.

Krauser had a terrific run at Pitt and a lot of great memories. But, in the days ahead, he should be looking forward to his professional future, not reveling in his collegiate past.

I mean, sure I made a lot of the same points a week and a half earlier, but that is why I actually agree with him this time.

Back in April I noted an article about college basketball coaches whining about the length of time players have to decide to stay in the draft. Now the National Association of Basketball Coaches are pushing a completely draconian change (Insider Subs.):

College coaches are pushing for a new NBA draft declaration date to be set on the Monday after the Final Four ends, a move that clearly would be advantageous for Division I coaches.

Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, told ESPN.com that the proposal would also allow the players only 72 hours to decide whether they were staying in the draft. This plan is being modeled after the football version, which makes college players declare shortly after the end of the bowl season. The NABC has been discussing this for quite some time and will address it again at its annual summer meeting before the Nike Camp begins in Indianapolis on July 6. Haney said he is optimistic that this will be a part of the new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players association.

If the NBA adopts this proposal, it would be a stark contrast to the current state of affairs. College underclassmen and high school seniors have until mid-May to declare for the draft and then get until a week before the draft to withdraw. College coaches have long thought this rule hamstrings their program as they wait for a player to make up his mind in late June.

The NBA would then only be working out players in their respective cities and at the predraft camp who actually were in the draft. There wouldn't be any testing of the draft process. You would either be in or out.

"That would be great," Arizona State coach Rob Evans said of the proposal. "We end up sitting there wondering if we can recruit. This idea would be much better for us."

Yeah, screw the players. It's all about the coaches. This shows just how much they actually care about the kids they recruit.

Unlike the NFL which has hard limits on how many players are draft eligible, the NBA even with a 19-year old age limit, doesn't.

Think they wouldn't howl long and hard about the unfairness and restraint upon them if the college presidents and ADs instituted rules and stipulations into their contracts restricting the coaches from interviewing for other jobs except within certain timeframes? Give them only limited windows to make choices? Surely such moves would be good for the schools. Give the schools some certainty for the program. Either the coach is in or he's out.

Wait. You mean that would be unfair to make a grown man make such a hard decision that impacts his family in a short, pre-determined time frame? Something that effects his livelihood, his future? Well, gosh, you're right.

Hypocritical asshats.

The Early Excitement 

Michigan fans shouldn't feel too bad about losing out on Dorin Dickerson, and not just because of all of the other blue-chippers they get. Dickerson found the idea of playing close to home just too appealing to pass.
"I wanted to get it out of the way so I could focus on the high school season," Dickerson said of his early commitment. "Michigan had everything Pitt had, but it's not like being 15 minutes away from home."
I admit, for me, that would have been a negative. But then I was in college to drink heavily just for an education, not to play football with pro-level potential.

The Dickerson commit with the pending commitments of Justin Pinkston and Jason Hargrove has everyone getting giddy.
When it came to recruiting Western Pennsylvania, former Pitt coach Walt Harris once vowed to build a fence to keep prospects from leaving the region.

Dave Wannstedt has taken it a step further. The new Panthers coach is in the process of building a brick wall around the WPIAL.

Whoa. Let's keep some perspective. This is just the starting point. It's a great start, fantastic. Has me excited. I'm just saying the foundation isn't even dry at this point, to use the "brick wall" analogy.

And really, what's with the gratuitous Harris bashing? Yes, he pissed off the WPIAL coaches, and seemed to lose interest in Western PA recruiting overnight. But remember, 3 years ago, Pitt and Harris looked well on its way to having that "fence" happening. Pitt had recruited Rod Rutherford, then Palko and then there was the huge bounty Pitt appeared to be reaping from Western PA and beyond -- Morelli, Andrew Johnson, James Bryant and Johnny Peyton -- to name some.

Things can change awfully fast. I just worry, long-term, about unrealistic expectations. I think Wannstedt will succeed in keeping a lot of the local talent, but this is only the end of June and he has a record of 0-0 at Pitt. Hopefully this is only a small point on Coach Wannstedt's head coaching tenure at Pitt.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

No Green Room 

Chris Taft is the complete wild-card in the NBA Draft. In Chad Ford's breakdown of players by position, Taft has slid to #9 for Power Forwards, where once he was at the top of the list (Insider subs.)
On potential, he's a lottery pick. On heart and desire, he's a second-rounder. Right now, most teams seem to be down on him, but we've heard his name everywhere from Golden State at No. 9 to the second round. I'm not sure anyone in the history of the draft has had such a dramatic gap in the draft range. Draft range: 9-40.
In his latest Mock Draft, he has Taft just out of the 1st round, but still possible to be picked.

To confirm the unpredictability of Taft's draft status:
Each year the Green Room list is a pretty good indication of who the NBA is hearing will likely be taken in the first 15 picks of the draft. Every year the NBA misses one or two surprises and there's usually one guy in the room who slips (making for great TV).

Villanueva and McCants have had some of the most volatile stock of anyone in the draft, though (as you'll read below) there's talk that both could be in the lottery.

Here's this year's list: Bogut, Felton, Frye, Granger, Green, Yaroslav Korolev, Sean May, McCants, Paul, Spain's Fran Vazquez, Villanueva, Hakim Warrick, Webster, Deron Williams, Marvin Williams and Antoine Wright.
I guess Taft's nice new suit will look great on the telephone. Having said all that, I don't see how Charlie Villanueva is picked over Taft. You want to talk about a guy lacking heart. Sure the guy has major talent -- possibly more than Taft -- but he has shown minimal desire or heart. Taft may have teased and tantalized, but it has been sighted.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Gotta Love the Spin 

Hello visitors from the USC message board. Since it's the paid subscription protected board, I have no idea what is actually being said. Nothing bad, I hope.

I'm guessing it regards Dorin Dickerson.

Which brings me to the topic of spin. Dickerson had narrowed his choices to Pitt or Michigan. The final choices were noted yesterday in an article in the Trib.

So, you have to enjoy this headline post from a PSU blog.
Dickerson to pick Pitt over PSU
The post even uses the same article, but selectively avoids the mention that it had been down to Pitt and Michigan. Still, there is some sense of reality in the post:
The miss of Dickerson alone is tough for Nittany Lions fans to swallow considering he was ranked as the 82nd-best prospect in the nation by Rivals.com. But what's even more disheartening is the strong possibility that Pittsburgh is about to clamp down on the WPIAL under new coach Dave Wannstedt.
But don't worry, as he points out, Pitt isn't a rival with Penn St.

Recruiting, Committing and More 

Dorin Dickerson just really liked the coaching staff.

"I just liked the way they talked to me and I was able to talk to them," he said.

Dickerson said Pitt receivers coach Aubrey Hill has become "like a big brother."

"We had a camp at our school a few weeks ago where some college coaches came," Dickerson said. "I went off to the side and talked with coach Hill for about an hour-and-a-half. We talked about everything and not just Pitt football. I just said to myself, 'I want to play for this guy and coach Wannstedt.' "

Hill has been working his way into the coaching ranks for the last 10 years since graduating from Florida. I figured he'd be a big help for recruiting down there, but he is having a big impact overall.

As is now the trend, the hot commit looks to get other kids to come along for the ride.

Dickerson believes a few more Western Pennsylvania players might commit to Pitt soon, including Baldwin defensive lineman Jason Pinkston.

"I talk to him all the time," Dickerson said. "I think he could be close [to committing]."

It is expected on Monday.

Dickerson's commitment could have an immediate domino effect on the remainder of Pitt's WPIAL recruiting efforts. Two Baldwin players -- defensive linemen Jason Pinkston (6-5, 275) and Justin Hargrove (6-4, 245) -- will announce their college decisions Monday at South Hills Country Club. The club is hosting Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt's second annual golf outing. Both are expected to choose the Panthers.
Yeah, it could just be a coincidence that they will be announcing at the site of Coach Wannstedt's golf outing. Nothing more.

Meanwhile here's some audio from Rivals.com Radio. An interview with Tyler Palko, and a nearly half-hour discussion about Pitt. The latter is definitely worth listening to.

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