It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We cover Kevin Love and Doug McDermott, Kansas and Wichita State hoops, the Ninja Blacksox and the Ghastly Monsters, the AFC and NFC champs and Bo Pelini’s new secondary coach. But first, Nebraska’s basketball exports.
Wednesday night, I listened to Fran McCaffery’s radio show — “Hawk Talk”. A caller asked about his point guard, Mike Gesell. McCaffery raved for three minutes, maybe more. About Gesell’s work ethic, intellect and improving skill set. He’s just the type of kid you want to build a program with, McCaffery said.
Thursday night, I watched Minnesota-Ohio State on ESPN2. The announcers, specifically Sean Farnham, went on and on about Elliott Eliason’s impact on the game. ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf did the same on Twitter.
Eliason, who finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds, struggled to contribute his first three years in college. Now a redshirt junior, he’s one of the Big Ten’s best big men — certainly its most improved.
Of course, both Gesell and Eliason are native Nebraskans. And not only did NU let them get away, there were murmurs that Doc Sadler didn’t think they could play in a major conference (even if Doc did, he didn’t recruit them as hard as McCaffery and Tubby Smith).
I hear all the time about the dearth of high school talent in Nebraska. How can the Huskers possibly build a program with so little help from its native sons?*
* I’ll give Creighton a pass since it’s had better luck landing in-state kids and it’s a Top-20 team right now without one.
My response: Instead of bemoaning the in-state talent level (and then signing high-risk projects from thousands of miles away), how ‘bout committing to sign Nebraska’s best and seeing what happens?
A trio of Gesell, Eliason and Akoy Agau isn’t going to lead Nebraska to the NCAA tournament. But what if they were your third, fourth and fifth-best players?
What if you matched them with two quality out-of-state starters like Iowa’s Aaron White and Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim (whom Greg McDermott recruited to Ames). Those two weren’t blue chips, they were three-star prospects who developed into 14- and 18-point scorers.
Throw in Deverell Biggs as a spark plug off the bench. Maybe a transfer like Walt Pitchford or Terran Petteway. A juco late signee like Leslee Smith. I think you’ve got something there.**
** For the record, this is not a criticism of Tim Miles, who hasn’t been here long enough to analyze.
Bottom line: If you do the work with kids like Gesell, you don’t have to beg Tai Webster to travel halfway across the world, then lie awake at night hoping he doesn’t get homesick. Nebraska’s talent base isn’t as dry as people think. You just can’t afford to let the good ones get away.
The same message, by the way, applies to football.
* * *
>> Charlton Warren sounds like the name of an 18th-century aristocrat. But I like his football pedigree. And while recruiting ability gets the most attention with new assistants — Warren has strong ties to Georgia — teaching and player development will be even more important, especially for a head coach who could use a breakthrough season ASAP.
Now, if Warren could just keep Urban Meyer away from Darius Slade.
>> One of the deepest NFL Drafts of all time will likely have a record number of underclassmen. Here are the winners and losers from the early entry period. By my count, LSU lost more underclassmen (six) than the 14-team Big Ten (five).
>> Speaking of drafts, here’s the projected NBA big board with Doug McDermott at No. 20 — my guess is a contender will identify him as a potential missing piece, trade up and grab him in the middle of the first round. The No. 1 pick, by the way, appears to be a battle between Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid (I think it’ll be Embiid).
>> Email of the week, from Ryan K.
Ernie Kent and Kevin Love changed the course of history for Creighton Basketball and even for the University of Creighton as a whole. Hyperbole? Maybe, or maybe not. …
Ernie Kent was the head basketball coach at the University of Oregon from 1997-2009. It appears as though his tenure was defined by ups and downs; he led the Ducks to several tournament appearances from 1998 – 2003 capped by an elite 8 appearance in 2002. Once again, in 2007, Oregon appeared in the Elite 8 and just missed the Final Four.
Also in 2007, Coach Kent somehow failed to convince local talent Kevin Love to come and play for the Ducks. Instead, Love went to UCLA where he played one season, and helped lead the Bruins to the Final Four in 2008. The Ducks on the other hand, fell back into mediocrity and Kent was finally fired after the 2009/2010 season.
That of course, is where Creighton comes in. You know the rest. Dana goes to Oregon, Greg McDermott comes to Omaha and he brings his son with him. The rest is history.
The beauty and the pain of sports, is we will never know for sure. Would Kevin Love have been able to keep the Ducks program elevated on the national stage? Would Oregon’s success with Love for one season have been enough to give the program some additional recruiting momentum, or at least bought Ernie Kent another year? If Dana did not leave for Oregon would some other program have come calling? Would Creighton be in the Big East without (the McDermotts)?
Just think how that twist of fate changed things for Northern Iowa, too. As you know, Doug was released from his scholarship commitment to UNI in order to come to Creighton. The dominoes of fate just keep falling, gotta love it!”
As I’ve written many times, the basketball gods have been very generous to Creighton the past three years.
>> Ryan K. followed that email a few days later with another compelling thought: What are Doug McDermott’s chances of being an SI cover boy? If he keeps playing like this, Ryan, I wouldn’t put it past him.
>> Cinderella doesn’t want to go home! Wichita State, the darling of the 2013 NCAA tournament, has set its sight on a national championship.
>> I’m not a huge fan of Kansas’ basketball roster. But my goodness the Jayhawks will be battle-tested by March. They host Oklahoma State Saturday, then Baylor Monday. By Tuesday morning, Andrew Wiggins and Co. will have played nine teams currently ranked in the Top 25. Nine!
It’s an incredible schedule Bill Self assembled. And it might be perfect for getting his young roster ready for March.
>> In the latest Chatter, I introduced “Bracket Wednesday,” a random weekly tournament in which readers are invited to vote their opinions. If it flourishes, we may do it every week.
Our first installment centered on Husker football 2002-13. Which NU team wins this tournament and how does your bracket play out? Drop me an email with your vote — firstname.lastname@example.org — and I’ll post results Monday.
No. 1 2009 vs. BYE
No. 2 2011 vs. No. 3 2004
No. 1 2012 vs. BYE
No. 2 2003 vs. No. 3 — 2007
No. 1 2010 vs. BYE
No. 2 2005 vs. No. 3 2002
No. 1 2006 vs. BYE
No. 2 2013 vs. No. 3 2008
>> I’m not a 21st century video gamer. But I was a 20th century gamer. Nintendo, specifically. Which is why I love these two posts.
The first, by the great Joe Posnanski, is his Tecmo Super Bowl player rankings. The second, by Howard Megdal, spends a little time on my favorite Nintendo game of all-time, Baseball Stars. Ahhh, the good ole days!
>> S.L. Price on a sportswriting icon who tried to crack the case of A-Rod. Fantastic read.
>> A very insightful look at the X’s and O’s of Pete Carroll’s defense, through the eyes of Grantland’s Chris Brown.
>> Finally, we’re 48 hours from (maybe) the best championship Sunday in NFL history. I believe we’ll see a shootout in Denver and a fistfight in Seattle. Peyton Manning holds off Tom Brady. And San Francisco overcomes the 12th man.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend. And as Bruce said Tuesday night on Jimmy Fallon, “it’s not the time in your life, it’s the life in your time.”