Basketball beat writer Marcus Jackson weighs in on Bruce Weber, Darius Paul and the NBA draft:
1 Former Illinois coach Bruce Weber received a dose of bad news Monday when starting point guard Angel Rodriguez announced he was leaving Kansas State to transfer to a program closer to his family’s home in Puerto Rico. That’s a tough blow for Weber and the Wildcats, who won a share of the program’s first Big 12 championship since 1977. K-State loses Rodriguez as well as senior Rodney McGruder, the team’s best player. What can Weber & Co. do to bounce back from this? There was disappointment after losing in the NCAA tournament opener to 13th-seeded La Salle, and pressure will be high to maintain success after signing a contract extension at the end of the season. Weber struggled to maintain momentum at Illinois after Bill Self’s players were gone. Many are waiting to say “I told you so” to Kansas State if the same thing happens there when Frank Martin’s players are done in Manhattan.
2 To the surprise of just about everyone ˛— his head coach included — Darius Paul announced last week he would leave Western Michigan after one season. Paul, the younger brother of former Illinois star Brandon Paul, was named the Freshman of the Year in the Mid-American Conference after averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Broncos and coach Steve Hawkins. Paul is the third player in as many seasons to leave Hawkins’ program. Paul’s mom, Lynda, told ESPNChicago.com four programs in the state of Illinois have contacted the family expressing interest in the 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward but wouldn’t name them. Darius is likely looking to make the leap to a power-conference program. Might he follow in his older brother’s footsteps at Illinois?
3 With guard Russ Smith deciding to return to Louisville for his senior season, the national champs remain squarely in the chase for back-to-back titles and a third straight trip to the Final Four. Rick Pitino’s team can do so largely under the radar, too, believe it or not. They won’t even be the most publicized team in the state, despite returning Smith, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock. Kentucky and its unprecedented recruiting class will be the No. 1 team in the country, and John Calipari’s pups will dominate the headlines in the Bluegrass State and nationally. It’s been a good offseason for the sport, which saw stars Marcus Smart, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Gary Harris, C.J. Fair and Doug McDermott join Smith in returning to college for at least one more season.