Loren Tate: Groce zeroing in on Brunson
Yes, ESPN circulated word that Kentucky’s backboard beasts rebounded 60 percent of missed shots against Michigan ... and concern grows that Wisconsin might have similar problems Saturday in fending off the sky-walkers.
But, remember, there’s nothing normal about John Calipari’s one-and-doners. You can’t use them as examples. Tournament basketball has become overwhelmingly a guard’s game for everyone else, as we’re reminded by the Badgers’ perimeter marksmen and the Napier-Boatright duo at UConn.
And that’s the blueprint John Groce is following on a crowded recruiting trail.
Looking past next season, Stevenson junior Jalen Brunson is the must-get target. He’s No. 14 on the new Rivals 150 and, within the state, it’s a long drop to the next playmaker-scorer.
It’s unfair to Brunson, but the fact is: He is more than a talent. He also stands as a magnet-like attraction for those who might be wavering in acquiring suites and premium seats that will pay for a renovated State Farm Center. He also would ease concerns among those who feel Illinois, rejected by Cliff Alexander and striving mightily to crack the five-star world, has swung too far toward transfers and away from the prep model.
As he must, Groce has taken steps for backcourt alternatives. Recruiting services show Illinois on the lists of La Lumiere’s Jalen Coleman (La Porte, Ind.), Dallas Kimball’s Jawun Evans and Wisconsin’s Nick Noskowiak, the latter dropping Marquette after coach Buzz Williams left.
These are hot items because everybody needs a quarterback. As we’ve seen here, it’s a tall task to develop playmakers if the innate skill isn’t there.
Too soon to make forecast
For decades, it has been a popular April pastime to evaluate next winter’s basketball teams. No more. It can’t be done. Following are three examples.
— Missouri: The Tigers, who dropped five of their last nine in a late-season flop — they fell to Georgia by 15, Tennessee by 27, Florida by 23 and Southern Miss by eight — are engaged in another massive shakeup. By summer, you’d expect the number of transfers since Frank Haith arrived to reach nine or 10. Meanwhile, Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson and Oregon transfer Jabari Brown, who combined for 37 points per game, have sent their names into the NBA draft (Brown says he may yet withdraw). There’s not much in the background of Deuce Bello (Baylor), Cameron Biedscheid (Notre Dame) and Zach Price (Louisville) to indicate they’ll be more than ordinary. Mizzou arrows are pointing down.
— Ohio State: Temple transfer Anthony Lee (13.6 points, 8.6 rebounds) should take the power forward slot left by junior LaQuinton Ross, whose departure makes eight straight years for the Buckeyes to produce an NBA draftee. Normal U-High’s 6-7 Keita Bates-Diop is one of four incoming freshmen and should share small forward with Chicago veteran Sam Thompson. This team does not figure to contend with Lenzelle Smith and Aaron Craft graduating and Amedeo Della Valle leaving. Marc Loving is the only squad member in next year’s sophomore and junior classes.
— Indiana: The Hoosiers have a swinging door, the epidemic beginning when Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo left early last year, and continuing when 6-10 Noah Vonleh became a one-and-done, reserves Jeremy Hollowell and Austin Etherington joined 6-11 Luke Fischer in seeking greener grass, and Will Sheehey and Evan Gordon graduated. Indiana will lack depth in the post but has 6-2 Marion sensation James Blackmon heading an impressive freshman class. The past season, coupled with squad turnover, has IU fans looking sideways at Tom Crean.
— Aside to Tom Izzo: Check with Brad Stevens before taking over the 27-48 Detroit Pistons. Stevens lost 49 games in six seasons at Butler. He has already gone past 50 with the Boston Celtics ... with no end in sight. Bad teams lose in the NBA regardless of who coaches them.
— Joe Henricksen writes that of the state’s 2010 all-star cagers featuring Meyers Leonard, Crandall Head, Rayvonte Rice and Jereme Richmond, 19 of 30 left the college in which they enrolled. Wisconsin’s Ben Brust didn’t change schools but reneged on his commitment to Iowa (when Todd Lickliter got fired). Jeff Goodman reports 60-plus college transfers at midseason and in excess of 100 since January, with several hundred more to come.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.