Landscape changes fast on campus

Congratulations, Dick Bennett. Here you are, stationed 7 miles from desolate Idaho, taking over a Washington State basketball program that lost 16 of its last 18 games, and your crack junior guard, Marcus Moore, signs up for the draft. Moore will keep you hanging until June 19 as to whether he''ll turn pro. Oh, well, unpredictable changes are the nature of the college sport. Syracuse can stop dreaming of a repeat NCAA title with freshman Carmelo Anthony heading for the NBA. Texas won''t be the same without sophomore T.J. Ford. Marquette had its legs chopped from under by Dwyane Wade, who with departing senior Robert Jackson take 37 points and 14 rebounds with them. Such is the changing landscape of a sport where the talent cream already was skimmed off in previous years, and where 36 schools are changing their coaches (it''ll be 37 with Larry Eustachy and 38 with whoever replaces him at Iowa State). Think of the folly of sitting down a month ago and trying to predict your Top 20 in 2003-04. Tubby Smith signed a new contract at Kentucky, only to see his career 60 percent shooter, Marquis Estill, bypass the heavy academic requirements that would have allowed him to graduate and play another year. Dennis Felton moved to Georgia, where the first two developments were (1) junior Jarvis Hayes'' decision to enter the NBA draft and (2) Felton''s no-tolerance ouster of former "Mr. Georgia Basketball" Wayne Arnold over a drug charge. There is Missouri, putting a one-year sanction on ace guard Ricky Clemons for a second sexual abuse case. There is Oklahoma, already losing key seniors Hollis Price and Ebi Ere, and 6-foot-10 Jabahri Brown is required to come up with a $2,000 bond for marijuana possession, this uncovered when police arrested 6-9 roommate Matt Gipson for outstanding traffic warrants. Minnesota''s Rick Rickert has dropped out of school to go pro. Oregon will miss the deft passing of junior Luke Ridnour, Georgetown is losing junior blockbuster Michael Sweetney, and Central Michigan won''t have 7-foot Chris Kaman''s 22 points and 12 rebounds. And Michigan, already under a cloud, is further demeaned by Bernard Robinson, a third-team All-Big Ten choice, being sentenced to one year of probation on two misdemeanor assault charges as a sexual offender. Back at the ranch Enough of the examples. We''ve barely reached May, and nobody knows where college basketball is going from here. There are too many decisions being made  and too many yet to be fully evaluated. At Illinois, Bruce Weber has made a favorable early impression and is engaging rapidly, trying to hire assistants by Tuesday and setting Rod Cardinal on a quick study to see if he can arrange a get-to-know European tour like Weber once used at Southern Illinois. Where does Illinois fit in the big picture? That''s impossible to say. The playground is much too mobile. Charlie Villanueva remains the ultimate mystery man. Richard McBride''s last test score hasn''t been reported. Nor do we know about the chief Midwest challengers. Missouri is hoping junior Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson don''t get any wild ideas. Notre Dame is sweating out Chris Thomas'' meeting with coach Mike Brey. Crazy part about April is that the media probably produced more clamor about basketball than when the games were being played. And we''re still going strong into May. The misconceptions Following are one writer''s view of misconceptions produced by runaway media speculation.  Ron Guenther followed a process that few understood. His affirmative-action waiver reduced 14 days to seven, and if he had committed himself in less than a week, he would have been in violation of university policy. So when a national writer chastised Guenther for not lining up Tom Crean before the new Marquette contract was signed, that overlooks two facts: (1) Guenther didn''t have Crean as high on his list as the media did; and (2) Guenther was in a mandatory fact-finding mode that absolutely required him to talk to a minority candidate, among others, before making a commitment.  Guenther was still in a fact-finding mode when he went face-to-face with Creighton''s Dana Altman. When a friend of Altman''s reported Altman pulled out, Guenther already was leaning to Weber, with whom he felt extremely comfortable.  After telling the UI players on the Friday before Easter what potentially could happen, Bill Self went back and forth on Saturday before telling Guenther at 8:30 p.m. of his intentions to leave. After that testy discussion, Self realized the secret wouldn''t last until the players returned Sunday night, so he commenced calling them at 10:30 that night, noting: "I understood Ron''s frustration, and I knew it wouldn''t hold. I felt it was better for them to hear it from me than from somebody else." In Self''s view, the timetable was forced upon him by Illinois and not by Kansas.  While Kansas offered a tremendous opportunity, Self''s decision was based to a great extent on family concerns, and particularly on the ease with which his travel-limited father could attend games. It boiled down to where he wanted to be for the projected next 15 years.  It is not "breaking a contract" for a coach to abandon a multiyear contract. A typical contract reads: "The parties agree that the coach may terminate this agreement prior to its normal expiration ..." There might be ethical questions and/or broken promises but, when it is written in so clearly, it can''t be illegal. Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached via e-mail at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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