Gators' Great Dane
In an off-season that left some schools reeling, Florida was the
big winner, thanks to an import of major import
by Seth Davis
Last Friday night, at the annual Midnight Madness festivities
marking the moment teams are permitted to start practice, Iowa
coach Steve Alford hosted Game Night for fans at Carver-Hawkeye
Arena. The program included games of three-on-three, a
three-point shooting contest, a hot-dog-eating contest and an
appearance by Flex, the Rubber Boy. Alas, the fun ended at
midnight, when Alford's team took the floor with just eight
scholarship players, including one who was a walk-on last year.
The Hawkeyes' roster was depleted during a nightmarish off-season
in which six players transferred, quit or fell prey to academic
woes. The heaviest blow came on Oct. 1, when starting point guard
Pierre Pierce was suspended indefinitely following third-degree
sexual-assault charges. (Pierce has pleaded innocent.)
Such are the vagaries of the stretch between March Madness and
Midnight Madness, when victories are measured not in games but in
personnel changes and recruits' commitments. Iowa was the biggest
loser of the off-season. Here's how some other programs fared.
Winner: Florida Senior guard Brett Nelson's decision not to enter
the NBA draft last spring guaranteed the Gators stellar backcourt
play. They got another boost in July when 6'9" guard-forward
Christian Drejer, a 19-year-old who was the Danish League player
of the year last season with SISU of Copenhagen, accepted coach
Billy Donovan's offer to play in Gainesville. The addition of
Drejer will make Florida a Final Four contender.
Loser: Kentucky Junior forward Jason Parker was dropped from the
team in August for an unspecified violation of athletic
department policy, and last month 6'1" junior Cliff Hawkins, the
team's only experienced point guard, was declared academically
ineligible for the fall semester. What's more, coach Tubby Smith
has yet to secure even an oral commitment from any blue-chip high
Winner: Arizona Coach Lute Olson had a gift dropped into his lap
in May when 6'6" freshman forward Andre Iguodala signed with the
Wildcats three weeks after Arkansas released him from a letter of
intent. On Sept. 16 the NCAA declared touted 6'3" freshman guard
Chris Rodgers academically eligible, and in the last two weeks
Olson received commitments from two elite prospects: 6'9" Ndubi
Ebi, a forward from Houston, and Mustafa Shakur, a 6'3"
playmaking whiz from Philadelphia.
Loser: UCLA The Bruins took two major hits last month when their
prized recruit, 6'8" forward Evan Burns, failed to qualify
academically (he enrolled at San Diego State), and 6'7" sophomore
forward Andre Patterson had to leave school because he hadn't
accrued enough credits. Patterson enrolled at Santa Monica
College and hopes to rejoin the Bruins in late December.
Winner: LSU Coach John Brady is assembling a watershed recruiting
class. Furthermore, his program has finally emerged from the
probation and scholarship limits meted out because of violations
committed during the 1996 recruitment of forward Lester Earl.
(Brady came on board in '97-98.) For the first time since his
inaugural season in Baton Rouge, Brady will coach a full
complement of 13 scholarship players, including four returning
This Penney's No Loafer
Lost amid the hand-wringing over Team USA's belly flop at the
world championships in Indianapolis this summer was the
surprising fourth-place finish turned in by the New Zealand squad
and its shooting guard, Kirk Penney, a 6'5" senior at Wisconsin.
A first-team All-Big Ten selection a year ago, Penney was the
Kiwis' second-leading scorer (16.9 point average) in the
tournament while shooting 45.5% from three-point range. His
performance bodes well for the Badgers' chances of challenging
for the conference title a year after claiming a share of the
regular-season crown. "The thing I took most from this summer is
confidence," Penney says. "A lot of players have talent, but
confidence is what can take your game to another level."
While Penney's performance in Indy surprised no one in the Big
Ten--his 15.1 point scoring average last year was seventh in the
conference--his improvement since he arrived in Madison in the
fall of 1999 has been striking. During Penney's first two seasons
he was a dangerous, if streaky, shooter, mostly from the outside.
But last season he added a post-up game that enabled him to take
advantage of his size. Penney also sharpened his abilities
through international play the last three summers. He was New
Zealand's leading scorer at the 2001 Goodwill Games in Brisbane,
where the Kiwis finished sixth; the year before, he was a reserve
on the squad that placed 11th at the Sydney Olympics. "The summer
is where you can really improve," Penney says. "A lot of guys
have to use self-motivation to work during the summer, but when
you're in competition you're subjected to two-a-day practices,
conditioning work, lots of games. It's been a great opportunity."
Penney got a much-needed, if unwelcome, respite from basketball
last month when he spent a week in his native Auckland following
the death of a family friend. "That was the most time I've spent
at home in the last three years," he says. Now a refreshed
Penney, who is Wisconsin's lone senior, is eager to pick up where
he left off in Indianapolis. "I'm hoping the success I had this
summer will rub off on my teammates," he says. "I just can't wait
to attack the year and see what happens."
Read Seth Davis's Hoop Thoughts at cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES SHOOTING STAR Drejer (inset) should complement the penetrating Nelson.
COLOR PHOTO: GARY BOGDON (INSET) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN
Old Faces in New Places
By transferring from Maryland after a disappointing 2000-01
season, Danny Miller missed out on the Terps' national
championship last April. Still, things are working out well for
the 6'8" forward (right) at his new school, Notre Dame. Eligible
to compete after sitting out last season under NCAA rules, Miller
has been named a tri-captain for the Irish and likely will be a
starter. Here are six other noteworthy transfers whose fresh
starts officially began last weekend.
PLAYER, POSITION SCHOOL FORMER SCHOOL
Todd Billett, G Virginia Rutgers
Sharpshooter led Scarlet Knights in scoring (16.6 points per
game) and assists (4.2) in 2000-01
Tim Frost, F/C Utah Portland
6'10" shot blocker (103 in last two seasons at Portland) should
shore up heretofore unintimidating Utes front line
Demetrius Hunter, G UNLV Georgetown
Vegas native can stroke the three (38.9% in 2000-01) but needs
to drive more
Robert Jackson, F Marquette Mississippi State
At 6'9", will fill rebounding void left by 6'7" Odartey
Blankson, who transferred to UNLV
Marvin Stone, C Louisville Kentucky
Enigmatic but talented 6'10" pivotman averaged 6.0 points, 4.6
rebounds in '00-01; becomes eligible in December
Damien Wilkins, G/F Georgia N.C. State
6'7" swingman could thrive if dad, former NBA mainstay Gerald
(who meddled with Wolfpack coaches), stays away