Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just a Minute with Gary Parrish of CBS Sports

When college basketball fanatics log on to the Internet, there is a good chance they go to to read what Gary Parrish has to say. He is one of the premiere college hoops columnists in the country and a must-read.

After seven years at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, three years with CBS and several years of freelance work for recruiting publications like Prep Stars, Parrish brings a unique perspective to the basketball landscape.

Parrish, however, can not justify or explain his taste in basketball shoes. (See above.)

Did this offseason in college basketball felt like a bad year of VH1 smut reality television? It seems like there was drama every where you looked.

“It’s been wild. With the Rick Pitino stuff then John Calipari taking a hit with the NCAA stuff and then Billy Gilespie with his DUI. Someone was joking the other day that Ken McDonald is the sanest coach (in Kentucky) right now. It’s been wild. You’d like to think the majority of what we do is writing about, you know, basketball, wins and losses and made three-pointers. But in reality, we’ve spent a lot of time away from the court. You have the Josh Selby de-commitment or a coach having an affair in a restaurant or a coach getting pulled over and having a pretty embarrassing mug shot, it seems to be one off the court issue after another this off-season. I don’t know that is just college basketball. We are dealing with it in all sports. I don’t know if it is because having a 24/7 news cycle now where nothing goes unreported or today’s culture is just changing. It seems different one way or another.”

Will all of these off the court issues hurt the game or will the beat go on and nothing changes? Will basketball just continue be all about basketball? How much will these distractions impact, if at all, schools like Kentucky, Memphis and Louisville? Arizona had a lot of distractions and it obviously affected that program tremendously. Could any of these schools go that route?

“It all matters to varying degrees. I don’t think it affects the sport of college basketball. When we didn’t get to see Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and all of those guys in college basketball, we still watched. I don’t the game or the sport gets hurt by any of this because we’ve seen that the game always prevails but I think the individuals that are involved in all of these off the court issues it matters.

“The Pitino thing is pretty obvious. His credibility and ability to lead young men, whatever that means, has been called into question. He’s lucky to have survived this. Coaches have been fired for much less. Larry Eustachy, Mike Price, Dick Price, who was at Memphis before Calipari, they have all done in much less than what the Pitino has owned up to. If you believe Karen Sypher’s side, it is much worse. Coaches have been fired for worse. He says it won’t affect him going forward but can he really preach about discipline anymore after he lacked some, at least for one night. My impression coming out of July was tthat they thought they were going to get Fab Melo pretty quickly. I know they felt like they had that one knocked out. This was all before the news of the abortion and all of that. I wonder if Fab Melo was put off because of that. I don’t know if it did or not. There is some turmoil and some uncertainty within that program. Schools that are recruiting against Louisville will certainly point all of this out when they recruit. One of the keys to this business is not giving your opponent any fuel for ammunition. Louisville right now has a lot of ammunition against that program.

“For Kentucky, anything they do recruiting won’t affect Cal’s problem. It won’t affect Kentucky and it won’t affect the way he recruits. The only difference is the perception of what he is doing at Kentucky. I think they are playing in the National Championship game this year. It’s very possible. There will not be columns about the return of Kentucky basketball. There will be stories about how long Calipari will remain as the head coach of Kentucky basketball. That is the problem that Cal has gotten himself into whether it is his fault or not. His perception has taken a huge hit this offseason. He’s the only coach in the history of the sport to have two Final Fours at different schools removed from the history books. While the state of Kentucky will celebrate his success, the other 49 states will mock him. That’s just what Kentucky will have to deal with moving forward.”

With all of this stuff going on, there are a lot of things that have been lost in the shuffle. You look at guys like John Riek, Renardo Sidney, Lance Stephenson – in other years, everyone in the media would be asking publicly, “How in the world did these guys get into college?” Because of these major stories, how much are other stories being looked over? Do people even know who the pre-season number one team is in the country right now?

“I think so. You don’t write about Cole Aldrich. Instead, we are writing about Xavier Henry’s dad making wild public comments. You don’t write about John Wall as much because you are writing about John Calipari’s NCAA issues. You don’t write about Samardo Samuels having a breakout year as much because you are writing about an abortion. For those of us that write about college basketball 12 months out of the year, if it wasn’t for these things, we’d be writing about actual basketball. Imagine that. Given that we have a bank robber signing at Utah State or a Big East coach having an affair in a restaurant or the highest profile coach in America dealing with NCAA issues, there is plenty of to write about outside of basketball. Honestly, I’m thankful for it because I’d much rather write about issues than straight up basketball. I does seem like the game is put on the backburner. Of course, once the game starts, that will all change. But there is no question in an offseason where we could have written about Aldrich or Willie Warren or Greg Monroe, we’ve spent writing about the sketchy side. That’s unfortunate for the sport, but not for me.”

Let’s actually talk a little about hoops if we can. What are the storylines that we will be talking about in a couple of months?

“I think the story going in is Kentucky. John Calipari, one of the biggest stars in the sport, is coaching one of the biggest programs in the sport. With a roster that is, you could argue, that is the most talented of any roster in the country. John Wall could be the best player in the country. I just think he is that kind of talent. You throw him next to Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and that seems to be better than everyone out there. It could be a fascinating story to see play out. Right or wrong, fair or not, John Calipari is the evil character in the eyes of everyone outside of the Kentucky program. You ask a poll on about who the dirtiest college basketball coach is in the country and John Calipari will win it. That’s the public perception. Obviously, it is intriguing that the perceived dirty college basketball coach is running a program that puts 24,000 people in the seats every game. If they get off to a hot start and look up and they are the number one team in the country and Wall is just phenomenal and Patterson is an All-American, then that is the most interesting storyline.

Obviously, Kansas is in a good position, too. They are a year removed from winning a national title and they return everybody from last year’s team. They were way better than what people thought they would be last year. I don’t want to say they will be a consensus number one team but I’m not sure how you can justify voting anyone else in outside of Kentucky. That’s not easy to do, to stay at the top. You look at what happened to Florida. They are still trying to recover from losing all of those guys at the same time. Bill Self, and I think it’s a credit to his ability to rebuild a program, is probably a better coach than people give him credit for. He lost everybody and overachieved with a young team last year. To me, it’s a Kansas, Kentucky story early and if everything plays out, you could have a rematch of Self and Calipari just a year removed from when they played each other.”

Is it too early to project your Final Four predictions?

“Not really. I’ve done my pre-season rankings and I know they never line up the way you think. Someone will have an injury and someone will have chemistry problems. Typically, you just know. There was a reason why North Carolina was the pre-season number one team in the country. We have a pretty good idea of who is going to be good. I am big on talent. The team with the best players win. It’s that simple. Florida won two national titles in row. Why? Because they had the most first round picks on their team. Why did North Carolina win last year? They had the best roster. Looking in those terms, you have to pencil in Kansas and Kentucky as Final Four favorites. After that, I still like North Carolina. They lost a lot, obviously. But North Carolina is one of the few programs that can lose a lot and yet still have a lot. They add a guy like John Henson, which will help tremendously. But I think they’ll have some point guard issues. But if they can get that straight, then they are really good. If you give me Kansas and Kentucky then some combination of Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas and someone that is ranked between 10 to 20 in the preseason poll like an Ohio State or Clemson or a Washington, someone like that.”

Are there any players that you see blowing up and breaking out this year?

“I don’t know if “blowing up” is the right word but I talked to Cole Aldrich this summer and he’s bigger and stronger than he was last year. I think he’s going to be phenomenal. I think John Wall is the most exciting player in the country. If I had to start a college basketball team from scratch tomorrow, I’d start it with Cole Aldrich. You can’t go wrong having that guy up front. You know he’s going to get you rebounds and score down there and frankly he was overshadowed last year because Blake Griffin overshadowed him. Cole might not just be the best big man in the country, he may be the best player in the country. He deserves all the attention he gets.

“I’m thinking off the top of my head here but I think a guy like Devin Ebanks could be a guy that really takes off this year. He’s talented and he had a good freshman year. He wasn’t dominate but he was good. And the thing with Devin is that he has that NBA talent. It has been a trend lately that the teams that gets a guy back that they should have had back win. Where is North Carolina last year if Ty Lawson went pro the year before? Florida wins two in a row because everyone came back. Kansas should have lost Cole Aldrich to the NBA because he was a top 10 pick. They bring him back. Willie Warren fits into that. Greg Monroe fits into that. Devin Ebanks fits into that. Guys who could be in the NBA but went back to college are usually difference makers for wins, losses and success.

“You look at a guy like Gordon Hayward at Butler. I think he’s just fabulous. I don’t know how many people had a chance to see him last year. I know he got a lot of attention this summer playing with USA Basketball but I think with Butler being a top 15, top 20 team and with a schedule that will put them on television a little more, I think he’s going to really impress a lot of people. I think he’ll post big numbers and get the attention he deserves. I love his game.”

Is there a young coach out there that you can see rising up and being the “must-get” guy like Anthony Grant was last year?

“I’ll go back to Butler and Brad Stevens. Here’s a guy that took over the program and has had great success. He’s young. He looks the part. He handles himself that right way. He’s done nothing but win. He’s found some under-the-radar guys. He found Gordon Hayward, who was a pretty unheralded recruit. Now a lot of that is because he didn’t spend a lot of time playing summer basketball. But Brad has taken a winning program and just enhanced it like Mark Few has done at Gonzaga. I thought his name would pop up more last year but if they have the type of year that I think they are going to have this year, they are going to run through their league. Plus, they have a really good team. Matt Howard down low and Shelvin Mack are two tremendous players. I think Stevens will get a lot of attention after this year.

“The other guy that I can see getting a lot of attention is Ken McDonald over at Western Kentucky. He really overachieved last year and he brings nearly everyone back except Orlando Mendez-Valdez. He brought seven new guys and he’s recruiting well by Sun Belt standards. He’s stringing together NCAA tournament appearances. That’s what all this is about. If you at one of the non BCS tournaments and you go to a couple NCAA tournaments, you are saddening in line for a BCS job.

“I always go back to the Darrin Horn story. There were questions about him surviving at Western Kentucky and far away from getting a SEC job. But a kid makes a 30-footer in the NCAA tournament and they get a nice draw and Darrin is the Sweet 16. Now he’s a millionaire coach at a SEC job. That’s how this business works.”

Archived Just a Minutes:

Jody Demling, Louisville Courier-Journal
Jeff Goodman, Fox Sports
Rob Harrington, Prep Stars
Jerry Meyer,
Aran Smith,
Dave Telep,

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