Memo to Hoops Fans: Venture West

by Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Several thousand miles or one long red-eye away from our institutional core lays a different life.

The targets of both vibrancy and tragedy, events running across the emotion spectrum all happen in America's East. Polls close first there. Our economic and political foundation is based there. Out East, people will be the first to know, save closet spoiler fanatics, when Bob Saget finally lets his children in on the climax of "How I Met Your Mother."

Out West, three hours behind feels like an enormous gap. Save Los Angeles, the western time zone is where big media goes to die. Ethnicity and culture are displayed on billboards and neon signs fronting strip malls instead of on flags, pillars or other symbols of institutional respect. In two hours, one could make pit stops at the beach, atop a mountain, and in a desert.

It's unique. It's different. Steps are a little smaller. Sentences run on a little longer. People's overall approach to life also changes. Out West, life seems to stand still more often. Suits are replaced with cargos or hunting boots. Snow is far more often replaced with sun.

In the sports world, the NFL is watched over eggs. The images showcased during the first three innings of Dodger games are a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam on the LA freeway. And in a college basketball world featuring the power players stationed up and down the Eastern seaboard and cemented in America's heartland, the meaning of the Wizard of Westwood and the iconic still shots of West Coast hoops is slowly fading into dark nights of slumber.

A lot of that has to do with the lack of visibility, due in equal parts to time differential and no powerful presence on college basketball's major media home, ESPN. The Pac-10 and Mountain West play plenty of 9 p.m. local tip-offs (midnight where most of the warm bodies are on the East coast) on a satellite carrier of CSTV or Fox Sports West. Only the diehard bluebloods in the basketball rich Piedmont region or the sports crazy Northeast have the ability or the desire to stay up and watch two teams playing in half-empty Pullman, Washington on a Wednesday night.

Then, come March, many couch potato prognosticators are laying Benjamins on the Big East and ignoring that one quality squad led by that one star player playing most of its games while the nation sleeps.

If there ever was a time to focus on West coast hoops, it is this season. Now is the time to venture West, eat bacon while setting your fantasy football lineup, and watch plenty of college basketball played out in America's media wasteland. You don't have to move to Provo, Utah (unless the "lifestyle" appeals to you), but staying in the same time zone as Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars will allow you to see one of the nation's most fascinating studies this season.

Other than perennial power Gonzaga, no West coast team is ranked as high in the preseason Associated Press poll than BYU, and with good reason. The Cougars are a prototypical early-1990s collegiate squad before the NBA began ransacking teams' talent pools, complete with a pair of senior, tournament- tested guards in Fredette and Jackson Emery. Each is not the 6-foot-5 guards of today's power conferences with long wing spans and high hops, but both play fundamentally- sound games driven off movement without the ball and extra care with it. Fredette is a unique breed, built like a small-school linebacker (stocky and cut, yet undersized without the athletic measurables), but a deft touch both around the rim and away from it. A Mountain West Conference assistant coach told me he "creates his shot like nobody we play, and finishes like nobody in the country can." Coincidentally, Fredette is the only Cougar originating from the East Coast, hailing from Glens Falls, New York.

He plays a big-city game in a remote area of the country, but he and Emery will lead what I believe to be the West Coast's best team this season. They may be a little laissez faire on the other side of the world (or so it feels from the coast hugging the Atlantic), and their sports teams may play at odd hours with little media attention, but when the bright lights shine, the best players (no matter where they are stationed) come to play.

Fredette is one of those players. He is a mandatory must-see this season, even if it takes one of those pesky red-eyes to watch him in person.


Last week's column brought some fantastic insight and perspective from a variety of individuals across the country (maybe you should be writing this column!). Below are three of many opinions I received on the "pay to play" aspect of the collegiate game. This is a question that will likely not go away anytime soon, and we may address it in even greater detail later in the season.

"Great piece on the issue of 'pay to play.' The NCAA treats these individuals as property, using their talents to expand their business and generate massive amounts of income. It is fine time that these great collegiate talents are treated as such." -- Casey, Waterloo, IA

My thoughts: In a broader sense, Casey, you make an excellent point, but I'm hesitant to use the term "property" to label collegians receiving a free education that can only help them in the long term. Remember, the NBA draft is nowhere near as inclusive as the NFL version, the talent pool is larger in many cases and the amount of players given lofty contracts is much smaller. For many Division I hoops players, the free education is more than adequate pay, setting them up for a career outside the basketball court.

"What you feel to address is what the teams give these players as perks. It is not all about the education. What are the Mercedes and the free 'tutors' given to the superstars?" -- Matt, Los Angeles, CA

My thoughts: Said in jest, Matt points to the larger issue I addressed, albeit briefly, in last week's space. To "compensate" these players, many institutions bend the rules to gain a competitive advantage, wining and dining recruits, providing money to their families and free cars to cruise around campus. This form of recruiting is speculative and full of innuendo in most media circles, but the Sports Illustrated expose I referenced in last week's column highlights an agent's role in collegiate recruiting. We have seen the NCAA investigate big college hoops' programs Tennessee and Connecticut recently; indicating that perhaps where there is smoke, there ultimately is fire.

"I'm old school though and the free education (open to discussion) they get should be adequate. I do think they should be allowed to hold jobs during the school year so they can make a couple of bucks or at least provide them with a stipend during the season. Having made such a broad brush statements the devil is in the details much of which the casual sports fan isn't aware - what restrictions are mandated by the NCAA, by the school; are all rostered players prohibited from holding jobs during the season or is it just those on scholarship; what kind of time commitments do these student-athletes have imposed on them - classes/labs/study halls, practice, travel; what kind of resources are available to them that others are not privy to (athletic advisors, mentors, tutors, etc.)." -- Jim Connolly, Camp Hill, PA

My thoughts: All excellent points and one's I plan on dissecting during a column this season. From my experiences being around Division I collegiate athletes and talking to those familiar with certain programs, many of the "rules" surrounding athletes holding jobs are handled on a program-by-program basis. The time commitments, something I can answer to, are vast, from practice and weight lifting to film sessions and time meetings, and that does not include time spent on the road. Many basketball players at one institution I'm familiar with have team study halls and access to both advisors and tutors who work specifically with scholarship athletes. These are all great questions, and make the details of "pay to play" something to delve into at a later date.


In this installment, we focus on five teams that have the best chance to knock off preseason No. 1 Duke come March.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans are talented, and in terms of power conference clubs, deep and full of "been-there-done-that" players. Kalin Lucas' injury last season took some muster out of both backcourt depth and leadership, but the gutty 6-foot-1 maestro is joined by fellow senior Durrell Summers in the backcourt. Interior girth, a necessity in the rough-and-tough Big Ten, with wide-shouldered juniors Draymond Green and Delvon Roe. The instant maturity and scoring support offered by freshman Russell Byrd may be the ingredient that pushes this team from "promising" to "title worthy."

2. Purdue: Much has been written about Robbie Hummel's second ACL injury in a year, but these Boilermakers still play great defense - a prerequisite in head coach Matt Painter's system...and have two high-quality scoring options in preseason first-team All-American JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Finding a third scoring piece is the key to a deep tournament run. The Boilermakers match up well with the Blue Devils on the inside and Moore can check Nolan Smith on the perimeter, but Kyle Singler's ability to put the basketball on the floor may cause fits for a Purdue team suddenly void a swingman.

3. Kansas State: It is preseason first-team All-American Jacob Pullen and a cast of characters, but if Curtis Kelly can provide scoring on the interior and one of more of head coach Frank Martin's freshman step up to the plate by the beginning of conference play, these Wildcats may be dangerous. Spoiler alert: I will go into more detail in the season preview column next week, but Pullen is From The End of the Bench's Preseason Player of the Year. The dual- threat guard has it all, and adding two more legitimate scoring options will keep him fresh for some Gus Johnson magic come March.

4. Florida: Speed and athleticism kill Duke, and the Gators have plenty of both to begin the most promising season for Billy Donovan's club since the back-to-back national titles. Kenny Boynton can flat out fly and has great vision off the secondary break. That is where he will find Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, who is now finally acclimated into Donovan's system and a pure shooter in rhythm. Erving Walker's contributions will go a long way to deciding Florida's NCAA tournament fate.

5. BYU: The indirect feature of this column makes this list because of experienced guard play and the backdoor, Princeton-style offense orchestrated by the Cougars. Duke loves to overplay the ball, leaving it susceptible to precision cutting and motion without the ball, two attributes of BYU's motion offense. Fredette is the best off-ball player in the country and putting all of the focus on his movement will leave Emery in positions to attack.


A little more on my partnership with Catie's Wish. The response to date has been inspiring, and the soft cover version of the book "99 Things Your Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket" should be out before Christmas. To learn more about Catie's Wish, please go to Catie's Wish and read all about her story, or check out my column archive at TSN for full details.

Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.

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