OSU counts on recruits to lift the basketball program
CORVALLIS Ñ Freshmen Kyle Jeffers and Kenny Hooks appear equipped to handle the academic load at Oregon State. Jeffers, a 3.5 student at Montgomery High in Santa Rosa, Calif., will major in computer science at OSU. Hooks, who carried a 3.8 grade-point average at Moss Point (Miss.) High, plans to study pharmacy.
Now, if they can only play basketball.
All indications are that neither is a slouch in that area, either.
Jeffers, a 6-8, 230-pound power forward, averaged 19.3 points and 14.5 rebounds as a senior, winning conference honors as most valuable player and leading Montgomery to the NorCal finals last winter.
Hooks, a 6-5, 215-pound small forward, averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots as a senior, earning league and area MVP honors and guiding Moss Point to the state 5A tournament semifinals.
Jeffers and Hooks are two of the half-dozen recruits that second-year coach Jay John is counting on to lift Oregon State's once-proud basketball program from the dungeon of the Pacific-10 Conference.
'We have talked about what we can do as a group to do as much damage in the Pac-10 as we can before we are through,' says Jeffers, who, like Hooks, has been in Corvallis since the middle of June, taking summer school classes and preparing for the 2003-04 season.
'We know we have a way to go, but we want to get into the NCAA Tournament,' he says. 'We want to get into the top four or five in the Pac-10, and the long-range goal is to get to the tournament and go far. Then we can keep bringing in good recruiting classes and start another dynasty at Oregon State.'
Jeffers, Hooks and 7-2 Liam Hughes are already living together at Halsett Hall, and 6-3 guard Angelo Tsagarakis will join them after trying out for a French junior national team.
The other members of John's '03 recruiting class are Jim Hanchett, a 6-5 forward from Utah Valley State Junior College who is married and living in Corvallis, and Jason Fontenet, a 5-10 guard transfer from New Mexico State who won't be eligible until 2004-05.
A rarity: no seniors
The 2003-04 Beavers will carry nary a senior, the first time that has been the case since '78-79. John has no illusions about contending for a Pac-10 title, but he has a sneaking suspicion that the Beavers might be a little better than most observers expect them to be. One reason is Jeffers, who should contend for a starting spot.
'Kyle is really long and is a more athletic big guy than Oregon State has had for at least a few years,' John says. 'He is going to put weight on, and he may still grow a couple more inches. We are trying to bring in more players who can play above the rim, and Kyle can do that.
'The most attractive attribute in my mind is, he's a super rebounder. He can also step out and do things with the ball. Kyle is going to be pretty valuable to us.'
Jeffers has an engaging manner that makes one envision him as a team leader, probably sooner rather than later. Jeffers will be happy when Tsagarakis Ñ an exchange student who played his senior year at Casa Grande (Calif.) High Ñ gets to Corvallis. The two played together on a summer league team last year and against each other in a preseason tournament final last winter.
'They beat us, and Angelo scored 32 points,' Jeffers says. 'He lit it up. His outside shot is money. We are pretty excited about playing at the same college. I can't wait until he gets up here. He is a fun guy.'
Hooks is more soft-spoken than Jeffers, with a 'yes, sir, no, sir' Southern politeness when talking to a stranger. His connection with Oregon State is a bit of a fluke. John was in New Orleans for the NCAA Final Four last March when he bumped into Dave Telep, who runs a college scouting service out of North Carolina.
'I've been paying him for years, and I said, 'Dave, when are you going to give me a player?' ' John says. 'He said, 'What do you need?' '
John said he could use a small forward who could shoot.
'I have just the kid for you,' Telep told John. 'Here's the phone number.'
The player was Hooks, who had been recruited heavily by such schools as Alabama and Mississippi early but decided to wait until the late signing period to commit. By that time, some of the schools had backed off, 'and I have to admit, that made me a little nervous,' Hooks says. 'I was thinking I had all these schools going for me, and I might not get a scholarship now.'
Hooks' AAU coach called and said a new school was interested.
'He asked me, 'Is Oregon State too far?' ' Hooks says. 'I told him no, but in the back of my mind, I thought it was a long way from home.'
After watching videotape of Hooks, John and assistant Brian Loyd traveled the hour from New Orleans to visit with the youngster and his parents, Dexter and Tara Hooks. The coaches convinced Kenny to take a recruiting trip to Corvallis, and that sold him on OSU.
'There was such a home atmosphere,' Hooks says. 'The players and coaches had a tight bond. And the people in Corvallis, they are 10 times nicer than back home. Everybody is smiling, people seem like they really care about making sure you're all right.
'Back home, you walk by somebody, they just keep on going without saying anything. Oregon is a long way from home, and my parents won't be able to visit as much as they or I would like, but I think I am going to really like it up here.'
Hooks envisions battling for a starting job, and John figures he will be in the mix.
'With a wingspan over 7 feet,' John says, Hooks is a true small forward who can shoot the ball. 'He is pretty aggressive at the rim, and we should be able to throw him lobs and get him baskets on tip dunks.
'His skill level and basketball IQ are pretty good. If the heart and the passion and toughness are there, he could be pretty good.'