On College Hoops
What does Portland State need to get back to the Big Dance, be a more competitive team or maybe win a game?
In short, coach Ken Bone has the answers: more bigger, longer and faster players, and an NBA-level go-to guy.
Easier said than done, but Bone feels the Vikings could be more prepared for the NCAA tourney next year. PSU is likely to be the preseason Big Sky Conference favorite, with point guard Jeremiah Dominguez among seven players coming back, and three impact players coming off the redshirt list, including forward Phil Nelson.
The Big Sky champion has won only two NCAA games in the past 26 years, so it isn't likely an NCAA champ will come out of the league anytime soon.
But the Vikings feel they put themselves on the map with their 23-victory, Big Sky-winning season. And now they think they have a road map for success at the midmajor level.
'One thing that would help is having a Rodney Stuckey-type who can compete with kids from Kansas,' says Bone, referring to the ex-Eastern Washington and current Detroit Piston guard. 'Kansas has five (of those) players on the court at one time.'
With a superstar, 'you can isolate guys and do some things,' Bone adds. 'We didn't have an NBA guy on our team, but going into next year, a guy like Phil Nelson, 6-7 or 6-8 and can shoot from anywhere … I won't say he will take over games, but he's the type of guy who can help us out in a lot of different ways.'
The length of 6-7 Jamie Jones will help in the middle, and 6-1 guard Dominic Waters will contribute alongside Dominguez and Andre Murray.
In the meantime, Dominguez and others can improve, Bone says. The coach's take on his three returning starters:
Dominguez - 'He needs to improve on the defensive end, where he can give us more solid possessions and not just look for steals.'
Murray - 'I'd like to see him improve on his ballhandling. Overall ballhandling and decision-making with the ball are areas we can improve and work on.'
Small forward Kyle Coston - 'He needs to get stronger, because he goes against bigger and stronger kids. And he needs to get better at rebounding.'
• Bone says Oregon State's coaching search firm has contacted him.
But he says he doesn't feel he would be a top candidate, and 'it's not something I want to chase after. … I love the situation I'm in right here.'
• Julius Thomas, Tyrell Mara and Alex Tiefenthaler also will be in the frontcourt mix next season.
The 6-6 Mara has had injuries but plays aggressively, rebounds and shoots well. 'He's a better player than what he showed,' Bone says. 'He played good ball early, and it'd be nice for him to get back to that kind of basketball.'
Thomas is a 6-5, athletic forward, and the 6-9 Tiefenthaler can shoot -he had 10 points in eight minutes against Kansas. 'If I would have played him 40 minutes, he would have scored 50,' Bone says.
• Justynn Hammond, a nonscholarship player, will not return. Bone says the 6-5 freshman plans to move to California with his girlfriend.
• Backup point guard Mickey Polis will have to fight for minutes next year with Dominguez, Waters and Murray in the mix.
• The Viks have Gonzaga, Washington and Cal State Fullerton (at home) on the 2008-09 schedule, and 'we'll play at least one other high-caliber team,' Bone says.
• Five seniors have wrapped up their Viking careers - post Scott Morrison; guards Deonte Huff, Dupree Lucas and Brian Curtis; and forward J.R. Moore.
Morrison leaves as one of PSU's all-time great players, even though he fell off in the last four games - with a total of 12 points on 5-for-17 shooting, 13 rebounds and five blocks. He is the school's all-time leader in blocks (187) and games played (119) and ranks second in shooting (.544). With Morrison starting, the Viks went 64-37.
Morrison wants to play pro, and he has his eyes on Europe. But the 6-11 Canadian clearly needs to get more aggressive and tougher in the paint, since he doesn't have an outside, 15-foot jumper to make him an all-around pro.
It's been a long road for Moore, from the Benson High class of 2002, Worcester Academy prep school and three years playing at Rhode Island. The team's elder statesman, the 24-year-old had a chronically sore knee that limited him, and other bigs commanded more time.
But Moore always can say he played on an NCAA Tournament team. 'It's a great way to go out,' he says. 'It's been amazing.'
• Kansas beat the Viks 85-61 in the first round, but Bone says, 'I thought we showed a lot of character and never gave up. We were outmanned by bigger and stronger and more athletic kids. It's easy to roll over and go through the motions, but our kids kept competing, and that's the approach we want in any game. I feel like it'll lead us into next year and motivate them to work in the weight room and on their skills.'
'Bigs' problem at Oregon
Decorated, 1,000-point scorers Malik Hairston (1,644), Bryce Taylor (1,435) and Maarty Leunen (1,259) have concluded their Oregon careers, but not the way they wanted to go out - they and Tajuan Porter combined to make 9 of 34 from the 3-point line in Friday's 76-69 loss to Mississippi State.
Talk about a microcosm of their careers: The Ducks (18-14) couldn't hit outside shots in the second half; never really attacked the basket or tried to establish a post game; and lost their 13-point lead.
I was wrong in my assessment - MSU's 6-9 Charles Rhodes was a beast and hard to handle as he went 10 of 12 from the field and 14 of 18 from the free-throw line in scoring 34 points against 6-9 Leunen and 6-6 Joevan Catron.
'The only thing different we could have done is have a bigger body to defend against him,' UO coach Ernie Kent told reporters. 'And we don't have that.'
Actually, the Ducks had three big bodies on the bench all year. Senior Mitch Platt, 6-10, received some playing time in the past two years but never was the same player after foot surgery. Frantz Dorsainvil, 6-8, who returns next season, has not developed or picked up UO's system. And then you have the 7-foot senior Ray Schafer, who had good skills and mobility, but Kent and his assistants never knew what kind of effort or contribution they would get from him.
NBA spark was missing
Earlier in the year, Kent summed up Schafer this way:
'Ray came in gung-ho - he slept in the locker room, slept in the gym, kept his basketball with him just like (Luke) Ridnour did. The good thing about Ray is he's done everything you've asked him to do - great in the community, visiting the retirement home or pediatric ward, great with teammates. But, at this level, you have to have a passion. And I mean a passion to get to the NBA that drives you every day. For some reason that fire wasn't as high (with Schafer) as with other players in the conference. It's something a coach can't put in you.'
Kent alluded to UCLA's Kevin Love and others when he talked about Schafer. 'They have a burning desire to be in the NBA,' Kent says, 'and they're going to look like it, act like it, practice like it, play like it. For him (Schafer), his burning desire has been over here, serving the Lord, being a great teammate and great in the community.'
Still, as Platt and Schafer depart, and with Dorsainvil wallowing, the major questions about Kent linger. Among them: Why has he never been able to develop big men or coach the post game?
Leunen had 903 rebounds, UO's second best all time, while playing out of position and scoring mainly on the perimeter. He wasn't a typical big man.
Kent gets the chance to prove everybody wrong next year and beyond with 6-9, McDonald's All-American Michael Dunigan coming on board. It'll be very interesting to watch.
Omar Leary's first season at Oklahoma has come to an end; the Sooners got throttled by Louisville in the NCAA second round. Leary, from Lincoln High, played 16 minutes in that game and 17 minutes in the Sooners' 72-64 win against Saint Joseph's.
• Starting guard Sam Child, a freshman from Tualatin, scored a team-high 14 points for San Diego in its NCAA Women's Tournament first-round loss 77-61 to California. Former Lincoln guard Lauren Greif started and had five points for the Bears.