Six players may be leaving, but coach will bank on recruits
Maybe the sky isn't falling on the Oregon State basketball team. But some say it sure feels that way.
The problem isn't merely the defection of six players - Marcel Jones, Sasa Cuic, Wesley Washington, Liam Hughes, Angelo Tsagarakis and Vojin Svilar - from the 2006-07 team that finished 11-21 overall and 3-15 for ninth place in the Pac-10.
Cuic and Washington had attitude problems that adversely affected team chemistry, and Hughes, Tsagarakis and Svilar weren't going to be rotation players next season.
But Thursday's revelation that Jones - the junior forward who was the team MVP last season - will declare for the NBA draft magnifies the dark cloud hovering over the program.
Jones says he'll 'test the waters' in the NBA draft but is likely to return to OSU next season. If he doesn't, coach Jay John will be left with six scholarship players - Josh and Seth Tarver, Jack McGillis, Calvin Hampton, Roeland Schaftenaar and Lathen Wallace - and walk-on Joey McConnell for the August exhibition tour to Italy.
John - 66-85 in his five seasons at Oregon State, including 26-62 in conference play - points to help on the way, including redshirt guard Lathen Wallace of Jefferson High and 6-11 C.J. Giles, the touted transfer from Kansas.
Recruits who will be freshmen next year are 6-3 guard Calvin Haynes of Reseda, Calif., 6-8 power forward Omari Johnson from Los Angeles and Mike Stovall, a 6-5 guard from Chicago who averaged 20.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a senior. Stovall reportedly was offered scholarships by Indiana, Mississippi, UNLV, Xavier, Purdue and Dayton.
A fourth recruit, 6-10 Serbian Ilija Milutinovic, probably will require an additional year of academic work at Worcester (Mass.) Academy.
John says the 6-8 Jones, who averaged a team-high 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 2006-07, 'will be playing for us next year.'
'When people see the team (next season), they're going to see the potential and invest,' John says. 'It was hard to invest in us the past year. You didn't watch guys who cared all the time.
'Next year is going to be different - the style of play, the energy level, the athleticism. It's one of the first times in the offseason I really have a pulse of who we are going into the next year. There's no question in my mind that we're going to recapture the hearts of Beaver Nation.'
Athletic Director Bob De Carolis has been steadfast with the vote of confidence he issued for John late in the season. De Carolis gave John a contract extension through the 2009-10 season after the Beavers finished 17-15 and made the National Invitation Tournament in 2004-05, their first post-season appearance since 1990.
John has three years and about $1.5 million remaining on his contract. De Carolis has promised John at least another year to develop the recruits and see what improvement the influx of new talent can bring.
OSU coaches are banking heavily on the addition of Giles, who arrived at midseason after being booted from the Kansas program for misconduct.
'C.J. gives us an inside presence we've never had,' John says. 'The last two years, at the end of a shot clock, we didn't have a go-to guy. If he stays for two years, he has a chance to be one of the top three guys in the (2009) draft. He is extraordinarily talented.'
Does John, 49, feel pressure to win next year to save his job?
'I don't,' he says. 'I'm not the first person who has coached here who has been on this trail. … I'm still in a position where my body of work is yet to be completed. I'm going to be judged on the totality of my work.
'I'll admit we've made some errors in getting mileage out of some of the recruits we've had, but what we're doing for Oregon State basketball is the right thing for the long term. What we're building is a foundation that's significantly better than what was here when I got here.'
Some former OSU stars would argue with that.
'I don't agree the program is headed in the right direction,' former All-American Charlie Sitton says. 'If Marcel's not coming back … you're basically starting all over after five years. It baffles me, other than the money (John) is owed, why we would want to wait another year to see what happens.'
Sitton and ex-Beaver players Steve Johnson and Bill McShane met with De Carolis recently to discuss John's coaching situation.
'I just don't want the program to slip any further,' says Johnson, whose son, Michael, played for the Beavers the past four seasons. 'There's no identity, no system, little development of talent and a feeling of panic. … How can (John) say he's building a better foundation?'
Interest in and support for the program has been dwindling. Average announced attendance for 19 homes games the past season was 5,154 - 6,689 for the nine Pac-10 contests at Gill Coliseum. Only three crowds topped 7,000.
'When longtime boosters are saying they may not renew season tickets, you have problems,' Sitton says. 'It's sad.'