By Ron Fortune
Let the hoopla begin!
It’s been just a few months since the NCAA crowned Connecticut as its national champion, but a new season of college basketball is set to begin this week.
Although most teams don’t suit up until Nov. 19-20, the early action starts this week with the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Thursday and Friday.
Other early tournaments include the Black Coaches Association Classic on Sunday, Guardians Classic on Monday and the Preseason National Invitational Tournament (NIT), also on Monday.
Perhaps the biggest news this season is the number of new college coaches who will be patrolling the sidelines.
Many of the changes that took place were expected because of a team’s poor performance. However, some were unexpected and nearly shocking in some instances.
For instance, Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, considered one of the premier coaches in the nation, abruptly gave up one of the plum college jobs to take the head coaching position with the Golden State Warriors. In 18 seasons at Stanford, Montgomery made the Cardinal a traditional NCAA tournament invitee and made it to the Final Four in 1998.
Another high profile coach, Jim O’Brien, was fired from Ohio State for admitting he gave $6,000 to the family of a recruit. An NCAA investigation still hangs over the program, which could be hit with sanctions or even the forfeiture of games.
Another school that was rocked by scandal was St. John’s, whose coach Mike Jarvis was fired in mid season — a first for a Big East coach — when it was discovered some of his players were plagued with drug problems and visited strip clubs. Jarvis’ 6-21 record didn’t help.
Closer to home, UNLV welcomes a new head coach, Lon Kruger, who brings an impressive resume from the NBA (he was assistant last year at New York and previously coached the Hawks for three seasons in Atlanta). Kruger also successfully guided the programs at Kansas State, Florida and Illinois before jumping to the NBA.
In Reno, Mark Fox takes over the coaching duties from Phil Johnson, who departed Nevada to assume the coaching job at Stanford. Fox should be in good shape with a team that won a school-record 25 games last year and reached the Sweet 16.
One of UNLV’s biggest rivals, Utah, lost its head coach, Rick Majerus, who retired because of poor health. Taking the reins is a relative unknown, Ray Giacoletti, who compiled a solid record at Eastern Washington.
Other big moves include Xavier hiring assistant Sean Miller when coach Thad Matta left to fill the position at Ohio State; Georgetown’s hiring of John Thompson III away from Princeton; and Princeton’s recruitment of Joe Scott away from the Air Force Academy to fill Thompson’s position.