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June 19, 2008

Former Arizona signee headed to Tennessee

Jason Smith's Brewster Academy program in Wolfeboro, N.H., has produced a slew of Division I talent during his eight years there.

Names such as Jeff Adrien of Connecticut, Weyinmi Efejuku of Providence, P'Allen Stinnett of Creighton and Craig Brackins of Iowa State are former Brewster players who currently dot the college landscape. In all, Smith has sent more than 50 players to the Division I ranks. Smith says Emmanuel Negedu has as much potential as any of them.

Negedu, a four-star power forward and recent Tennessee signee, is the only two-time captain at Brewster during Smith's tenure. It's fair to say Smith believes the Nigerian-born prospect's character is solid. Thus, Smith was shocked by the recent comments of Arizona coach Lute Olson, who blasted Negedu in an interview with the Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen.

Negedu originally signed with the Wildcats, but he asked for his release in May after Josh Pastner, the assistant who recruited him, departed for Memphis. Olson eventually granted the release, but not before letting Negedu twist in the wind.

"I wanted him to have to sweat a little bit to understand that you make a commitment, you should be a person of your word," Olson told the newspaper. "But in the end, there was no way in the world I would have had him here.

"Just some things had come out from all-star situations and such. The word was you better hope you don't have to deal with them."

Olson also told the paper it was "not hard" to release Negedu: "There were some things that came out about his coachability or his lack of coachability."

Smith, who actually coached Negedu, told Rivals.com that he "couldn't disagree more with Coach Olson."

"We'd had over 50 kids go Division I and without question Emmanuel is the most coachable kid we've had here," Smith said. "We've had hundreds of college coaches on our campus and Coach Olson is a true gentleman, very classy, and I think very highly of him. Those comments in regard to Emmanuel are very out of character for him."

Olson took a leave of absence last season while going through a messy divorce. Kevin O'Neill took over as interim coach but a rift clearly developed between him and Olson, who has continued to take thinly veiled swipes since O'Neill left to return to the NBA as an assistant.

Arizona also fired assistant Miles Simon before Pastner departed for Memphis. Disillusioned by all that had transpired, Negedu wanted out.

"When they refused to release him, he said some things out of emotion to various media that he should probably have thought twice about, but I don't know what (Olson) could be talking about in regards to his coachability," Smith said. "It could just be a case of sour grapes."

TRIVIA QUESTION

Who is Arizona's career scoring leader? (Answer at the end of the column.)

ANOTHER DOWN UNDER

UNLV will leave for an exhibition tour of Australia on Monday. While the trip Down Under will be the first for all of the Rebels, their coach will be making his third jaunt there.

Lon Kruger took teams at Florida and Illinois on trips to Australia. In fact, his unheralded Gators team went in the summer of 1993 and returned to make a stunning run to the school's first-ever Final Four.

"I don't know that we have that kind of expectation, but we get a jump-start on next season in a competitive atmosphere," Kruger said.

Kruger said he has chosen to repeat taking teams to Australia for several reasons.

"Number one, the people are very friendly," he said. "Our players have enjoyed the folks of Australia and they seem to enjoy the players. The relationship is good. It's also good competition, and it's an easy transition to the language and food.

"The only challenge is the length of the flight. I don't think we have anybody who doesn't fly well, but we probably have some who don't fly well for 14 hours. I'm not sure anybody does."

The Rebels get to practice 10 times before the trip as per NCAA rules.

"It's perfect timing for this group with a redshirt freshman in Beas (Hamga, a former five-star center prospect) and four seniors in a leadership role and Tre'Von (Willis, a transfer from Memphis), to be able to get everybody together in real game conditions," Kruger said. "The seniors get to start gaining an understanding of the leadership role. Rene (Rougeau) and Joe (Darger) are moving to the perimeter, so it's a chance for them to get acclimated."

UNLV guard Wink Adams, the team's leading scorer last season, will be doing a diary from Australia exclusively for Rivals.com. The team is scheduled to arrive in Sydney on Wednesday.

UNLV is ranked No. 23 in Rivals.com's latest preseason top 25, updated through the withdrawal of early entry candidates from the NBA Draft.

TIP-INS

Florida guard Nick Calathes, an SEC co-freshman of the year, will leave for Greece next week to try out for the Greek National Team. If he makes the team, he'll play at the Olympics in Beijing in August. No Gators player has been an Olympian. Former Ohio State forward Kosta Koufos also has been invited to try out.

East Tennessee State guard Courtney Pigram, a former Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, pulled his name out of the NBA Draft and will return for his senior season. He led the Buccaneers in scoring last season (15.8 ppg).

An Iowa State athletics compliance officer said Cyclones forward Wesley Johnson has been granted a release to transfer to 17 schools. There were eight schools on his original list, and the player came back and asked for nine more. The only schools Iowa State declined to release him to were other Big 12 schools (standard practice in college circles) and schools that either already were on or could appear on the Cyclones' schedule in the next couple of years.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Sean Elliott finished his Wildcats career with 2,555 points. He's the only player in Arizona history to lead the team in scoring in four consecutive seasons. He scored in double figures in 128 of 133 career games.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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