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August 7, 2008
Postseason experience will help Tulsa
Five of the past 10 NIT champions reached the NCAA Tournament the following season.
The College Basketball Invitational, the sport's newest postseason event, has no history upon which to draw. However, inaugural CBI champ Tulsa would love nothing more than to make it 100 percent of CBI winners who make the Big Dance the next season.
"We had our low points last year, but we really came on and played good basketball from mid-December on," Golden Hurricane coach Doug Wojcik said. "For us to go on and get five more postseason wins in the CBI – you can't put a price tag on what that can do for a program."
All told, Tulsa put together eight postseason wins, including a run to the Conference USA Tournament final. There, the Golden Hurricane ran into C-USA's gold standard, Memphis, on the Tigers' home floor. Memphis dispatched Wojcik's team for the third time last season, by a final of 77-51.
Memphis is a double-edged sword for C-USA. On the one hand, if you can compete with the Tigers for conference supremacy you have a team that probably is capable of reaching the Sweet 16 and beyond. On the other hand, Memphis hasn't lost a C-USA game the past two seasons. There have been close calls, but no one has broken through.
"Memphis played for the national title and could have won it, maybe should have won it," Wojcik said. "They don't get the credit they deserve.
"We held them to 56 at our place. It was their lowest point total of the year. It was their first game as the No. 1 team in the country. Yet I'm sitting in my office after the game saying, 'Hey, they beat us by 15.' They're really good. Are we (C-USA) ready for that gap to be shortened? I think we are."
Tulsa is a prime contender to play gap-shortener. The Golden Hurricane return leading scorer Ben Uzoh and 7-foot center Jerome Jordan, two players any coach in the country would be happy to have. Uzoh (15.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) was a second-team all-conference pick, and Jordan (10.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg) was on the league's all-defensive team.
Uzoh went on an exhibition trip to China with a John Calipari -led Conference USA all-star team. Jordan would have made the trip, but Wojcik said the Chinese government denied Jordan's visa because he was born in Jamaica.
While the coach knows the game experience against the Chinese national team would have been great for Jordan, he wasn't exactly broken up about it. Wojcik said he feared the rising junior wouldn't have eaten well on the trip and would have "lost 10 pounds over there."
NBA scouts were just starting to take notice of Jordan at the end of last season. He made a huge leap from his freshman to sophomore seasons as he gained weight (he's listed at 240 pounds) and strength – which allowed Wojcik to play him more. Jordan went from a player who averaged 7.8 minutes and made 10 starts to a stalwart who started all 39 games, averaged 26.2 minutes and ranked sixth in the nation in blocks (3.7 per game).
He was even better down the stretch last season. In Tulsa's 10 postseason games, Jordan had six double-doubles and averaged this eye-popping stat line: 14.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.3 blocks.
Wojcik said Jordan received a boost from attending Nike's skills camps this summer, including the Amare Stoudemire big man camp and the LeBron James camp.
"With Jerome Jordan's growth as a center and Ben Uzoh's steadiness, we should have a chance to be pretty good," Wojcik said. "Then, of course, there's Ray Reese (7.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg), a small forward and one of two seniors this year. We inserted him in the lineup and he really changed things for us because he's a true small forward and it freed up Uzoh to play the 2-guard, a more natural position for him. It made us a little more athletic, a little stronger."
Strong enough to be an NCAA Tournament team? That's the goal, and Tulsa's non-conference schedule is built for it, too. It includes games against the other three Division I schools in Oklahoma – NCAA participants Oral Roberts and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – and a home date with BYU. The Sooners are in Rivals.com's preseason top 10, so that's a huge chance for Tulsa to make a splash early.
"Coaches have asked me what the experience (in the CBI) was like, and for programs like (runner-up) Bradley and Tulsa it was absolutely fantastic," Wojcik said. "Look at the tournament. You had 16 teams. You had an ACC team in Virginia, had a Washington from the Pac-10, Cincinnati from the Big East. It was a good tournament.
"What will our carryover be? That's yet to be determined. Our non-conference schedule is very strong. It's made and built for the postseason, for the NCAA at-large bid. We've got things in place now, but we've got to perform earlier in the season than what we did last year."
With 56 wins in three seasons, Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik is on the verge of cracking the school's top-10 list for coaching victories. Who ranks No. 1? (Answer at the end of the column.)
STANBACK TO UNLV
Stanback is a former four-star prospect who was ranked No. 69 overall in the class of 2007 and 19th among small forwards. He played in 25 games as a freshman for the Bruins last season, averaging 1.8 points in just 5.8 minutes per game. His best game was when he scored seven points in five minutes against California.
Stanback was the California Division I Player of the Year at Los Angeles Fairfax after averaging 25.8 points and 11.9 rebounds as a senior. He will have to pay his own way during the year he sits out at UNLV because the Rebels have no available scholarships.
Fortunately, that won't be a problem. Stanback's mother, Sarah Quick, recently won $25,000 in an online skill game.
Stanback joins a class for 2009-10 that already includes Kentucky transfer Derrick Jasper and two freshmen, forward Carlos Lopez (No. 101 in the Rivals150) and guard Justin Hawkins. UNLV has one more scholarship for 2009-10.
• Michigan State freshman Delvon Roe, a five-star prospect who missed most of his senior season after surgery on his right knee, had surgery on his left knee Tuesday. A Michigan State release said Roe is expected to miss about six weeks after "small particles of cartilage were cleaned out of the knee." Roe is expected to contend for a starting spot on Tom Izzo's front line this season. "I couldn't be more ecstatic about the news," Izzo said in the release. "While this is a minor setback for Delvon, we are glad that he will be able to return to action by the time practice starts in mid-October. I am confident that he has the work ethic and dedication needed for a successful rehab."
• The Nike Global Challenge starts Friday in Hillsboro, Ore. It consists of five international teams and three U.S. teams. The U.S. teams will be littered with prospects from the 2009 and 2010 classes, including the top two players in the '09 class, John Wall and Xavier Henry.
• Incoming Rutgers freshman Greg Echenique will compete for the Latin American team at the Adidas Basketball Experience that begins Thursday in Dallas. He received the invitation after his showing at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Argentina, where he led the tournament in scoring (22.2 ppg) and blocks (3.6 per game) and was second in rebounding (13.6). The Adidas Basketball Experience is composed of five international teams and two U.S. teams, each of which will be coached by a former NBA head coach and mentored by a current NBA player. The Latin American team will be led by former Phoenix Suns coach Frank Johnson and mentored by Antawn Jamison of the Washington Wizards.
• One U.S. team at the Adidas event is composed of 2009 prospects and the other is composed of 2010 prospects. The 2009 team has 14 players in the Rivals150, led by No. 3 Derrick Favors. The 2010 squad has five players ranked in the top 10, including No. 2 Tristan Thompson, No. 3 Jared Sullinger and No. 4 Josh Smith.
Clarence Iba, brother of legendary former Oklahoma State coach Hank Iba, ranks first in wins among Tulsa coaches. He won 137 games from 1949-60.