Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hofstra Decides It's Gotta Go to Mo, Kanacevic Lands Nicely, and Why Players Sometimes Shouldn't Leave for the Draft

Give Jack Hayes credit.  He didn't waste any time.  Barely 48 hours after Tim Welsh resigned as head coach, Hofstra hired his assistant, Mo Cassara, as the new head coach of the Pride.  It was a surprising move in that there was the mindset that Hayes would want no remnants of the Welsh regime around.

And after Welsh "resigned", I spoke with several Hofstra basketball fans who thought the program might have been set back a couple of years due to this incident.  They wondered where Hofstra would turn to next for their coach.   Would any recruit want to go to a program where they would have their third coach in a little more than a month?   Would the assistants stay under a completely different coach?  There was also the NY Post article about Al Skinner being a candidate and that was after I wrote my previous article comparing Hofstra's program to Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Couldn't Stand the Weather".

But Hofstra made the right move by hiring Cassara.  First, it brings stability to the program.  Apparently in the span of a month, the current coaching staff has worked very hard to bond with the players in hopes of keeping everyone together (still, Halil Kanacevic requested and received his release - more on that in a second).  Second, the staff has already spent a month recruiting.   By hiring Cassara and keeping the current coaching staff of Steve DeMeo and Allen Griffin, it shows potential recruits that Hofstra has a long term commitment to this staff and program.

Plus I am hearing from several people that Cassara has a very engaging personality and is winning over people quickly.   He certainly impressed Hayes and President Rabinowitz.  Hofstra certainly could use a dynamic presence in their basketball program.   Here's wishing him well.

As for Kanacevic, he has enrolled at St Joseph's and will be sitting out the year for the Hawks.  It's a nice pickup for Phil Martelli's program.   It happened so quickly that one has to wonder if someone from St Joe's immediately reached out to him (I am sure they did).  He now jumps up a level in class by going to the A10.  But I think he has the ability to certainly play on that level and I think he will be very good.  As we were driving back to our hotel room from the game against Kansas, we listened to the Kansas post game news conference.  Bill Self singled out Kanacevic,"15" as he called him, for his play against his big men.

Also I want to give an update to something I stated in my previous article about the Hofstra signed recruits for 2010-11 which mentioned Devon McMillan and Marvin Dominique.   McMillan was let out of his signed agreement early in this past basketball season.  I do not know about Marvin Dominique at this time.

Yesterday was the deadline for players who didn't hire an agent to withdraw their names from the NBA draft.   A good number of players who might have been drafted such as Jimmer Fredette, E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Malcolm Delaney withdrew their names.  Players who likely weren't going to be drafted also withdrew their names.  The one that comes to my mind is Rico Pickett.   Wise choice, Rico.

And then you have some that stayed in the draft, with the biggest name that comes to mind being Gordon Hayward.    Hayward announced on Friday that he was hiring an agent and officially staying in the draft. And he will be likely picked in the 15-20 area in the first round of the NBA draft.  He certainly has the talent and game to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft.   It was interesting reading the columns of writers who were in favor of Hayward going, like Gary Parrish's article and those who were against Hayward leaving, such as Doug Gottlieb.  Unfortunately, Gottlieb's article is on ESPN insider. But a quick snippet on that article - Gottlieb basically says that Hayward needs another year and a half in the weight room and the gym.

I understand fully that there are several reasons for Hayward leaving for the draft.  One, that this is the last draft before the likely NBA lockout.   And the result of the new agreement from that lockout will be less money for NBA draft picks. Two, there is the mind set that Hayward's draft stock is at its highest point and if he stays in school, he may risk losing stock, similar to what Craig Brackins did by staying in school another season.

Here are my responses to both those arguments.  First, if you are a good enough player, you will make your money in the NBA, whether there is a lockout/new agreement.   Lottery picks will still be lottery picks and make a lot of money.  And even a non lottery first round pick who turns out to be pretty good in the NBA will make his money in the long run.

Second, who says that Hayward's stock for sure will fall if he had stayed in school?  Unlike Brackins, who was a one man show on an at best mediocre Iowa State team, Hayward was the star player on a Butler team that made the NCAA Championship game.  Had Hayward stayed, he would have been one of the four starters returning for next season.   A team that likely would be favored to return to the NCAA Final Four and no doubt a top five team in the country.

Plus Hayward's stock is not at his highest.  His three point shooting percentage went significantly down this season - 28.6 percent as opposed to 44.8 percent in his freshman season.  So he could have come back and improved on that.  And here's the scary thing, he still shot 46 percent overall this season.  Imagine what he could shoot from the field  with an improved three point shot.

And I will give you an example of someone who was in a similar circumstance but opted to return from his junior season.  Stephen Curry.   Curry had an even greater NCAA Tournament performance than Hayward and I got to witness in person his awesome display at the Raleigh Regional in 2008.  He could have left for the NBA Draft right then and no one would have blamed him. He was certainly first round material right at that moment.

Yet, what did Curry do?  He returned for his junior season so he could work on his point guard skills.  Sure enough, he nearly doubled his assists per game average from the previous season, while still averaging more points per game than the previous season (and yes, despite his FG and three point FG percentages slightly declining).   His team didn't even make the NCAA Tournament in his junior season, yet it all worked out for Curry.  He was taken sixth overall in the NBA draft, one spot short of the Knicks, whose fans were dying to have Curry selected for the Garden faithful.

Plus, there is that little discussed issue known as a college degree.  Also on ESPN insider, Jay Bilas wrote a very good article about how it's ridiculous to say you "limit" a college player by telling him to stay in school and not going into the draft.  As Bilas notes, a student who played four years and gets his degree has more options in the business world and in the coaching world once his playing career is over, as opposed to the student that leaves early for the draft and never gets that degree.

That's why I literally cringed when Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart announced he had started talks on with John Calipari on a new deal in light of the report on the Wildcats GPA for the fall semester.  Perhaps Barnhart hadn't talked yet to senior associate athletic director Sandy Bell who noted "It's not something we're happy with, I'll tell you that."  Will Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton among others eventually get their degrees?   I don't know about that. But I do know one thing  - we got confirmation of what really matters in Kentucky.

In conclusion, Hayward could have stayed and improved on one skill he needs to be a successful NBA player, outside shooting and probably increased his draft stock.  I believe that if you are guaranteed lottery material, you should go.  John Wall, Evan Turner, can't disagree with their choices.   But if NBA draft prognosticators are talking about you being selected in the 15-20 range right now, then you might want to go back to school and work on improving your stock.  Especially if you are coming back to a really good team like Hayward would have at Butler.

But more importantly, Hayward, an engineering major, could have got a year closer to his degree at one of the better liberal arts schools in the country.  Certainly an engineering degree won't "limit" Hayward in his future options.

For every Craig Brackins, there is a Stephen Curry.  Unfortunately we won't find that out about Gordon Hayward.  But here's hoping he makes it in the NBA and has a nice long career in the NBA.  Here's also hoping he gets his degree “in the near future" as he puts it.

Something tells me he eventually could have a great career in the coaching world.  But you need that degree son.

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