Monday, April 27, 2009

A Lot of News Out of Bengal Basketball Program

Joe O'Brien and his staff generated a good deal of off-season news today, with an important new recruit, and a player and coach leaving the program. First, the good news: the Bengals have added to the "Memphis Mafia" by adding JC point guard Broderick Gilchrest (left), 6-0, who played his high school ball at Hamilton High School in Memphis.

For the first time in a couple of seasons, it looks like O'Brien has a 35-minute a game, true point guard. Not that the departed Matt Stucki and returning all-conference guard Amorrow Morgan didn't do a good job in their hybrid roles at wing/point guard. They were both among the league leaders in assists, and Stucki led the conference in assist to turnover ratio.

But now Amorrow can concentrate on playing the two guard, Gilchrest can run the show and returning sophomore-to-be Sherrod Baldwin, fortified with a season of experience under his belt, can provide adequate backup. I haven't seen Gilchrest play, obviously, but there are certain numbers you always look for in a point guard. Gilchrest seemed to more than meet most of those tests in his single season at Frank Phillips College in Texas: assist to turnover ratio (he was two-to-one); assists per game (5.89, with two games where he compiled 17 assists in each game -- one coming in just 21 minutes of play); and steals (2 per game).

As a bonus, Gilchrest appears to be a good shooter for a point, hitting 41 percent of his three-point attempts, 46 percent overall from the field. The only negative number I could find associated with him was his free throw shooting, which was just under 71 percent. Ideally, you'd like your point guard, who will be handling the ball under pressure late in games, to be in the 75 to 80 percent area. But Gilchrest's numbers show he's a capable shooter overall, and it may just be a matter of improving his focus in order to get his free throw numbers up to that range.

The next test for O'Brien and his staff is get forward Rolando Little academically eligible. He came into ISU needing a lot of credits to get qualified for what would be his last season of college basketball. He did what he needed to do in fall quarter, but he was going to need a lot of credits this spring and summer school to complete the job. If Little, who apparently is determined to make this happen, succeeds, I really like Idaho State's roster for next year.

And that roster took a little bit of a tweak with today's announcement that Tom Taylor, the 6-10 walk-on center who would have been a junior next year, is leaving the program to find more playing time. It's unfortunate because I think Taylor has some potential and the Bengals are going to need a lot of big men in two seasons, when Taylor will be a senior, but I can certainly understand his desire to get more playing time.

O'Brien also announced that walk-on guard Michael Lacey, who medically redshirted last year, has been given a scholarship. Lacey saw action in a few early season games before injuring his finger and sitting out the rest of the season. He should come in as a junior next year.

Finally, ISU announced that assistant coach Steve Swanson will be leaving the program in May to pursue his doctorate degree. O'Brien is now focused on finding his replacement -- and in starting to build what will be a very large recruiting class for next year. By my count, ISU will have nine scholarships to give for fall 2010, and they have virtually no big men returning after this upcoming season. O'Brien has a lot of work to do before the early signing period begins in November.

In the meantime, however, Gilchrest's signing indicates next season should be a lot of fun.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being Bengal fans, it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Big Sky May be Backing Off on $ Saving Plans

When the Big Sky Conference presidents meet in May, they'll still be discussing money-saving ideas for athletics -- but not as many, and not two of the most offensive. According to Jon Kasper, the assistant commissioner for media relations, the conference has taken off the table for now the idea of reducing the men's and women's basketball tournaments from six teams to four, and the prospect of playing Friday and Saturday night conference games.

Also taken off the table, according to Kasper, is the idea of going to a double round-robin conference soccer schedule, in lieu of playing a conference tournament. Cost-saving ideas that have been approved already include having volleyball go to a Friday-Saturday conference schedule, except for road trips involving Flagstaff, Ariz.; and shelving the annual conference football kick-off meetings in Park City this summer.

Kasper said there seems to be a growing sense that, instead of mandating specific cost-savings ideas for every school, it might be better to let individual schools determine how to either shave expenses in the face of the current economic crisis, or raise funds in new ways to offset declining revenues elsewhere. With each school facing its own particular economic climate and possessing its own spending priorities and fundraising capabilities, that approach makes a lot of sense to me.

The conference will still consider a number of cost-cutting proposals at its May meeting, including limiting the size of travel parties for football and basketball, but thankfully they have at least temporarily shelved the idea of Friday-Saturday road trips for basketball, and reducing the number of teams in the post-season tournaments. Both would contribute, in my view, to lowering the caliber of competition in conference play.

Two Idaho Players Drafted

Two football players with Idaho ties were drafted into the National Football League this weekend -- and neither were Boise State players. Weber State linebacker J.D. Folsom, a Salmon native, was taken in the 7th and final round by the Miami Dolphins, as the 214th player selected in the draft; seven picks later, Idaho tight end Eddie Williams was taken by the Washington Redskins. Meanwhile, none of Boise State's stars, including running back Ian Johnson and wide receiver Jeremy Childs, were taken.

Update: Kelvin Ang from the Journal is reporting that ISU's D.J. Clark, a defensive back, has signed a free agent deal with the Carolina Panthers and tackle Evan Dietrich-Smith has a deal with the Green Bay Packers. Five BSU players got free agent deals, including Johnson, with Minnesota, and Childs with San Diego.

Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden, who caught 14 passes for four touchdowns against the Bengals the last two seasons, was taken in the third round by the New York Giants.

No More Printing of Press Guides

I was a little wistful when Frank Mercogliano announced on Earth Day last week that Idaho State will no longer print media guides. In this age of computers and the Internet, the glossy-covered press guides have become something of an anachronism, and no longer printing and mailing out hundreds of football and basketball guides to sports writers who have already down-loaded most of the information off the web makes a lot of economic and environmental sense. But there is still something magical about the first peek into that professionally printed tome full of statistics, player profiles and program history. It just won't be the same carting around a ratted collection of printer stock stapled at the upper left hand corner.

Farewell Merle Harmon

While we're on the nostalgic bent, I was sad to see that former sportscaster Merle Harmon passed away on April 16. Harmon was most noted for his baseball broadcasting (he did the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers), and he also served as the voice of the New York Jets. But I knew him best from his days of broadcasting the Big 10 basketball game of the week when I was back in the Midwest in the 1970s. I actually got to meet Merle in 1995, when he was doing play-by-play for North Texas State and the Bengals took on the Mean Green in Denton that season. His broadcast partner was former Dallas Cowboy player personnel legend Gil Brandt, who is still providing analysis of the NFL draft these days. Harmon and Brandt, two legends in their professions, could not have been more gracious to a rookie college broadcaster from Idaho.

I'll miss you, Merle, you were a pro.

Bone Adds Hironaka to Staff

I notice in Ryan Collingwood's blog from the Morning News that new Washington State head basketball coach Ken Bone has added former Idaho State assistant coach Jeff Hironaka to his staff. Hironaka, who worked for Jim Boutin from 1987-1990 at ISU, was also the head coach at Blackfoot High School.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan, it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.