Friday, May 29, 2009

The "Off-Season": When Only Bad Things Happen

I have a co-worker, Wade Hillebrandt (whose sister Julie shoots some mighty fine sports photos for ISU, BTW), who pokes his head in my office every so often and asks, "What's going on at Idaho State?" When he does this anytime from about the first of April until fall football camp starts, I usually reply with, "Nothing, knock on wood."

Because generally speaking, nothing good happens during the off-season for the two major sports, football and basketball. And the recent news out of ISU illustrates just what I mean. First, we learned that backup guard Phyllip Taylor was academically ineligible for next season because he didn't have enough credits in his major. Taylor, who averaged almost seven minutes a game in the 27 contests he appeared in as a JUCO transfer last year, was taken off scholarship. He may or may not come back and take classes in an effort to get eligible for the following season. Hopefully, for both Phyllip's personal best interest, and that of the ISU basketball program's Academic Progress Rate, he will come back to school, get his academics in order, play his senior year and earn a degree.

The next shoe to drop came when it was announced that another Bengal wing player, Austin Kilpatrick (above), played the later part of last season with a torn labrum and will require surgery, which will put him out of commission for four to six months. He was scheduled for surgery today (May 29), which means the earliest he can start shooting a basketball again is probably around Oct. 1, the beginning of practice. Worst case means he wouldn't be back until the first of December.

A-K's injury is significant because, with the departure of Matt Stucki, the Bengals' best three-point shooter last year, Kilpatrick was going to be counted on heavily for beyond-the-arc offense this season. Stucki shot 40 percent from three-point range for the season, and bumped that number up to 42 percent in Big Sky play. Most of the Bengals, in fact, shot better beyond the longer arc as the season went on last year, with Idaho State shooting only 33 percent for the season, but almost 39 percent in league play.

Kilpatrick, despite apparently playing with that torn labrum (the labrum is a cuff of cartilage that forms a cup for the end of the arm bone --humerus-- to move within), improved his three-point shooting from just 32 percent overall to almost 41 percent in league play.

With the previously-announced departure of backup guard Kal Bay, the Bengals' three-point shooting responsibilities will now fall primarily on Amorrow Morgan, (35 percent overall, 40 percent in league), incoming JUCO PG Broderick Gilchrest (who made 41 percent of his threes his last season in junior college), and A-K, if and when he recovers from the surgery.

Other potential three-point contributors include Donnie Carson, (just under 30 percent from 3 last season), Michael Lacey (who made 31 percent of his treys his last season in JUCO play), and incoming freshman Eric Segert, who was recruited primarily as a three-point marksman.

It will be interesting to see if O'Brien chooses to try to fill the opening created by Taylor's ineligibility with a summer recruit. While the national letter of intent signing period has passed, players can still sign scholarship agreements until class starts. The difference between a LOI and a scholarship agreement is that LOIs bind the recruit to their new team for a year upon signing, unless the school gives them a release. The scholarship agreement, meanwhile, is not binding on the recruit until he attends his first class at that institution.

You have to wonder, by the way, if the timing of the discovery of A-K's injury and Taylor's academic problems had been different, if former Pocatello High star Alex Drecksel might have figured into the picture. Drecksel, who played his senior season at the IMG Academy in Florida in an attempt to improve his recruiting prospects, wound up signing with Westminster College in Salt Lake City recently. I have no idea if the Bengals would have been interested in the 6-4 Drecksel who averaged 15 PPG at IMG, but they definitely had no openings for a wing player until Taylor's issues surfaced.
Quick Hits

  • You'll recall a recent blog of mine noted that Bengal Coach Joe O'Brien has an almost unprecedented opportunity to remake the ISU basketball program this off-season. He took the first significant step in that direction this week with the hiring of one of his former JUCO assistants, Tim Walsh, to replace the departing Steve Swanson. Walsh, who was an assistant at Wisconsin-Green Bay last year, has a long history of working with O'Brien at Southeast Community College in Iowa. His familiarity with O'Brien's style and system should certainly make him a nice a fit on the staff. It was also announced, unfortunately, that budget cuts are eliminating the job of third assistant Mike Brown, who will be replaced by a graduate assistant to be named. Now that the staffing picture is settled, O'Brien and his assistants begin the next phase: recruiting. The July evaluation period is the next big milestone in that effort.

  • Montana State announced this week that it is delaying, for at least a year, the beginning of construction of 38 new sky suites at its football stadium: The $9 million project is the victim of the current economic recession. The project is part of a longer-term $100 million upgrade of the MSU football facilities, including an indoor practice facility and upgraded weight training and sports medicine facilities. The economy has slowed the Big Sky facilities "arms race" for now, but Idaho State still has a lot of catching up to do.

  • Speaking of economic issues, Boise State announced this week that it has entered into an agreement with Learfield Sports to take over BSU's marketing efforts: The 10-year deal has the potential to bring more than $33 million in cash and in-kind products to BSU. Boise State currently generates about $2.5 million a year from sponsorships and media rights. By contrast, Idaho State generates about $550,000 a year in royalties, advertisements and sponsorships, and the University of Idaho about $175,000, according to figures provided to the State Board of Education in February.

--Brad B.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Losing Two in One Week....

'Tis kind of a sad week already here at ISU for me anyways. First of all, the office is quiet as Katie Zigars is off for the next two week on vacation (lucky). But, she will be back, while two folks most assuredly won't be, and that's Kellis Robinett of the Idaho State Journal, and Ryan Collingwood of the Blackfoot Morning News. Ryan, who had his farewell column come out yesterday, (including a shout-out to yours truly), has been nothing short of a miracle for me. I've tried and tried for 11 years to get the Blackfoot Morning News involved with ISU. Good grief we are like 20 minutes away and for my first 10 years I couldn't get anyone there to care, but Collingwood did a great job. He covered ISU football and basketball, including some road games, did some features, and generally brought ISU to the readers of the Morning News. Mark High is the new editor there, and I'll be introducing myself to him and showing him a little ISU hospitality, and hopefully he will continue with Ryan started.

As for Kellis, well, I'm losing a pretty good friend there. While it's true that at various times ISU coaches have had their differences with him (that could be said of any reporter by the way), the facts are facts. Kellis is one of the top reporters to ever come through here, and he is moving to the Omaha World Herald (here is his final column, with sadly, no shout out....).

I should mention at this point that I have always said I'm a stand-up guy and will acknowledge mistakes and stuff like that (as I have done here several times). A couple of weeks back I gave Kellis some grief about needling the coaches a bit and taking little shots and digs. I was reading over my blogposts and I noticed this from last week .... "Kellis Robinett of the Idaho State Journal had a regular article that is pretty straight forward, but he takes a few potshots at the Big Sky in his blog." So, I pretty much did exactly what I gave Kellis grief for doing, so while I have apologized to him in person, I do so publicly as well.

Anyway, Kellis earned a little bit of a rep in his last weeks with a couple of strong columns and things like that, but he shouldn't be judged by that. In reality, he should be judged by the full body of work while he was here, and that body of work is impressive to say the least.

The Journal has lost two ridiculously talented writers in the last few months in Kellis and Dan Thompson, leaving Kelvin Ang and Tim Flagstad a big hole to try to fill. Tim's writing has always been solid, and Kelvin's writing continually gets better and better, and just google his article on Joe Cullen for proof (I can't find it right now).

Anyways, we will miss both Ryan and Kellis. Robinett was a regular for poker night at my house, and he was one of the better players (he smiles when he's got nothing, he smiles when he's got a hand....uugh), and he was always complementary of my wife's cooking. We wish both well, knowing we will run into both of them again soon.